You just finished a perfect day on the water. Your boat ran flawlessly from the time you left the docks till the time your brought it home. Now it's back on the lift for the boat and back to the patio for sunset with your guests. You're already talking about where you'll head tomorrow. All you'll need to do is drop your boat in the water, fire it up and get going, right?

Wrong. Worst case, dead wrong.

No matter who well your boat ran the last time, pre-operation inspections are essential the next time. Photo courtesy/copyright Tim Sharkey/Sharkey Images.No matter who well your boat ran the last time, pre-operation inspections are essential every time. Photo courtesy/copyright Tim Sharkey/Sharkey Images.

"Just like a pilot does with an airplane, you have to check your boat every time before you run it," says Tres Martin, the founder of the Tres Martin Performance Boat School. "Believe it or not, we have boats that our brought to us for the school that just can't make it to the water."

In one student-owned 160-mph catamaran, for example, the student—thanks to the pre-operation check-up essentials he learned in the Martin course—discovered hairline cracks in one of his steering tie bar clevis joints.

"Because this guy checked his boat before he went boating, he probably save his life and his family's life," said Martin. "And believe it or not, this is not the first student I've seen this happen to."

Martin's pre-operation checklist for go-fast boats is at once simple and thorough. Here are his basics:

Hands on the steering system and drives: "Grab the outdrives and try to move them left to right to make sure there is no air in the steering system. Grab the tie bar and physically shake it to make sure there are no loose bushings or fittings. Check the tightness of the jam nuts or jam collars on the tie bar to make sure they're not loose. Then run a quick hand sweep through all the hydraulics, cylinders and lines, to feel for oily wetness that would indicate leaks. Check the hydraulic seals on the trim pumps, check the drain plugs and check the propellers for hairline cracks. Even if nothing catastrophic happens, if you throw a propeller blade 20 miles from your house it's going to be a long idle home."

Pre-operation inspections can help stop safety problems before they start. Can you spot the hairline crack in this essential piece of steering hardware?Pre-operation inspections can help stop safety problems before they start. Can you spot the hairline crack in this essential piece of steering hardware?

Check the engine compartment: "The first thing you're doing is smelling for gas fumes. Grab the jumper hoses from the headers to the tailpipes to make sure they're not collapsed. Check all the other hoses to make sure they're not collapsed. Check the belt tensions, the oil levels, the power steering and trim pump fluid levels. Make sure they are all where they need to be before you go, because you're going to need them all day."

Hit The Cockpit: "Make sure all your kill switches are operational and that your safety lanyards are ready to attach to your wrist before you start the boat. One thing we like to see is the safety lanyard wrapped around the steering wheel several times or between the sticks of the throttle and shifter and the end of the day, so when the operator gets back in the boat the lanyard says, 'Hey, put this on.' A lot of people don't understand this, but if you have an accident and your boat takes off without you, you're going to have insurance problems if you were operating your boat without the interruption switch properly in use. That can be seen as an act of negligence, and your insurance company could deny coverage. Once you start your boat, check all of your gauges to make they're operational. And don't forget to look at your fuel level. Believe it or not, people forget that all the time."

Walk The Dock And Admire Your Ride: "The last part of our pre-operation inspection guidelines is to physically walk around your boat and look for hairline cracks, stress fractures and other types of hull and deck damage. It doesn't take much time, and it's always worth a look, even if you don't find anything."

Editor's note: Appearing biweekly on speedonthewater.com, "Tres Martin's Safety Corner" tackles a different aspect of high-performance powerboat safety in each installment

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