Experienced boat builder and retired water policeman John Bagnall says many boating dramas can be avoided by simple pre-float preparation.
As the weather warms and you start to imagine days on the water, allow time for a solid check of your boat before you even leave home, and certainly well in advance of your first (mis)adventures.
Many boats sustain damage during winter storage, so when you drag your boat out, give both it and the trailer a thorough inspection. Check both for signs of impact damage. Then go over the trailer.
Trailer safety check
Check the tyres for worn tread, crushed walls and gutter damage. Check the wheels for signs of rust or alloy corrosion, and check the frame and rails for rust, too. The wheel bearings and caps might need a grease, a
Now, to the boat!
Checking your boat
Let's start with a word of caution about complex engine technology. It's true that these days boat mechanics are so advanced that it could be a grave error to think you can DIY, particularly when it comes to managing dangerous fuel systems. That said, getting a well maintained boat back in the water after winter won't take a lot of work and being involved enough with your boat to do a basic check will keep you safer in the drink. So here's your short list:
A preseason check will cover the fuel filter, fuel tank and fuel cap. Be on the look out for external signs of damage such as a crack in the glass or plastic of the cap. Always get professional help if you suspect problems, as playing with fuel systems is an explosive sport.
Fuel goes stale, so start the season with a tank of completely fresh fuel. Old fuel looses its octane rating - using it will result in power loss and loss of reliability of the engine.
Two stroke oil
Like the man says, oils aint oils. Mineral oil also goes stale and has to be replaced, so it's better economy to use a good quality synthetic oil which you can simply top up.
The two stroke oil bottle will be attached to the motor under the engine cover or will be a tank bolted to the floor near the transom. Make sure you check the level while the boat is steady for an accurate reading. You will also need to record the rate of use as you run the boat (pinging is a good indication that the boat is low on oil). It goes without saying that you would never take the boat out without spare oil. How bad can things get if the oil runs low? A seized motor is just the start.
Water flow and thermostats
That wee-like stream of water out the back of the outboard motor shows the cooling impellor (pump) is working. Most motors are salt water cooled and need to be flushed with fresh water, as the salt can build up, block the cooling tubes and jam the thermostat. Use a garden hose attached to the ‘rabbit ears' (the rubber caps that cover the water intakes) or a bucket for smaller motors. A working thermostat is critical as you can seize the motor by running it too cold, and you can't fix it on the water.
The gearbox is in the bulge, forward of the propeller, at the bottom of the leg. Condensation through temperature change, propeller damage and ageing of the gearbox oil seal can allow water into the gearbox oil, which can lead to being stranded and expensive repairs. If it looks like there is any water, get the oil changed and the seals checked.
Propeller and rubber bush/shaft support
Check the condition of the propeller locking pin (some motors have spare pins in a rubber block under the engine cover). If the blades are bent or cracked replace the propeller and check the rubber shaft support (if split, rebush).
Grease nipples on outboard joints and hinges, leg turning shaft, stop and go arm, and tilt ram bases. These joints can get so tight that pushing hard will damage the controls and crack the metal.
The thumb size levers that stabilise the engine when road travelling are at the top of the leg but under the motor base. There is also generally a safety valve on the tilt rams. Cranking the motor up and down on the locks can cause damage so make sure you release them before tilting the motor.
Check your battery for collapsed plates, make sure your acid level is correct and have your charge rate checked before your take the boat out (flat batteries are one of the most common reasons craft call for assistance). Also check the condition of the battery leads, particularly the crimping (make sure the leads are still well connected to the clamps) and remove the grey-white dirt that builds up between the clamps and the terminals. Use good quality battery off switches and remember that playing with your tilt/trim switches drains battery power.
All checked? Call your mates - now you're good to go!
Tip: Sand in the pump?
Safer boating with a marine radio
Don't leave shore without a marine radio. An appropriate marine radio is an essential safety net. It allows you to listen to routine weather warnings and marine safety information broadcasts, liaise with other vessels and access invaluable services provided by Volunteer Marine Rescue (VMR) organisations. When offshore, it is in everyone's interest to leave the marine radio switched on and tuned in to the appropriate distress, emergency, safety and calling channel. It is important to keep routine calls on these channels to a minimum and move to a working channel for extended conversations.
Run a web search on "volunteer coastal patrol" to access local information and advice on courses for marine radio operators, coastal navigation courses and other aspects of boat safety. For information about licensing of radios and operators, visit the Australian Communications and Media Authority website at www.acma.gov.au