June 2010

Boating Q&A

Learning from experience

Whether you want to know how to use your trim tabs, pick up a mooring or change your oil without making a mess, USPS members are always ready to share their expertise gained from years of experience.

Q: How do I know if my distress signals are reliable?

A: Assume that only 50 percent of your unexpired flares will work properly because of the damp, exposed stowage conditions aboard most small boats.

To increase the likelihood that your flares will work, check for moisture beads when you pull off the flare’s striker top. If moisture is present, assume the flare won’t work. Also, store flares in a waterproof container with a bag of silica (the kind found in electronic equipment boxes) to absorb moisture.

Q: What do I need to know about mooring my boat offshore in a lake?

A: Before approaching the mooring ball, look at other moored boats to determine the direction of the wind or current, whichever is stronger. Approach the ball slowly into the wind or current. Shift to neutral when you can pick up the mooring line, making sure not to catch it with your prop. Attach the line securely to the bow, and let the wind or current set the boat back on the line.

To get on or off your boat at the mooring, use your dinghy or a tender if one is available. Remember not to tangle the dinghy line in the prop as you leave the mooring.

Before departing the mooring, warm your engine, and make sure you have sufficient room to get under way and establish steering control without being blown or pushed into others. Plan your departure path.

Q: How do I use my trim tabs?

A: Trimming outboards and inboard-outboards consists of adjusting their tilt to compensate for weather, weight distribution and other conditions. Start with the trim motor in a vertical, 90-degree position. Once on plane, you can trim down or up to balance the boat’s tilt.

Trimming down puts the lower unit closer to the transom, pushing the stern up and the bow down. Trimming up pushes the stern down and the bow up. In smooth water, you may achieve a little more speed with the bow trimmed up slightly. In rough water, you may get a smoother ride with the bow trimmed down slightly.

Q: As the lake gets more crowded, the water gets choppier. Is there a way to cross wakes without greatly reducing speed?

A: Depending on the wake, you may have to slow down to avoid pounding the boat’s bow or leaving the water entirely, which can damage both your boat and engine.

When a boat approaches you from the opposite direction, point your bow 45 degrees to the oncoming wake to lessen pounding and allow your bow to roll over the wake. However, you’ll have to slow down to avoid bouncing off a large oncoming wake.

When a vessel moving in the same direction as you passes your boat, point your stern 45 degrees to the oncoming wake so it will roll under and pick up the stern while keeping the motor in the water.

Q: How can I avoid making a mess when I change my oil?

A: To prevent spills into the bilge while replacing your oil and fuel filters, line the area with newspapers, paper towels or oil-absorbing pads. When changing the filter, wrap a plastic bag around it before breaking it free so any spills will drain into the bag. Dispose of oil and fuel at a proper facility. Federal law prohibits discharge of these materials into the water.

Q: What’s the best way to get free when you run aground?

A: First try kedging. Using a dinghy or another boat, set an anchor in a spot where you were afloat, and use the anchor line to pull your boat off—wrapping the line around a winch works best. As a last resort, a good swimmer wearing a PFD can take the anchor out on a raft or float.

If kedging doesn’t work, call a towing service. Although expensive, the response is normally quick.


Tote more to the boat with a gold or navy USPS bag!


Somewhat bulkier than an overhand knot, the figure-eight knot is a better stopper and less likely to jam.

To cast a figure-eight knot, make an overhand loop and pass the bitter end under ...


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