Boating safety: It’s spring let’s remove the cover

Where do I start; I know a bit about boats.

I’ve built small boats, owned or sailed small boats, inboards, outboards, inflatables and crewed on large yachts. You can also search for “life raft servicing” on YouTube, to see me talk on that subject.

Let’s start with the basics; say you have a canoe or 12-foot aluminum car topper rowboat that can also take a small outboard. These are great, you can pour a little water into them to check for leaks and patch the leaks with five-minute marine epoxy.

Now check the engine. Assuming you ran some fuel stabilizer through it before winter, it will probably just need a new sparkplug and fresh gas and oil. One thing you should have for it is some spare propeller shear pins, cotter pin and adjustable pliers. When your propeller hits a rock (and you will if you are fishing close to shore), the shear pin will break, saving your propeller. I recommend practicing changing the shear pin at home. I had to do this procedure on the water more than once. Pull out the ignition lanyard key first, for safety, to prevent accidental starting.

Many folks have electric trolling motors for their canoes. This is a good idea for a couple of reasons, first you can paddle on your outbound trip, then motor home. This will keep you from paddling beyond your strength. And second, if the wind picks up, you can motor and paddle, to get you back home more quickly. As a kid, we had a 12-foot wooden boat with a trolling motor. The little motor carried me, my brother and my dad for an afternoon’s fishing, with or without paddling.

Next, look at the trailer. Check the condition and pressure of the tires. I had a twin axle trailer for one of my larger boats that always had one tire that lost pressure. Check the wheel bearings, tie downs and safety chains (they must be grade 70 chain and shackles, not dollar store stuff), and the strap or wire rope on your winch. Trailer lights always seem to be finicky, so consider using dielectric grease on the connectors and on the bulbs themselves, to prevent corrosion. Remember to have a spare tire for the trailer.

For roof racks, ensure that the load rating matches your boat and that attachment points are secure. Have tie downs that hold securely, in front and back. If you have a car topper, you will probably need a second person to lift the boat, but there are now rooftop boat loaders that carry 12 foot cartoppers or sailing dinghies, for lone boaters, which look amazing. I want one!

Now for the safety stuff. I am assuming you have taken the safe boating course and have your license. If not, google “safe boating course” to find one. Some courses are available online and it’s the law.

The course will tell you what safety gear you will need, but let’s consider the bare essentials (for me anyway). First tell someone where you are going and when you will be back. At the very least this can be as simple as putting a note on the driver’s seat of your car, when you arrive at the lake (i.e., ‘it’s 9 a.m. I will be on the lake until 6 p.m. You can reach me at 902-000-000”). Have CSA approved life jackets or PFDs for everyone and wear them. If your only way of communicating is by cellphone, seal it in double Ziploc bags. I have a device called a Personal Locator Beacon which will send the whole world to find me, if I trigger it, but I tend to overdo things for safety. Have water, snacks and some cheap rain gear (or at least have a large contractor garbage bag, which will become a poncho when you cut three holes in it). Have a dollar store compass. I was stuck in heavy fog on a lake for two hours one spring, when I did not have a compass.

One final thing, especially for canoeists, have something to mark your entrance point from the trail to your launch point. This will save you from getting lost when trying to find the landing point and the trail at the end of you trip. Surveyor’s tape works well (in the past, I used grocery bags and they were perfect for trail markers).

Boating has a lot of great memories for me, from building small racing boats as a teenager, to almost sinking in my sailing dingy, to rescuing a large American sailing yacht, which sailed too far up the Northwest arm and then got stuck in the mud, but that’s a story for another time.

James Golemiec is a Canadian Registered Safety Professional with over eight years’ experience coordinating and managing complex safety systems at manufacturing facilities and performing inspections on project job sites across Canada.