Spring Boating Tips

The days are getting longer – if not much warmer. It’s time to get out on the water – or at the very least, prepare to get out on the water.

The pre-launch check list covers all the preparations to do with your boat. Many marinas do this for their clients. Double check to see that all the mandatory safety equipment is on board in good condition. It’s even more important this time of year to tell family or friends where you are going boating, who is going with you and when you expect to return. Let them know when you have returned. Your trip plan can be written or verbal but it can be a great help if a rescue crew has to be sent to find you. There are few boats on the lakes just now but you still need to keep a proper lookout. Do be aware of your surroundings before changing course or speed.

Pre-Launch Checklist Before launching a boat for the first time each season, please complete the following checklist to reduce your chances of an unpleasant boating experience.

  • Check the pleasure craft licence. Check that the numbers on your bow are in good condition and legible.
  • Check your safety equipment. Look at the required equipment chart to make sure you have all the equipment needed on your boat after it has been stored.
  • Inspect your life jackets. In addition to making sure you have a properly sized wearable life jacket for each passenger, check each life jacket for mildew, rot and tears in the material, seams and straps. Discard and replace any damaged life jackets. The new ones are even more comfortable to wear and make great gifts.
  • Check fire extinguishers. Make sure the fire extinguishers are properly charged or buy new ones.
  • Check the first-aid kit. Replace any supplies that were used last season or have passed the expiration date.
  • Check fittings. Thru-hull fittings below the waterline should be tight; sea valves should operate freely. Make sure the boat plug is plugged in and in good condition before you launch.
  • Check for winter damage. Inspect non-metallic thru-hulls; they get brittle with age and winter ice can crack or loosen them. Look for hoses that have been forced off or split from freezing. Every spring, boats sink at the dock when these problems go undetected until the first heavy rain.
  • Check the fuel system. Inspect fuel fittings and hoses; replace if cracked or showing other signs of stress. Probably good to replace the fuel filters as well.
  • Check electronic gear. Get fresh batteries for portable electronic gear, radios, handheld GPS and flashlights. Inspect connections on lights and the horn and other equipment wired in to the boat.
  • Inspect dock and anchor lines for chafing. Replace lines if they show signs of wear.
  • Check the boat trailer. Inspect trailer tires for wear and inflate properly. Check the trailer frame for rust spots; inspect the wheel bearings and re-pack if necessary. Test the trailer’s lights before towing.
  • Check the oil. Creamy brown or gray engine or drive oil has water in it and a mechanic should find the source of the leak before you start the engine.
  • Examine sailboat rigging: Check for signs of corrosion and wear and for leaks where chain plate mountings come through the deck.
  • Check charts: Do you have a current chart aboard? Channel markers and buoys may be out of position due to ice movements so take extra care.

Please do remember that even though the days may be warm the water is still very cold. Minor boating incidents in warmer weather could quickly turn to tragedy at this time of year. So be sensible, not silly. Dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature. Even the differences in temperature from cruising down a sheltered river to being in the open lake are significant. One of the major causes of boating fatalities is cold water shock, the rapid reduction of body temperature, which occurs when boaters fall into cold water. The following is taken from the Safe Boating Guide: Surviving in Cold Water. Cold water shock likely causes more deaths than hypothermia. Canada’s cold waters are especially dangerous when you fall into them unexpectedly. For three to five minutes, you will gasp for air. You could also experience muscle spasms or a rise in your heart rate and blood pressure. Worse yet, you could choke on water or suffer a heart attack or a stroke. Even strong swimmers can suffer the effects of cold water shock. If you are wearing a lifejacket before falling into cold water, it will keep you afloat while you gain control of your breathing and prevent drowning from loss of muscle control. Trying to grab a lifejacket while in the water, let alone putting one on, will be very hard because of the changes your body will be experiencing. If you survive the shock of cold water, hypothermia is the next danger. Hypothermia is a drop in your body temperature to below its normal level because of being very cold for a long time. Hypothermia affects a person’s control over their muscles and thinking. Someone who is exposed to cold water and becoming hypothermic might:

  • shiver, use slurred speech and become semi-conscious;
  • have a weak, irregular or no pulse;
  • breathe slowly;
  • lose control of body movements;
  • behave in ways that don’t make sense;
  • act confused and/or sleepy;
  • stop breathing; and
  • become unconscious.

If you end up in the water, do everything you can to save your energy and body heat. Swim only if you can join others or reach safety. Do not swim to keep warm. You may survive longer in cold water if you:

  • Wear a Canadian-approved lifejacket so that you will not lose valuable energy trying to keep your head above water.
  • Climb onto a nearby floating object to get as much of your body out of or above the water as possible.
  • Cross your arms tightly against your chest and draw your knees up close to them to help you keep your body heat.
  • Huddle with others with chests close together, arms around mid to lower back, and legs intertwined.

For more information, or to see what really happens during cold water immersion, please visit www.coldwaterbootcamp.com. Do not exceed the carrying capacity in passengers or total gear. An overloaded boat sits lower in the water, which increases the chances of swamping or capsizing by waves. Keep as much weight as possible in the middle of the boat. To keep the boat riding high in the water, limit the load to only essential items and make several trips. And please, have a life jacket or PFD suitable for each person on board. Speaking of life jackets – always wear a PFD or life jacket at this time of year. A life jacket will keep you afloat even after the shock of falling into frigid water. They also provide excellent insulation against cold, wind and rain. Even if you don’t wear one all summer, at least have it on now. Who knows. You might find the new ones quite comfortable.

Have a safe and happy boating season.

Nancy Thompson, Orillia Power and Sail Squadron