Boat recently on the hard? The first cruise of the season is a crucial time to run through an operationAL checklist.
After a long winter’s rest—or any extended period of time with the boat on the hard—lighting up the engines and leaving the dock for that initiation cruise is a critical time. While it’s always exciting to get back on the water, I like to first focus on making sure all systems are ready and able. Doing so will reduce the chances of the trip turning into a Gilligan’s adventure.
My strategy begins in the engine room with a methodical inspection of seacocks and valves, strainers, shaft logs, water and fuel hoses, clamps, coolant, oil level, and batteries for each engine and the generator. I start one engine at a time, listening to make sure exhaust water is flowing properly. My Caterpillars take a long time to heat up at the dock with spring water temperatures, so what I like to do is thoroughly inspect the first engine and let it run a while, making sure there are no leaks, the alternator is putting out properly, and the gauges and transmission are functioning. After 10 minutes I’ll shut it down and start the other engine and repeat the process. After the second engine passes all of the inspection points, I crank up the generator. Once the genset is purring and putting out juice, I’ll switch off the shore power, restart both engines, and prepare to leave the dock.
When I head out on that first spring run from my homeport in New Jersey, I often wonder how the river survived the winter. New obstructions could be littering the fairway, and shoals could have developed due to winter storms. Although the channel is marked, some of the buoys could be off station or missing entirely, so I plod along at displacement speed, watching the gauges, becoming reacquainted with engine noise, and confirming the steering is firm.
Entering the deeper waters of the inlet, I line up the sea buoy a mile offshore to verify my compass is on its mark and begin throttling up, getting the boat on plane. I keep a log with all of the engines’ speed and performance numbers, temperature ranges and similar data, so it’s easy to confirm everything is operating properly while I run a good hour up the beach, picking a course away from other boat traffic. This gives me an opportunity to fire up the electronics and test the equipment.
When the course ahead is clear, I’ll stretch the throttles open and let all of the ponies out of the stable, making sure the engines hit WOT rpm. With a clean bottom, cold air, and minimal cruising gear aboard, I expect to see a few extra rpm, and that’s fine, too.
The first ride aboard a boat that’s just come off the hard is always great. It’s also a good opportunity to confirm your boat is equipped with a functioning VHF radio, flares, registration, tools, and spare parts should you need them. Back at the dock, I nose around the engine compartment and lazarette searching and sniffing for any anomalies.
If all looks good, next up is to tend to ancillary systems, including washdown and livewell pumps, air conditioning, the fresh-water tank and other plumbing accessories. Finally, when leaving the boat for its first night in the water alone, I double check dock and mooring lines and make sure the shore power cord is plugged in securely. I also spend a few minutes waiting to see if a bilge pump comes on and if it does, I go back aboard and find out why. It’s best to be prepared when the spring cruising season arrives.
To learn more about Seamanship check out our Boaters University course, Fundamentals of Seamanship: Navigational Rules.