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Heading Out on Your Boat? Check These 12 Things First!

It’s summertime! This is the season of lazy afternoon cruises, quiet evenings with your feet in the water, and finding the perfect fishing spot. All over Canada, boat owners are pulling out their vehicles and getting ready to make the most of the sunshine. 

Now, we’re big proponents of making sure that you have recreational insurance in hand before you head out on the waves, but there are several other things that you should check before you start up the engine. We’ve put together a basic checklist of the twelve items you should always verify before going sailing or boating. Once you’ve crossed every item off your list, you’ll be ready to enjoy your afternoon with no worries or unpleasant surprises.

1. Is the Hull Cracked or Damaged?

Arguably the most important job of a boat is to float. Before you climb in, walk around your boat and carefully inspect the hull for any fractures, cracks, or other damage. The last thing you want is to be out in the middle of the lake and discover that you’ve got water pouring in! 

2. If it Has a Motor, is it Functioning Properly?

Test the motor on dry land before you ever get it in the water. Does it start up well? Are the fuel and cooling systems working as they should? Have you checked the compression? Are all the lines in good condition? For many boats, their motor is the only thing that will propel it, and so you want to be sure you won’t be stranded later on.

3. How’s Your Oil & Fuel?

Every year, boaters are enjoying a pleasant day on the water when, suddenly, the engine dies. Surprise – they’re out of fuel. Before setting out, make sure that you’re topped up and have plenty of fuel for the journey ahead. A good general rule is to think of the fuel in thirds: one-third for the trip out, one-third for the trip back, and the last third for backup. 

4. Do You Have Enough Floatation Devices?

Minimally, you’re required by Canadian law to have one personal floatation device (PFD) per person on board. You might also need to have a line dedicated to throwing a flotation device in case of an emergency. The best way to know for sure is to check the restrictions that apply to your boat and make sure that you’re in compliance before you leave. 

5. Do You Have a First Aid Kit?

This goes hand-in-hand with the previous tip. A first aid kit means that if something happens on the water, you’ll be able to get the situation under control as you head back to shore. As a bonus, the recreational insurance company you have your policy with might offer you a discount for having safety items (like the first aid kit and PFDs) on board. 

6. Is Your Boat Too Heavy, or is the Weight Badly Distributed?

When you set out on the water, you want to be sure your boat is balanced properly. Too much weight in any one spot could make it more prone to tipping on curves or could put a lot of stress on your motor. Neither scenario works out in your favour, especially where your insurance premiums are concerned.

7. Is Your Navigational Equipment Working?

This applies particularly to your onboard compass, GPS system, or other navigational equipment, but it’s also a good idea to have some maps of the area you’ll be travelling in. If you lose your bearings or end up in a place you don’t recognize, this equipment will be what stands between a long, cold night on the water and your warm, comfy bed back home.

8. Do You Have a Radio Aboard?

Cell phones are great, but they’re not foolproof. It’s easy to end up in an area with no reception, and even easier for your battery to die because of all the pictures you’re taking of your boat trip. A radio will make sure that whenever you need help, you’ll always be able to call for it. Make sure you have a guide to all the local radio frequencies that you’re allowed to transmit on, so you won’t be broadcasting out to no one.

9. Have You Let Anyone Know Where You’re Going?

One of the biggest challenges that stand in the way of finding missing boats is when no one knows they were going boating in the first place. Tell someone when you’re going boating, where you’ll be, and how long you expect to be gone. That way, if you’re gone longer than expected, you’ll have someone who can initiate the search for you.

10. Do You Know What the Weather’s Going to Be Like?

There are few things more disappointing than packing a lovely picnic lunch and some fishing poles and making it out to the middle of the lake just in time for a thunderstorm. The weather can play a huge role in how easy it is to navigate and sail, so if you haven’t checked the weather for the day, do it now!

11. Have You Checked the Water Levels?

If you’re sailing in an area with tides, you’ll absolutely need to make sure that you know when the water levels are at their highest and lowest. This knowledge will inform everything from the time you depart to where you can travel to and what time you can leave at the end of the day.

12. Do Your Guests Know How to Drive the Boat?

If something happens to you, will your guests be stranded? Minimally, you should make sure that they’re aware of how to drive the boat back to shore if need be, and you should also show them where all the safety and navigation gear is stored if they need it. It’s also a good idea to check and verify that your recreational insurance will cover them in the event of an emergency.

And with that, you should be ready to hit the waves! Remember to drink lots of water, be respectful of the environment, and have lots of fun. It’s summer, after all – this is the time to make the most of the sunshine.

If you’d like more information on recreational insurance, including boat insurance, you can reach our Barrie office at (705) 726-2551 or our Orillia branch at (705) 326-5664. You can also contact us or request a free quote online.

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