As told by Ryan Sasena of Palmetto Boat Sales in South Carolina
With beautiful spring days rapidly approaching, it is now more important than ever to start prepping your boat for the season ahead. There’s a lot that goes into getting your boat ready, and it’s important to take the time to go through everything.
After moving to South Carolina from New England, I learned that winter preparations are very different in the South. In the Mid-Atlantic, we often get away with doing little to no winter preparations, and often let boats sit in the water year-round. However, up North, many pull their boats out, shrink wrap them, and winterize the motors and water systems.
In New England, each year before winterizing my boat, I made sure to take every ounce of equipment off the vessel and store it. This gave me time to mentally make a list of everything I had and get gear cleaned up. Now that spring is almost here (and down in the Carolinas, the fish are about to start running), it’s even more important to start going through your equipment, as well as your boat.
I always start my check list with safety equipment. Safety is number one on the water, especially when running offshore. Every item, including the boat, can be replaced. But your life cannot! I start by checking all my life jackets: I make sure they look good and that they don’t have any tears or broken straps. I then inspect all the flares for the boat to ensure they are not expired or damaged. From there I move onto the fire extinguishers: I make sure they are still in the green area and charged, that the pins are still in them, and that they aren’t rusted. I also double check that I still have a functioning whistle on board.
I fish a decent amount offshore, and depending on the area and the type of run I’m making, I bring additional safety gear with me. When running and fishing the Canyons in both New England and the Mid-Atlantic, I sometimes store a small life raft or some survival suites, depending on the time of year. If you use these, too, they should also be checked at the start of each season.
No matter where I go, there are two things that are always on my boat: an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) and a first aid kit. Some EPIRBs have a self-test feature that you can do yourself, while others are a little more complicated (you might want to take it to a professional). Most EPIRB manufacturers have a dealer locator on their website that can service your EPIRB. Keep in mind that it’s very important you change its batteries every five years. As far as your first aid kit, you’ll want to ensure that you have a good number of bandages, pads, medicine, etc. – and that nothing is expired!
After going through the safety equipment on my vessel, I move on to the mechanics. I begin by going through and making sure that any work that needed to be done over the winter has been completed. Usually, when things start winding down in the fall, I start a check list of issues I might be having with my boat so everything can get taken care of during the off-season. That way, when the fish start biting in the spring, I’m not tied up at the dealership waiting!
This is a good time to start putting batteries back on the boat, taking the shrink wrap off, and starting things up to make sure everything is still working.
Even if I already did it in the fall, I often change out the fuel/water separators – just as an extra precaution since the boat hasn’t been used much in the past couple of months. In a test bag, I start and run the motors, allowing them to come to temperature and idle for a little while. I do a quick shift in and out of gear to make sure they are good to go. I then test the steering to check for any hydraulic leaks or air in the lines.
Then, I move onto the electronics. Making sure all the instruments are working up to speed, I often take a note pad and jot down the software version on the unit. That way, when I go home, I can check if there are any updates for my GPS units. It’s important to make sure your units are up-to-date for the season. As a matter of fact, it’s good practice to look for any updates every month or so.
Next, I check the VHF radio. In Charleston, for example, Sea Tow runs a station on which you can do a VHF radio test: the station sends you back an automated message with a recording of your voice. Communication is key on the water – especially when running offshore – so checking your VHF is a MUST!
One of the last things I do is a full systems check to make sure everything is working properly: bilge pumps, livewell pumps, fresh water pumps, as well as any other pumps on the boat. Then, I make sure all lights, and any other electric systems on board, do not need to be repaired.
After double checking everything that might have needed replacing, fixing, or updating, it's time to put your boat in the water and head offshore!