You’ve spent all winter dreaming about getting your boat back in the water. But are you really ready? Some of the things you may take for granted once the season is under way have a way of getting misplaced, out-of-date or run down during those months of inactivity. So what’s the best way to make sure you’ve got everything properly squared away for a fun and “uneventful” first launch? Just follow this handy pre-launch checklist!
• Keep it legal. In the weeks leading up to launch, make sure your boat registration is up to date (including hull identification decals), along with current fishing licenses for all your mates, and any required parking permits for your launch ramp. If you’re angling for a new wet slip at your marina, get started early to lock in a good deal and the best location.
• Take inventory. Take the boat cover off and give your boat a good airing-out. This will give you access to all the things you forgot you stored aboard in the off-season. Make sure you have life jackets (PFDs) for your crew. Remember those kids probably grew over the past months, so check to make sure they don’t need a bigger size jacket. Also, check the jackets carefully for wear. A proper-fitting PFD in good condition is the best way to keep everyone safe out on the water.
• Examine carefully. If you gave the boat a proper winter lay up, either at your local dealer or as a do-it-yourself project, your first cold start should be fairly easy. But that doesn’t mean it’s something you should take lightly, and the longer it’s been sitting, the more important it is to do it right. Since you probably removed your battery during the off-season, make sure it’s properly charged and connected. Check your fluid levels, make sure your belts are in good condition and tight, and check your throttle linkages.
• Get fired up. Next, cover your cold-water intakes with “muffs” or “flushers” and connect to your garden hose (outboard or sterndrive…don’t skip this step or you’ll ruin your impeller!). Also, remember to lower your outdrive to the lowest position possible before turning the key. If it’s tilted up (like you would normally have it on your trailer), you risk engine damage because the oil can’t circulate properly. After starting, let the motor warm up for several minutes while you check for leaks, and give the entire boat a careful walk-around, looking for anything usual. Turn the engine off and wait several minutes before repeating the previous steps.
• Get ready to roll. Before you hook up to your tow vehicle, check the condition and air pressure on your trailer tires. If it hasn’t been moved in months, make sure they haven’t developed “flat spots,” which can affect the way it handles on the road. Check your bow and stern straps (and bow cable) for wear. Unscrew your drain plug and screw it back in to make sure it’s properly seated.
• Take a brake. After hooking up, have someone step on the brake pedal while you make sure the trailer brake lights are working. While still in your driveway, make sure your brakes feel (and sound) secure.
• Pre-launch prep. After arriving at the launch ramp parking area, pull off to the side and disconnect your brake lights (hot light bulbs and plastic do not play well with cold water). Remove and store your boat cover and stern straps. Recheck your drain plug and turn your blower on.
• Down the ramp. Back your trailer down the ramp until your outdrive contacts water. Lower your drive and fire up your engine. Unhook your bow strap and safety cable, then back the boat off the trailer and tie up at the courtesy dock for passenger loading, or to pull up and park your tow vehicle if you’re by yourself.
Whether you’re a veteran boater or this will be your first exciting season, following these steps (every time you launch) will help ensure you get the most out of your time on the water. Oh, and you might want to check that drain plug again!