By: Mark King
from issue 27-1
Spend some time to get to know your new boat
Recreational boating is one of the best family activities available. Owning and operating a boat provides many opportunities for family pursuits and recreational experiences. From fishing, to sight-seeing, to swimming to visiting new places, or just relaxing together, the experiences are endless.
It also provides the opportunity to learn something new and to expand your knowledge in areas that you might not have thought about in the past. Whether your boat is new, or ‘new-to-you’, one of the first activities you should undertake is getting to know your boat.
While modern construction techniques, industry practices and government regulations provide you with a safe and efficient vessel (with many safety features and creature comforts), there is no easy “roadside” assistance on the water. Therefore you and your crew should have some basic knowledge about your vessel before you head out on that first exciting cruise.
The first step is to walk around and under the boat before it hits the water. Crawl underneath and note the location of water intakes, how low the rudders or drives hang down, and where they are located. This is information you will want to know if you ever run aground or hang the boat up while “gunkholing”, or if you find yourself making your way bow first into a sandy beach for a lazy afternoon of sunning and swimming.
Write down the size of the propellers or any manufacturer’s code numbers that are on them. If you ever have to replace or repair a propeller, this information is good to know before the boat is hauled out. Check the preferred locations for straps or pads to lift your boat.
This is the perfect time to start your boat’s “Book of Knowledge.” It doesn’t matter whether you use a notebook, a binder with plastic sleeves or plain three ring paper, or an accordion-type file folder – somewhere on your boat you should have a record of everything you know about your boat.
And, the first few days of owning your new boat is the perfect time to start. At the same time you should start a log book, and a maintenance book, a spare parts inventory, and perhaps a chart to show on-board storage and where items will be located. And don’t forget the legal papers record that will contain such items as ownership, licenses, registrations, insurance papers, passports, radio licenses, and anything else of a legal nature that you might require.
All of these will come in handy if you should ever require proof that you are a safe and prudent boater, and they will also be useful if and when you ever want to sell your boat.
When you are finished inspecting the bottom, go up on the deck. Check out safe access to the deck and note the location of items such as hand holds, cleats, rope lockers, bow rollers and anchor. Where are the deck fills for fresh water, fuel and waste pump outs? Do you require special tools to open them? Try launching and retrieving the anchor. Can you do it manually or should you invest in new hardware to assist you? Where will you need fenders, and where and how will you store them? Do you have spare bulbs for navigation lights and can you change the bulb?
Once you are familiar with the exterior, it is time to move inside. This is where your Book of Knowledge will grow quickly. If your boat is new, make sure that you have manufacturer’s information for every component on board. Check each and every component and read all the material that is supplied. Understand the owner serviceable procedures and use your maintenance log to write down anything that needs to be done on a regular basis. If the boat is ‘new-to-you’, check with the dealership or go on-line to the component manufacturer’s site and order or download the information you require. You will find that your maintenance log will change as you spend time learning about the components, so start this with loose papers at first.
Purchase spare parts and tools that you will need to undertake these procedures if and when required, and record them in your inventory. Keep a copy of this inventory on board and at home. Even if you have no intention of doing any of this work yourself, it is important that you know what has to be done to maintain your boat in top shape so that you can ensure the work is completed and recorded. Make sure your maintenance log provides a place for receipts for when the work is completed.
While moving slowly and carefully through the boat, make sure you check out the bilge. Remember those water intakes you found in the bottom? Make sure that you can access them from inside, make sure that you can operate the sea cocks, and make sure you purchase or make some soft wooden tapered dowel plugs to drive into the holes should the fitting fail.
Whether or not you are mechanically inclined, try to learn some basic information about your engines so that when you inspect them every once in awhile, you will be able to notice if anything improper is happening. You should know how to check fluid levels for engine oil, transmission fluid and coolant. You should know how to check fan belt tension. And you should perform these checks regularly, or pay someone to do it, and write it down in your maintenance log.
Check out the electrical system. What is the proper procedure for plugging in to shore power, or using the generator? How do you reset the circuit breakers or replace the fuses? Do you have spares? How about your batteries? Are there battery switches and if so which batteries are affected by which switches?
When you disconnect the shore power are there items on board that immediately switch to on-board battery power, such as the refrigerator, and if so, how do you stop that to save battery power if you need it?
There is a lot to learn about your new boat before the engines are fired up. Taking the time to get to know your boat, gathering and recording information and understanding it, will make you a safer boater and provide you with knowledge and experience that will make you a more confident boater.