Given that many travel plans right now are being made in haste or being changed, we thought we’d revisit the topic of water safety and dragging your craft out of boat storage. Oh, and how not to die at sea!
Like anything that’s left unchecked, used or maintained over time, things fail. While we hope you know how to maintain your car and your van, but does that extend to your watercraft?
Hopefully, safely, for you, it’s travel time. So yippee, let’s load up the trusty tinny and head for the briny. The fish are biting, the (socially-distanced) mates are keen, the weather’s whatever it is because you’re just glad to be allowed out!
But hold up there ol’ matey, have you really had a good think about this? After all, you are putting your own – and others’ – lives in your hands. Let’s just stop to consider a few basics before you get your feet, and maybe the rest of you, very wet – or worse.
Small boats expand your adventure opportunities exponentially by allowing you access to some amazing locations and experiences. They’ll get you into those secluded fishing holes, upstream to that waterfall, maybe down to the rapids or private campsite, and create one-of-a-kind nature watching and photography opportunities.
The great majority of campers will have rooftop tinnies or inflatable or portable boats such as kayaks and canoes, and all of them need a little TLC from time to time. Most will be aluminium, fibreglass or plastic, and generally quite lightweight. Some may have small demountable trailers to help you get around that ideal location. Remember that in most states, trailers must be registered and roadworthy, and rego is also mandatory on powered craft.
Plastic boats such as kayaks and canoes are terrific travelling companions but are generally less stable than larger craft. Hence they mainly appeal to a younger, more agile fraternity. With that said, I still enjoy a paddle in my plastic kayak as I approach my not-so-sprightly senior years, however, the old knees certainly give me some attitude getting in and out!
Here are 10 items to think about before you hit the water…
1. Small plastic and fibreglass boats thankfully require little maintenance, but check your bung and hatch seals as they often decay in sun and salt. Nobody wants a leaking bung! It’s mostly not the vessel itself that will let you down, but the fittings such as seat harnesses, brittle rod holders and hatches, elastic netting retainers, and so on. A good spray of fresh water after use and storage out of the elements will assist any craft.
2. Good quality and current safety equipment is vital. There are seven vital elements for any limited coastal powered craft: an anchor, rope and chain, bucket or bailing device, paddles, waterproof torch, fire extinguisher, current flares, and a suitable life jacket for each passenger. It is not only law in most states, but common-sense to wear an approved life jacket when in any small craft (under 4.8 metres). If it’s an inflatable jacket, ensure it is serviced regularly. Un-serviced jackets are a waste of time and will get you fined! If you use a foam flotation style jacket, make sure it isn’t already waterlogged or decaying, particularly in the retaining straps. And make sure your retro-reflective tape is in good condition – often just a good wash with soapy water will bring back their shine.
3. Always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return. Give some consideration to suitable communications. A mobile phone is often useless with restricted service and is not waterproof. A personal EPIRB is a terrific advantage for any would-be adventurer, whether on land or sea.
4. If you are using paddle-powered craft, it’s a good idea to use a wrist strap on the paddle. You certainly don’t want to get caught up that creek without a paddle, and always connect your emergency cut-out, especially when powerboating alone.
5. Boat engines, in particular, can be relatively high maintenance. They spend their working life at high revs in a highly corrosive environment, particularly saltwater, and should be serviced regularly. The water pump impellers are like little rubber fans that spin at very high revolutions against a stainless housing. They dry, get brittle, and can be easily heat affected, especially if allowed to run out of water even for an instant. The thermostats that control the water flow through the engine also corrode and should be replaced regularly as well as suitable lubrication to all moving parts and regular inspection of all electrical components. Your fuel and oil should be fresh, particularly as modern fuels lose their octane rating very quickly. Your fuel tank, fuel lines and fittings should be inspected regularly, as they can degrade, resulting in dangerous fuel spills, fumes and, at worst, may stop the engine completely.
6. Electric engines are becoming very popular and for good reason. They are reasonably powerful, lightweight and almost silent. Yet they must also be kept in good condition, especially the power supply. A dead battery will leave you stranded, and so will corroded connections.
7. Both petrol and electric-powered saltwater engines have sacrificial anodes to reduce corrosion and these should be replaced regularly in their service schedule.
8. Larger vessels with electric starting and mechanical steering open up a hornet’s nest of maintenance issues but again lubrication, battery charging and electrical protection as part of a regular servicing routine will eliminate all but the unforeseen.9. Use your brain and the tools that modern life allows us when planning that nautical outing. Check the weather, wind direction, tides, water level and stream flows before setting off over that waterfall to disaster.
10. Boating may be familiar to you but it brings in a whole new set of rules and limitations for newcomers. Ensure your crew is fully briefed about the dangers of items like stability, exposure, safe behaviour and care for our marine environment. Ensure you are suitably licensed for boating and fishing (maybe hunting) and that the crew is briefed on sensible emergency procedure, particularly if something happens to the skipper.
NOTE: See individual state regulations for boating regulations and registration.
Be honest with yourself – are you truly prepared, have the right equipment and physically capable of your boating adventure? If you aren’t worried about yourself then you should be worried about your passengers and loved ones left behind to pick up the pieces. Boats of all shapes and sizes enhance our travelling lifestyles and open tremendous opportunities. At the same time, boating increases our exposure to new dangers. We want to see your smiling face holding up that fish of a lifetime, not as a statistic on the evening news! So as whatever craft you have comes out of boat storage keep these tips uppermost in your mind.
Words and images John ‘Bear’ Willis.