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Date of Issue: February 18, 2009


Boating tips for a generally non-boating month

February is arguably the nastiest of months for Florida. Despite the past few days of balmy temperatures highlighted with spectacular sunsets, this has been and can be a bitterly cold time for Sunshine State denizens.

So if the weather is lousy, why not take some time away from the water and spend some time working on your boat? A little boat primping now can save you some valuable on-the-water time come spring and summer.

Mechanical elements of boating are almost always best left to mechanics, so let them deal with all the guts of your engine and fuel system. Make sure to check the oil. Steering cables. All those nasty things that you don’t think about but can pose disaster if not properly attended.

Ditto those checks on water and sanitary systems on bigger vessels.

Of course, you’ve already winterized your boat for the current low-use winter months. Right?

But spend a while going over the minutia of your boat. Look at things as if your were selling or buying the vessel. Think from the “curb appeal” angle and also take the nuts-and-bolts approach.

Prop dinged? Get it fixed now.

Those scrapes or bumped gunnels? Now’s the time for a little repair.

Soggy cleat fixtures? Sagging seat cushions? Tired Bimini top? You know the drill. Remember backing plates are vital for any successful towing operation on all cleats or brackets.

Batteries take special attention. Too old? Too dirty? Check it all and replace if questionable.

Probably the most important elements to address are all the safety devices on your boat. Flares. Lights, both running and auxiliary. Why not check the expiration dates or just toss it all and start anew? And get one of those flashing beacons that will let the Coast Guard find you in the dark.

Without question the most important items on your boat are your personal floatation devices. Just how greasy, mildewed and moldy is that thing you’re counting on to save your life if the worst situation occurs and you find yourself, your family, your friends, in heavy seas miles from shore?

Spend a few bucks and get the best PFD you can. Make sure it will keep your head out of the water, unless you plan to grow gills.

Ground tackle is pretty much impervious to wear and tear, right? Just how old is your anchor? When was the last time you looked at it with “new” eyes? Perhaps it’s time to turn your primary anchor into a backup and get a new hook.

There’s a good argument that you never can have too much line aboard. The old 7:1 rule of scope to depth of water holds true. If average depth of our bay waters is maybe 20 feet, you need 140 feet of line on your boat — just for anchoring safely and securely. Is that what’s on your vessel?

If you’re strapped for cash and can’t afford new line, reverse it. Let the wear-prone section near the anchor or where you cleat it take a rest and have the less-worn line bear the brunt of the brute force of line tension.

And these cold winter nights are a good time to practice some marlinspike maneuvers. There are some pretty nifty quick-release knots out there that you can use to wow your friends and get you going fast. They’re easy to master with a little practice.

Don’t forget to clean out those nasty boat bins and cubbies, either. Chances are good that buried under your life jackets is an old towel or a moldy sponge that’s more than a lot ripe.

Forget spring cleaning. Think winter upkeep and maintenance.

And hope for an early spring.

By the numbers …

According to the Ultimate Source of Boating Excursions, in 2006:

  • Nearly 25 million anglers in the United States spent just more than 127 million days saltwater fishing.
  • Total expenditures for all those water folks was pegged at $82 billion. That figure includes everything from buying ice to paying the salary of a waterfront restaurant server — a wide-ranging conglomerate, true, but still an interesting number.
  • Jobs created under those parameters number more than 534,000.

By-the-state totals for highest rankings within the statistics were Florida, Texas, California, Louisiana and North Carolina. Remember, too, that these figures are only for saltwater boating.

… and WAY out there

Boat collisions are, thankfully, rare. When boats collide, the results are almost always bad. Just this week, we noted a collision in Tampa Bay, resulting in a minor fuel spill.

It may be a reach to contrast boat interactions with deep-space satellite collisions, but what once happened above Earth may serve as a reminder to us that some things that take place can take a long time to correct.

A derelict Russian military satellite collided with a satellite-phone commercial device about 500 miles above Siberia last week. The crash was described as being in “the busiest part of near-Earth space — a very popular orbit which is used by Earth-tracking and communications satellites," according to the Associated Press.

Russian scientists said it could take up to 10,000 years for the debris cloud to clear. In the interim, all orbiting spacecraft are at risk of collision with the residual crud.

It’s been called a catastrophic event by experts, and the first-ever high-speed impact between two intact spacecraft.

The U.S. communication satellite weighed 1,235 pounds; the Russian’s was about 2,000 pounds. The hit created a supersonic shock wave, shredded everything onboard both satellites and threw debris up to 800 miles from the point of impact.

Debris from the satellite collision reached Texas Sunday in a meteor-like shower.

It could be argued that the crash was an accident waiting to happen.

There’s something like 17,000 pieces of space junk larger than 4 inches in size spinning around over our heads. There’s also 900-plus active satellites doing what they do: weather observation, communications, military whatevers. Oh, and the manned space station.

The station is in orbit at about 270 miles above Earth, a bit lower than the debris field. Experts say there should be little danger posed to the station as a result of the higher-orbiting crash.

Let’s all be careful out there — in the air and on the water.

 

Sandscript factoid

Our friend Randy Wayne White wrote a wonderful book a few years ago titled “Ten Mile Limit.” It was a scary tale of some folks who ended up adrift after their boat sank in the Gulf of Mexico at night.

The argument was made that the swimmers could have been rescued if they had at least one of those waterproof beacons that flash out an intense light to guide rescuers to the victims.

After the book published, Randy came to a local writer’s conference by boat. And the keys to his boat were affixed to a floating light almost as large as his arm, and Randy has big arms.

“So how big is the flashing beacon on your boat?” we joked.

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