Preventive maintenance helps ensure a safe, fun day on the lake
PRATT — It's springtime in the Sunflower State, and boaters and fishermen are lining up at boat ramps to enjoy the state's abundant fishing and boating opportunities. But the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) advises boaters to make sure their watercraft are "seaworthy" before taking to the water. A miserable, perhaps even dangerous day on the lake can be avoided with some simple but important preventive maintenance procedures.

Now’s the time to prepare boat and trailer for a trouble-free season. Follow these simple steps, and you can ensure that everything works properly and all safety gear is in order. Not only will you have more fun, but you and your family will be safer.

Outboard motor — Replace the lower unit grease. Grease all zerks on the motor, and make sure the steering mechanism is lubricated and working smoothly. Clean or replace spark plugs and make sure they are gapped to specifications. Check all fuel lines for wear, cracks, and leaks. A small leak in any fuel line is a serious fire hazard. If you have portable gas tanks, replace old gas. If you have a built-in tank, it’s a good idea to use a fuel stabilizer while the boat is stored. Remove the prop and check for nicks or gouges. Remove any old fishing line or weeds that may have wrapped on the shaft. Grease the shaft and replace the cotter pin on the shaft nut.

It’s also common sense to start the motor before that first trip to the lake. You can start the motor in your driveway if you have a pair of motor muffs, which attach to a garden hose and force water into your motor’s water intake ports. This allows you to run the motor at low RPMs and tune if necessary. Never start your motor dry. If your engine is oil injected, fill the oil reservoir and test the temperature warning signal device.

Trailer — Grease the wheel hubs. Check the tires for weathering and proper inflation. Check wire connections and make sure all lights work. Lubricate the trailer winch and check the winch strap for wear. Make sure the hitch is sound and safety chains are in place. Check the ball and tighten if necessary.

Batteries — Batteries should have been charged every 30 days throughout the winter. Inspect and clean all battery connections. Water levels should be checked in each cell, and batteries should be fully charged before the first trip. Check the batteries several days before a trip to make sure they are holding a charge.

Electrical gear — Go through a quick check of all bilge pumps and electrical gauges. Tighten any loose connections and secure wire harnesses.

Safety Gear — Inspect all life jackets and throwable cushions. They must be in good working condition to be legal. Replace any that have become worn or water-soaked. Check the fire extinguisher for proper charge. Be sure a sound-making device is on board or that the horn works. Test the boat lights, clean connections, and replace bulbs if needed. It's also important to make sure your boating registration is up to date. These items not only ensure safety while on the water, they are state law.

In addition to these items, boaters should keep on board a spare drain plug, first aid kit, anchor, paddle, tool kit, electrical tape and wire connectors, variety of spare fuses, extra two-cycle oil, spare trailer light bulbs, and extra life jackets.

And don't forget boater education. Any person born on or after Jan. 1, 1989, must complete an approved boater safety education course in order to operate a motorboat or sailboat on public waters in Kansas. This requirement does not apply to a person accompanied by and under the direct supervision of a person age 17 or older who either possesses a certificate of completion of an approved boater safety education course or is legally exempt from the requirement. Courses are offered in three different formats: traditional classroom, home study, or internet based. For details on boating education courses, boating laws and regulations, and all things related to Kansas boating, click "Boating" on the KDWP website, More information may also be obtained by phoning KDWP's boating education coordinator, Erika Nighswonger, at 620-672-0770 or emailing