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A New Boat! Now What?

You have just acquired a new boat. Congratulations! Whether it is right off the show-room floor or it is new only to you, your anticipation of the coming season will be great. Anticipation is part of the pleasure of boat-ownership. It should be savoured; but there are a number of matters to be addressed so as to take full advantage of the season.

The first one is to make sure that both you and your boat are properly documented. Do you have a Pleasure Craft Operator's Licence? If not, you will need one before you can legally operate your boat. Study booklets and the exams can be had on-line and at most boat shows. The Canadian Power & Sail Squadron is a worthy non-profit educational organization that can help too:

As for your boat, if it is a used one then it may already be licensed or registered. Any pleasure craft, including personal-watercraft, of 10 HP or more, must be one or the other. If you have purchased your boat through a reputable broker, the transfer of such existing documentation should have been executed as a part of their service. If you are buying a boat privately, ask about this and make sure that the outstanding licence or registration is transferred into your name. There can be serious consequences for not doing so.

If the boat has never been licensed or registered, then you have a choice. Obtaining a Pleasure Craft Licence is easy and cost-free. Simply go to: or call 1-800-267-6687.

For most recreational boat owners a Licence is officially acceptable and perfectly adequate; but it is not definitive proof of ownership. Vessel registration, a more involved and costly process, provides such proof of ownership and it is therefore necessary if you plan to take your boat to foreign countries beyond the USA. A qualified yacht broker can help you to decide the option that is best for your boat and your cruising plans.

Making sure that you have the required safety equipment onboard your boat is important too. Specifics can be obtained at: A good boating supply store can be of great help. This is not a place to economize. Compulsory gear is required for a reason: to save your life. Even if you have all the gear note that fire extinguishers need to be checked and tagged yearly and flares need to be less than four years old to pass inspection.

As the time for launching approaches, you will need to prepare your boat for the water. A new boat may require bottom-paint, or an anti-fouling wax if it is to be left in the water for short periods of time.

If you are painting the bottom of a new boat for the first time, be sure to obtain the manufacturer's instructions for doing so. Thorough sanding and/or de-waxing and priming may be specified. Believe me, doing it right the first time will save a lot of grief in future seasons. Consult a local marine paint dealer. Of course, there are professionals available in many areas to do the work for you if you so choose.

If yours is a used boat, then following the practice of the previous owner usually makes sense. Ask what paints and other products have been used on the boat in the past. If the boat is already coated below the waterline with a multi-year (ablative) bottom-paint, then it may only need a touch-up. If a soft, single season (composition-type) bottom-paint has been applied, you will need to repaint the bottom. It is in the spring that one obtains the benefit from the good care and attention paid in the fall. If the boat was pressure-washed and properly prepared for storage, then spring preparations are much less onerous.

Be aware of the specific needs of your boat. Care must be taken in the selection of the right bottom-paint. Aluminum under-water components like engine out-drive units are a good example. Major damage can occur to them due to the galvanic action between dissimilar metals (i.e. copper (bottom-paint) and aluminum (fittings)). Again, seek out professional advice to avoid disaster. Owner's manuals, where they exist, may be informative as well.

If the gel-coat finish on your new boat is shiny, be very careful of using abrasives on it. If there are any marks, try wax first. If a boat has been stored for the winter and it is dusty and dirty on-deck, the first job, after the winter-cover comes off, should be a thorough washing (or vacuuming). Fibreglass gel-coat (and paint) staining occurs immediately after a boat is u-covered when rain-water hits the dust of municipal fall-out accumulated on-deck. You will save yourself a lot of work, and prevent black streaks on your topsides if you do so.

Fibreglass boats with their original gel-coat finishes benefit from a thorough waxing of the smooth surfaces. The hull is the obvious place to start. If the finish is chalky, then some mildly abrasive cleaner or cleaner-wax may be appropriate. Again seek-out advice so as not to make a bad condition worse. I favour selectively waxing certain areas on-deck too. Vertical surfaces like cabin sides and coamings look much better when they are cared-for in this way.

Don't hesitate to wax the (plastic laminate) windows or ports while you are at it. I have found that this will help keep them clear. Avoid waxing surfaces that will make footing treacherous.

Look at your engine(s). If the machinery is unfamiliar to you then hire a mechanic to go over it with you. An alternative is the advice of a knowledgeable previous owner or the service department of a new-boat dealership. Ask to be shown where and how to check fluids, check and change zinc anodes, check and tighten alternator and pump belts, the idiosyncrasies of your boat, engine and so-on. If certain parts of the engine were disassembled for winterization then reassembly is obviously required. Check that all of the plugs are (back) in the cooling system; that the impeller is (back) in the external cooling pump; that the drain-plug in the hull itself, if there is one, is in place. Check on any external zinc anodes on propeller shafts and other under-water metal-work. Replace as needed. Make sure that any removable transducers for knot-meters and dept-sounders are (back) in place.

I favour taking the time to run a hose for cooling water so as to carefully start my engine ashore. I have my mechanic do this in my presence so that I am comfortable that the engine will start upon launching. I know of instances where engines have been internally flooded with water during start-up attempts ashore due to improper technique and the influence of municipal water-pressure. This is another instance where professional advice and assistance is well worth the cost.

Don't forget to check your batteries. Take a look at the terminals and make sure that they are clean and the electrical connections are tight. Check fluid levels where appropriate and add distilled water if needed. Make sure that your batteries are well charged (and holding a charge) in preparation for launch. If in doubt, there are various tests that can be undertake to assess battery condition. My experience is that good, long-lived batteries are more expensive but they are well worth the cost. One always seems to get what one pays for.

Check all of the through-hull fittings to make sure that they are connected and either open or closed as is appropriate for launch. My practice is to close all through-hull fittings other than those needed for engine operation, until the boat is in the water, settled and I have checked the bilges. Speaking of which, be sure that your bilge pump is working prior to launch. It goes without saying, that if you experience a leak once in the water and your pumps are needed, a clean bilge absent debris will allow them to operate at their designed capacity.

I like to fill my water tanks prior to launching as I am often in the water before all the dock-side facilities are operational in the spring. If you choose to do so too, fill them well before launching and check your bilges to make sure that you have no leaks in the fresh-water system. It may have been winterized by means of draining it, in which case some reconnection may be needed; or if it was improperly winterized, freezing may have caused the splitting of hoses and fittings causing leaks. Discovering water in the bilge after launching and imagining that your boat is sinking when in fact it has a leak in the fresh-water system will certainly cause unnecessary stress. Being reduced to tracing the source of unwanted water by means of tasting it is an act of desperation that is to be avoided.

If you are new to boating and this all seems a little overwhelming prepare a check-list specific to the needs of your boat. Ask your mechanic, the previous owner and other knowledgeable people to contribute to it. This kind of attention to detail is all the more important if you are new to boating and/or are not familiar with the boat. It will get easier with time and experience. Be patient and get it right. The old saying 'the price of safety is eternal vigilance' has never been more true than on launch-day.

Download a free sample of a pre-launch checklist below:

prelaunch checklist
Download PDF • 49KB

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