Get Your House In Order
Welcome to a new monthly column, one that focuses attention on the safety and performance aspects or rigging, driving and handling a high performance fishing boat. While I've been writing stories and co-anchoring the "Shop Talk" column since the first issue (wait really six years ago?), this is my first column where I get to vent about topics of my own choosing. In my 20-plus years of experience rigging, wrenching, racing and driving high-performance rigs, I've seen (and wished I hadn't seen) a lot. Hopefully you'll enjoy sharing my experiences.
My vision for this column is to give you, our readers, more in sight into the little things that count. The slick tricks and shortcuts that help make rigging and driving your boat easier and safer. From time to time, it's probable that I'll use some of this space to discuss issue concerning high-performance boaters and anglers , especially in today's volatile environm- ent where our sacred, traditional two stroke outboard seems headed for sure extinction . This is the high performance arena, where all issues big and small, fast and slow, chine walkin' or string straight get discussed.
Since the season will be winding down by the time you read this you've probably already seen your share or boating accidents; hopefully, you weren't involved or very close to the scene. Keep in mind that as the owner or a high-performance craft, if you're in volved in a boating accident, you stand a good chance of shouldering a lot of the blame, even if it wasn't your fault. It's a natural (if unfair) reaction or the general boating public, including the marine police, to look for blame in "traditional" places. If they see a flashy, metal-flake performance bassboat involved in a mishap with a family runabout, they're going to look at the hotrod first. The same would happen on the street if the two subjects were a '32 Deuce Coupe and a Saturn.
That's why it's so important to make sure your rig is squeaky clean -from the rigging and setup, to the safety gear on board. When the law checks out your rig, make sure they don't have anything to say afterwards ,except, " nice boat!"
Your engine should be bolted fast to the jack plate, and ditto the jack plate to the transom. Steering should be adjusted properly to eliminate freeplay, but not so tight as to make slow-speed maneuvering difficult. The steering wheel and helm should not move when gripped tightly unless the wheel is physically turned; a loose helm does not inspire confidence. The engine should start easily and only in neutral, and it should idle slowly in gear at 800 rpm or less. If it stalls when you pull up to be inspected, you run the risk or ramming the police boat. There should be no loose wires or cables in the passenger area or the deck to trip over. If your rig is capable or 60 mph or raster, a foot throttle and remote trim buttons should be standard equipment (as should a working engine "kill" switch; always wear yours when on board.). Your safety gear should include high-speed life vests that you and your passen gers wear,and goggles or glasses so that you can see without getting bugs in your eyes.
One pitfall or high-performance boating that has thankfully declined is the practice of over powering a hull. Today's performance hulls can handle a lot of power, and it's great that many boat builders are offering hulls longer than 20 feet that are not rated for maximum power according to U.S. Coast Guard regulations.Years ago, it was not uncommon to see the largest 235 hp mounted to a 16- or 17-footer, making for a wild and sometimes uncontrollable rig. Today's 20-footers handle this much power with ease and go raster in rougher water too.
Keep in mind that if you're caught (in an accident, usually) with an overpowered hull, the least you can expect is that your insurance company will decline to cover the damages to your rig once they realize how much horsepower you've bolted to it. The worst , if there are injuries or even fatalities, is that you'll be on the hook for untold lawsuits because you knowingly created an "unsafe" rig. The way juries are today, this could be said for any part or your rig. If the steering fails, the skeg breaks, the engine falls off or any other mishap, the courts see you as responsible. It should make you think, or better yet it should make you do something about it. Time to get out into the garage and spend a rew hours checking over your rig.
John Tiger Jr