Boaters, get ready to start your motors — and stay afloat

When I owned a boat, maintenance was always part of my springtime agenda. The boat was a 19-foot fiberglass outboard. I was lucky, because it never leaked the whole time I owned it, so I was never worried about it sinking.

Bill’s Boathouse Marina, Pierce County
Dept. of Ecology Photo

Knowing what I do today about the effect of oil on marine life, I probably should have paid closer attention to my whole operation, especially the fitness of the motor.

By the same token, the state is getting tougher on boat owners. Some new no-nonsense penalties have increased fines fivefold over previous state laws, and boat owners can now be hit with fines of up to $100,000 a day.

Read on for concerns outlined in a news release from the Washington Department of Ecology. Included is a checklist to help you make sure your boat is not only seaworthy but able to travel freely without leaving a trail of pollution.

Chip Boothe, manager of Ecology’s Spills Prevention Section, puts the boating experience into context:

“I know how it feels when you’re out on the water. You feel free and the cares of world melt away. That’s why the time for a maintenance check up is now, BEFORE you launch your boat for the season.”

If your boat sinks, don’t blame the rain


OLYMPIA – Is your boat a member of the lonely boats club? Have you visited it lately? Or has it sat neglected all winter long?

Worse yet, is there a chance your boat could be on the brink of sinking?

Last year, 51 boats were reported sinking in Washington waters. Just name a place — Puget Sound, Grays Harbor, Lake Roosevelt, Pacific Ocean, Columbia River, Commencement Bay — and unfortunately, there is probably a boat sinking right now.

And when boats sink, fuel, oil, grease, solvents and other pollutants often get spilled into state waters. As little as a quart of spilled oil, diesel or gasoline can contaminate acres of water and can prove deadly to marine life. Juvenile fish, shellfish larvae and other essential sea life are extremely sensitive to even small amounts of oil or fuel products.

Under a new state law, the penalty for allowing oil and other petroleum products to spill to water has increased fivefold. A negligent boat owner could face a fine of up to $100,000 a day. Additionally, boat owners are responsible for spill clean-up costs and for the expense of restoring damages done to the natural resources.

Most often, boats sink due to neglect. When boats are left unattended for a while, a lot of things can go wrong. For instance:

· Bilge pumps can quit working.
· Boat hulls, propeller shafts, out-drives, and rudder areas can leak.
· Electrical shortages can cause a fire.
· Accumulated rain or snow can flood the boat.

And if your boat survives the winter unharmed, other maintenance-related problems can interfere with a safe boating experience, such as:

· Deteriorated fuel lines.
· Fouled spark plugs that won’t function properly.
· Condensation in the fuel tank.
· Breakdowns when you’re far from the dock.

“I know how it feels when you’re out on the water. You feel free and the cares of world melt away,” said Ecology’s Spills Prevention Section Manager Chip Boothe. “That’s why the time for a maintenance check up is now, BEFORE you launch your boat for the season.”

Top to bottom, inside and out, boat maintenance

Consider starting every season with a tune-up and a test of your boat’s warning alarms. And to ensure a safe boating season, make sure any problems that need attention get it before the boat enters the water.

Here is a basic boating checkup list that will decrease your chance of problems:

· Check the hull for punctures or cracks — and repair.
· Check the condition of the drain plugs, and ensure that they are installed securely.
· Check the rudder and fittings for deterioration.
· Change oil, filters, belts, spark plugs, wires, and coolant as needed.
· Inspect fuel lines for cracks or leaks and the clamps for rust or corrosion. Replace where needed.
· Be sure to lubricate all the moving parts such as the shift and throttle cables with a marine lube.
· Check fuel tanks for damage or corrosion.
· If you did not add a fuel stabilizer to your tank before the end of the last season, you may need to drain and replace the old fuel.
· Check the bilge area for oily residue, and clean thoroughly. Insert a bilge pillow in the area to absorb oils from future leaks.
· Check the bilge pump, and make sure both the automatic and manual operation work.
· Check the battery for water level and for corrosion on the terminals. Recharge the battery if needed.

For safety’s sake, be sure you have properly fitting life jackets on board for each person on your boat. A sinking boat can put lives at risk, and the fuel or oil that is spilled degrades the quality of the water we all enjoy.

2 thoughts on “Boaters, get ready to start your motors — and stay afloat

  1. Christopher,
    You mean you never forgot to put the drain plug in the transom before you launched? The most common boat sinkings I’ve seen during a life around the water, are boats that sank at their buoys. There are people who forget the plug during launch then immediately tie their boat up and leave it. The other is the boat filling with rain at the buoy over an extended period. The transom is much lower than the sides and once waves can lap in, it’s gone.

    The piece is a good reminder how mistakes affect others as well as ourselves.

  2. How could I forget? One time, I had to jump in the water to put the plug in. Another time, I remembered it before I cut the boat loose from the trailer, so I just pulled it back up.

    I tried to remember each time before I left home, so it wouldn’t be a last-minute issue.

    Anyone else care to share their stories of near-disaster?

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