An Idle Boat Can Be A Sulky Starter

April 21, 1991|By Pat Emory | Pat Emory,Special to The Sun

About 5,000 boats will be launched in the waters aroun Ocean City this summer, but not every vessel will roar into life with the turn of a key and speed away across the waves

Each summer, there are hundreds of boaters who spend part of their vacation stranded on land angry and frustrated.Instead of fishing, water skiing or exploring the bays around Ocean City, they're checking up on the boat in the shop.

Other boaters will be spend hours rolling on the ocean waves or boiling under a hot sun on the bay as they wait for help in the form of a tow to shore to arrive.Some will spend more for a tow home than they would have spent to properly dewinterize their

The process of dewinterizing a boat and checking it over for worn or broken parts usually takes 60 to 90 minutes and can

cost $ 75 or less at a reputable shop-a good investment if you're counting on spending a lot of time on the water around Ocean City.

" There's a common misconception that a boat winterized by the manual will just start right up in the spring," said Chris Wahler, manager of Bayside Boatel, which stores and services hundreds of boats in Ocean City.

Surprisingly, inactivity over a long winter is sometimes harder on a vessell than running it all summer,he said.

Idiosyncrasies that were minor irritations in the summer can fester over the winter and become major problems by spring causing an engine not to start or to break down shortly after it leaves the ramp.

Engine if breakdowns account for many calls for assistance fielded by the Coast Guard during the season, and some of them are avoidable, according to a U.S. Coast Guard official.

"If people would do a general maintenance on their engine, it possibly could save them from a breakdown," said Petty Officer Robert McVey at the U.S. Coast Guard's Ocean City inlet station.

When the engine in a motorboat fails, "It's pretty tough to walk home," said Mr. Wahler. He tries to imagine everything that could possibly go wrong when he dewinterizes a boat in the spring and fixes it before it breaks.

For many people, dewinterizing the boat means flushing the antifreeze from the cooling system of an inboard/outboard, changing the oil if it wasn't changed in the fall, turning the key long enough to see that the engine starts, and tuning it up, if need be.

But Mr. Wahler's checklist goes far beyond these basics and includes examining the water pump, steering linkages, navigational lights, electronic components and the bilge pump. He checks belts for wear and dry rot, conducts a load-test on the batteries, looks for corrosion in the electrical system, checks fuses, and, if necessary, replaces the zinc, which helps reduce the natural process of electrolysis in salt water that can cause metal parts on a boat to corrode.

He also checks the condition of the propeller. "People find the bottom a lot around here," said Mr. Wahler, referring to the shallow depths of the bays.

Sometimes boats that have gone aground need to have their propellers reconditioned, that is, straightened to factory specifications, said Eric Luckenbaugh of Bahia Marina at 21st and 22nd streets on Assawoman Bay.

If a bent and out-of-balance prop is not reconditioned, "it could cause damage to the engine.

"Excessive vibration could cause the drive shaft to bend or cause extra wear on the [forward and reverse] gears," Mr. Luckenbaugh said.

Many boat owners also like to have their fiberglass waxed before the season, said Mr. Luckenbaugh. He recommends that owners apply a compound to the fiberglass before waxing, particularly if the fiberglass has turned chalky. The compound helps clean the fiberglass and restores luster to it.

Boat owners who do their own maintenance should start going down their checklists at least three weekends before they intend to use their boat, Mr. Wahler recommended. That gives them time to buy parts and install them before they go on vacation, he said.

As soon as the boat is put in the water, the hull should be checked for leaks, particularly around thru-hull fittings, and at seacocks that let waste water out of the boat (at sinks) or sea water in (at the head or toilet.)

Safety equipment should also be checked every spring. The Coast Guard requires every boat to have at least one life jacket per person aboard the boat, one throwable flotation device, flares and a sound-producing device, such as a horn or whistle.

Since flares, which are used to signal that a boat is in distress, become useless over time, the dates on the flares should be checked and new flares purchased if the date has expired. Floatation devices should be examined for dry rot. Boaters who have hand-held air horns -- used in foggy conditions to signal your whereabouts to surrounding boaters -- should be sure to carry an extra Freon cartridge.

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