Boat owners have different ideas about what it takes to prepare for the spring cruising season. Some feel that simply getting the boat launched, cleaned and shipshape is good enough. But planning ahead for your spring flings on the water can yield big dividends. The three 'R's—Readiness, Research and Reservations—can help you to ensure your cruises go smoothly.
Learn the capabilities of your passengers in advance. If you plan a three-day trip with guests and discover your guests have no prior boating experience, you may be in for a long haul. Or they may have medical conditions or just plain seasickness that could limit their abilities. If you're expecting your passengers to help out on board, make sure they know what is required and are up for it.
Schedule a training session with your passengers before the trip, particularly if they are new to boating. Let everyone practice their roles while docking and undocking at a marina and fuel dock. Make sure they know where the life jackets and other safety equipment are located on board.
Stock and stow a medical kit on board. Crack it open and make sure all the necessary bandages, tape and antiseptics are in order and nothing is out of date.
Inspect the head(s). Even though you probably checked it before winter layup, it's a good idea to double-check that it's still in working order.
Check that your VHF radio is working. Ensure the antenna is installed properly and then do a radio check.
•Update your charts. Having the latest digital charts uploaded in your chartplotter increases safety. Having the latest paper charts on board as a backup is also a good idea.
•Know where you can run. No-wake zones can add hours to your trip. Once the updated charts are installed, your chartplotter will factor those slow-speed transits into your route.
•Scour the Web. As you make a list of the places you want to visit on your cruise, research each stop for updates on construction and things to do like local festivals.
•Check the forecast. Find the best weather source for the area you plan to cruise in, and keep checking on it. .
Find out well in advance if you can make a slip reservation at the marinas where you plan to spend the night, what the fees are, and what the cancellation policies may be.
•Call each marina in advance. Online reservations are fine, but it helps to talk to a live person to get inside information. You can learn about any unexpected problems — construction, fees, nearby grocery stores, etc. —by asking a few simple questions.
•Dinner and rental car. It's a good idea to make dinner reservations as well, especially in a busy area like the Chesapeake Bay. If you plan on taking a short exploring trip while you're in town, it makes sense to book a rental car ahead of time. That also goes for other popular activities like a kayaking outing or hiring a fishing guide.
Once you have the three 'R's covered for your spring cruise, you can sit back and enjoy the fourth 'R' – relaxation.
Cindy McCaffery and Louisa Beckett represent Sea Tow Services International, a company that provides on-water assistance to boaters. Download the free Sea Tow app at http://www.seatow.com/app for GPS, navigation, tides, weather and more.