In the Northern States, Spring and opening day of fishing is always an exciting time of the year. The ice finally disappears off the lakes and we start to get the boats ready for another open water season. For the new angler something as simple as a check list can help make sure your spring boat launch is a successful one.
The last thing you don’t want to encounter on your first trip being spoiled by something easily preventable. With the variety of boats and trailers today we can’t cover everything specific to each model or type, our intent is to provide you a good starting point in order to make your fishing season a positive one.
Paperwork: Be sure you have all necessary documents for the waters your fishing. Current fishing license, boat registration, if applicable trailer tags, registration and insurance identification.
Life Jackets: Always carry the appropriate amount of (PDFs) Personal Flotation Devices for each individual your fishing with and the correct size for their body weight. There should be no missing parts or rips, and be in good condition. We also recommend that you have a throw-able flotation device, boat cushion or floating ring as well.
Fire Extinguisher: Boats over 16’ are required to have a fire extinguisher on board. They should be fully charged mounted in the proper place for accessibility and be matched for the correct size for your boat. Always check the expiration date listed or the gauge on the extinguisher for charge status.
Flare Kits: On extremely large bodies of waters such as the Great Lakes it is required to have a flare safety kit on board. Check with the local DNR for the requirements concerning you’re boat size.
Batteries: Check all batteries for state of charge levels and charge if needed. Examine the exterior for cracks, dirt or corrosion on the terminals. Any battery displaying any external damage needs to be replaced. All battery terminals need to be clean, use a fine grit sandpaper or a wire brush to remove any corrosion, spray a shot of WD40 on the connection afterwards to inhibit seasonal corrosion. The cables and connection ends need to be clean as well and not be frayed. Secure all batteries in the boat per the manufactures standards, tighten battery connections.
Battery Storage: For many of us in the north, boats are stored over the winter and not used. Our preference is to remove all batteries from the boat during this period, this eliminates any short circuit sparking on the boat causing a fire or explosion, eliminates total freeze of the battery in really cold weather, chance of theft from the boat if stored off-premises. When a battery is to be stored and not used for a long period, it is wise to first charge it to near 100% capacity.
If your battery is lead-acid type check each cell electrolyte level and add distilled water as needed to bring each cell full before charging. For charging use the lowest setting possible on your charger 2 amps is the best this will slowly build a charge using a small current over a longer charging period. All batteries will discharge over a period of time. It is better to begin with a well-charged battery in the fall and end up with a usable battery in the spring.
If possible store the batteries in a warm environment for over the winter, if stored in a unheated garage, there is a superstition that storing batteries on a concrete floor causes them to self discharge. We can’t document this but in any case still place them on a piece of wood or carpet just to be sure.
Ropes and Anchor Lines: Take a look at your landing ropes and anchor lines, make sure that they are not damaged, chafed, or have deteriorated over time from sunlight, replace as necessary.
Electrical Connections: After the batteries are charged and installed it is time to check all electrical components, install and plug in all running lights, depth finders, GPS, trolling motors, radios. Run bilge pumps, aerators etc… make sure they all are working properly and correct any connections that needs attention.
Boat Hull: An examination of the hull is often overlooked, but very important. Make a visual inspection looking for cracks, distortions and blisters, on aluminum boats check for loose rivets. Make sure that all drain plugs fit tightly and any rubber seals or gaskets haven’t cracked or dried out. Check all water intake aerator live wells inlets and bilge pump water outlets are free from any blockage or obstructions.
Propellers: While inspecting the hull, always check your propeller for cracks, pitting distortion and dings. An off-balanced propeller can cause unwanted vibration leading to damaging your drive train and bearings. Check the propeller lock nut and cotter pin making sure the grip of the propeller is secure. Replace if required, a replacement propeller is cheaper than a rebuild of your lower housing drive train.
Outboard Motors: For long term storage we recommend you follow the manufactures required storage maintenance guidelines found in the owners manual. (Fogging and Fuel) But there are quick inspections worthwhile to make before heading out to the water. Start with the most important the fuel, remember you’re dealing with combustible fluid. Inspect the fuel line as best as possible look specifically for any dry rot, brittleness, cracking, and any loose clamp connections. Check the fuel tank as well for any leakage, replace the fuel line or tank if it is determined the source of leaking or the smell of gas. Inline and engine mounted fuel filters should be replaced annually.
Fluid Levels: In Spring check and fill your fluid levels, motor oil, power steering, power trim and tilt reservoirs. Replace the lower housing oil during the fall before storing.
Cable Hoses and Clamps: Remove the cover and inspect all cables, hoses and clamps, make sure there are no cracks or swells or loose clamps.
Spark Plugs: Make it a spring tradition replace the spark plugs.
Before Heading Out: We strongly suggest before launching you’re boat for the first time of the season is to test the motor first, making sure it starts and runs. Marinas sell a outboard motor flusher or cups that mount on the water intake portion of the lower housing. The motor flusher has a connection to a garden hose, allowing you to run the motor off the water.
Trailer Check List
One of the most commonly overlooked, but probably most important, pieces of boating equipment is the boat trailer. Without the trailer, the boat would not make it to the water. Trailers consist of a frame, axles, bearings, hubs, tires, bunks, rollers, winch, and lights. Some boat trailers are equipped with trailer brakes. Each piece of the trailer is important and demands periodic inspections.
Tires: Tires need to be inspected for tread wear and separation before each use. They need to be properly inflated, including the spare. Periodically check the torque on the lug nuts as well. Boat trailers equipped with trailer brakes need to be monitored for brake shoe wear. Make sure everything inside the drum remains free. Trailers are submerged in water repeatedly and may rust or lock-up inside the drum. Replace any worn or needed parts.
Bearings: The bearings and hubs are the most problematic parts of the boat trailer. They are packed with grease to reduce friction. Tremendous heat builds up in the bearings at highway speeds, which results in grease breakdown. Water from repeated submersions will also flush grease from the bearings. As grease breaks down, heat is increased resulting in the bearing locking to the spindle, ruining the hub, and possibly the axle.
To prevent bearing lock-up, bearings need to stay full of grease. The easiest way to keep bearings packed is the use of buddy bearings. Buddy bearings replace the dust cap on the outer end of the hub and are equipped with a grease fitting. The fitting allows grease to be inserted into the hub with a grease gun. One or two shots of grease before each use can prevent an expensive hub or axle replacement.
Rollers & Bunks: Other aspects of the trailer that require attention are the bunks and rollers. Check these for breaks or cracks and, if necessary, replace with new equipment. Broken rollers or bunks can cause problems launching and loading the boat and may cause damage to the hull.
Lights: Check all running and brake lights. Make sure all bulbs are burning. Replace blown bulbs immediately. Blown bulbs propose a safety risk on the highway. Most trailer light assemblies are not water tight, so always unplug trailer lights before launching or loading. Bulbs get hot when the brakes are applied, and if they are suddenly cooled by water, a blown bulb may occur. Unplugging the pigtail can save the brake light bulbs. Upon inspection, if no lights burn, check wiring and ground on trailer with a test light to find the problem and repair it.
Winch: Always keep the winch in proper working order. Pay close attention to the winch strap or cable. If the strap or the cable is worn or frayed, replace it. Worn or frayed cables and straps can break causing injury or damage.
Frame: Most modern boat trailers are built from galvanized steel or aluminum to prevent rusting. Some older trailers were made from mild steel and had to be painted to prevent rust. Regardless of the material used, the frame needs to be inspected for cracked joints or rusted pits in the metal. If welding is required to repair a trailer, a qualified welder should be utilized. Visual inspections of the axles and springs need to be made as well.
Boat trailer maintenance is very important and cannot be overlooked. Spending a little time to perform routine boat trailer maintenance can prevent leaving the boat and trailer by the roadside while trying to find replacement parts miles away.
How to Launch a Boat and Landing Etiquette
Launching your boat will become a simple task with a little practice. If your new to boating you’re best bet is to hitch up the boat trailer and find an empty parking lot to do a little practice. We don’t recommend arriving at the boat ramp attempting for the first time launching your boat before you get comfortable on how to reverse a trailer.
Here are a few pointers on how to reverse a trailer….
Begin with your vehicle and trailer in a straight line, about 50 feet from a practice area which you wish to reverse too. Now watch the trailer out the window mirrors or from through the rear window while reversing slowly, begin experimenting by turning the steering wheel right or left, very little or gently. You will notice the reaction of the trailer. The key is not to over steer this will cause the trailer to jack-knife. Eventually you begin adjusting the steering in the opposite of the trailer direction.
Remember that a correction only requires a very small steering movement. If you jack-knife the trailer, pull forward to straighten the trailer out before continuing to reverse. Once you are able to back up a few hundred feet without jack-knifing your trailer or rear-ending anything you are probably ready to launch your boat at a boat ramp. If possible, select a quiet weekday morning for your first launch.
Boat Landing Etiquette
The first courtesy when launching your boat is being prepared. Have all of your fishing gear on board, boat key in the ignition, drain plug in, tie down straps removed, trailer lights disconnected and the landing line attached to the bow tie down, before you pull onto the launching ramp area. This is where it can be very frustrating and vocal at times watching someone loading their boat with gear while parked blocking the ramp. Especially if there is a line of eager fisherman behind you ready to launch.
Before backing the boat into the water tilt up your motor, attach the bow line and keep the winch strap and the safety chain on until you reach waters edge. As the stern (back) of the boat hangs over the water stop and disconnect the winch strap and safety chain, this is a precaution for steep ramps or if you have a roller trailer. Continue to back the boat into the water until the trailer wheels are submerged.
When the boat is ready to float off the trailer, have your fishing buddy hold the bowline or tie the line to your vehicle or winch handle.
Once the boat has floated free of the trailer either beach the boat or tie it off to the dock with the bowline, or have your buddy start the motor and move the boat away from the dock until the driver has parked the vehicle and is ready to board.
Either way, try to launch quickly as a courtesy to your fellow fisherman.
The same rules apply when putting your boat back onto the trailer. When you tie up at the dock, have your vehicle keys in your pocket, retrieve your vehicle and claim a spot in line.
Before you pull your boat out of the water ensure the motor has been tilted up.
Many launching problems will be avoided by making sure everything on your boat is in working order before you leave home!