When you hit the water in an Alumacraft boat, you are probably prepared to catch some fish and have some fun. But are you ready for the unexpected? Being prepared for the unforeseen event, such as a mechanical breakdown or even an emergency, is the responsibility of every boat captain. Here’s how to handle, or avoid, three common issues any boat owner might encounter.
Modern weather forecasting is so accurate, and so widely available, that it would seem there’s hardly an excuse to be caught by surprise if conditions suddenly change. A good captain checks the weather before every outing, and then monitors the weather while on the water. There are a number of good weather apps for mobile devices, but those rely on a cell signal, which might not be available on bigger, remote lakes. The best way for a boater to monitor the weather is through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Weather Service (NWS) forecasts and updates available 24/7 through VHF radio broadcasts. All modern fixed and hand-held VHF radios can tune in to the forecasts, which operate on one of seven frequencies. The information is localized and includes warnings when dangerous weather erupts. A VHF marine radio can also be used to contact the Coast Guard or local water patrol for assistance and is an essential tool to have on boat any boat.
In the early and late fishing seasons its especially important to be prepared for cold water and weather by monitoring the forecast and dressing properly. If you do get caught out in a sudden squall, use rough-water boat handling skills to navigate to safety.
We all have a friend who always carries a Band-Aid in his wallet, just in case. Not a bad idea, but your boat should be equipped with a more-complete first aid kit. A marine-specific kit is a good choice. The Boat Medic kit by My Medic comes in a compact floating waterproof case and is filled with professional-quality supplies organized in clear zip-top packets with a bold label so in an emergency you can simply grab what you need. The best first aid kit is useless if you don’t know how to use it. If it’s been a few years since you earned first aid merit badge, check out courses offered by the American Red Cross.
The three most-common on-water health issues an Alumacraft owner is likely to encounter are sunburn, dehydration and fishhook injuries. It should be easy to always keep sunscreen and drinking water on board. Be aware that sunscreen does expire. Start the season with a fresh supply. We like to keep a sharp diagonal cutter (wire cutter or dykes) on board to clip off the barbed tip of a fishhook so it can be removed from an unfortunate finger.
Outboard motors used in fresh water can provide many seasons of reliable service. Follow the maintenance schedule outlined in the owner’s manual, always prepare the motor for off-season storage and, unless that kicker is older than you, it’s not likely to let you down. Alumacraft dealer service techs report that on boats powered by late-model outboards, the battery and fuel are the two most-common culprits of motor-related issues.
A well-maintained marine cranking or deep cycle battery has a typical life span of five years. If your batteries are more than a few years old, have a marine or auto parts dealer give the battery a load test to gauge its condition. If you question the condition or age of the battery, better to replace it now than to have its life inconveniently end in the middle of the lake. Some new outboards have very specific battery requirements and are also sensitive to voltage levels. Consult with your dealer to make sure you install the best marine battery. Frequently check that batteries are secure in the boat and that terminal connections are tight.
Almost every outboard has its own fuel filter, but for mid-size to large outboards installation of a 5-micron water-separating remote filter in the boat is highly recommended by outboard manufacturers as the best defense against contaminated fuel. Carry a spare filter element on the boat for the day you get tank full water-contaminated gas. When possible, always buy ethanol-free gas for your boat. It’s good practice to add fuel stabilizer to every tank of gas unless you know that fuel will be consumed in a few weeks.
Ding up your propeller on a rocky bottom and you might make it back to the launch ramp. But it’s not hard to damage an aluminum prop so badly it can’t plane the boat, and a prop that’s bent up and out of balance can cause severe vibration. Which is why it’s good practice to carry a spare propeller with a set of mounting hardware and a prop wrench. Your “get home” prop does not have to be a match for your good propeller. A used prop that’s close to the same size is a perfectly acceptable spare.