As we move into the summer boating season, it is time for to start preparing your boat for a trip southbound along the ICW. This trip is, for most first time ICW travelers, the longest continuous voyage they have made on their boat. While it is true that the trip along the ICW is merely a series of day trips, and so is not that difficult, it is also 30 day trips strung together. This will push the boat the systems and the crew to new limits.
- Your engine will be run about 200 hours in 30 travel days getting to Florida. You probably only ran the engine less than a hundred hours most preceding years. Are the belts in good shape? Has the impeller been changed? Can it run all day at hull speed without over heating?
- The fuel system is about to be worked hard. In a typical season you may run the engine 50 hours and refill the tank once. On this trip you will be fueling several times. Sediment which has long lain in the bottom of the fuel tank will be stirred up and cycled through the filters. Change the filters after your summer cruise and carry a spare. Now is a good time to install a drag needle vacuum gauge. This will permit you to keep an eye on the fuel filter. If the vacuum increases, then you must change the fuel filter. The gauge gives you ample warning so that you do this service on y our own schedule, and not rolling in beam seas on the Albemarle with a dead engine. .
- The batteries will be cycled many times. If your batteries are getting old, it might make sense to replace them before you start. In any event, now is a good time to disconnect and clean all battery connections. Poor connections not only reduce the capacity, dirty connections also slow down the recharging process.
- The water system will be filled and emptied a dozen times on the trip to FL. Most seasons it is probably on cycled 4 or 5 times.
- The heads and holding tank will be used daily for 40 or 50 days. You will be at a pump out dock frequently. Be sure you have a head rebuild kit and know how to use it.
- The refrigerator will be running nonstop for 6 weeks. Be sure to use it and keep it running for several weeks before you take off.
But the good news is that once the systems are in use, they generally are more reliable than when only used sporadically. Troubles, if they come, often show up early in the voyage. Once the kinks are worked out the systems will be trouble free. For this reason, it is very important to use your boat and her systems a lot this summer.
In preparation for the trip, a two-week cruise is a good practice and important to prove all systems This includes the crew! A week’s cruise is a good start, but two weeks of continual operation is better to prove the systems. If the batteries, heads or refrigeration are going to fail, find out before you start south. This should include two, or more days back to back of continuous engine operation. Do not baby the boat. Push the boat at hull speed for 8 hours a day for several days in a row. If the fuel system is going to clog, if the cooling system is weak, if the shaft seal needs to be serviced, these are issues you want to find, and fix, before you start south.