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Watering In: Avoid 10 Common Mistakes


The season is approaching, it’s time to get into the water. Here are 10 valuable tips to ensure that everything goes smoothly.

Get out of the warehouse, remove tarpaulin or foil, wait for the engine, spring cleaning, maybe a few fresh layers of paint on the wood, some wax and polish for the dull gelcoat – you are ready for the first trip after winter. But wasn’t there something else? Shouldn’t you take a deep breath and tackle a few neuralgic points that are easily overlooked or forgotten when wintering and wintering, but which affect the safety of your floating base?

1) Offended bilge pump
Even if your boat has been well covered over the winter on land, or even in a hangar, that is no guarantee for a dry bilge. A hidden little leak or condensation is all it takes. And if this water then also freezes and damages the pump or float switch, unwanted tension is created. In 99 percent of the cases this may be harmless, but then one percent is fatal. So: Test the function of the pump and switch on the dashboard as well as the emergency switch in the bilge before entering the water. Magnetic switches or those with water sensors are a little more difficult to test. But this is how it works: Fill a large plastic bag with water, put the top edge over the switch. Then raise the sack until the switch is completely in the water. You may get a little wet in the process, but you will also find out that everything works as expected. In an emergency, that could be life insurance.

bilge pump

2) Weak sea valves and hoses
Here, too, ice can have problematic effects, especially if something was messed about and old hoses were replaced by the wrong types. This is particularly risky under the waterline. A visual check of the hoses and sea valves is not sufficient, you should pull on it and also twist the hose and carefully examine the connection to the sea valve and the hose clamp for tightness. This shows whether the hose material has become brittle and whether there is damage from ice. Also note the anti-siphon loops in the drain hoses that go above the waterline level to keep water from flowing back into the bilge. Residual water in these loops can freeze over winter and damage the hose.

3) Faulty VHF radio
Defective microphones, loose contacts and other flaws can haunt the VHF radio over the winter, even if it has been stored well protected. However, if you only do the check on your first exit, you risk not noticing defects until you are out on the water. You should therefore check the radio before you put it down for the first time. If it is still cold (below 10 degrees C), pay attention to the antenna bracket. If it is made of plastic, it is brittle in the cold and can break if you whip it violently. Better yet, replace plastic mounts with stainless steel ones. And don’t forget your spark. This also wants to be tested, even if it is only for the state of charge of the batteries.
Modern VHF radios use Digital Selective Calling (DSC), but often they are either not connected to a GPS or not properly registered with an MMSI number. In other words, pressing the red emergency call button does exactly: nothing. So it is essential to apply for an MMSI number and network the radio with a GPS so that an emergency call also contains the vital position information.

vhf radio
vhf radio

4) Subjugated gear
There is hardly anything more stupid than lying down with engine failure right at the start of the season, for example if water ingress damaged the gearbox of your outboard in winter and this was not discovered or repaired before launching. Even small amounts of water can cause frost damage, for example through cracks in the metal and damaged seals. Therefore: prevention is better than repair – and above all cheaper. The bottom of the shaft should be checked for clean grease. It is also a good idea to check the floor under the fin for fluid leaks. If there are fresh stains there, see the mechanic immediately. If, on the other hand, you habitually renew the lubrication in autumn before wintering, you can see at an early stage whether there is water in the grease that could cause problems later.

5) water in the tank
Experts recommend overwintering with a full tank to prevent condensation and the associated problems caused by water in the fuel and the annoying phase separation of ethanol. Even treating the fuel with a stabilizer is no guarantee against condensation. You should therefore empty the fuel / water separator to make sure that there is no water in the tank. Check the separator again during and after the first exit and empty it if necessary. Get into the habit of doing this check at least once during the season. Unscrew the container completely, because these things tend to rust.
If your boat runs on diesel, take a small amount as deep as possible from the tank, put the fuel in a clear plastic bottle and leave it for a few hours. The diesel should be clear. If it is not, it contains water and / or algae. In this case, you have to take care of the multiple filtering of the fuel at your shipyard, which removes the impurities from the tank. This also works with gasoline, but once the phase separation has set in with ethanol, the octane number drops, which increases the risk of your engine being damaged.

6) Brittle bellows
The bellows of a sterndrive is notorious for leaks and there are good reasons for this, because the sun and aging make rubber brittle. This process can also take place over the winter, in other words, a skin that was okay in autumn can be brittle in spring, especially if it had to remain in the same position all winter. Therefore, they examine the folds for visible breaks before, during and after lowering the drive. Also keep an eye out for clams and other marine growth whose sharp shells can cut the delicate rubber. While you’re at it, take a look at the exhaust and the cable kink protection. Avoid treating the bellows with aggressive cleaning agents that promote aging because they attack the rubber and thus lead to increased UV sensitivity. No matter what you do or don’t do, be sure to take a close look under the engine cover the first time you go into the water to make sure that there is no water ingress into the engine room.

7) drain with no flow
Leaves, twigs and other debris can cause blockages, but it is also easy to forget about insects such as wasps, which build their nests in dark tubes. If that happens, clogging is almost guaranteed and it can have far-reaching, even fatal consequences if it affects bilge pipes in the cockpit and deck drains. A visual inspection is not enough. Feel free to poke around with a curved coat hanger or blow the pipes through with a pressure washer to ensure that the water can drain off as intended. The same applies to the bait fish tank, if there is one on board, and all drains from the storage spaces.


8) Signal ammunition defective
While it’s pretty obvious, it’s easy to forget to check the ammunition expiration date and the fire extinguisher level. The police are happy to distribute traffic tickets for this, although that is only a lesser evil compared to an emergency situation to which one is exposed without functioning signaling or extinguishing equipment. The expiry date for signal ammunition is 42 months after manufacture, not after purchase. Therefore, pay attention to this when purchasing and ideally program an alarm into the phone when it is time to service or replace this vital part of the safety equipment on board.

9) Opaque plastic windows
Milky, dull windows are often your own fault. This is not only avoidable but also a safety issue, namely if the windshield does not allow the helmsman to see clearly. In spring, windows, hatches and panes made of acrylic, polycarbonate and other plastics require thorough cleaning. But keep your hands off sharp, ammonia-containing glass cleaners, which are completely unsuitable for this because they turn plastic windows yellow and turn milky. Poor visibility at the steering position itself will not sink the boat, but in adverse conditions overlooking a hard obstacle such as driftwood, half-sunken containers or steel buoys can lead to collisions, which in turn can puncture the hull. In short: plastic windows should only be cleaned with the appropriate cleaning agents.

10) Slippery cleanliness
For many, the good, even shiny appearance of the boat after the spring cleaning is part of the experience of the first trip. It is often overlooked that wax, cleaning and polishing agents, which bring the gelcoat to a new shine, can turn the deck into a sliding area. The cabin roof, coaming, cockpit soles, steps, handrails and baseboards should, indeed may not, be treated with such agents in order not to endanger the safe step of the crew and guests on board. There are special products for this that clean and seal the surfaces without making them slippery. It is best to rub metal surfaces with lemon juice, which is drizzled onto a sponge or cloth, then treat with normal boat soap. So everything shines and you can still move safely on deck.

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Of course, these 10 tips aren’t the end of the story, just a good start to all of the smaller and bigger things that can go wrong or be overlooked during spring cleaning, with possible unwanted side effects later. Charging batteries, checking cable connections, servicing the engine, etc. are standard items on every skipper’s to-do list. Experienced boating enthusiasts naturally have their own checklist for commissioning in spring and the end of the season in autumn. But it never hurts to refresh this list every now and then.
But let’s go, the sun is gaining strength, the days are getting longer and the new season is approaching with giant strides.

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