How do I navigate through ice safely?

If you live in northern areas, you may at some point find yourself in a situation where you'll need to navigate your way through icy water. This can be a particularly dangerous situation if handled incorrectly, even if you're relatively close to shore. However, it's not always avoidable, so it's good to know what to do in these instances, just in case.

That action that you take in these situations depends largely on the thickness of the ice that you're confronting:

  • For thin ice, you can try gently moving towards it and letting the bow of your boat slide up onto the top of the frozen water. If you do it slowly enough, the weight of the boat should break through and clear the way.
  • If the ice is thicker, you can also try using your own wake to break it up. Assuming you have the space to do this, begin piloting the boat in circles, kicking up waves that travel under it. At first the ice will simply rock back and forth, but eventually it could break up, allowing you to gently move your way through.
  • Keep in mind that frozen freshwater is stronger than seawater at the same thickness.

You can better judge when you're approaching ice and when you should be out on the water if your boat is equipped with the best marine instruments available. At ePal we carry the latest boating technology at affordable prices, so stop by our online shop today for the best products available from companies such as Garmin, Humminbird and more!

Finding the right boat insurance policy

Even the most experienced boat owners should have an insurance policy to cover the cost of damage in the event that they are involved in a boating accident. An insurance policy may not sound as sexy as a new Hummin​bird GPS or some other piece of equipment you've been dying to add to your vessel, but it's certainly going to be just as valuable if your boat ever crashes, even if it's not your fault.

This begs the question: How does one find the right insurance policy for their boat? Here are some tips from Boating Magazine:

  • Ask around: If you have friends at the yacht club or simply know a lot of people who own boats, ask them if they have insurance and like working with their particular underwriter and agent. If you don't know a lot of people with their own vessel, ask the agent who supplies you with your car or life insurance policies if they have any experience in this area or can recommend someone.
  • Decide how much coverage you need: If your boat simply isn't worth very much, you may just want to purchase a policy that covers liability in the event that you are involved in an accident and someone is hurt, rather than buying a policy that includes collision.
  • Study the policy before paying your premium: Depending on how you use your boat and how far you travel with it, you should have a policy that is tailored to your needs. For example, if you plan on boating in international waters, make sure your policy will still cover you.

Keep in mind that you can avoid accidents and keep your insurance premium down if you have the right marine instruments to help guide your way when you're out on the water. You can find these items at ePal!

3 tips for safe piloting while towing a water skier

Water skiing is one of the most exciting water sports, but it's also dangerous if those participating do not take proper precautions. Water skiing deaths are all too common, and it's almost always because of human error that these incidents occur.

One of the areas where you need to be particularly diligent about being safe is how you pilot the boat. If you're tasked with driving while another person is skiing, make sure you follow these tips from Waterski Magazine:

  • Don't accelerate too quickly. A gradual increase in speed is not only much safer, but it's also easier for the person you're towing to get out of the water and onto their skis.
  • Keep the boat balanced as you go through the water. You can tell if your boat is balanced if it is producing the same amount of spray and wake on both the starboard and port sides of the vessel. This makes it safer for the skier, but it also makes their job easier, as uneven wake can make balancing and maneuvering difficult.
  • Never turn sharply with someone in tow. If you see an obstacle approaching that you didn't anticipate, throttle back and have the observer alert the skier to a change in direction.

Outfitting your boat with the best marine electronics can make these experiences safer and more fun, as you'll be able to judge depth easier while also getting a more accurate readout of your heading and speed. Make sure to check out the ePal store today, as we've got great deals on the latest products from Garmin, Raymarine and more!

Storing your boat ashore

In many parts of the country, the time has come to begin preparing your boat for storage over the winter. While some areas are warm enough that the boat can simply be left in water all year, most boat owners in cold climes are going to want to keep their boat on land to preserve the hull and marine instruments until the ice thaws.

That being said, there are good ways and bad ways to store you vessel ashore. Here are some tips to consider when prepping your boat:

  • Drain it: Letting water drain from your cockpit and hull will ensure that you don't have any standing water, which can freeze or attract mold and mildew, eventually eroding any wooden components.
  • Support the hull: Boats weigh a lot, and all of that weight can cause damage to the hull if it is not properly supported by whatever storage system you're using. Consult with a marine surveyor to make sure the weight of the boat is evenly distributed over the hull.
  • Tie cover to boat, not the boat stand: If you're using a boat stand, make sure the tarp cover is tied to the boat and not the stand. A strong gale can pick the cover up, knock the stand loose and cause the boat to fall form its position.

With your vessel stored ashore, now is a great time to consider adding new Garmin marine electronics and other accessories to it, as these additions can be easier to accomplish when the boat is on land, rather than at sea. For the latest in marine technology, check out ePal's online store today!

The virtues of eco-friendly boating

Boating is one of the great national pastimes, but let's face it: If done improperly, boating can be disastrous for the environment. Too often, boat captains will disregard environmental issues when they're underway, which is a shame. One of the reasons so many have taken up boating as a hobby is an appreciation of nature and marine life.

Keeping things green while boating isn't especially hard, either. It just takes a few simple changes in the way you do things that don't take away from the pleasure of the sport. Here are some of the easiest ways to be environmentally-friendly when operating your vessel, courtesy of Discover Boating:

  • Maintain your engine and propeller: This is not only good environmental practice, but common sense. If your boat is operating inefficiently and your motor isn't in good working order, you could be wasting fuel, which costs money and contaminates ocean and lake water.
  • Recycle waste: Many components that we use regularly when boating, including paint, batteries and cleaning products, can be recycled. More importantly, these items are typically toxic, and can eventually harm marine life even if they've been disposed of in a garbage can.
  • Stow trash: For those items that you can't recycle, refrain from throwing them into the ocean. After all, no one wants to boat in water littered with garbage.

Another way to make sure you're boating responsibly is to ensure that you're using a chartplotter to plan your course ahead of time. This ensures that you aren't consuming excess fuel, and that you avoid any areas with large populations of marine life that can be threatened by your propeller. You can pick up a chartplotter and other marine instruments at ePal!

A brief guide to safe docking

Even for the experienced mariner, docking a boat is sometimes a challenge. That's why the U.S. Coast Guard recommends having a plan in place before you approach the dock. This will allow you to anticipate any potential problems, and it also makes the process smoother and less risky.

The Coast Guard also recommends taking a few basic steps to ensure that you safely dock your vessel:

  • Delegate responsibilities to passengers, if you have a crew. Have two people look out on each side of the boat to make sure one side doesn't approach too quickly, and have another crew member throw the fenders over the side.
  • Don't travel faster than you're comfortable hitting the dock. Showing off by trying to maneuver quickly into your slip can end up backfiring as you slam into it with your hull and possibly hurt someone onboard in the process.
  • No one should leave the vessel until it is parked. Passengers should not leap onto the dock while the boat is still moving, as this is unsafe and it can also cause the boat to change course as it moves.
  • There should be only one captain on the boat. This helps avoid confusion if people are shouting out orders and assigning tasks.

In the event that you need to make an emergency landing of some kind, you'll definitely want to make sure your boat has all the marine instruments and communication technology you'll need to contact the port authority so that they can help you find a spot quickly. You can purchase these items at affordable prices by checking out the online store at ePal!

Tips for boating in bad weather

Hopefully, before you go boating you make sure to check your marine electronics to ensure that the weather offshore is suitable for safe piloting. But sometimes storms can sneak up on you, especially if you haven't equipped your vessel with the right instruments to let you know when bad weather approaches.

For this reason it's a good idea to know how to handle such situations ahead of time. Here are some tips for staying safe when you run into high winds, pounding rain and giant waves:

  • Avoid jagged, rocky shorelines: Unless you're trying to dock the boat, you should keep it a safe distance from shore if you're near a rocky beach. Getting too close might cause serious damage to your hull.
  • Close everything: Make sure any portholes, windows or other openings are shut tight to prevent water from getting into the cabin.
  • Move slowly: Moving quickly through rough seas can put a lot of stress on the superstructure of your vehicle. Although you want to get to port as quickly as possible, you should reduce your speed to avoid a breach or popping out portholes.
  • Wear a life jacket: Everyone on board should be wearing a life jacket in the event that they need to abandon ship or they are thrown from the deck. 

You can avoid the risk of boating during in a storm by ensuring that your ship is equipped with a chartplotter that displays weather data. You can find these instruments at ePal, along with many other boating accessories that will make your voyage safer for you and your passengers.

Winterizing your boat: Inboard Engines

That time of year is here, when you have to pack up your fishfinder, fishing poles and tackle box for the winter (presuming, of course, that you aren't an ice fisher). It's a sad occasion, but if you winterize your boat properly, it will allow you to enjoy it for many more summers without needing a lot of maintenance and service.

If you have an inboard engine, the weatherizing process is a little more complicated than it is with outboard motors. Fortunately, the Boat Owners Association of the United States (BOATUS) has in-depth, step-by-step instructions for what you need to do. Here are some of their key points:

  • Change the coolant and oil: These fluids tend to get dirty over time, and if you leave them in the engine over the winter, the dirt and debris they collect will settle to the bottom of the tank, making it difficult to keep clean. Replacing them before you pack up the vessel for long-term storage will ensure this doesn't happen.
  • For diesel engines, top off the tank: Diesel engines can be damaged by condensation. To prevent this, make sure there's a full tank of fuel for the winter.
  • For gasoline engines, empty the tank: Gasoline can evaporate and leave mineral deposits that can corrode the tank and hoses and are difficult to clean. You should also run fuel out of the hoses by turning on the engine, disconnecting it from the gas tank and letting it go until it runs out of fuel.

Since your boat is going to be in long-term storage for the next few months, it may be a good time to consider whether you may need to upgrade your marine electronics systems, as this is easier to do when the boat is out of the water. Check out ePal's selection of the best marine technology today!

Winterizing your boat: Outboard Engines

Sadly for many the boating season is coming to an end soon. As cold weather sets in and lakes begin to freeze, it's important for boat owners to winterize their vessels so that they can pick up right where they left off in the spring and get back to boating. Winterizing your boat is an important process that, when done properly, will ensure that your vehicle provides decades of enjoyment and recreational fun.

In this article we'll cover some of the steps winterizing boats equipped with outboard engines. The Boat Owners Association of the United States provides some pointers for boat owners who are unsure about how to proceed with preparing their motors for cold weather and long-term storage:

  • Disconnect the fuel hoses and run the engine until it stops. This clears the system of any residual gasoline.
  • Flush the engine with freshwater. There are various tools available to do this, but one of the easiest ways is to simply submerge the engine in a tank of clean water and let it drain out completely. Leftover fuel can evaporate and leave corrosive deposits.
  • Replace the oil and clean the exterior of the engine with soap and water. You may also want to apply a layer of wax.
  • Spray fogging oil into the cylinders and carburetor to ensure that these components are properly lubricated.

If you store your boat out of water, this may be a good time to consider adding new marine electronics and instruments that can improve your ability to navigate, locate fish and communicate with the Coast Guard or lake authority. Make sure you check out ePal's selection of high-grade boating supplies today to find out more about your options!

How to contact the U.S. Coast Guard

Every sailor and seaman should know how to contact the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) in the event of an emergency. Whether you're experiencing engine trouble or you've struck an object that has damaged your hull, you'll want to be able to call the USCG to lend you assistance, or you'll be stranded without help. Before you head out on your next voyage, make sure you know the proper procedure for contacting them.

To begin with, you should have a VHF radio on your boat - possibly even two, just to be safe. If one radio fails, having a backup could end up saving your crew. The farther out you plan to sail or motor, the more marine electronics you should carry, including an MF/HF radiotelephone, mobile satellite telephone and an emergency position beacon that can radio your coordinates to passing vessels.

When contacting the USCG over VHF or MF/HF, you should follow these steps as described on the USCG website:

  • For VHF, tune it to channel 16. If you're using your MF/HF because you're beyond the range of VHF signals from shore, set your MF/HF radiotelephone to 2182 kHz and send the alarm signal.
  • Say "MAYDAY" three times, then "This is [the name of your vessel, again repeated three times]." Let them know your call sign or boat registration number.
  • Repeat "MAYDAY," as well as the name of your boat, once more.
  • Tell them your location with latitude and longitude, along with your distance from any nearby landmarks. You should also indicate your speed, heading and destination.
  • Let them know the reason for the distress call, how many people are on board, any information they may need to know about the situation, and conclude the call with "OVER."

If your boat is not currently equipped with VHF or MF/HF radios, you should purchase these marine instruments today for the safety of you and your crew. You'll find the highest quality communications equipment at ePal, the leading marine supplier.