Inspection ensures boat's seaworthiness Assessment done best before season launch

On the Outdoors

March 29, 1996|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

The weather was warm, and the boatyard was dotted with a dozen or so do-it-yourselfers anxious to get sail and power boats ready for launch. Among the dozen faces dirtied with paint sandings, caulks, compounds and varnishes, there were smiles and grimaces.

In some cases, the hard winter had had little impact on the boats. In other cases, where tarps or cockpit drains had failed, boats had filled with water.

Bilge pumps, through-hull fittings and hoses had burst, engines and transmissions had spent the cold months partially submerged -- and getting ready for the boating season would cost some among the dirty dozen a great deal more than others.

"If you are around boatyards enough," said Ted Downey, who owns Seaside Boatworks in Annapolis, "you know that more boats sink on land than at the dock.

"When the weather gets cold, some people will just pull into the travel-lift, get the boat hauled and blocked, run anti-freeze through the raw-water side of the engine's cooling system and leave it til spring."

By the time warm weather arrives, the damage has been done.

But in every case -- whether winter lay-up was done fastidiously or haphazardly -- the warm days before launch are the time to assess a boat's systems and prevent possibly costly repairs during the season.

"To keep on top of a boat -- whether it is a trailered runabout or a 60-footer -- you need to keep a maintenance log and refer to it often," said Downey. "When was the engine oil changed last? When was the deck hardware rebedded, the winches serviced, the wiring checked over, bow to stern, the fresh-water system cleaned and its pumps and fitting checked, the sailboat's rigging checked.

"Those are some of the questions that a well-kept log book can answer at a glance."

BOAT/U.S., a national retail service organization of boaters, recommends the following pre-launch inspections:

Check the expiration dates on safety gear such as flares and fire extinguishers, and update as necessary.

Update navigational charts and guides.

Check and replace as necessary all lights and fuses on shipboard systems and navigation lights. If trailering, check the trailer lights and brakes, too.

Go over registration, documentation and insurance papers and update as needed.

First aid, tool and repair kits should be checked and resupplied if necessary.

Inspect and test all through-hull fittings, with special attention paid to those below the waterline, and go over the hoses that lead to them. Non-metallic through hulls are especially vulnerable during a cold winter because they become brittle as they age and can check and crack. (Yes, that means squeezing in under the sinks and behind the heads.)

Reinstall electronic gear that has been taken off the boats and test it.

Sailboat rigging should be inspected carefully to ensure that swaggings have not been cracked or that chain-plate mounts have worked during periods of high wind.

In the engine compartment, check engine oil and transmission fluids for water contamination, which will make the oils brown or gray. A mechanic should check over the engine to see if the fluids have been contaminated. Otherwise, change the oils anyway, even if fresh fluids were added properly before layup. Engine oil especially holds acids that can corrode the inside of an engine if not changed at proper intervals.

Go a step further and install a new impeller for the engine's water pump.

Check the ground tackle, the life vests, the mooring lines, the fittings on the holding tank and the manual back-up bilge pump.

Then varnish and paint or compound and wax, pay the yard bill, launch the boat -- and hope for a trouble-free season.

Pub Date: 3/29/96

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