This boater’s experience shows the need to check everything before casting off.
My father and I purchased our first vessel, an 18-foot Bayliner with a 125 hp Mercury outboard, the Honda Civic of the boating world. We bought the boat in September and used it a couple of months before having to winterize (we live in New Jersey).
The next spring, the big weekend finally came, and it was time to put it in the water. The weather was not ideal, what with 15 to 20 mph winds and a threat of rain, but we put the boat in anyways. My uncle, a longtime boater and Coast Guard auxiliarist, met us at our place on the Barnegat Bay in Long Beach Island and volunteered to give the vessel a top-to-bottom safety inspection. The boat passed with flying colors.
All systems were go when I put the throttle into reverse to edge into the bay — except the wheel wouldn’t turn, not even an inch. We frantically tried grabbing the dock, somehow snagging the last pile by a fingernail. If not for that, we would have been up the river without a paddle. My uncle jumped out and put the boat back onto the trailer.
We limped back to dry-dock and tried to diagnose the problem. It turned out that the steering cable (probably the only thing that was not checked) had corroded and was “frozen.” After hours of trying to fix it, we gave up and ordered a new one (to my surprise, the part only cost $110, which I’m told is practically nothing in boat dollars).
I learned a lot about boating that day. No matter how confident you are, there is always something that can go wrong. I learned how to replace a steering cable, and my uncle has a new item for his Coast Guard vessel-safety checklist.
Long Beach Island, New Jersey