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12 Tips for a Safer Pontoon Boat Experience



The weather is sunny, the food and drink are flowing, the music is rocking and everyone is ready to have a good time. Summer is pontoon boating season, and there’s nothing like taking your boat out on the water and having a good time with family and friends.

Before you cast off, it’s always a good idea to plan ahead and make sure that you and your guests will be safe on the water and that you have everything you need if you’re faced with the unexpected.

1. Don’t Forget Flotation Devices

Before you make your guest list, make sure you have enough safety-vests for everyone on board. Make sure everyone is seated and wearing a vest when you cast off and have a life preserver on deck just in case.

2. Have a Designated Captain

It’s illegal to operate a boat under the influence, so if you’re planning to serve alcohol at your pontoon boat party, have a designated captain to keep you on course.

3. Watch the Weather

Check the weather reports, do your research before you sail and keep your eye on the horizon. If you use your boat frequently, you may want to invest in a boat weather station. If you expect rough weather, make sure you know how to manage your vessel.

4. Don’t Rush

Pontoon boats aren’t built for speed, but they can move faster than many suspect. Be careful when you accelerate, excessive speed, especially when navigating turns is one of the key causes of boating accidents.

5. Watch Your Weight

Know your boat’s weight capacity and make sure you don’t overload it. This applies to people as well as equipment and recreational gear like water skis.

6. Drop Anchor

No matter how calm the water may seem, remember to drop your anchor if you’re planning to stay in one spot for an extended period of time. Otherwise you may find yourself pushed by the current into unfamiliar waters.

7. Stay In the Shade

According to the CDC, the sun’s UV-radiation can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes. With the average pontoon boat trip lasting over five hours, and when you add in the reflective properties of water and fiberglass, the chances of getting sunburned increases while you’re on the water. Keep yourself covered and use sunblock whenever you’re on the water. Even on overcast days.

8. Buy a Bimini Top

One of the easiest ways to stay in the shade is to install a bimini top when you’re on the water. A bimini top combines a lightweight, collapsible frame with a UV-resistant top and many can be installed to cover a pontoon boat.

9. Try a T-Top

One issue for pontoon boats is that a Bimini often doesn’t always cover the center console. Adding a T-top frame can provide extra shade so the captain can keep his hands and attention on the wheel.

10. Don’t Burn the Boat

Not satisfied with sandwiches? One of the great things about a pontoon boat is that the extra width allows space for a grill. Before you fire up the burner, make sure that you play it safe. Only use the grill when the boat is tied up or anchored, keep the grill downwind of bimini tops and other boat fabrics.

Consider purchasing a grill designed for boating. Many are designed to attach to the rail and hang out over the surface. That way, you run less of a risk of hot embers or ashes falling onto to your boat and causing a fire.

11. Have the Must-Haves

Whether you grill or not, a fire extinguisher is required by law. You should also have a first-aid kit on board and some kind of distress signals like flares or flags.

12. Keep Your Pontoon Boat Covered

When not in use, it’s always a good idea to keep your pontoon boat covered. This prevents UV-radiation, weather or other environmental pollutants from damaging your finish or causing undue wear on your boat. Want to keep your guests comfortable? Boat seat covers can keep seats clean and prevent fading when not in use.

Where & How To Store Your Boat During The Off-Season



As temperatures get colder, the day must come when you need to come up with some ideas to store your boat for the season.

 

Whether it’s your first time storing your boat or if you’re an experienced boat owner, you’ve probably asked yourself these questions before: 

Where do I store my boat? What options are available? Will it be safe? Will it be weather-controlled?

There are plenty of options available, but before you store your boat it’s a good idea to do your homework and make sure your boat is ready to be stored.

Before You Store Your Boat

We’ve mentioned many of these points in our article on boat maintenance, but here are a few key tasks to take care of when preparing your boat for the winter.

1. Take One Last Trip

Your last trip of the season should be one to enjoy, at the same time you should also take advantage of the opportunity observe your boat while it’s in motion to see if anything could stand to be repaired or replaced before you commit to your boat to winter storage.

Even if a problem seems small, cold winter temperatures can exacerbate many small problems and make them worse by winter. Getting necessary repairs done before you place your boat or Jet Ski into storage is important.

2. Spit and Polish

Once you have hauled your boat out of the water for the season, make sure that you give it a thorough cleaning.

While every boat has different needs, the following are some good first steps:

  • Remove your boat's bilge drain plug.

  • Scrub your decks and hull to remove slime, grime, barnacles and other gunk that has built up over the season.
  • Clean the strainers and thru-hulls
  • Drain your boat's seacocks
  • Give your boat a thorough internal cleaning, and check your refrigerators, nobody wants to start the season with the smell of something that has spoiled over several months.

3. Keep Your Boat is Covered in Storage

No matter how you prepare your boat or where you choose to store it. One of the most important things you can do to store your boat for the winter is to  keep it covered with a high-quality boat cover.

 

Whether you’re looking for a  standard boat, pontoon boat cover or bass boat cover, if you’re storing your boat outdoors, make sure that your cover is strong enough to protect it from all the elements. This doesn’t just include wind and rain but also fading from the sun and exposure to environmental pollutants such as pollen, tree sap, leaves, bird droppings and more. Ideally having a cover that can keep out insects, rodents and other pests is also a plus.

Covers should also be designed so that the inner layer doesn’t scratch or damage your boat’s finish. They should also be designed to promote air flow to keep moisture from accumulating. This can help prevent the build-up of mold and mildew and also prevent rust and corrosion.

Of course, a cover is only effective if it stays securely connected to your boat. Having a cover with tie down straps, grommets for cables and/or an elastic hem can keep your cover in place even in the windiest conditions.

Even if you store your boat in a garage or indoor storage facility, putting on an indoor cover can help protect your boat from grit, dust and other pollutants that can build-up in closed spaces.

In addition to covering the boat, consider separate covers for your outboard motors and even for your seats. Every bit of coverage contributes to a boat that will be ready for you when it’s time to take your boat out again.

4. Go High and Dry

Once your boat is clean, you need to get it as dry as possible before it can be stored. This means draining all water away from the boat. To do this, raise the bow to drain out all the water.

Once that’s been done, allow time for any additional moisture to evaporate before you put your boat into storage. Otherwise, you run the risk of mold and mildew.

5. Wax On

Once you have finished all the above steps, give your boat thorough waxing. It will protect your finish and also help prevent rust and corrosion.

Ready, Set, Store Your Boat

Once your boat is ready there are many options available, both for outdoor boat storage and inside boat storage. In either case, options will vary based on location.

1. Park your boat in the Driveway

The most cost-effective place to store your boat is your own driveway. Before you settle for this option, check to see if there are any neighborhood restrictions that may result in fees or fines.

Once you’ve parked your boat, you’ll need to make sure it stays protected from the elements and from environmental pollutants such as pollen, tree sap, dust and leaves.

 

2. Store your boat in the garage

If you have a garage that is large enough to fit your boat, that’s obviously a great low-cost solution. While you won’t have to worry about protecting your boat from the elements, there is still a risk of your boat getting scratched or damaged by insects, rodents, dust or other potential hazards in the garage. It also means less room to store your car.

3. Dock your boat for the winter

 

This may only be an option in warmer climates, but if you can keep your boat in the water year round, then you can access it at any time without going to the trouble of transferring it from dry land to water.

On the other hand, boat owners should factor in docking fees and security into their decision. Also, having a boat in the water means that, in addition to sun, weather and environmental pollutants, boat owners need to remember that long-term exposure to water can erode their paint and contribute to rust and corrosion. It can also cause blistering and warping of the hull. Of course, your boat will also be susceptible to barnacles, slime and everything else in the water that can stick to your hull.

4. Dry Rack Boat Storage

 

Another popular option in coastal areas are dry rack storage facilities. These indoor and outdoor facilities use forklifts to stack multiple boats on top of enormous racks.

The benefits are that by keeping your boat off the ground, you can protect it from the elements and by keeping in near the water you have easy access. In addition, there is added security in the fact that it’s harder to steal a boat from these facilities without a forklift.

However, boat winter storage costs can equal hundreds of dollars a month and demand for spaces can make it hard to find. It’s also important to remember that if you want to retrieve your boat, you’re at the mercy of the storage staff.

Also, every boat is different, so before you store your boat make sure the available racks can support the weight and shape of your boat.

5. Self-Storage

If rack storage isn’t available in your area, there are many self-storage facilities that can accommodate boats as well as other large vehicles.

One of the big questions to ask at a self-storage facility is the level of security. Does the facility offer gated entry? What kind of onsite management and security coverage can the facility offer? Are alarms or other security measures in place?

Like a rack storage facility, you also need to make sure that your boat rack can handle the weight and shape of your boat, especially when the weather changes.

Keep Your Boat Protected with these Winter Storage Tips

The winter can be tough on your boat, but by preparing and storing it properly, you can ensure that your boat will be ship shape and ready to enjoy when the weather gets warmer.

Boat Maintenance Checklist For First-Timers & Seasoned Captains



Owning a boat can be wonderful. It gives you the ability to get on the water, spend time with family and just get away from it all.

However, many first-time boat owners may not be aware of the maintenance necessities that come with owning a boat.

One important first step is to put together a boat maintenance checklist. This will provide you with guidance and accountability when you’re performing regular and seasonal boat maintenance.

To get you started, the following are some key items to consider when building your boat safety checklist. We’ll go into each in greater detail below, but before we get started, let’s just go down the list.

Boat Maintenance Checklist

This is a good general list to get started, but your checklist should develop over time. You can try our templated version or make your boating maintenance a little more custom depending on your needs.

Here’s the list:

1. Give it a good cleaning

One of the easiest boat maintenance tasks is to clean your boat.

If you boat in salt water, rinse with fresh water after every excursion. Not only will salt will corrode metal, fasteners and hardware, but it will also eat away at your boat’s gelcoat.

Even if you sail in fresh water, giving your boat a regular cleaning will make it look good and extend its life.

Ideally, you should use a soft-bristle boat brush and Marine Boatwash. In a pinch, car wash soap is a good back up option, followed by laundry soap.

2. Check your fuel system

A simple rule of boating is that your boat can’t go if it isn’t getting any fuel, and when you’re on the water you can’t walk to the nearest service station.

Inspect your fuel system for leaks or damage. Today’s small leak can be a big problem if left unattended. Also be sure to pay attention to fuel hoses, connections and tank surfaces, check for corrosion and look for evidence of softness, brittleness or cracking.

Don’t be shy about replacing these parts when necessary and then double-check to make sure all fittings and clamps have been properly secured.

Another piece of advice is to keep the tank nearly full when you’re on land. As temperatures fluctuate throughout the year, moist air can seep into an empty tank. Keeping your tank full keeps this moist air out. This helps preserve your fuel mix and keeps contaminants from building up in your fuel tank.

3. Cover and store properly

When you’re not on the water, one of the easiest ways to maintain your boat is to put a cover on it. Whether it’s a motorboat, pontoon boat or bass boat, a well-designed cover doesn’t just protect your boat from the elements, it can also prevent condensation from building up and contaminating your boat’s engines.

Having a cover that can be secured to your boat while trailering is an added bonus. This provides an extra level of protection that can keep your boat running longer and with fewer maintenance issues.

4. Maintain belts, cables and hoses

When the temperature drops, belts, cables and hoses can become brittle and crack or swell. Cracks or swells on the outer jacket of the throttle, shift and steering control cables may be a sign of internal corrosion and an indicator of imminent failure. This can cause a vital system to fail when your boat is in motion.

Also, check to make sure that belts are tight around pulleys so that they don’t slip. A good way to look for black residue near the pulley. This is often the sign of friction caused by a loose, worn or misaligned belt.

5. Evaluate your electrical system

It’s a basic rule of science that water (especially salt water) metal and electricity don’t mix.

That’s why it’s important to perform regular checks on your boat’s electrical systems. Take the time to inspect all electrical connections to ensure that they’re clean, tight and corrosion free. If you find a corroded terminal, remove them and use a wire brush to clean them, along with all cable ends.

In our winter car maintenance article, we talked about the importance of keeping your car battery charged. This is even more important for your boat. Remember to charge your battery and have it tested regularly to ensure it can hold a charge.

Even if you’re comfortable with routine maintenance, it’s always a good idea to hire a professional. An inspection by a qualified technician can help identify problems that you might have missed otherwise.

6. Check all fluid levels

We already talked about keeping your gas tank full, but it’s also a good idea to regularly check all of your fluid levels including engine oil, power steering, power trim reservoirs and coolant.

Lower than expected levels may also indicate a leak in the system. Performing regular oil changes can also help keep contaminants out of your system and allow your engine to run cleaner.

7. Replace damaged propellers and hull

Boat maintenance is an inside and outside proposition, so it’s important to perform regular checks on your propellers. Look for dings, pitting, cracks and distortion. Chipped paint is okay, but damage to your propeller can affect performance and reduce your fuel efficiency. In addition, a damaged propeller can vibrate which puts stress on the bearings and seals, leading to additional damage.

During the season, it’s a good idea to check your propeller as a part of your pre-launch routine. Also, remove your propeller and inspect it several times during the season. This gives you an opportunity to put waterproof grease on the shaft to prevent corrosion from “freezing” the shaft. It also provides you with the opportunity to re-tighten the assembly so that it performs with maximum efficiency.

Also, make sure that your propeller shaft isn’t wrapped up by any fishing lines, they can cause gear case leaks that will need to be repaired by a professional.

8. Perform outboard motor maintenance

If your boat has an outboard motor, don’t forget that it needs the same level of maintenance as every other part of your boat.

In particular, it’s important to flush out your outboard motor after every excursion, whether it’s on salt water or fresh water.

To do this, simply start up the engine and the water pump will do the rest

While you're doing this, check the water pump to make sure it has good water flow. Outflowing water should be warm, not hot.

If the water output is not strong, there may be debris stuck in the outflow tube. To remedy this, shut down the engine, insert a small piece of wire into the flow tube, then work it back and forth to clear the pipe. Then start the engine again and check the output. If that doesn't solve the problem, consider a new water pump.

Once you’ve flushed the engine, you should also do the following:

  • Disconnect the fuel line and allow the engine to burn all the fuel in the carburetor.
  • Take the engine cowling off and check for fuel or water leaks. If you find leaks, consult your boating mechanic.
  • Wipe down all metal contact points and spray with an anti-corrosive like WD 40 or Quick-lube.
  • Lubricate all the moving parts, such as the shift, throttle cables and carburetor valves.
  • Replace the cowling and wipe it down.

At the end of the season, it’s a good idea to drain your tanks. Then take the fuel to the proper recycling authority.

It’s also a good idea to keep your outboard motor covered between trips. This prevents condensation and debris from accumulating and keeps your outboard motor cleaner.

9. Review and update your boat safety checklist

Before and after every trip, there are a number of steps that are advised by the U.S. Coast Guard.

These safety checklists cover a wide range of topics including:

  • Equipment requirements
  • Operating procedures
  • Law enforcement procedures
  • Safety checks
  • Safety and survival tips
  • Float plans
  • Emergency notification

Make sure that you have an updated guide, and make it a part of your overall boat maintenance checklist.

Check Your List and Stay Safe

Creating a checklist and using it consistently is an important part of any water safety plan. While this list can get you started, continually building and maintaining your boat.