Clean your boat
If you boat in saltwater, you should be rinsing your vessel thoroughly with fresh water after every outing. Salt water will corrode any metal and break down your gelcoat if left unchecked. For a more thorough cleaning, use a soft bristle brush on a long handle and some high quality soap formulated for marine surfaces – preferably one that is environmentally friendly. This is also a good time to inspect all exterior and interior surfaces for damage or excessive wear.
Test all operating systems
Just like a car, boats must be checked periodically for leaks or damage. Check things like the oil, power steering and coolant levels, and change as necessary. On hoses, connections and tank surfaces, replace worn or damaged components and verify all fittings are secured. Check that the engine, exhaust and ventilation systems are functioning properly. Clean all electrical terminals and cable ends. Test your battery, radio, GPS, compass, and depth finder. Ensure all navigation and instrument lights are working. If you have an outboard or stern drive boat, don’t forget to check the propeller for dings, pitting, cracks and distortion. The smallest dent can cause your boat to lose performance and put damage-inducing stress on other mechanical components.
Build a toolkit
When you’re out on the water, the last thing you want is for a little problem become the end of your trip. If you don’t already have one, put together a toolbox with tools appropriate for your boat. Stockpile spares you’re sure to need at some point, including batteries, light bulbs, plugs, filters, and so on. Every boat should also be equipped with a first-aid kit. And don’t forget to keep copies of your ship’s documentation, radio license, fishing permit, and other necessary papers on board for impromptu visits from the Coast Guard.
Put safety first
Ensure your boat is free from fire hazards. Confirm all fire extinguishers are fully charged and stowed in their proper place. Check that all life jackets are in good condition and that you have enough of them. It is recommended to have at least one Coast Guard-approved life jacket per passenger and a minimum of two on board. An additional throwable device is required if your vessel is more than 16 feet long. Secure required Visual Distress Signals (VDS) suitable for day and night, including flares, flashlight, mirror and red or orange flag. To comply with Navigation Rules, you also need sound producing devices such as a portable air horn capable of a 4-second blast audible for ½ mile.
Follow the rules
The United States Coast Guard sets minimum standards for recreational vessels and associated safety equipment. To meet these standards, required equipment must be U.S. Coast Guard “approved” or “certified.” This means that it meets U.S. Coast Guard specifications, standards, and regulations for performance, construction, or materials. All boats must meet the requirements of the state in which it is being examined. Don’t take shortcuts. When in doubt, contact your local marine law enforcement agency.