THINKING OF OWNING YOUR OWN TRAILER BOAT FOR THE FIRST TIME?
BASIC GUIDE TO STARTING UP
So you are considering owning your own boat, where do you begin. Unfortunately, unlike buying a car, before owning a boat there is no test or qualifications needed to own a boat for your own use. There is nothing to stop you walking into a showroom, coming out with the biggest fastest boat they have, taking it down to the nearest launching ramp and blasting off into the horizon without a care in the world.
THE CAUSE OF MANY LOST LIVES.
SO WHERE DO YOU BEGIN?
The first advice is after you are sorted, until you get used to your boat. TAKE AN EXPERIENCED BOATER WITH YOU and get your boat INSURED before you think of using it.
This can be a very expensive. Obviously, the first piece of equipment you need is a hull. Most hulls these days are GRP (glass reinforced plastic) mainly because they are hard wearing and above all else, easy to repair. Although GRP hulls are easy to repair still look for one in good condition, and preferably one with some sort of forward cover, cabin, cuddy etc. Two main points to look for are, a good beam. Distance from Port (left side) to Starboard (right side) of boat looking forward (bow) and a good gunwale height (height from bottom of boat to rim of hull) preferably above knee level. How long should your boat be, I would go for something in the 15ft-18ft range. The type of hull you get will depend on where you intend to fish. For fishing inshore waters, I would go for a displacement hull (one which sits in and moves through the water). Preferably one with a good keel (supporting beam running lengthways along bottom of boat) A good keel gives a boat good stability. If you intend fishing areas further off and greater speed is needed then you will be looking for some type of planing/semi planing hull (one which glides just in or on top of the water). Try to avoid a hull with too flat a bottom as in choppy weather this will tend to give quite a bumpy ride. One type of hull you could also look at, which gives a good ride and is very stable is the catamaran (two hulls) style. However getting a trailer may cause problems.
Now you have your hull you now need some sort of propulsion. The obvious solution to this problem is simply an outboard motor. My first advice on this is, if possible BUY NEW. Too often boats put out to sea with engines that are practically dropping to bits and are very unreliable. If you do have to buy second hand, buy from a dealer, and an engine that is only a few years old. It may cost a few quid more but that extra little bit may save your life. If you can, buy from a dealer who sells ex R.N.L.I. engines, this way you can pick up quite a good bargain and you will know the engine you are buying has been serviced regularly. What size engine will you need depends on what type of hull you have purchased. A displacement hull regardless of the size of engine you put on will not go more than about 8 knots (speed). Most engines around 5 hp will push you along at 8 knots in calm weather but when the sea, wind, and tide are against you, you may need something with a bit more power. I would go for something around 10hp. The same applies to planning hulls, an engine of 30-40hp or even smaller will push you along quite happily in flat calm seas. However when the conditions deteriorate an extra bit of power will be needed so I would go for something more than 40hp preferably around 60hp upwards. One very important aspect to look at when buying an outboard is, is it the right length for my transom (board at stern (back) of boat outboard fits onto). Outboards come in two lengths, long shaft and short shaft (length of outboard) To find out which you need measure form the top of the transom to the bottom of the hull. Either make sure you tell the dealer this measurement or that the propeller, with engine fitted, will be below the bottom of the hull. No good fitting an engine and finding the propeller is out of the water when you launch. Right we now have the correct engine all we need to do now is sling it on the transom. WRONG. A very important factor about fitting an outboard is that it is trimmed properly. This is very simple with an engine with hydraulics (fitted on bigger engines) you just adjust it by simply pushing a button. However, on smaller engines this has to be done manually. An engine trimmed to far back will try and push the bow of the boat up (fig 1) and one trimmed to far in will try and push the bow into the water (fig 2). An engine trimmed in either of these ways will decrease speed and vastly increase fuel consumption. Trim your boat so it floats with an even keel (level along water)(Fig 3) Another factor to take into consideration is the weight that you put in the boat. Spread your load (whether anglers or cargo) evenly.
Now you have your hull and engine. How do you get it to where you are going, of course you need a trailer? This is one piece of equipment that many boaters take very little consideration over. Many just buy any frame with a few wheels call it a trailer and expect it to take them anywhere in the country with no problems. To me this is one of the most important pieces of equipment a trailer boat owner needs. No doubt the more you spend on your trailer the better it will be and the easier it will make launching and retrieving. The ultimate trailers are those with rollers, where you reverse to the waters edge, put your foot on the brakes and the boat slips gently into the water. This type can be quite expensive but believe me they save a lot of back breaking hard work, heaving and towing your trailer and boat out of the water with ropes. Regardless of the type of trailer you buy, points to look out for are. That it will be able to carry the weight of the boat easily, far to often you see lovely expensive boats on a trailer that is straining with splayed wheels belting along the road. A recipe for disaster. The length of your boat will also determine whether you need a trailer with brakes. Try to get a trailer with the same size wheels as your car. The benefits of this are that if you will not need an extra spare wheel. If any punctures occur you can always use the car wheel. That the wheels revolve at the same speed. Quite often you see lovely four wheeled drive vehicles with huge wheels going along the road with a trailer with the wheels half the size. Remember they will travel at the equivalent to twice the distance to the ones on your car and will soon wear out. You also need a very good tow hitch, preferably one that you can lock in position when towing. This quite simply stops the boat passing you when you are driving along, a quite common occurrence. Another use is for security, fit a spare ball to your garden wall and you can lock your trailer to it. Think you are ready for the sea? THINK AGAIN. We now have to look at
What if I break down, how will I get back? I need some other form of propulsion. The preferable solution to this is another outboard engine. For those who have opted to fish inshore waters, a spare engine of around 5hp will be adequate for this. The other solution for anglers fishing inshore waters is a good sturdy set of oars. However not only is this quite back breaking, oars also take up quite a lot of room, whereas a smaller outboard can either be hung from the transom or stowed under a seat. For bigger faster boats, another engine is the only option. Although a 5hp will push bigger craft along against wind and tide, it can be a bit of a struggle. I myself have fitted a 10hp spare to the stern of my boat. Just in case of real emergencies, I also carry a set of paddles. Finally, I am ready for the sea. Hang about what if something else happens and I need assistance, how do I let anyone know? What can I carry to let people know I need help? FLARES! A good set of flares is essential for anyone going out to sea in a boat, regardless of the distance he is going off. A good pack of flares should include a couple of parachute flares and some hand held flares, making sure that they are all within their use by date and are kept in a watertight container. They might seem quite expensive, but how much do you value your and your friend’s lives? For those who intend to travel off some distance then VHF should be given a very high priority. Flares can be seen from other nearby boats or people from the shore when you are close in. However when you are out of sight, and need to contact someone in an emergency VHF is a must. When you do purchase your VHF please remember there are certain procedures you must follow when using it, recognised uses it is for and also that you need a licence to use one. Contact your local chandlers, marina and go on a recognised course.
If you do not learn to use a VHF properly, you could endanger lives by blocking other transmissions. Believe me you will feel much safer when you know you can contact the coastguard or someone quickly. It will not be long before you are letting the coastguard know where you are going, how many on board and when you are expected back. Ready for sea at last. WAIT A MINUTE what happens when I am out there, the sea gets rough, the boat starts taking in water, and sinks or we capsize before help can reach us? How will we stay afloat? What happens if someone is knocked unconscious, how will they float? What if I take my children out? How would they manage if anything happened? LIFE JACKETS. These must be considered as an essential part of boating and preferably worn at all times. There are many different types, again it is the case of the more you pay the better the life jacket. Some inexpensive ones can be quite bulky, while dearer ones you will hardly notice. Obviously, the best are those that will inflate as soon as anyone wearing them falls into the water. Then there is the type that needs self-inflating, however it is hard to inflate a life jacket when you are unconscious. Then there is the basic buoyancy aid. Not strictly a life jacket but just an aid to keeping you afloat. Life jackets also come designed for different weights, make sure you get one that will keep you afloat. Another option to the life jacket is the floatation suit, whether it is an all in one or a two piece suit.
I personally prefer an all in one suit. This is simply because if you fall in you are supported the whole length of your body. On hot days, I have seen anglers remove the top half of a two piece suit. If they suddenly found themselves in the water, they would probably be bobbing around up side down. Ready for Sea? – wont need an anchor because you don’t intend fishing at anchor until you get used to the boat?. OH YES YOU WILL. Many boat anglers when starting out make the misconception that an anchor is simply for dropping down to keep you in one place while fishing. Believe me the first time your engine fails and you are in choppy water and drifting towards rocks you will be wishing you had bought an anchor. I have known anglers attach their spare engine to a rope to stop drifting. There are many different types of anchor. I will not complicate matters but simply split them into two categories ones for soft ground and ones for rough ground. The one you buy or have made depends simply on the type of ground you intend fishing over. I myself carry one for each type of ground, but most of the time I use a plough anchor. Anchors come in different sizes, so make sure you get one that is capable of holding the size and weight of the boat you have in position. After buying an anchor, the next step is an anchor warp (rope). Plenty of ropes on the market with probably polypropylene now probably the best and cheapest. As a rule of thumb when anchoring you should use about two to three times the depth of water enabling the anchor to get a good hold depending on strength of the tide. One thing to avoid with anchor ropes is getting all the odd bits of rope you can find and tying them together.
Knots may help you haul an anchor up but if an anchor has a good solid hold and a swell lifts the boat, better to let the rope slip through your hands than a knot practically tear your arms out. To prevent wear and possible loss of your anchor a length of chain of about twenty feet should be attached to your warp before attaching to the anchor. The ropes and anchors should be attached with good quality shackles. Think you have got your anchor sorted? Think again. What happens if you capsize, even with a lifejacket on if you are tangled up in rope you will find it very hard to swim or even float? Stow (put away) away your anchor warp. I use a plastic drum with a tight fitting lid (can always be used as a life raft) which is fastened to the hull with a quick release strap for when it is needed. My anchor is hidden away in another cupboard in the bow (front) A large canvas bag or deck box will do just as well. There are two ways of setting an anchor either straight to the end with a shackle (fig 2) or setting what is called a trip (fig 1). This enables you to steam up tide and pull the anchor out easier. This is done by fixing the anchor chain to the forward fixing point and a weak link (cable ties are excellent for this) from the rear fixing point to the chain. The one drawback about setting a trip, is that sometimes it breaks out on its own or when the tide turns.
Right off you go, great fun this, having the time of my life, never knew it could be so easy. WRONG. There you are offshore and suddenly a fog comes down, you are lost and freezing cold. What have we forgotten to take with us? Two things basically, the first the most important, a COMPASS. I have two, one small hand held and a consul mounted one. Fog can come down very quick and is very disorienting, the worst is when it rolls off the land and out to sea. Whenever you stop you should take a bearing to your place of launch or a bearing to the nearest landfall. At least you can then follow the coastline to your launching spot. The other thing to carry is a set of dry warm clothing, it may be nice and sunny and shirt off weather when you leave. But believe me the weather can change very quickly once you are out at sea.
No doubt as your angling takes a serious hold of you, you’ll want to improve your boat and increase the distance you travel, say to distant wrecks. When this happens you will have to start thinking of getting one of the many Satellite Navigators. These are not just for putting in your fishing marks but also the point of launch. However never totally rely on your navigator; always take a compass, if you loose your electric’s you will have another means of navigation to fall back on. Hey, you have been out on your first trip, had a great day, quite a few fish. Arriving back home, you are totally shattered cant wait to get the tackle unloaded, cover over the boat, fish into the garage fridge. A nice hot bath, a few cans, and good nights sleep before filleting the fish the next day. HOLD ON MATE. What have you forgotten to do> That boat of yours needs tending to and straight away. Seawater and all that salt can do untold damage and cause problems. Get the hose pipe out and give the whole of the boat and your car a good wash down. The wheels need a good washing down especially if you have a braked trailer. Purchase a fitting from your chandlers that enables you to run your engine on land. This simply fits over the water intake of your outboard, attach the hose, and let it run (in neutral) for five minutes to flush out all the salt. Not flushing out is one of the most common causes of cooling water blockages. After about five minutes disconnect the fuel line and let the engine run until it runs dry. If you leave fuel in the line and do not use the boat for a long period. The petrol evaporates and the oil leaves a sticky mess, which can build up on spark plugs or cause blockages preventing or hindering starting.
Now you can look after yourself.
REMEMBER THE SEA IS VERY UNFORGIVING – FEW GET A SECOND CHANCE
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