Preparedness includes a safety tune-up

As the winter winds down and the cover comes off your boat you are likely ready with cleaners and waxes and a list of mechanical items to check and repair before launch. Every prudent boat owner will undertake these activities before heading out for the first spring cruise.

But your pre-launch list should also include a safety gear review and tune-up to be sure you are ready for any and all potential situations on the water.

Batteries die, flares expire or get wet, that lifejacket that was tucked away in the locker was crushed under the weight of other items that were stored in the locker – a number of things could have happened to your safety equipment since last season.

Here is a checklist for your springtime safety review.

Your number one concern should be your lifejackets or Personal Flotation Devices. They are bulky, hard to store and generally take up space so they are often an afterthought at the end of the season.

Pull them all out and check to make sure all the fasteners work properly and aren’t cracked or broken. Ensure they are clean and there are no tears in the fabric. Also check to make sure the flotation material hasn’t been crushed. If you have life jackets or vests with inflation devices make sure they are charged and well secured.

And of course, if you have a growing family make sure the lifejackets still fit the person for whom they were purchased. It’s a good idea to take the time to fit them to each person and adjust all the fasteners so they will be ready for use.

Flares, if required on board your vessel, should be checked. Make sure that you have the correct quantity and type and that they haven’t expired. Remember, flares expire four years after the date of their manufacture. They should be stored in a waterproof container in an easily accessible location on your boat and you should know how to use them before you have an emergency.

Your fire extinguishers should be checked. Are they the correct size and in the correct location for your boat? Have they expired or otherwise lost their charge? Have they been shaken to keep the chemicals properly mixed?

Remember that safety rules are the minimum standards. Based on what you use on board for fuel and cooking, do you have enough fire-fighting capacity and do you and your crew members all know how to activate and use the extinguishers?

The boat’s built-in safety systems should be checked for damage or loose fittings. Lifelines and rails, handholds and non-skid surfaces should all be examined. Loose hardware, or leaking hardware, should be repaired.

While you are on deck, have a close look at your ground tackle. Are the chains and lines secured to the anchor and the boat? Is there any evident chafing indicating that lines should be changed? Is the anchor misshapen from last season’s use? Is it large enough and does it suit the bottom where you normally anchor?

You should also check the chocks through which your anchor rode travels to ensure they are secure and haven’t acquired any sharp edges.

If you use a windlass, check its operation and the manual to see if it requires annual maintenance. Although the rules say you have to carry one anchor, it is safer to carry two.

Also while you are on deck, check the operation of your navigation lights. Even if you only boat during the day, your lights must function. Check to make sure the lenses are clear and clean and the bulbs all work.

Step off the boat and circle it to make sure other equipment and items on the boat don’t interfere with the visibility of your lights.

Back inside the vessel it is time to check the other required safety equipment. Bailers, sound signalling devices, VHF radio, paddles or oars, should all be in good shape and easily accessible in case of an emergency.

Check your bilge pump. This is often not an easy job but, especially on older boats, they can become plugged, or their mounting blocks can become worn to the point that they no longer function properly. While you are cleaning the boat, check and make sure they work as they should. Regardless of what the regulations say is required for your boat, you should always carry a hand-operated pump or device to remove water from the boat.

Much of the remainder of your spring maintenance check-list will also be part of your safety review.

For example you should be checking your boat’s fuel system to ensure there are no leaks or chafing of fuel lines. The shut-off valves should function properly and easily. Hoses should be clean and not cracked or torn. Clamps should be tight.

Your battery should be secured in a non-corrosive, ventilated and liquid tight container.

Your blower should function properly and hoses should be secured and intact.

The engine and fuel compartment ventilation hoses should also be in good shape so that they can function correctly.

The electrical system should be checked and any issues resolved before you head out on the water and if you have fuel-burning appliances on board, ensure that they function properly and their installation remains safe and secure.

With a thorough safety equipment check added to your spring routine, you can be sure that you will be ready to hit the water with confidence. 

By Mark King