Across North America at boat launch ramps, the familiar growl of boat motors waking up from their long winter nap heralds the start of the boating season. But what makes boating, fishing or sailing this time of year different from all others?
When it comes to safety, here are three tips to answer that question:
1. The water is still cold. Darn cold. Even though the white stuff is gone and you’re in a T-shirt and can feel the sun’s warmth on your face, lurking beneath your boat’s keel is water that could make breathing difficult or disable you in minutes after an accidental fall overboard. It’s a good idea to wear a comfortable life jacket, and if solo, rig a self-boarding ladder that can be deployed while in the water.
2. Have backup plans. For a routine breakdown while underway, having an on water towing plan can help. However, most important is to leave a note, or “float plan,” for friends or family members advising them of your expected return. That’s because early in the season there are way-too-few boaters out there who could provide aid if something unexpected happened, and if no one knows where you are, you could be in a heap of trouble. A sample float plan can be found at: BoatUS.com/floatplan.
3. The number one reason why boats sink in the springtime is being in a hurry to get in the water. Check every engine hose and clamp. Remove leaves in scuppers and clear clogged cockpit drains. Check to see that freezing water didn’t crack the sea strainer or seacock/valves. Go to BoatUS.com/springchecklist to get a copy of a Spring Fitting Out Safety Checklist.