Hudson column: Know your boat for safety

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 6, 2011

It is amazing how many people treat their boat the same way they do their car. They just get in, turn the key and off they go.
That is a recipe for a bad day on the water.
When a car breaks down, you can just pull over and pursue several different options, such as a calling taxi, a tow truck, a friend or relative, or simply walk to your destination. But when you get out of your car you won’t sink into the concrete. Your car will also stay right where it is put. And, thanks to roads, you can be sure other motorists will be coming by at somewhat regular intervals.
A boat, on the other hand, can put you into a desperate situation rather quickly if you are not prepared. A mechanical problem that would be a minor inconvenience in a car can even become life-threatening in a boat.
The reasons are simple. When a boat breaks down, you usually aren’t near land and you may not be near any other boats. A boat also is subject to wind and current, meaning the spot where you break down will definitely not the be spot in which you remain for very long. Finally, most boats don’t offer much protection from the elements in the event that you are waiting a long time for help to arrive.
It is important to look at all the things that can go wrong on a boat and prepare accordingly. The first area to address is the electrical system. The marine environment is very harsh on electrical systems. Corrosion is the main problem, and it’s even worse if you take your boat in saltwater.
It is a great idea to trace every critical electrical circuit in your boat so that you know each connection intimately. Corrosion at those connections is going to be the first thing that causes problems. Even a little bit of corrosion will prevent the boat from starting. If you can’t quickly go through the major circuits to find the problem then you will be helpless on the water.
Fuel is probably the next area of concern. It didn’t used to be that way. But thanks to ethanol, a fuel additive made from corn, fuel problems are a huge issue with boat these days. The problem with ethanol is that it absorbs water. When this happens, the fuel in your tank gets further diluted by water over time until the boat simply will not run. That is why using a fuel stabilizer is so important now.
Still, mechanical problems are going to happen to you eventually even if you plan for every possible failure. It is critical to take the time to prepare wisely. Do you have a bit of extra food and water just in case of emergency? Do you have a way to stay dry? Do you have all the safety equipment you are supposed to have on board? You should have a hand-held radio for communication since cell phones are not reliable in an emergency.
Every boat should have a bag or box that contains all the tools you’ll need to fix common problems, as well as appropriate spare parts. Wire strippers, electrical tape, proper fuses, and other common tools are essential on the water when things go wrong. All it takes is one event where you are stranded during a cold rain or forced to sleep on your boat to convince you that these precautions are necessary.
Glenn Hudson is a freelance fishing writer based in Salisbury. Contact him at