Getting out on the water on a new boat is exciting, but it can also be nerve wracking. With a long list of things you need to remember, it can be easy to make little mistakes with costly consequences.
Here are seven common mistakes I’ve seen, including some I’ve done myself.
1. Leaving a dock line on when leaving the berth
Picture this. You’re ready to go, everyone jumps on the boat and you put the engine into gear, ready to carefully navigate out of the berth and into the open water. Your deckhand has indicated that all the lines are off, but suddenly the boat jerks and you get that sinking feeling. You’ve left a line on.
When you fail to remove a line when you are leaving a berth, it will take up the slack and jar the boat, likely crashing it into the wharf or another boat next to you. This makes for an awkward conversation with the owner of the other boat, a costly insurance claim and potentially higher premiums for you next year.
2. Forgetting to secure the boat on the roller trailer
Navigating your boat onto its trailer can be stressful. Often there’s plenty of people around waiting their turn, which can be nerve wracking.
If you forget to properly secure your boat on the roller trailer before you drive up the ramp, you run the risk of your boat falling off the trailer. You may be able to use the winch on the trailer to get it back up, but larger boats may require a crane. When the boat slides off the trailer, there is also the chance of injury to yourself or others.
3. Not putting the bung in before entering the water
The bung, or drain plug, is a small but essential part of your boat. When the boat is on its trailer or in storage, removing it from the bottom of the transom allows water to drain out. However, if you forget to put it in before taking the boat off the trailer, water will rush in and can put your engine at risk.
If you realise this has been forgotten, the first thing to do it to put the bung in as soon as possible. If you notice it straight away, you can put the boat back on the trailer to put the bung back in. If you’re already out on the water, you might have to jump in to put the bung in and then turn your bilge pump on.
Next, you should make sure that no water has made its way into your engine. You need to assess how high the water has gotten in the bottom of the boat, and whether it may have caused damage to the electrics, the fuel system or the engine. You should also flush out the hull so that the salt water doesn’t damage anything else.
4. Leaving the bung in while the boat is on the trailer
It can be even easier to forget to leave the bung out of your boat while it is being stored outdoors on its trailer, but if you do, it can cause expensive damage. If rain gets into your engine, over time it can cause harm to your engine, hull and electrics. This is usually the result of a leak in the cover, or no cover at all. Some new boaters might make the mistake of assuming the bilge pump will take care of this. It’s important to remember that not every boat has a bilge pump and even if it does, if the boat is left in storage for a long period, the battery can run flat and water can pool in your boat.
5. Not servicing your trailer wheel bearings
If you don’t service your trailer wheel bearings, rather than spending a day cruising on your boat, you might find yourself stuck on the side of the road with a broken trailer. Just like the wheel bearings in your car, those in your trailer are essential to its operation. They allows friction-free movement and provide smooth tyre and wheel rotation.
Unlike a car wheel bearing, those on a boat trailer are subject to harsher conditions as they are often exposed to corrosive salt water. This can make them more prone to failure. It is recommended that you get your bearings serviced every year. If they aren’t, over a few years it’s quite common for water to make its way into the bearing and the wheel can begin to smoke. If left untreated, the wheel bearing can seize and in extreme cases the wheel can snap off, and with enough force, your boat may fall off the trailer.
6. Not following navigational markers
If you are unfamiliar with a waterway it can be easy to misread the navigational markers. It’s very important you understand which direction you’re heading in relation to the sea because that will dictate which side of the navigational marker you need to be on. This is especially important in areas like Port Hacking, which can be quite confusing for a new boater and there are plenty of sandbars.
Not following navigational markers can end with your boat hitting a sandbar or rocks and becoming beached. The severity will depend on level of tide you hit it at and your speed.
If you hut the sandbar at low tide and become beached, sometimes you can just reverse off. However, if you can’t, you make need to wait for the tide to come up before you reverse off it.
If you hit a sandbar at high tide you may have to dig the boat off or get towed off. Depending on the size of your boat and the speed you hit, you may need to be towed off by a tug or a crane. Unfortunately, in this instance it can become a salvage operation.
What you hit will also determine the damage caused to your boat as a sandbar will cause much less damage than rocks. Becoming beached in any conditions can cause damage to the hull, running gear such as the rudders and propellors and under-hull fittings such as transducers and skin fittings. There is also the possibility that your engine may have sucked sand through it, which can cause further internal damage.
7. Forgetting to trim the gearbox before taking the boat out of the ramp
After a day out on the boat, the last thing you want to do is cause damage right before you head home. Once you have driven the boat on the trailer and have attached the safety chain, make sure you remember to trim the engine before driving up the ramp. If you forget to do this, the gearbox or propellors will hit the ramp, causing expensive damage to the gearbox and the skeg.
If you manage to catch many of these common mistakes early, you can take action to prevent them from turning into a major problem.
When taking a boat out for the first time, or for the first time in a while, it can be easy to rush the process and let nerves get the better of you. At BoatBuy, we always recommend for new boat owners to practice on their own or with one or two people first to allow them to get used to the process. It is often better to wait until you feel comfortable to invite the whole family, or group of friends along. It will allow you to enjoy your time on the boat more and help to avoid embarrassing and costly mistakes.