By Capt. Fred Davis

I have written dozens of articles the past several years that introduced new safety products I personally tested. Some of the items may have become part of your vessels carry-aboard safety equipment.

I often encourage family participation in safety drills on board to allow the entire family to respond and use their equipment if an emergency arises. I also repeatedly suggest use of a 25 watt FM marine radio on any boat that ventures onto large bodies of water.

Readers of my articles sometimes contact me to discuss the merits of safety equipment they are interested in. They also ask my opinion regarding other marine subjects. It is always a pleasure to hear reader comments and discuss boating topics with them. Most boaters, including me are interested in detailed descriptions about their equipment and do not just purchase by “name.”

During the operation of my towing and salvage company on Lake Huron, I always attempted to locate the cause of incidents I encountered. Frequently it was operator error but sometimes I came across an event that could be classified as equipment failure. Equipment failure may also be traced back to operator error so I would like to suggest an additional approach.

It is definitely wise to check all your PFD’s, fire extinguishers, first aid kits, flares and other safety equipment at least once a year. Most checklists however note the same few items. Once boaters go over their list, checking all safety equipment and perhaps repairing or replacing a few items, they feel confident they are ready to go. This confidence may be misleading and result in safety related problems later.

One of the most common troubles encountered is battery failure. Few boaters check their charging systems regularly and many ignore their batteries altogether. Checking the water level in a marine battery that is not sealed is a necessary and important task that needs to be done often. If water is needed, be sure to use distilled water. While checking the battery, if your boat has a belt-driven generating system, belts should be checked for cracks and tightened if needed.
If your alternator has oil cap, a few drops of oil could prevent a breakdown or complete electrical failure while underway.

If you have recently added new electronic equipment, be sure your charging system is capable of providing enough charge to avoid draining the battery. This is especially important for fishermen who spend long periods of time trolling at slow speeds with an abundance of equipment drawing from the battery supply.

Once you have checked your battery and electrical components cover the battery and secure it so it cannot tip and spill in rough seas.

A frequently overlooked item is your boat’s cables. Check shift cables, are they stiff or do they stick when shifting? If the answer is yes, try to lubricate them if possible. If this does not help, replace them. Failure of a shift cable can cause severe damage, particularly when approaching a dock.

Check your throttle cables the same way as the shift cables and make repairs or replacement. Cables exposed to the sun, most common on outboards, need to be checked at the engine end of the cable. Look for cracks in the jacket covering the cable housing. Cracks can allow moisture to seep inside and cause the cable to jam or break unexpectedly. Should this happen with the engine in gear, or at full throttle, the results could be very expensive. You may hit an object or even blow an engine from quick over-revving.

If you have hydraulic steering or power steering, check the fluid level, if low, check closely for any signs of a leak. Leaks normally occur in seals located in the cylinders or at the steering wheel and can be difficult to detect. I use a white paper napkin because some steering fluids are clear and a slight leak can be very hard to spot. A leak, however slight, should be corrected as soon as possible to avoid loss of steering.

Fuel line filters, sometimes referred to as water separators, are another item that is overlooked when doing pre-launch checks. A little water in the fuel tank can stop an engine by cutting its fuel supply. In some cases, the engine may only miss or sputter. Running at a slow speed may allow you to reach a safe harbor but in many cases the engine will just stop. Unless you are prepared to make repairs; you can be left floating around helpless. I learned the hard way about fuel filter problems. They often occur at the worst time, like during rough seas when sediment in the tank gets mixed in the fuel.

Having an extra set of filters aboard is highly recommended as there are many variations in marine systems and not every port has a supplier that carries them all. You will also want to include in your tool supply those necessary to complete replacement of your filters.

A replacement filter and tools aboard may allow you to make a change at sea but exercise EXTREME CAUTION and make certain all fumes are cleared before attempting to re-start your engine.

If filter replacement occurs frequently, you may have to pump out your fuel tank. If your tank seems to be accumulating water, it may have a hole in it. This event is not uncommon in foamed in tanks below deck.

Another very important item to check is your wiring, especially at the ends and in areas where exposed to sun or heat such as an engine compartment. Check wire ends for discoloration or a dust-like substance built up around them. They could even be green, particularly around the battery. Make sure all wire ends are firmly in contact with the source of supply such as a fuse board. Connections made with wire nuts should be made with fitted, lock-type wire nuts. The best way to connect wire is to solder the connection and cover it with shrink tube or liquid rubber. Any loose wire ends or badly deteriorated ends should be replaced. Any wires that are cracked or brittle need to be replaced at once.

If the wire you are replacing is in a loom or channel, tie a piece of line to the wire before you pull it through then use the same line, tied to a new wire, to pull it back into position. Be aware, crimp-on wire ends frequently fail if they are not soldered or installed with a proper crimping tool.
A new problem I have frequently encountered concerns drain plugs. Snap-type rubber plugs are particularly troublesome. The pin comes off one side of the snap handle under pressure. This pin failure allows the snap pressure to release and the plug can than be pushed out by water pressure. The failure may also happen with plastic style plugs. The pins rust off and allow the plugs to work loose.

Fuel lines are a most important item to check. Examine them in all accessible areas and be sure to also look at vent lines. Check to be sure long runs are secure to avoid wear
caused by rubbing. As you check rubber fuel lines, look for rub spots and soft spots. If there is any question of a fuel line integrity, replace it immediately.

Outboards with removable fuel fittings also need to be carefully checked for leaks. Look around the small “0” rings in the snap-on fittings. These “0” rings can be replaced without buying a new hose.

Plastic through-hull fittings such as those used with pump drains or deck drains need to be looked at closely. They may crack after long exposure to the sun. All hoses connected to drains and any other through-hull fittings should be carefully checked.

Drain cocks or the more commonly named ball cocks should be checked to be certain they could be shut off if necessary. Be sure to leave them open after checking them.

After you complete your IN-DEPTH check and replace any determined parts, if you have time to spare, review your books on the electronics you have aboard. Today’s electronics ­ GPS, Depth sounder etc., have multiple functions and you may be missing out on some helpful information. After your review, be sure to place them on the boat in a dry place for quick reference if needed.
Only when you complete all the above examinations are you really “READY TO GO” and have a safe, enjoyable boating season.

Bon Voyage!!


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