Your Boating Checklist

RACV Marine

Boat on ramp

It’s been said that the best way to keep a boat in top condition is to keep using it.

As strange as that may sound, there’s a solid logic behind it. That’s because a boat that no longer gets regular use often no longer receives regular maintenance. Prolonged inactivity therefore allows problems that were previously kept at bay to potentially creep back in.

If you haven’t been out for a while, now’s the time to give your boat a good looking over. A few extra minutes checking the condition of your rig will ensure trouble-free boating for many years to come. This handy boating checklist should get you started.

Use it or lose it

The busiest time of year for Coast Guard callouts is when boats come out of a long period of idleness.

“October and November is definitely our busy time,” says Deanne Semmens, coast guard volunteer and skipper at Carrum, located at one of Victoria’s busiest boat ramps. This period, of course, coincides with many boaters venturing out for the first time in many months. She says a great many of the callouts can be attributed to flat batteries and stale fuel, both of which can usually be prevented through maintenance. Although the seasonal spike in callouts occurs at the start of the summer boating season, the lesson is the same for other peak holiday periods: maintain your boat, even when it’s not being used.

Leaks

Petrol and fuel vapour can be fatal. Indeed, says Deanne, recently two people in Gippsland were injured after their boat caught fire on Lake Narracan.

Always check for leaks and fuel smells before starting the engine or operating anything with a switch. Check fuel lines as they can become loose or brittle and check fuel filters, even if they’ve been inspected at the start of the season, then clean or replace if required.

“If you get an explosion on the water, you don’t get a second chance,” says Deanne. “Wherever you have a spark and fuel vapour… it could end up in a pretty nasty situation,” she says. “Fibreglass burns very very quickly and all we’ll be able to do is hopefully find you in the water.”

Boat on trailer

Engine

Every engine has a maintenance guide from the manufacturer. Generally speaking, check and change the oil if required. Inspect the pull cord and check the spark plugs. You may need to clean and gap them, or replace them if they're no longer functioning optimally. Also, check the propeller nut and pin as well as the cooling system (look for accumulated fishing line or seaweed). If you’re not sure about doing it yourself, enlist the help of a marine mechanic.

Batteries

“The main cause of call-outs, 100 per cent, would be batteries,” says Deanne, again referring to the busiest time of year between September and November. Even so, the principle is the same for any boat that remains unused.

“You need to check the electrolyte, top it up with distilled water and check the charge,” she says, adding that correct marine battery maintenance per the manufacturer’s guidelines is essential. Check that the connections are clean and don’t show signs of corrosion.

Have a look at the RACV Marine guide to boat batteries for more information.

Trailer

Boat trailers are prone to degradation, although for obvious reasons there are few Coast Guard callouts for trailer problems.

“Checking the trailer is a huge part to getting that boat to the ramp and back,” says Deanne. “Check your bearings and keep them properly greased. Make sure your brakes are ok and that things are properly lubricated and haven’t become rusted,” she says.

“It can be as simple as travelling down the road for a bit, pulling off where it’s safe, and checking the heat on those bearings. It’s better to do a couple of minute of checking around the boat and making it to the ramp, than not making it at all,” she adds.

You can also look at the RACV Marine guide to boat trailer maintenance.

Wiring

You really don’t want to diagnose the source of an electrical problem on the side of the road or on the water. Test all electrical components like radios and lights and check the wiring for signs of corrosion or fraying.

Wiring problems can be a real nuisance on trailers when it comes to things like brake lights so look at the boat trailer guide (above) for more tips.

Safety gear

“Lifejackets are one of the most important pieces of equipment to have on board. People tend to snub their noses at wearing one, but if you end up in the water, it is the one thing that will potentially save your life,” says Deanne.

It’s a tragic fact that a very high proportion of drownings associated with recreational boats could have been prevented if a lifejacket had been worn. So, wear one and check that the rest of your safety gear is fit for purpose and suitable for the conditions in which you plan to go boating. Gear is no good in an emergency if you can’t get to it. Also, check the flare expiry dates and the gauge on the fire extinguisher.

And finally…

“If you are the skipper on a vessel, you are responsible for yourself and everybody else that’s on it for that day. You are taking everybody’s life in your hands if you take shortcuts,” says Deanne.

So, look after you and your passengers by looking after your boat.

Check out the Transport Safety Victoria Recreational Boating Safety Handbook for a comprehensive seasonal boating checklist.

Contact our RACV Marine Specialists

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