Preserve your boats in times of bad weather

By ED WALKER Fishing
Published June 2, 2007

If the forecast for this weekend holds true, the plants will be the only ones enjoying the outdoors.

Rain and heavy winds are supposed to move in from the south today and Sunday, making most saltwater activities unpleasant. Some fishing will be possible along western shorelines or the mainland and barrier islands today due to the predicted easterly wind flow but on Sunday it will switch directions and come blasting in from the west and southwest at 20 mph. Such heavy winds from the west cause heavy seas and shut down all but the most protected fishing areas.

We have pulled our boat out of the water for a few days to let any plant or other organic matter that may be beginning to grow die off. All it takes is the failure of one float switch or bilge pump to sink a boat with rain water.

Surprisingly, as important as float switches are, they are very unreliable. Sometimes all it takes is something caught in the float itself that keeps it from coming up and turning on the bilge pump. On more than one occasion we have found debris in the bilge jamming our floats and creating a potential hazard. Ideally this failure occurs during a non-crucial period. Corroded wires, bad connections and dead batteries also are sources of trouble when water is coming into the boat.

Bilge pumps are prone to failure, and of course there is never a good time to have water in the boat so any time this happens it can be risky. Boats with scuppers to drain the decks are particularly vulnerable. Scuppers are essentially flaps that cover holes in the boat that are just above the water line. If there is a bilge pump failure and water, even rain water, begins accumulating in the vessel the boat will begin to sit lower and lower.

Once the scuppers are below the water line, the water will flow in through them and fill the boat. At this point, sinking is not far away. More boats actually sink in marinas and at docks than out at sea; many of those are due to the failure of small but critically important pumps or float switches.

Regular inspection and testing of this equipment should be conducted. It may not seem like that big of a deal to have a float switch that is disconnected or working intermittently on the dry, calm days, but with two days of heavy rain on the way, it becomes a big deal.

Since bilge pumps and baitwell pumps are temperamental, you should always carry spares on the boat with you. They are easy to change and can save your day or even you life. All of our pumps are rigged with quick-connect setups that allow us to simply twist the bad ones off and snap another back in.

Another good idea when keeping a boat in the water is valves between each pump and the water. This allows you to close off the leak should one pump break or fall out of its mount. Just about any place there is an opening to the water should have a shut-off valve attached to it. Avoid using cheap plastic or PVC shutoff valves as they can break. Most marine supply shops carry the large, heavy-duty valves that fit onto the pumps' plumbing.