Getting ready to float your boat
Now that the thaw is arriving to take the edge off an exceptionally cold Utah winter, it’s time to shake off that case of cabin fever we’ve all been carrying like a monkey on our shoulders, and get back to the great outdoors that this magazine is named for. And for a lot of us Utahns, that means boating. Many of our childhood memories were made on Lake Powell, Flaming Gorge and the smaller lakes and rivers that traverse the region, and when it comes to recreational choices, boating is still up there near the top of the list for us.
Of the roughly 82,000 square miles comprising the state, over 2,700, or about one-thirtieth, is covered by water, so there's no lack of shores to set off from. Boats are a favorite "toy" for those with expendable income, and more than 74,000 boats are registered to Utahns, illustrating the devotion those in the Beehive State feel for local waterways. Whether you use your boat for fishing, waterskiing, or just to get away from your landlocked doldrums, you've likely felt it: the urge to get back to the primordial feeling of being in and on the water.
Annual maintenance will make your boating more enjoyable and safer. (Photo: Chris Watkins)
Spring into life
If you already have a boat and are hankering to get back on board after a long winter away from the waves, you'll want to make sure your boat is as ready as you are. Several local boat dealers offer suggestions, and as with everything else, if all else fails, read the freakin' manual. "Follow the factory-recommended service schedules," suggests Wayne Sorenson of Utah Water Sports. "Make sure the battery is charged."
"I could give you a list a yard long of things to do to prepare your boat for the season," laughs Beckstrand Marine's Barb Beckstrand. "For starters, in summerizing your boat, make sure the drain plugs are in the engine, and check the hose clamps. If it's a carbureted engine, take tape or bags off flame arrestors. Make sure there's oil in the engine and the outdrive, and power steering fluid. Get the oil and filters changed if needed. Make sure the batteries are charged. Start the engine at home on a flush attachment to make sure it runs well. If there's antifreeze in the engine from winter, it needs to be recovered, and for that go to a marine shop. Also, make sure the trailer has air in the tires, and get the bearings greased. And check your emergency equipment, the fire extinguisher, and check the life jackets to make sure they aren't rotten."
Randy Allen, of Jody Wilkinson Truck & Boat Center, has a long list as well. "Get your boat in to a good marine mechanic for annual maintenance. Make sure to follow the scheduled oil changes, and have all parts of the engine checked to make sure they're functioning properly. On the trailer, check the brakes, tire tread and the taillights, especially for water buildup in the taillights from winter storage. Be sure to take an inventory of all your safety equipment. Most people just cover their boats up quickly to be stowed away for the winter, and boats need to be cleaned up before use."
"Before you hit the water, check the trailer," echoes Casey Robertson of Robertson Marine. "Repack the bearings on the wheels. Change the engine oils, and check for fuel leaks. Get the throttle and shift linkages greased. Make sure all your safety equipment is in good condition, and check the battery. Start the boat in your driveway to check for engine problems long before you venture near a lake."
Greg Lameroux of Marine Max suggests boaters run the engine in a test tank to make sure it isn't overheating, and check the water pump impeller on the boat. But he also agrees with the other shop experts, "The number one thing people overlook is the trailer."
Changes in technology
"There's been a dramatic change in the last two to three years," says Sorenson. "Now there's much more emphasis on wake boarding. With the new ballast tanks that can be emptied with the push of a button, you can change the weight of the boat, and thus the wake, instantly. With the tanks drained you create a waterskiing wake; if you fill them again you can create a higher wake that's great for wake boarding."
"With the new tanks and towers the rope is positioned high above the boat for wake boarding and waterskiing," explains Sorenson. "You can get more vertical air and do more tricks. Lights can also be mounted on the towers for use at night."
"There isn't really anything new, brand new, for this year," adds Beckstrand. "Everything has pretty much been done. In the last few years stepped hulls have been added, with a vent in the side of the hull, which makes the boat a little faster. Recent engines have more horsepower, including the Volvo/Pinta 350 HP/350 cubic inch. That would be a good engine for a lot of people around here, because it can be put in a lot of different boats. There's also the Mercruiser 6.2 liter 320 HP. Smaller block engines are becoming more fuel-efficient."
"We're seeing more extensions off of swim platforms, and more fiberglass-lined boats," she adds. "They're much easier to keep clean, often with a snap-in carpet that can be removed for cleaning."
"The new breakthroughs in fiberglass technology are the biggest thing since the change from wood to fiberglass in the 1950s," asserts Robertson. "VEC, or Virtually Engineered Concepts, has allowed manufacturers to control the entire process of boat-building through computers. The new close-molding process, as opposed to the original fiberglass open-molding, is much less hazardous to the environment and to the workers. It molds a boat like a waffle iron, injecting a gel coat into the mold, and you get a perfect boat every time. It also cuts factory emissions, and it makes boats cheaper to produce."
Today's boat shopper can choose from a vast array of options.
"There are a lot more tower boats, with wake board towers that companies are putting in as an option," notes Allen. "As the boating public gets grayer, people are either simplifying, getting a smaller vessel, or getting a big cruiser. Midsize boats need more emphasis. It's hard to get younger people into boating, but when they do purchase a boat it tends to be for more specialized uses, such as towboats for waterskiing."
"The number one biggest seller here is the Sea Ray sundeck," says Lameroux. "On the new boats the cabin is shifted back, creating more room in the bow, the front of the boat, for people to sit. There's also more room in the back of the boat. It comes in varying sizes but generally allows more people on the boat. We are going from the old bowrider design, shifting to more sundecks, with a lot more room. Boats are being redesigned every year to become more aerodynamic and more luxurious. This is true of all boat sizes. Things are continually being upgraded and improved."
Considerations for newbies
"A lot of first-time boat buyers don't know what they're looking for," Allen continues. "You need to determine what your needs are, whether you're going to use it primarily for fishing or waterskiing. Most people will buy a boat too small for their needs. A four-person family needs at least a 19- to 20-foot boat. If you buy as large a boat as you can afford initially, you can save the cost of having to upgrade later. It also helps to know where you're going: For larger bodies of water, like Powell or Flaming Gorge, you need a bigger boat, because the water can get rough."
Robertson says that people planning to use boats for fishing should consider the requirements of their hobby. "Bass fishers should use a boat with higher fuel capacity, because they like to go out on larger waterways like Lake Powell. Bass boats have a live well with aerated timers to store fish after they're caught, which wouldn't matter to trout fishermen. Look for a lower profile with bass boats, so the wind doesn't blow them around, since they like to stay in one place. Bass boats don't have a windshield, which could catch a breeze and cause your boat to move, and they have a flatter deck, to allow you to move around on the boat when you're fighting with a big one. Trout fishermen, of course, like to have a trolling motor, for a nice smooth troll, and an electric motor is nice to have for bass fishing."
Allen doesn't see many new watery hotspots. "What we see are the Powell boaters, the Flaming Gorge and Bear Lake fans, sticking to those. The top ten list of boating destinations in the state hasn't changed a lot." Other favorites include Pineview, Deer Creek, Jordanelle, Scofield and Strawberry reservoirs, Fish Lake and Utah Lake.
Sorenson notes, "More people are going down to Lake Mead this time of year, because it warms up earlier than Lake Powell."
"The Great Salt Lake is a virtually untapped resource for power boaters," Robertson comments. "Before now, it's mostly been the habitat of sailboats. There's the misconception that the salt water will eat up your boat, but that's no more true than any salt water. With all the natural beauty of the lake and the surrounding regions, it's a great place for boating."
Safety rules the waves
Following the rules and using common sense will make for a safer and more enjoyable experience in the water. Everyone 12 or over must wear a PFD (Personal Flotation Device) of Type I, II, III or V, which is a type designed for special activities like waterskiing. Boats 16 feet or longer need a Type IV, the kind you throw to someone fallen overboard, in easy reach.
All motorboats are required to carry a U.S. Coast Guard-approved fire extinguisher. Gas-powered boats must have ventilators to prevent the accumulation of dangerous vapors in the bottom of a boat. Inboard gasoline engines need to be equipped with a backfire flame arrestor on the carburetor. Navigation lights are required for operation after and before daylight hours.
Be sure to have a bucket or mechanical means of pumping out water if you spring a leak, and if your boat is under 26 feet long, have at least one paddle in case of engine failure. Motorboats are required to be equipped with a muffler, and the Division of Parks and Recreation can test your boat for excessive noise, for which you can be fined.
Dispose of human sewage from boats properly at marine toilets dockside or other approved facilities; it's illegal, and a cause of environmental and health problems, to deposit human waste into Utah waters or adjacent lands.
Carry a Coast Guard-approved visual distress signal such as a flare, as well as a flashlight, first aid kit, boarding ladder, tool kit, extra line, spare spark plugs, spare bilge pump, spare propellers and an extra anchor in case you lose yours. Plan ahead in case of emergency, and know what to do in case of fire, breakdown or collision. Know how to put on your life jacket correctly, do so, and know safety signals. If your boat capsizes, it will still probably float, so stay with it. Be aware of possible hazardous weather conditions, and tell someone where you're going in case of accident. It could save your life.
Wakeless speed is required within 150 feet of another boat, dock, swimmer, skier, angler or fishing equipment. Don't swim near launching, docking, mooring or harbor areas. Keep at least one person onboard if you leave an unanchored boat to swim, so your vessel doesn't drift off. Be familiar with marker buoys, and pay attention to them while boating. Maintain a safe course when towing a waterskier, with a proper lookout who can communicate with the skier. The observer must display an international orange flag at least 12 inches square when a skier is down in the water. Water skis and other towed devices may be used only during daylight hours.
Don't let passengers ride on the bow unless your boat was designed for that. Passengers may ride on the bow of boats 16 feet or larger, except on Lake Powell, if they straddle an upright support without blocking the operator's view.
Sailboats and manually operated craft have the right of way over powerboats, which should stay clear and avoid creating a wake in their path. In overtaking and passing situations, the boat being passed has the right of way, and the passing boat is required to stay clear. When approaching another boat head-on, stay to the right. If all else fails, rules may be broken to avoid collision.
And remember, operating a boat under the influence is treated just as seriously by the law as driving an automobile, and can be just as deadly.
For more information on state boating regulations and safety suggestions, visit the web site parks.state.ut.us/parks1 www1/boating.htm (no "www"). The Division of Parks and Recreation also offers boating safety courses, which may lower your boating insurance rates.