By Ben Smith:
Spring, or first summer, has officially arrived in Mississippi. Everything that I own is yellow and my eyeballs feel like they are going to pop out of my head. Turkey season is upon us…not that I have much to offer in that department (this is going to be my year, though). Largemouth bass are on the beds and baseball is in full swing. It truly may be the best time of the year in Mississippi. This is the time of the year when we come out of our mild winter’s slumber and hit the outdoors in full force.
Now, I don’t have much advice to give about turkey hunting and I don’t want to bore you with more baseball soap box material, but there’s one area of spring outdoors that I feel more than qualified to talk about: boating. In saying that, I don’t mean that I’m an expert boater…I’m not. However, wisdom usually comes through experience, or something like that, and I have puh-lenty of experience with boats and accidents you might want to try to avoid.
Let’s begin with the most basic two things you’ll want to make sure you’ve got right before you hit the water. First, unless you are in a kayak, or canoe, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got plenty of gas for your trip. If you’re taking a long ride, I’d even suggest sticking an extra can of gas in the boat with you. There’s not much of a worse feeling than running out of gas on the Mississippi River in the dark at 3:00 in the morning. It will downright make your sphincter draw up. You might be traversing calmer waters but paddling across the lake probably won’t be much fun, either.
Second, put your plug in before launching the boat. If I have someone going on the boat with me, I always try to remind them to remind me to put the plug in. I don’t even have to tell my daughters anymore to remind me. They already know it’s their duty to remind me before we ever back the boat down the ramp. Fortunately for me, this is not something that I’ve failed to do yet, but I do have a friend that donated a popular scuba diving site off the coast of Alabama for failing to put the plug in.
The next thing you’ll want to avoid is being out on the water in bad weather. Far too many boating accidents could have been avoided with a simple weather check before setting out. The aforementioned is one of the reasons that my wife is leery about going out on the water with me. Have you ever watched the movie The Notebook? If so, you know that scene where they are out in the row-boat and the weather starts to get bad. They come back in, make amends, and get all touchy. Yeah, that’s a load of Hollywood junk. Try taking out your wife out in the boat during a thunderstorm and let me know how that works out for you. I know how it ended for us…me getting chewed out and her having PTSD. Check the forecast before you go, then check it again when you get there.
If you plan to put your boat in salt, or brackish water, know the tide schedule. Even the rivers that connect to the Gulf of Mexico are affected by the tide. If you go out in high tide, and return in low tide, you can run the risk of grounding your vessel if you aren’t sure of obstructions. And if you go out in low tide, and return in high tide, you’ll need to know what and where potential hazards could be lurking just below the surface. I’ve seen lower units torn up and transoms ripped completely off from rock-jetties that were just out of view. Knowing the tide is also important if you plan on tying your boat up to the dock for the night. Best case scenario is the tide falls at night and your boat is beached in the morning. Or you could do what I did and tie your boat up during low tide only to wake up the next morning and find that your boat has sunk because it got caught on the dock and flipped to its side during the high tide event. If you do that, you’d better get ready to get your checkbook out. Salt water doesn’t mix well with most outboard motors.
You also want to make sure that your trailer is in good working condition. Check the tires, make sure the bearings are greased, and check your straps. Let me back up for a second. Also, make sure that you have the trailer properly attached to your vehicle. Failing to hook up the boat trailer to the truck properly not only puts you at risk, but it puts other motorists at risk. I know a guy that didn’t properly hook his trailer up to his truck and took off toward the river. While on flat ground, everything seemed fine. However, when he went downhill and his boat passed him, he knew he had made a huge mistake. Fortunately, the only thing damaged, besides his pride, was his boat and trailer.
Finally, make sure you have enough life jackets for every member aboard your boat. For starters, it’s the law, and secondly, it’s the responsible thing to do. When the boat is in motion, everyone should be wearing a life jacket. The driver of the boat should also have a “kill-switch” attached to them. Doing these two simple things could save so many lives each summer. Now, print this out and stick it on your bathroom mirror and go enjoy the water this spring!
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