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Stokes: The time is now to make sure your boat is ready to go

A friend called and asked if I would lend him a hand with his boat. He said he was getting it ready for "when the weather was right."

I asked him to elaborate since a few nice days had already passed. He explained it to me in a way befitting a true Southerners approach to such things.

"It's all a matter of proper preparation. You are designated to a series of maintenance tasks that are best performed while your boat is on the trailer during good weather."

The weather

Many are wondering what has happened to the weather lately. From T-shirts to shirt sleeves, it's getting harder and harder to plan for outdoor activities without having more than one option on standby.

The change is coming but for many not as quickly as we would like.

When the weather turns warmer anglers and boating enthusiasts take full advantage of conditions. For some the lure may prove hazardous.

Although outside air temperatures may be pleasing, water conditions remain cold enough to be dangerous. Don't allow short spans of warm temperatures to be a risk for hypothermia.

Waters and chill factors can be deceptive, and often as little as a few degrees can prove fatal. And, you do not necessarily need to be on the water to feel the effects.

Plan on the unexpected but don't let it interfere with your enjoyment.

Carry extra clothing, towels, and foul weather gear on your outings. Make sure there is easy access to your boat if you should fall overboard. Well-fitted ladders are essential for every boat, and every boater should ensure they are serviceable.

A workable retrieve procedure should be part of your safety check, and everyone on board should know how to use the devices.

Getting to the boat

It's that time of year when you're thinking about getting your boat ready for the upcoming season. If you are one of the fair-weather boaters, you have probably ignored your boat during the cold months.

Here are a few things to check on as you prepare for warmer days afloat:

Trailers -- Check tires, bearings, skids, winch and ropes, tie downs, lights and wiring. Tow the trailer a short distance and check for wheel noise. Check the axle angle, tire wobble or flat spots. Also check hubs for overheating and be sure wheel nuts are secure.

Batteries -- Check the water level in each cell, (distilled water only). Check voltage and amp draw and fully charge your batteries. Be sure battery boxes are dry and batteries have not been damaged. Clean terminals and check battery posts and connections.

Boat -- Check the bilge pump for manual and auto operation. Check for debris in and around drains. Make sure mounting bolts are secure and steering turns freely. Check lights, instrument panel and gauges. Check bow and transom for stress cracks or fatigue. Be sure cleats and bow eye is secure. Make sure side numbers and your lettering is secure and your registration is up to date. Be sure anchor and lines are secure. Check mildew and rust around rope connections and fittings. Check bow, stern lights and anchor lights if equipped.

Motor -- Remove motor cover and check for any uninvited guest that may have taken up residence. If stored with motor in up position, lower the motor and allow water to drain. Check lower unit lubricant levels. Make sure prop turns freely, check prop and prop nut. Check trim and tilt fluid levels and that the unit cycles freely up and down. Check water separators, fuel and all filters. Start and check motor running conditions, pay particular attention to the water pump drain, be sure it is expelling water through weep hole.

Safety equipment -- Be sure all Coast Guard required equipment is in place and serviceable. All boats are not created equal, and each requires specific safety devices. Be sure your first aid kit is up to date and sterile. Be sure life jackets are useable with no tears or broken snaps and no signs of mildew. Check for a charged air horn (canned horns lose air with temperature changes). Blank float plans and extra pencils should be part of every boaters arsenal. Let others know where you are going and when you plan to return.