Spring Boating on Lake Lanier
Another beautiful spring is upon us on Lake Lanier. After a tough winter, the weather has seemingly broken just in time for the inaugural Full Moon Party at Sunset Cove. While it’s too early to get complacent about freezes, this weather is too tempting to leave the boat winterized “just in case”.
It’s a busy time for TowBoatUS Lake Lanier. We’re moving boats that are leaving, or arriving on the lake, from docks to service centers, and of course, picking up the “usual suspects” that have suffered the misfortune of breaking down on the water.
The short version of this post is a simple reminder to check the boat out a bit before heading out for the first time. Run it at the dock until it comes up to normal running temperature to be sure the batteries are charged, the block hasn’t frozen over the winter, or the fuel system hasn’t been fouled. A quick check before heading out on the lake can avoid problems with a boat full of family and guests.
While not exhaustive, below are some items to check over and to be aware of before you head out on the water for the first time this season based on TowBoatUS Lake Lanier’s experience of what goes wrong most frequently.
n. 1. a. Wreckage or cargo that remains afloat after a ship has sunk.
b. Floating refuse or debris.
2. Discarded odds and ends.
The lake is full! Over-full in fact. Recent rains brought the lake to levels just above full pool, which is of course great news, but it creates problems for boaters that you may not have thought about. There is debris floating in the water that’s been picked up from the shoreline as the lake rose. Debris we’ve seen includes logs, branches, boards from docks, foam billets (blocks) from broken docks, and items that have blown off docks (mostly plastic chairs). Many of these items do not float high enough to see from a distance and hitting one of them can quickly ruin your day. A soggy plank that has fallen off of a dock can take out your prop at best, and at worst, damage your running gear or hull.
Spring Commissioning Checklist
Before heading out, check a few things that are capable of turning your outing on the water into a tow home:
Your battery (or batteries)
Whether your boat sat on a charger all winter with little load on the batteries, or sat comfortably on your lift or trailer without a charge, it’s worthwhile to check your batteries beyond the “will they start the boat test”. Check the cable connections for corrosion, and make sure they are secure, especially if you have wing nuts holding things together, which have a tendency to loosen up over time.
If your batteries have caps, check the water level in them, and use only distilled water to top them off.
Check the voltage with a meter. If your batteries have been drawn down below 10-10.5 volts, they have likely been damaged and will not hold a charge as well going forward. Fully charge them, and check them again after a resting period of no charge current. A fresh battery should deliver about 13.5 volts. The “full” capacity will go down as the battery ages. Anything under 12.5 for a fully charged battery would lead me to replace them.
You can also check them with a hygrometer, (only for batteries that are not of the sealed variety) a big name for a device that costs just a few dollars at the local auto parts store.
If your batteries are over two years old, consider replacing them. You might get a third season out of them if they were well cared for, but don’t count on it unless your TowBoatUS Towing card is up-to-date.
Before starting your engine, make sure you’ve done the following checks as they apply to your type of boat:
Frequently removal of engine block drain plugs is part of the winterizing process. Some folks (mechanics, dock buddies or owners) drain the engine block and replace the plugs fully tightened. Others put them in just finger-tight, and yet others leave them out altogether. Make sure yours are in place, and tight. If you have petcocks (small valves) instead of plugs, make sure they are closed.
On larger boats with inboard motors, water is taken in through the bottom of the hull. A thru-hull fitting is capped by a seacock (aka ball valve or on older boats, gate valves), after which you will likely find a strainer before the water gets to the engine, generator or air conditioner pump. Since the water in these strainers can freeze, cracking the glass or plastic seacocks should be closed as part of the winterization process. If you have seacocks on your boat, there is generally one for each engine, one for the generator, and you may have one for your air conditioner intake or even a live well on fishing boats. Make sure they are open before starting up. If not, you will damage the water pump impeller(s) and the motor(s) will quickly overheat. Speaking of water pump impellers, if you haven’t changed them in a couple of years, it’s time.
Since the introduction of Ethanol into our boat fuel supply, we’ve seen a sharp uptick on the number of fuel related tows we handle. It’s possible to find fuel on the lake that doesn’t contain ethanol, which is good news for boaters, but even before ethanol was introduced, spring has always offered us a good number of fuel related issues. Fuel ages as it sits in tanks over the winter. This happens faster if the tanks were not topped off before storage. Old fuel doesn’t burn as well, and airspace in the fuel tank allows an amazing amount of water to accumulate through condensation. Fuel sitting in carburetor bowls evaporates, leaving sludge and varnish behind. Replace your fuel/water separator filter (you do have one of those, don’t you?)before starting up for a little extra peace of mind, and check your fuel lines for signs of aging, such as harness or cracking at bends.
So you checked the batteries, how about the equipment they power? OK, so the stereo works, what about your navigation lights? Bilge pump(s) and float switches? Blowers? Horn? You don’t want to find out that your nav lights don’t work when you crank up to head home from the Full Moon party, and you don’t want to find out your bilge pump isn’t working by discovering a foot of water in the engine space. Your marine VHF radio is also worth a check. Call for a radio check before heading out. TowBoatUS and Lanier Harbor monitor channel 16 and are happy to help out.
Free Safety Inspection
The Atlanta Sail and Power Squadron offers free safety checks for your vessel, as does the Coast Guard Auxiliary. The local Lake Lanier Coast Guard Auxiliary organization is Flotilla 29. Trained members will check over the safety equipment on your boat, and provide you with a list of items you may be missing or may be in need of maintenance. The service is free, and the providers are enthusiastic boaters that you might want to get to know. The results are not shared with law enforcement or insurance companies, just you, in an effort to keep the lake and it’s boaters safer.
The Power Squadron can be found on the web here: http://atlantasboatingclub.com/
The USCGA Flotilla 29 can be found online here: http://a0700209.uscgaux.info/