Prepping for Springtime Begins Now

By Dennis Doyle

Despite the forecast for even more snow this month, it’s not too soon to begin preparing for springtime boating. If you’ve a powered craft of any kind now’s the time for a prudent check-up to make your first launching a success this coming spring.

Inspect the condition of all wet cell batteries now, and not just the charge, be sure to examine the cell integrity as well. One of the more serious situations this time of year is battery sulfation, a situation where your boat battery has been stored with little or no actual charge for a long period of time. The battery may build up an internal oversupply of lead sulfate crystals that will prevent an electrical charge being imparted to the battery, or will severely limit the charge stored.

Cell damage can occur during long storage and the prime evidence of this is when the battery cannot retain more than a 10-volt charge (full charge is at 12 volts). A dead or damaged cell means your battery will run out of charge sooner or fail to hold a full charge for very long. Once again the only course of correction when this happens is replacing the battery.

A simple battery load tester can keep you clear of these problems and head off any situations that can lead to harmful damage, a good idea for any application when battery failure can cause possibly dangerous scenarios—and any problem on the water has the potential for danger.

Tires are also a critical element to boating activities, especially for older units. Having an extra wheel with tire can be a godsend on longer road trips. It can be near impossible to find a replacement once you start to travel. Most trailers have their own specific wheel size and inland locations have little reason to stock many marine vehicle accessories. If you don’t have an extra, now is a good time to acquire a spare.

Check your tire pressures. Read the tire sidewall for specifics— my trailer requires 70 pounds, not a common tire spec. Running with low pressure can overheat treads and cause blowouts, not a pleasant experience at highway speeds. Examine the sidewalls for excessive cracking, a prime indicator of dry rot and potential tire failure.

Review your safety equipment. Anything with a dry cell battery is suspect. Don’t take a chance—replace them all with fresh cells. Rechargeables should be charged and checked with your battery load tester, especially communications gear and electric distress units.

PFDs should be examined now for overall integrity, the fasteners, zippers and webbing, especially, can go bad over time. Inflatable PFDs should be tested by a manual inflation to determine if any air leaks have developed. Replace units that are in any way questionable. Don’t wait for spring, especially this year, because of potential supply problems.

Fire extinguisher pressure is also critical, so replace any that are in question. Use marine quality units; they are more durable. If you’ve got marine flares, check expiration dates and be sure they’re not damaged in any way.

Finally, test your bilge pumps by actual water immersion, especially those with automatic switches that detect the presence of water. Mine have frequently gotten unreliable after only two or three seasons of use. Now is the time for that discovery, not when you’re taking on water during the summer. If any electrical problem has developed overwinter, now is also the best time for getting professional assistance.

Be like the early birds. Don’t wait for the springtime rush when it could take weeks to get competent attention.