A reporter once asked Boy Scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell, “Be prepared for what?” He replied, “Why, for any old thing.” I’m not sure if Baden-Powell was a boater, but his phrase should be tattooed on the forearm of everyone who spends time afloat.
This is the time of year when many boaters tuck their pride and joy away for the winter, but what they are actually doing is preparing the boat for the spring. Every action they take or don’t take doing hibernation prep work will be rewarded or punished at recommissioning time.
A good plan starts with a checklist, and the first thing on it should be to remove everything on the boat that’s stowed in hatches, including life jackets and oil and cleaning supplies. Remove all electronics, especially those with liquid crystal displays; some warranties are void if the equipment is left out in the cold.
Next should come the deepest cleaning of the year. This is the time to detail the boat, because small spots of rust and corrosion tend to metastasize during the off-season, and owners who cover their boat won’t see it until the springtime reveal … and almost all springtime surprises are bad ones. Lubricate every moving part that needs it.
Taking care of the engine is a matter of reading the owner’s manual and following instructions. Opinions vary whether to totally seal a boat with shrinkwrap or use a cover that permits ventilation without allowing snow or rain inside. With either method, combating condensation that can form inside is a priority.
Being prepared also means having a plan for when things go wrong, so spend some time visualizing the various maladies that could befall the boat and the people on board. Is a first-aid kit aboard? Do you know how to administer first aid, including CPR? Is a ditch bag aboard, in case everyone has to jump ship? No one expects to have anything go wrong, which is why the word unexpected was invented. Anyone who has to think about what to do instead of immediately jumping into action could hesitate at the wrong moment.
During Hurricane Dorian, a friend of mine wanted to be prepared, so he planned to pull his boat out of the water, until he discovered his trailer — he had ignored it for a year — had a broken axle. So his boat rode out the storm on the water, and he was just lucky conditions weren’t worse in Florida. But people in the Bahamas weren’t as fortunate. Anyone who has seen images of the Abacos and wants to help should first prepare by checking out prospective nonprofit organizations on charitynavigator.com. Sadly, disasters attract con artists, so make sure donations are going to the right place.