On the Water: With summer on way, it’s time to clean up, inspect your boat

By Willie Howard

If you’re a boat owner living in southern Palm Beach County, you understand that boating is a year-round pursuit.

But the longer, warmer, calmer days of spring and summer lead many boaters to more hours on the water as they fish, dive and cruise with family and friends.

Boats often get a workout during the summer. That’s good. Marine mechanics say a boat that’s used frequently is less likely to develop problems than one that sits around.

But if your boat has been at rest for months — or if you simply want to prepare it to avoid problems during the busy boating days ahead — here are a few suggestions for spring boat maintenance.

• Fuel filters/water separators. If they haven’t been replaced in a few months, change them. It’s cheap insurance.

• Batteries. Clean corroded terminals with a small wire brush and treat them with anti-corrosion spray. Check water levels and add distilled water if needed.

• Have a marine mechanic change the engine oil (or do it yourself) and make routine checks of fuel lines, steering, running lights, bilge pumps (and bilge blowers) and propellers. Timing belts on outboards should be replaced every few years. (Check the engine owner’s manual.) Water pumps on outboards should be replaced annually.

• Inspect the anchor, anchor line and mooring lines. Replace chafed lines and damaged anchors.

• After the boat is in the water, look inside the bilge to check for leaks. (Don’t forget to install the drain plug before launching.)

• Paperwork. Is your boat insurance in effect? Is your Florida boat registration current? If you have an EPIRB (satellite beacon), does it have a current registration with NOAA?

• Safety gear. Are there plenty of life jackets of the correct size in good condition for everyone who will be coming aboard? Do you have a throwable flotation device such as a boat cushion or life ring? Are fire extinguishers and emergency signal flares still in date? Inspect the first-aid kit and replace items as needed.

• Inspect through-hull valves (seacocks). Reach down into the bilge to make sure valves, which control water flow into the boat for uses such as live bait wells, are still working. If the valve is stuck open and a hose bursts, there would be no way to stop the flow of water, meaning the boat could sink.

Will Beck, owner of Sea Tow Palm Beach, has been helping stranded boaters in the waters off Palm Beach County for 33 years. Beck and his crew tow about 2,000 disabled boats annually in the waters from Deerfield Beach to Hobe Sound.

Beck said dead batteries and fuel problems are common when boaters begin using their boats during the summer. He recommends installing fresh batteries every two years.

If a boat has been sitting around for a few months, new fuel filters/water separators might ward off any fuel problems. But a boat that has not been used for a year or more might need the fuel pumped out and replaced, especially if the fuel contains ethanol.

New water pumps for the engines are usually good investments in the spring, Beck said. The rubber blades on the impellers, which pump the water that cools the engine(s), can rot when a boat sits around.

Just in case you might overlook something, schedule a free vessel examination with the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Auxiliary volunteers will check many of your boat’s key safety features, including life jackets, navigation lights, signal flares, horn and fire extinguisher.

Members of Flotilla 36 in Boca Raton offer free vessel exams from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the first and third Saturdays of the month at the Silver Palm Park boat ramps in Boca Raton (and on the second Saturday of the month at Lake Ida Park boat ramp in Delray Beach, weather permitting).

To schedule a free safety exam with Flotilla 36, call 391-3600 and leave a message or email fso-ve@cgauxboca.org.

Flotilla 54, which serves Boynton Beach and Delray Beach, sends vessel examiners to the Harvey E. Oyer Jr. Park on Saturdays and Sundays, usually from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m., weather permitting.

To schedule a free boat examination, go to www.cgaux.org, click on get a vessel safety check and complete the online form or call Flotilla 54’s vessel examination officer at 312-6439.

Brian Bowden (l) of New York caught this 60-pound cobia while fishing March 8 aboard the Lantana-based Lady K drift boat. It hit a dead sardine rigged in 52 feet of water. Mate Danny Turner (r) helps hold the fish. Photo provided by Bar Jack Fishing

Blue Wild expo

The Blue Wild Ocean Adventure Expo, featuring seminars and exhibits on scuba diving, free diving, fishing, spearfishing, surfing, paddleboarding and adventure travel, is set for April 27-28 in Fort Lauderdale.

Experts will share tips on fishing, spearfishing, knot tying and other topics. Free art classes and crab races will be offered in the Kid Zone.

The Blue Wild will be held at the Broward County Convention Center, 1950 Eisenhower Blvd. Hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. April 27 and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. April 28.

Admission is $20. Children under 12 will be admitted free.

For more details, visit TheBlueWild.com.

Coming events

April 6: Basic boating safety class offered by Coast Guard Auxiliary, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the headquarters building at Spanish River Park, 3939 N. Ocean Blvd., Boca Raton. Fee $35 ($5 for youths ages 12-19). Register at the door. Bring lunch. Call 391-3600 (leave a message).

April 6: Boynton Beach Firefighters Fishing Tournament and Firehouse Chili Cook-off based at Harvey E. Oyer Jr. Park. Eligible fish: kingfish, dolphin and wahoo. Entry fee $300 per team. 

Register at boyntonbeach firefighters.com.

April 6: The nonprofit Fishing for Families in Need hosts Cruise for a Cause fundraiser with food, music, art exhibit and dancing aboard the Catalina, 6-10 p.m., Sun Dream Yacht Charters, 2950 NE 32nd Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets $100. Details: f4fn.eventbrite.com.

April 13: West Palm Beach Fishing Club Yard Sale, featuring used rods, reels, tackle boxes as well as gear for boating, fishing and diving, 7 a.m. to noon at the fishing club, 201 Fifth St. (on Flagler Drive north of Okeechobee Boulevard) in West Palm Beach. Free admissions. Tax-deductible donations of used gear accepted before the sale. Call 832-6780.

April 18: Early-entry deadline for 25th annual Lantana Fishing Derby. Entry fee $200 for teams up to four anglers by April 18 or $250 thereafter. Captains meeting May 2 at Lantana Recreation Center. Fishing May 4 with weigh-in at Old Key Lime House. Call 585-8664 or visit Lantanafishingderby.com.

April 27: Basic boating safety class offered by Coast Guard Auxiliary, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the classroom building next to the boat ramps, Harvey E. Oyer Jr. Park, 2010 N. Federal Highway, Boynton Beach. Fee $20. Register at the door. Call 704-7440.

April 27: Volunteers needed for Great American Cleanup events, 8 a.m. at South Inlet Park and Spanish River Park in Boca Raton. See keeppbcbeautiful.org.

Tip of the month

As days grow longer and the sun becomes stronger, cover yourself with clothing when you’re on or near the water.

In addition to a well-ventilated, long-sleeved shirt that will dry quickly, wear a Buff (multifunctional head wear) to shield your neck and face. Buffs can be pulled up to cover your face when the sun is really beating down. With many styles available, they can add a little fashion sense to your outdoor garb.

Keep several hats ready —some big floppy ones for general use and others that will work in windy conditions, such as riding in an open boat.

Consider wearing gloves. Buy gloves without fingertips if you need your fingers for tasks such as tying fishing knots — or cut the fingertips out of inexpensive garden gloves.

Willie Howard is a freelance writer and licensed boat captain. Reach him at tiowillie@bellsouth.net.

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