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Spring Launch Day Can Be Fun!

By Scott Smith, Director of Communications

If you’re a boater, you’ve been there. “I can’t believe this is happening to me…this boat won’t (pick one) start/idle right/quit taking on water/etc./etc!” Everyone at the sand bar or fuel dock is enjoying your colorful language.  Or maybe the current’s dragging you onto a shoal. That vein in your temple starts pulsing. Just wait until you find out who fouled up your first day of the season!

And then you’re really upset when you realize it’s just possibly something you forgot to take care of during spring make-ready. The maddening thing is that it’s usually something simple, overlooked in the rush to the water after a never-ending winter. But it won’t happen to you·, right? Uh-huh. Well, just in case, take a minute. Read these suggestions. Save yourself some aggravation this spring.

PREPARE BEFORE YOU BACK DOWN THE RAMP.

Can people who manage complicated lives, earn a living and raise productive kids expect to just plunk their boat in the water and motor off for a fabulous summer? Probably not. If you aren’t paying a professional to prepare your boat for you, you need to plan on spending a weekend or two looking over your Formula, inspecting the boat and performing tasks as necessary.

  • Your boat has delicate skin, too. Really. That gelcoat covering your boat is similar to skin in that it has pores and is affected by weathering, particularly from the sun. The pores can become plugged with particles of dirt, and UV bombardment can physically alter the gelcoat’s pigment and, therefore, color. Yep. The same type of ultraviolet radiation that causes your skin to tan and turn the texture of fine Corinthian leather also damages pigment molecules, causing the gelcoat to yellow or chalk out. That means you need to provide a barrier of protection.

If you didn’t clean and wax the boat before winter storage, be sure to get it done before spring launching. Although automotive wax is better than nothing, I recommend a marine-grad e product that is tough (carnauba is great) and offers UV protection.  Once the boat gets in the water, you might not bother waxing until you store the boat for winter. Or maybe next spring. Your boat should not look like an eighty-year-old clamdigger with jaundice.

  • Tighten up! It vibrates. It’s pummeled by wakes and waves. It’s a boat, for cryin’ out loud, and fasteners will inevitably loosen here and there. Take a couple of minutes to inspect exposed screw heads on the dash panels and elsewhere. Although gunwale screws are secured with 3M’s Griptite® on the threads, piling and other objects can give them a beating, so check them, too.

STICK YOUR HEAD IN THE BILGE

Your engine compartment contains many of the systems and components that are vital to the operation of the boat and the well-being of passengers. Take the time to poke around a bit.

  • Bail out.  If you’ve ever been in a situation where you’re taking on water in the middle of nowhere, you’ll understand the importance of a working bilge pump. Test it at the dash switch and float switch, with the battery switch on and off. The bilge pump draws its power directly from the battery, not through the breaker panel, so you want to be sure the bilge will bail when the boat is unattended. If you can’t hear the pump run, put your hand on top of it and feel for vibration-sometimes centrifugal pumps can be very quiet! Check cabin bilge pumps as well. Run some water down each cabin drain to check the shower sump pump. It won’t put you in much danger of sinking if it isn’t working, but if it backs up…yecch!
  • Sound the alarm.  While you’re groping around for the bilge pump float switch, reach over and flip up the float switch for the high water alarm if you have one. You’ll need to hold it in position for about 10 seconds–it has a built-in delay–before you’ll hear an unmistakable alarm.
  • Batteries. No DC power, no boating. When reinstalling the batteries (you took ’em out of the boat for storage and charged them regularly, right?), ensure that they are fully charged and water levels are OK.  You may even want to have them load tested to be sure they can hold a charge properly. Clean battery and cable terminals if necessary. I’d hate to be stuck out there with an ice maker that doesn’t work. How pedestrian!
  • Belts, clamps and hoses.  They wear out sooner or later. Check the belts for cracks and proper tension, and the clamps for proper tightness and condition.  Visually inspect the cooling, fuel and exhaust hoses for degradation and give them a squeeze–if they feel mushy, they need to be replaced.

CABIN FEVER

Do a quick run-through of the cabin and make it livable for the family again. Or, if you’re a bachelor, I guess you can just throw out last year’s pizza boxes and go on to the next section.

  • Head games. Now’s the time to pray that you remembered to clean and empty the holding tank last year. Fill the head with fresh water and flush to confirm that there are no leaks. How is the macerator? Is the boat restocked with toilet paper, holding­ tank deodorant and such? How’s that vent filter holding up? A delicate matter, certainly, but one which must be addressed before a full day on the water.
  • K.P. Open the refrigerator. Did you remember to leave it open a crack to let air circulate, or is it now a large, skanky petri dish? While you’re in the galley, turn on the water pump and empty the freshwater tank. Add water to rinse, then open every faucet on the boat, one at a time-cold side first, then hot-until each runs clear. The antifreeze should have been the non-toxic RV type and shouldn’t hurt you, but it never won an award for flavor. If you’re concerned about germs, add a few capfuls of bleach when you refill the tank.

AROUND AND ABOUT

Take a walking tour of your Formula.

  • Shine on. Inspect the stainless-cleats, gunwale insert, bow rails and so on. Has a little corrosion taken hold? Touch it up with a good brass, chrome or silver cleaner, or a metal cleaner such as Flitz®. Let corrosion go unchecked and your stainless will pit.
  • Canvas the area. Open up your Bimini top! Spread out your cockpit and storage covers! Inspect for mildew or grime and clean as necessary with mild soap and water. Repair tears.
  • Prop insurance.  Are your props in good shape? Dings, chips and bends can cause cavitation burns and put the hurt on your expensive propellers. Have a prop shop repair them if necessary. Are thrust hubs, cotter pins, etc. in place? You don’t want to back your prop off the first time you put the boat in reverse!
  • The numbers game. Your registration numbers, that is. Nothing makes a conservation officer’s day like cherry-picking boaters with missing or expired registration numbers. Doh!
  • Geared up for the water. Are all the PFDs, lines and bumpers that were allegedly there last fall still in the boat? What about your flare kit, anchor, charts or signal flags? You never know what will “disappear” over the winter.
  • Tow, tow, and tow your boat. Don’t forget your tow vehicle and trailer. Inspect all lights and signals, grease wheel bearings and check tire pressures. Verify the condition of the hitch components on the vehicle and trailer.  It’s embarrassing to have your own boat pass you on the interstate.

WHY WON’T IT START?

You’re finally ready to go, but you can’t get the engine to fire. Now what?

  • Are your ignition stop switch lanyards installed? They’re there for your own good–they ‘ll shut the engine down if you are ejected from the boat–but if they’re not clipped on the stop switches, your motor won’t even turn over. Makes for a tough day of skiing.
  • Shifting gears. Neutral safety switches won’t allow your starter motor to energize if the boat is in gear. Tap the shifter lever fore or aft (to be sure the shifter is depressing the switch) and try again. It’s happened more than once.
  • Energy crisis. Is the starting battery switch on? Your starter motor won’t work if it doesn’t see DC power.
  • Now all you have to do is take care of the incidentals–plenty of cold beverages, food, extra diapers for the baby, etc. Time invested in spring prep should pay off big-your wife will love you, your kids will respect you, your friends will look up to you in awe. Aren’t you glad your pals at Thunderbird were there to help you with some suggestions? Remember, if you’re prepared, you’re halfway there!

PRE-LAUNCH CHECK

A thorough pre-season check is a great start, but there are some things you should check before boating every time! Remember, your boat is not your car­-trouble on solid ground offers more options than out on the water.

  • Fire gear. Nothing’s much worse than having a fire on a boat.  Check your boat’s fire suppression components! The standard automatic engine room fire suppression system doesn’t work if it isn’t charged. Weigh annually and check its pressure gauge, as well as those on the B-C powder-type extinguishers found in the cockpit and (depending on model) cabin.
  • Double-check vital fluids. You topped everything off when you winterized, right? Whatever. But if it were me, I’d take the lime to maybe save myself a small fortune in engine damage. A slow leak, something forgotten in the fall, bilge trolls–all can ruin your day.  Take fifteen minutes out of your life and check engine, drive, transmission (in inboards), trim tab and other oil levels. Double­check any other fluid levels as well.
  • Pre-flight checks. Dry- run accessories on or in the boat, such as your windlass; search, docking and running lights; the horn and so on. No surprises!
  • Inspect PFDs and other safety gear. See that you’re properly equipped with safety gear and personal flotation devices in good condition. A “Coast Guard pack” doesn’t do much good if it’s incomplete or out of date.
  • Drain plugs are a good thing. There are lots of people whose boats mysteriously take on water during the season’s inaugural run, only to realize their hull and manifold drain plugs work better if they’re installed and not lying in one of the cupholders. Be forewarned that if this happens to you, it will be one of the most humbling incidents of your life. And your buddies will always have a great story to tell.
  • Friends don’t let friends blow up.  Turn on your blowers. Run them for at least four minutes before starting your engines. Even with the engine room fire suppression system functioning well, explosions are scary and heck on insurance rates.