By Christine Morford, Category Director, BOATiD.com
One advantage to living in the South is that it’s boating season all year round. As a staple recreational activity, a significant amount of time is likely spent on the water and on taking care of your boat. For those who are new to boating, are looking into taking your boating activities to the next level by incorporating fishing or water sports, or just need a refresher, here is a brief DIY checklist to reference before leaving the dock.
Are You Meeting Coast Guard Requirements?
In case you didn’t know, the coast guard can board your boat at any time and for any reason. They are usually checking to see if you have the proper documentation and safety gear but may also want to check for environmental violations or to see if you are intoxicated. For this reason, make sure you have the most recent and accurate registration and documentation readily accessible at all times.
- State-issued Certificate of Number: There must be a registration number displayed on each side of the boat, in contrasting colors, in addition to a registration sticker.
- Federally Documented Title: For boats over five tons, make sure your vessel is registered with the Coast Guard and your title is up-to-date.
Requirements vary by state, so be sure to check out this helpful resource if you’re unclear on your state’s rules.
Is your Boat Running Properly?
This seems obvious, but you should always give your boat a once over before taking it out. Check the vital components of your boat, including:
- Wiring: Check all wires to make sure they are not damaged, cracked or loose.
- Battery terminals: Check that your battery is in good condition and that the terminals are clean and free of debris.
- Fuel levels: Make sure you have adequate fuel for your trip, especially considering that running out of gas is the number one reason boaters call for help!
- Propeller: If possible, examine your propeller to make sure it is free of fishing lines or any other obstructions.
- Livewell tank: Make sure it’s functional and there is proper water flow.
- Washdown pump: No one likes a messy boat (except flies) and if you are cutting bait or catching fish, chances are you’ll want a working washdown pump to spray down your boat throughout the day.
Are You Taking Necessary Safety Precautions?
It comes in handy for boat owners to have the skill and ability to fix small things, as well as the foresight to be prepared for anything that may go wrong while on the water. That said, it’s not a bad idea to bring a few things along that may be helpful should a difficult situation arise. Consider bringing a replacement fuel filter, a spare drive belt and a tool set complete with Allen wrenches and a wire brush to remove corrosion. Additionally, a spare propeller for trolling motors is also an inexpensive and useful item to have in your arsenal. Consider your specific type of boat and the things that could go wrong, and plan to have replacement parts, that you see fit, on hand.
Now that you’re prepared to fix the boat in a time of need, you’ll want to make sure you have everything you need to take care of everyone aboard. Most safety items can be addressed at the beginning of the season, but here are a few reminders:
- Life jackets: Make sure you have one life jacket per person on board in the appropriate sizes and one throwable flotation device per person for boats over 16 feet.
- Auto-inflatables: Meant for individuals over the age of 16, check the sizes, straps and expiration on all auto-inflatables to be sure they will work properly in an emergency situation.
- Lights: Check that your navigation lights are working properly.
- Medical kit: Be prepared for injuries. Make sure you have a fully stocked medical kit and medications that have not expired. You might also want to google “How to get a hook out of a hand”.
- Flares & tow rope: Always keep functional flares and a strong tow rope on board.
- On-Water Assistance Plan: Be sure to have an on-water assistance plan in place should you run aground, experience motor failure…or run out of gas!
Do you have the necessary gear for your favorite activities?
Now it’s time for the fun stuff—gear! Whether you’re going on a day or a weekend trip, or participating in water sports for a few hours, here are a few items you’ll need for a successful trip:
If you’re the captain, you’re most likely supplying the boat and are responsible for taking care of logistics (getting everyone to and from the fishing spots safely!). It’s an unspoken rule that the guests should chip in with other necessities, not excluding sharing the fuel costs.
- Fishing gear: First, you’ll need the basics: a knife, tackle, rods, reels, gaffs, net, etc. You may also want to consider making a checklist to make sure you don’t forget your favorite rod or that special lure that works every time!
- Cooler: If you don’t have a built-in ice chest, you will likely need a cooler or two. One for your fresh catch, and another for your food and drinks. Don’t forget the ice!
- Live Bait: Worms, Eels, Bunker, Clams, Mullet, Squid, Herring, etc. Whatever you are planning to use, add it to your checklist. You may need to order it or catch it in advance so make arrangements before waiting until the last minute.
- Human fuel: Based on how long you’ll be on the water, bring an adequate amount of food and water to keep hunger and dehydration at bay—whether it’s full meals or just snacks.
- Personal items: Make sure you have adequate sunscreen, lip balm, insect repellent and if necessary, seasick medication. If you’re packing the night before, be sure to pack a hat, sunglasses and extra layers since weather can quickly change on the water.
Before embarking on a water sport adventure, be sure you have enough people on board to do so safely. In addition to the skipper, some states require there be a spotter or observer, and some states specify the age of that observer. Check with your boating authorities to confirm rules for towing a person or inflatable.
Water sports, like water skiing and wakeboarding, can be a ton of fun, but they can be dangerous if not executed properly. To best prevent any injuries, make sure you have the following:
- Water sport gear: If you’re tubing, make sure your inflatable is in good condition, that the handles are secure, and the tow rope is properly attached. You’ll want to make sure water skis and wakeboards are in good condition as well by looking at bindings, weights and/or clamps to confirm they are safe to use.
- Tow rope: You’ll want a strong towing rope that isn’t showing any signs of wear to fully support a skier or tuber as well as the pull of the boat.
- Lifejacket: The coast guard recommends the use of a lifejacket or suitable PFD (Personal Flotation Device) for all watersports. Requirements vary by state so be sure to check your state’s boating laws to ensure you are following procedure.
While many of these tasks can be completed on your own, be sure to call a professional if you are not yet comfortable doing it on your own. A little demonstration and a bit of practice will give you the confidence and peace of mind necessary so you can focus on the fun stuff. Once you’re able to confidently take care of your boat and everyone on board, you’re primed for a great day on the water!
Christine Morford is the Category Director for BOATiD.com. Driven by her love for the outdoors and passion for the water, she has happily spent the last ten-plus years working in the marine industry.