For most people, middle age begins at around 40. With boats, it hits much younger - right around the 10-year mark. And for both, it signals a time when age begins to show. But that doesn't mean life is slowing down; only that more effort is needed to stay in shape. With decade-old boats, that means taking a hard look at things that haven't been checked out over the years. I have used the following as guidelines and tips to keep that older boat safe and in working order.
Like an older spring gobbler hunter, a 10-year-old bilge pump is likely to have led a tough life. Switches are often the first to go, so make sure yours works fine by pouring water in the bilge to activate the pump, making sure nothing interferes with the switch. Take a close look at wire connections as they often are near or in standing water at the bottom of the boat.
When it was new, the fuel hose did a great job of delivering gas to the engine. Over time, however, gas can permeate the hose wall causing damage. Take a rag around the hose, wipe it down and then smell the rag. If you smell gas, replace the hose immediately.
If you do have to replace it, always install new hose clamps, too.
Like some of us with a bad knee, a bend the cable in your hands and listen for "crunching," a telltale sign that all is not well. Swelling and rust are also bad signs and indicate it's time to replace.
The boatyard rule of thumb is that after 10 years, the bedding compound owes you nothing. Begin a schedule to periodically remove and rebed fittings, doing a few each year so the job isn't overwhelming. This will keep the leaks out that could lead to more expensive repairs.
Eventually all props get dinged and you may not see the damage clearly with your eye. If it's never been to a shop, now is a good time to take it to a prop shop for reconditioning. And you'll also likely save some money on fuel with a tuned prop.
If you have an inboard, the cutlass bearing might be due for replacement, especially if there's more than just a smidgen of play in the drive shaft. It's also time to take a hard look at the stuffing box. If you've had to re-tighten the stuffing box nut often, it's time to replace the packing.
If you use your boat more then 100 hours a year or it has been used in salt or brackish waters and you still have the original manifolds, thank your lucky stars they haven't failed yet. Now is the time to do some proactive maintenance to replace them.
For many of the nation's 80 million recreational boaters, the upcoming Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the summer boating season. Like a football game kickoff, boaters will work to a frenzy to get their boats in the water by the May 27 goal line. But what is different this time of year, reports Boat Owners Association of The United States, is that both the boat owner and their boat may need extra preparation.
"Each new season, we're rusty and we need to remind ourselves how we keep it safe by reviewing the nautical rules of the road, or taking care of important safety gear like inflatable life jackets or flares," said BoatUS Foundation president Chris Edmonston.
To help them, the foundation offers both a free online safety course and Boater's Toolbox, with an animated rules of the road section and instructional simulator games, information on life jackets, safe and clean fueling, and required safety equipment at www.BoatUS.com/foundation.
It's always a good idea to get a free vessel safety check offered by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and U.S. Power Squadrons. You can request one or do an online virtual vessel safety check at www.safetyseal.net.
The No. 1 reason for on-water boat breakdowns this time of year is incomplete spring checkup. Everyone is rushing to get back on the water and after this winter, who can blame them? But in their rush to be on the water again, they miss something, like a corroded battery terminal wire, or a fuel line that needs replacing. Fuel issues top the list for causes of boat breakdowns, followed by battery and charging system problems.
Adding to boaters' troubles could be the increased boating traffic. Memorial Day is traditionally the second-busiest day of the year on water assistance. If the weather holds it could be very a busy weekend. By doing some preseason maintenance to make sure your boat is safe, you'll have an enjoyable day on the water.