Get Ready to Sail - the Safe and Secure Way

March 20, 2018

Getting Your Boat Ready For Launch

Prepping your boat for the forthcoming season may not sound like a lot of fun. But you can put a positive spin on it by thinking of the task as the exciting launchpad for months of messing about on the water -- whereverthat may be.

Getting things ready now means you're more likely to have a trouble-free spring and summer of boating. In other words, it's a good investment.

Still, you want to do your preparations as speedily as possible. And the best way to do that is to draw up a checklist of tasks and set yourself a timetable for completing them.

Doing this now could also save you some time and expense by highlighting in advance any materials and supplies you need before you even start work.

And if you have any friends or family who might be willing to lend a hand, now is the time to ask them -- before they get committed to other things.

Starter Checklist

Bearing all of this in mind, and depending on your type of vessel, here's a simple checklist you can use as the foundation of your own boat 'to do' list, drawing on advice from experts and US federal agencies including the Army Corps of Engineers, the National Park Service, and the Fish and Wildlife Service:

  • Examine your trailer. Before you even consider moving you boat, check for trailer flat tires, wheel bearing failures, axle or suspension problems and tongue/coupling problems.
  • Do a visual inspection of your boat before it goes into the water. Check the hull and do any necessary repairs/painting. Don’t rush this job -- it could be a matter of life and death. Ensure rudders and propellers are in good condition, repairing any pitting, which can cause vibration.
  • Even if you have just a small watercraft, like a canoe or kayak, hull inspection is one of the most important safety checks you can carry out.
  • Wash and wax. Clean canvas, drains and scuppers. Flush the water tank. If you have a mast and rigging, be sure they are in good shape
  • Check engines/motors, filters, hoses and belts, changing oil, topping up transmission fluid and replacing spark plugs. Brittleness or cracking are signs of hose damage. If you're not an expert yourself, it's also a good idea to have in-board engines checked and tuned by a professional. You can also ask him/her for advice on which spare parts to carry.
  • If you use a winch, be sure to clean and grease it. Check your bailer and hand-pump.
  • Check (and replace if necessary) other fittings like wiper blades. (Add in your own additional items to this list).
  • Check safety equipment, including life jackets, which must be the right sizes for intended users. Check the fabric and straps, repairing or replacing defective items. Also, make sure you have a Coast Guard-approved fire extinguisher on board. Check it every month and have a professional inspect it once a year. Also check life rings and cushions, and, if you have them, your dinghy or life raft.
  • In enclosed areas, you should also have at least one carbon monoxide detector installed. If you already have one, replace the battery and check it. You may also need an LPG and gasoline fume detector.
  • Check the navigation lights on your watercraft -- if it has them. The bulbs should be bright and be in good condition. Make sure you have spares too. Also check that wiring, insulation, terminals and switches are corrosion free. Check radio systems and your compass and have a current supply of flares. Ensure flares have not passed their expiry date.
  • Other electrical systems and components should also be scrutinized, including battery operation, charge and water levels, gauges and antennas. If your battery has been removed or disconnected during winterizing, make sure all terminals are firmly reconnected and that there's no corrosion.
  • Check your charts and make sure they are up to date.

If you need more help and information, the following list on the boatsafe website is a great starting point. It's a bit ancient but all of the scores of tips are helpful:

Free Check-up

Did you know, by the way, that both the US Coast Guard Auxiliary and the US Power Squadron will carry out a free boat safety inspection and advise on any additional equipment you need?

They check features like life jackets, registration and numbering, navigation lights, ventilation, fire extinguishers, distress signals and battery cover and connections -- all of which are required by state and federal laws.

On passing the inspection, you're awarded a U.S. Coast Guard / Auxiliary decal that says your boat was in full compliance with all federal and state boating laws during a safety check for that year.

The inspection is carried out where your boat is berthed or stored at a mutually suitable time. To learn more and arrange your safety check go to:

Now you're ready… almost.

Two Important Further Actions

There are two more important things you should do to make the most of the season.

First, before you set out on a trip, make a plan. Depending on where you're headed, this might range from setting a simple but realistic timespan for what you plan to do (including the supplies you need) to carefully charting your route and, especially if you're ocean-going, sharing your plans with some landlubber friends or relatives. Either way, don’t forget to check the weather and tidal data.

And if you plan to berth away from your base, check there's sufficient space available and book your berth well in advance.

Second, ensure your boating peace of mind by checking or taking out boat insurance. Although insurance is not a legal requirement for your watercraft in New York (although registration is), it's a wise move to get yourself protected. In some cases, boating insurers offer discounts for vessels which undergo a Coast Guard Vessel Safety Check (VSC) every year.

There are numerous coverage options available today and you should speak to an agent who's experienced in boat insurance, like Newbridge Coverage, to be sure you're adequately protected.

Now, you're really ready!