Seaworthiness is a complicated measure – the context cannot be confined to whether a boat can stay afloat or not. It has multiple connotations across varying frames of reference ranging from the “safe to sail” hardware angle to the skill and competence of the crew manning a vessel. Being a mode of transport, the consequences of irresponsibility in the construction and fitting process of a boat are unimaginable.
The world has changed and so has the science of manufacturing water transport. Noteworthy improvements have amplified the performance of offshore boats and yachts, rendering them more reliable and easier to handle than vessels of yore. Merely a few decades earlier, we were wrestling with vast sail plans, usually without life jackets, but not anymore. Today, leaving the cockpit to change sails is not always needed thanks to the standard smaller sloop rig with furling headsails.
So, how will you gauge the seaworthiness of your vessel?
The law requires strict adherence to numerous factors to prove the seaworthiness of a boat even if you do not own the boat.
The first and foremost step is to understand the type of craft you are trying to rent or own. If you have a sailboat that you can use to cruise warm waters, it may not hold up in an ocean passage. Similarly, if you are planning to use a riverboat on the Great Lakes or a houseboat out in the open sea it won’t be “seaworthy.”
We share four broad constituents that help gauge the seaworthiness of your boat. You can go through each step yourself or hire a surveyor to scrutinize your boat.
Irrespective of the intent of purpose, type and size of the boat owned or rented, and the number of passengers on board, ensure the presence of:
- Vessel registration
- Number certificate
- Contact information of the owner
- Accident report form
- Recent registration decal
- Operating manuals for necessary equipment
- Marine towing service membership card
The physical condition of a primed vessel is usually considered a good indicator of a boat’s seaworthiness. It is important, in the case of renting, buying, or even if you already own a boat to look closely at the following areas:
- Hull: is the outermost part that is in contact with the water when the boat is afloat. Ensure smoothness without any serious scrapes, inspect for cracks or leaks. If you want a thorough inspection you can engage a professional marine surveyor on SHIPSHAPE.
- If the vessel is a sailboat, inspect the rigging and make sure there are no breaks along the support structure of the mast.
- Transom: it supports the stern of a boat. Make sure it does not take significant water over it.
- Thru-hull connections: must be thoroughly checked. Ensure easy access to seacocks in case of emergency. Pro Tip: always good to have some wood plugs just in case a thru-hull fails.
- The cockpit, center console: modern enclosed ones are rated better though open transom do let the water wash out quickly. The enclosed ones save you from bigger waves and going overboard.
The next important aspect to ensure the seaworthiness of your boat is to check the equipment installed starting with:
- Engine: it is usually called the heart of the boat. You must know your engine hours for preventative maintenance. If you have a boat built in the last decade, then it comes with modern GPS or MFDs and can display engine hours through the GPS display, though a good look at most dash board panels will suffice. Most importantly, the engine should accelerate efficiently and idle smoothly without stalling.
- VHF radio and GPS unit: are essential for distress calls. Contemporary radios are already connected with GPS and can signal your location automatically.
- Propeller: ensure that the propellers are free of blade pitting and there are no irregular surfaces.
- Ventilation: an important safety check, ensure there is no debris in the ducts and the airflow is unrestricted.
- Anchor lines: efficient mooring operations call for extra lines protected by chafing gear. Check for smoothness. Chafing gear may seem trivial, however, damaging your synthetic lines or those of other boats will make you recognize the true cost of the damage, if a timely investment is neglected early on.
- Electrical and steering cables: you don’t want frayed cables, so check connections beforehand.
- Anchor: sufficient length of ground tackle and a well-attached anchor are crucial.
Safety and emergency kits are crucial for every passenger’s survival. Ensure availability of the following in non-expired and in sound working condition:
- Personal flotation devices
- Fire extinguisher(s)
- Sound producing device
- Navigational lights
- Flashlights along with extra batteries in waterproof packing
- Flares for signaling distress
- First aid kit
- Canned food and some extra drinking water
Apart from these, you must ensure checking the general handling of the boat if you are renting or buying a used boat. Don’t forget to take a sea trial to confirm the condition of the boat given the age and size of the boat.
Seaworthiness, as mentioned earlier, is complicated and applies to the crew members as well; verify their experience and credentials. If a boat or any vessel is unseaworthy it can threaten passenger safety and can even be an environmental hazard. Unmaintained vessels are bound to sink or release toxins, oil, or fuel in the water. An owner can face liability for breach of law in case of a mishap.
Advice for boat captains
How can you improve the seaworthiness of your beloved boat?
As a responsible and caring captain:
- Carry an anchor and several heavy lines.
- Firmly lock washboards, sole boards, and locker lids.
- Tightly strap the spare anchors, tinned provisions, tanks, and batteries
- Make sure the crew knows exactly where life jackets, emergency survival kits, and tools are.
- Secure portlights and hatches.
- Keep a manual for what to do in case of an emergency, just in case you are the one to become incapacitated.
The bigger the vessel the greater your responsibility. Water is neither your friend nor your enemy and you never know what luck will bring. Therefore, it is essential to check the seaworthiness in two phases. The first check should be a few days earlier while you’re still planning your route and packing for the journey, especially if you’re going for overnight stays in the boat with family or friends. It will buy you time for better repair/replacements.
The second check should be just before launching into the water to mitigate any risk. Don’t leave anything to chance. Make an exhaustive seaworthiness checklist and adhere to the maritime laws and U.S. Coastguard safety rules.
Tip: Keep a location map for safety equipment in clear sight at all times, so that all on board can see exactly where life jackets, emergency survival kits, and other tools are.
Disclaimer/Shout out to Shipshape.pro
If you do not have the time or expertise to follow the instructions listed above, you can engage professional and registered marine service contractors on the extensive database of Shipshape.pro. We have an exhaustive panel of relevant and specific boat maintenance professionals near you or in any city across the United States.