Insert drain plug, then launch boat. Not vice versa

Bob Mottram is a columnist for the Tacoma News Tribune in Washington

I've always wondered what would happen if I launched my boat with the drain plug out.

On Sunday afternoon at Point Defiance I found out.

This was my spring shake-down cruise, the first after months of boating inactivity. Inserting the plug usually is the first step in my boating routine. I usually check it multiple times before leaving the house, taking note of it as I tighten the tie-down straps and as I check the trailer's directional signals. It's so important that I often acknowledge it by speaking out loud: "Plug in."

At the ramp I usually note it again as the tie-downs come off. Classic obsessive-compulsive behavior.

But that's usually. Sunday was different. It had been a busy day; a busy weekend, in fact. I was sandwiching this shake-down in amidst a lot of other chores. Lots of things were on my mind. The drain plug wasn't one of them.

So I go ahead and launch my boat - a 15-foot Arima - tie it off to the float, and go and park my rig. On the way back to the float, I stop to chat for a minute or two with the state fish checker.

When I finally get to my boat, the deck is awash in seawater.

For a moment I stare in disbelief. Then it strikes me. My boat is sinking! Holy moly! My brain shifts to warp speed. Can I move fast enough to retrieve my trailer, back it down to the water and float my foundering boat over to it? I realize almost immediately that, with the weight of a bilge full of water and the deck awash, there's no way that the trailer winch can haul the boat out unless I submerge the trailer; and it's not designed for that.

By now probably four seconds have passed, and it occurs to me that I still can insert the plug and arrest the flooding. I step into the boat, lean over the stern, submerge my arm to the shoulder, and grope for the threaded hole at the base of the transom. There it is. Fortunately, the plug is lying right where it's supposed to be, in a built-in box at the back of the boat. I know that I have only one chance to thread it into the hole without dropping it. Everything goes right. The threads match up, and I'm able to tighten the plug. I go down one more time with a screwdriver, and secure it.

Then I cross my fingers and hope that my bilge pump will work after a winter off. It does. It takes 20 or 25 minutes to pump the water out of the boat.

While it's pumping, a guy with his family launches on the other side of the float. He wants to know if I'm going fishing. No, just doing a shake-down cruise to get ready for halibut, I tell him. Same with him, he says. He's planning to fish out of Neah Bay, am I? No, I plan to fish elsewhere. And so forth.

Meanwhile, my bilge pump is pushing gallons of water out of the boat. So I tell him about the plug. It's embarrassing, but who's he going to tell?

I'd swear that the guy lowered his voice.

"You know what?" he said. "I've done that three times."

Yeah? Well, good luck with your boating.

Finally, my pump spits the last of Puget Sound over the side, where it belongs, and I cast off and head out for my shake-down. Everything works A-OK and, if the weather is good and the water is flat on opening day, I'll be out chasing halibut.

Provided, of course, that they don't declare me too dangerous to be at large.

(Rewritten with the permission of Bob Mottram)





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