Have you added the three most important bilge pumps to your boat safety check list? Does your sailing crew know the location of survival equipment, fuel shutoff valve and how to test a seacock?

Make these ten items your first stop when you step aboard any boat, power or sail. Develop your own checklist, but be sure to transfer these top ten to the head of the line. 

1.    Fire Extinguishers

Fire on a boat means big trouble. Check marine fire extinguisher locations and gauge charges. Recharge any extinguisher where the dial points into the red sector. Once a month, remove each dry chemical extinguisher from their brackets, invert, shake, and mount again. That way, any powder packed into the bottom will loosen up. Point out each portable fire extinguisher to your sailing crew or partner. In an emergency, you'll be glad you did!

2.    Flare Kits

All items in your emergency flare kit have two stamped dates: a manufactured date (earlier) and expiration date (later). If they're expired, keep the old ones that still appear to be in good shape. But you must replace them with new ones. Flares save lives, so keep them accessible and ready to use in an instant.

3.    Stuffing Box

More boats sink from leaking stuffing boxes than from any other cause. At the dock, a mooring or at anchor--not underway!  Get your flashlight and shine it onto the packing and lock nuts. Water lubricates the packing, so you should see a drop or two every minute.  Excessive leaks indicate worn or missing packing. Address this right away before you cast off.  If you have dripless glands aboard, check the hull around and below the gland to insure no leaks have developed. 

4.    Bilges and Engine Drip Pan

Check the forward and aft bilge for excess water. Look for leaks around keel bolts or transducer through-hulls. Look under the engine in the drip pan. If you see water, dip your fingers in and rub them together. Clear, oily water indicates a fresh water coolant problem. But it could also signal a stuffing box leak. When you fire up the engine, keep an eye on the stuffing box for too much leakage.

5.    Engine Fuel Shutoff

Make sure you know the location of the fuel supply shutoff valve. In an emergency, you need to turn this off to stop fuel flow to your small diesel engine. Trace the fuel line between tank and primary fuel filter. Test the valve to make sure you can turn it off and on with moderate pressure. 

6.    Marine Seacocks

The second most frequent cause of boat losses are seacocks with frozen handles or blown hoses. Every seacock aboard must have a handle that works. Test each handle in the shut off and open position. A gentle tap frees up most handles, frozen from corrosion. Look for tapered plugs, tied to the base of each seacock. In an emergency, they'll plug a leak.

7.    Head Valves

Another boat sinker. The head seacock often stays open underway. With a defective valve, this could cause the commode to fill and overflow. Make it a habit to shut off both valve and seacock after every use to prevent this problem. I believe it's vital to make a physical demonstration of this procedure to your crew. Not all crew will tell you they know how to use the head, so a short 30 second demonstration could save your boat. Take the time to teach to keep sailing and cruising safe and worry-free!

8.    Port, Hatch and Cowl Closure

Do the opening ports and hatches secure all the way?  In a squall, spray or rainstorm, you must button her up below.  Do you know where the cowl vent cover is?  A dry cabin pumps up crew morale, second only to a hot meal! 

9.    Marine Bilge Pumps

All mechanical type bilge pumps, please move to the back of the line!  By all means have them aboard, but install trusty "works-every-time" manual type bilge pumps too. Check for a large capacity manual bilge pump, like the whale pumps, in the cockpit. Find the handle and throw it in the sink to keep it handy.

Portable hand pumps are effective with a 3 foot hose (minimum) on the intake and exhaust side. Make sure you have a bailing bucket or two aboard, too. They've kept more than one boat afloat when other methods failed.

10.    Battery Covers and Tie Downs

Most sailboats have two batteries, one to start the engine and one for general (house) electronics. Each battery must have a cover and a strong tie down to prevent movement when you heel. Test the cables for tight contact to the battery terminals. Now you know they'll give you juice when you ask for it.

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