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The Memorial Day weekend starts up the summer's busy watercraft season, but before you head out on the water there are a few things you'll want to check off your pre-season list.
The Roanoke Times | File 2011
Virginia’s mandatory boating education law is being phased in, and now all personal watercraft operators need to be certified.
Courtesy of Bennington Marine
Virginia’s busiest boating season is under way, and boaters who have taken care of pre-season preparation are already having fun.
Sunday, May 26, 2013
Virginia’s busy boating season is under way, the unofficial kickoff coming this holiday weekend.
While some boaters have already been out plenty this spring, for many this is the start of a busy and fun few months.
Before the fun comes preparation.
The best planners took care of their pre-season boat needs already. Others? They’re rushing.
“We’re in over our heads,” laughed Jim Mills, owner of Webster Marine at Smith Mountain Lake. “Our service guys are running wide open.
“I guess it’s kind of like a lawn mower shop. Everybody waits until they have to mow their lawn.”
Safe on the water
While boaters have plenty of considerations simply to ensure their craft is water-worthy, the most critical aspect of pre-season preparation is to ensure safety equipment is all in order.
The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the agency in charge of enforcing boating regulations on inland waters, requires boaters to have certain safety gear aboard, as well as to have certain safety systems in working order.
Mills said the most common issue he sees is with fire extinguishers, which are required to be carried aboard boats over 26 feet long, as well as shorter boats that meet certain criteria, such as having a permanent fuel tank.
“It seems like nobody ever checks their fire extinguisher,” he said.
Sometimes the fire extinguishers may have lost pressure, or the units could be out of date.
Other key pieces of gear include sound producing devices, such as air horns or whistles, life jackets and a throwable flotation device.
While on the water, that throwable device must be near the boat’s operator.
“And he can’t be sitting on it or he’ll get a talking-to if he gets stopped,” Mills said.
Boaters need to keep in mind that on waters that fall under federal jurisdiction, such as Smith Mountain and Claytor lakes, the law requires that children under 13 must wear a life jacket when topside when the boat is under way.
A boat’s lights must be operational. They should be tested before hitting the water even if the trip is supposed to end during daylight hours, just in case trouble arises and the trip continues after sunset.
The complete list of required boating safety equipment is available on the DGIF website at www.huntfishva.com.
Beyond legally required gear, a number of other items can come in handy on the water.
Always carry a flashlight or two, along with spare batteries. While most boaters have cell phones, a marine VHF radio can still come in handy in areas with spotty cell service or in case the phone’s battery dies.
When boating on large bodies of water, a GPS unit can help with navigation.
A medical kit is another good idea, as are several bottles of water and a basic set of tools.
Ensuring that boat (and trailer) registrations are up to date is a common oversight for many boaters.
Make sure the registration decals on the boat’s hull are still in good shape, and be sure to have the registration card aboard.
For fishermen, make sure required licenses are current.
Also, Virginia now mandates boater education, with the law phasing in starting several years ago. Boaters who need to obtain the certification have the option of taking a classroom course, or an online course. (Class listings are available at www.huntfishva.com.)
Safety gear and paperwork in order, it’s time to make sure the boat actually runs.
Mills said he commonly gets call from boaters who can’t get their engines to fire up, and the cause is often simple: a loose battery cable.
“You can’t finger-tighten a battery cable bolt,” Mills said. “When you put a battery cable on, you put it on with tools.”
Before firing up the boat, make sure it is fully submerged — make sure the bilge plug is in first, of course — to ensure cooling water can be pulled into the engine.
If boats fire up quickly, Mills said, many people put their craft in gear and take off.
“Then they get a half-mile away and their engine overheats,” he said.
Impellers are notoriously fragile. When they fail — and they eventually will — the boat won’t be able to pull in cooling water.
Mills said the key is to let the boat warm up for a couple of minutes to ensure the cooling system is working.
If a boat’s motor is turning over and the engine is obviously getting fuel, the problem could be with the carburetor, and the real culprit could be gasoline with ethanol.
If the problem is ethanol, the only option might be a professional carburetor cleaning.
Using ethanol-free gas in the future — and that gas is available at a growing number of on- and off-lake fuel stops — can help avoid future fuel system issues.
Using a fuel stabilizer additive, such as Sea Foam or Sta-Bil, can also help.
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