(3rd Article in a Series )
March and April are outfitting months on the David B. It’s the time of year when we prepare the boat for our Inside Passage trips. Throughout the years we’ve developed a checklist of equipment that we need to have on board, and another list of items we need to buy each year. For us, getting the boat ready to cruise in the Inside Passage has become more routine with each year that we go to Alaska. Our spring outfitting involves four main steps: checking our systems, hauling out, installing new equipment, and checking existing equipment. It’s a fairly straight forward process and each step has many items that need to be checked off, but we’ve done this several years in a row and we’re constantly working to make each year’s outfitting more streamlined. This week, I’d like to share some of what we do each spring in order to have the David B ready to cruise in the Inside Passage. This is in no way a complete list for every boat, but if you’re getting ready to take your own boat to Alaska for the first time, I hope you’ll find this information useful to get you started.
In the spring we do a thorough check of our systems to make sure that everything that had been working in the fall still does work. This is when you are going to catch any problems that were developing last summer that you might have overlooked, and winter has a way of causing quirky changes too. This doesn’t take a whole lot of time, but it’s a lot easier to fix a problem at your home dock where you can call a professional if you need one to come and help you. Pros are easy to call in the Inside Passage, but it will cost you a lot more money for them to come to you. The main systems that we check are plumbing, electrical, pumps, and the engines.
To check our plumbing we fill our water tanks, run the water in the sinks and flush the toilets. We test and monitor the water pumps to make sure they run when they should. We check the fittings and tighten any that have loosened. We have Vac-U-Flush toilets and sometimes the bowl seals need to be replaced in the spring. I recommend having spare parts for the heads on board. We’ve needed to replace them mid-season and it costs a lot less to have one with you than to try to buy one in Alaska.
The electrical system check includes the batteries, the alternators and the generator. It’s time to make sure that the battery water levels are full, and that the alternators and the generators are still producing electricity. Run your generator for five or six hours while your cleaning the boat someday. The few gallons of fuel you burn are worth the cost if you discover a problem. Make sure you don’t forget to switch from shore-power to the generator so it’s powering the boat during your test. Once again, it’s easier to check this at the dock, than to be at anchor somewhere only to discover that something seized up over the winter. It also a great time to check for burned out light bulbs in your running lights and in the cabins.
If you only occasionally visit your boat in the winter, or you leave it for several months, it is probably a good idea to run your bilge pumps before heading out. We like to keep a collection of spare pumps on board, as well as spare parts. You never know when a pump will fail when you are in some wilderness area. If you have spares, you’ll be a lot happier changing one or replacing an impeller, than making an expensive side trip to a small town and waiting for a replacement part to arrive in several days’ time.
Engines?Before the season begins we do a very through check of the engines. By checking the engines, I mean getting down on hands and knees with a flashlight and looking for fuel and oil leaks, and inspecting for places where saltwater might be leaking from hoses. It’s also good to look at belts even though they don’t usually wear out, they might become cracked or shiny. If you notice anything wrong with your belts, it’s much easier to replace it now. We always carry a couple extra belts for our alternators. It also doesn’t hurt to run your engine for half an hour or more at the dock. You can check your temperature gauges and all the fluid levels to make sure everything is normal when it’s running and warm.
The David B is a wooden boat and a tour boat so we haul out every year. This gives us chance to inspect the bottom and do any below-the-waterline work that we have planned. Not every boat needs to haul out yearly, but it’s probably a good idea before going to Alaska, because then you know that everything below the waterline is in good condition. Besides checking the planking, we check the rudder, clean and polish the propeller, inspect the stern bearing and keel cooler, replace the zincs and paint the bottom and topsides. If you have bow or stern thrusters, and stabilizers you’ll want to check on those too.
Installing New Equipment:
If you are like us, then you have catalogs and bookmarks on your computer of all your favorite marine supply stores, and all winter long you daydream about the amazing new equipment that you’ll be installing in the spring. When we choose to buy new equipment, we weigh each purchase by how useful it is, how often we’ll use it, how much electricity it uses, how much space it takes, and how much it costs. Last year we bought an AIS (Automatic Identification System) receiver. We loved it and this year we’ll probably buy a transceiver so that we not only can call other boats, but other boats can identify us. In case you are wondering what AIS does, it identifies other boats and ships on your chart plotter with information about their size, destination and speed. It’s a great tool that takes the guess work out of calling another boat on the VHF.
Prior to AIS, mariners had to try to figure out what boat they were seeing at a distance. The only drawback to AIS is that fewer people will be playing this game of “Guess that Boat” where the person who can correctly identify a boat at the greatest distance wins. As a test of your skills, and because I love playing this game, I will give a free download of my book, More Faster Backwards, to a random reader who leaves a comment below identifying the marks that differentiate the Garth Foss from the Lindsey Foss during the day or at night.
Checking Existing Equipment:
Existing Equipment is anything that is already installed. This includes checking, fire extinguishers, replacing batteries in fire alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, and flashlights. We also check the radar, the depth sounder, and chart plotter/GPS. Other things to check include the skiff and its motor, life jackets and survival suits, and we send the life raft to be serviced.
Cruising in the Inside Passage takes a certain amount of skill. There are rocks and reefs to negotiate, fast currents, big boat traffic, and weather that changes quickly. If you are outfitting your boat here’s some of the electronic equipment that you will need: radar, chart plotter/GPS, depth sounder, and VHF. I’ll get into more detail about electronics next week, but as you think about outfitting your boat for the Inside Passage, be sure that the electronics you pick are ones that you and your crew are comfortable using.
In my opinion, the best thing about cruising in the Inside Passage is being able to get into the remote wilderness. With that in mind, we like to outfit the David B as if we were going on an expedition. This includes having spare equipment and being familiar with our systems. Every spring we look through our boxes of spare parts and our collection of tools to make sure that we are able to fix most any problem that occurs. In years past we’ve done engine repairs, fixed the windlass, replaced plumbing, and pumps while underway or at anchor. We’ve also helped other boaters with a portable generator, wetsuits, and various parts. As part of spring outfitting, Jeffrey and I discuss where we’ve put the spare parts and where the more obscure tools reside. We also talk about new additions and changes to systems so that we both can easily fetch parts or tools.
Outfitting your boat to cruise to Alaska is fun. It gives you a change to get excited about your trip. It’s the time to make sure that you have the right equipment and to check that your equipment is working. By taking the time to properly outfit you boat, you’ll have fewer emergencies, and if you do have any, you’ll be prepared to deal with them.
Next week I’ll be talking about the electronics you’ll need for cruising in the Inside Passage.