I wondered about the dull pain near my left shoulder blade. I’d picked up a used center console a few months earlier. It had been recently upgraded with a 175-hp outboard (good) but the owner had retained the original cable steering (iffy). No amount of tinkering with the lower unit trim tab could fully offset the torque effects, or pull, on the steering wheel produced by the rotation of the prop. Running the boat required constant muscle engagement. I figured eventually I’d install a hydraulic steering system, but I have a stubborn streak and decided to tough it out for a few months. I knew better: One way or the other, you pay.
After spending hundreds on massage therapy to uncoil knots in my back muscles, I came to my senses and converted to hydraulic steering. A SeaStar kit was easy to find and relatively easy to install using the included instructions. Problem solved. No more pull on the wheel, anywhere in the RPM or motor trim ranges.
Keeping comfortable while doing what you love should be a priority. Tackling obvious ergonomic problems is at the top of the list. If something’s not right with your boat, don’t delay. Fix it! But there are also things you can do right now to improve how you feel at the end of the day.
Take Care of Your Feet
If you complain of foot, knee or low back pain, there’s a good chance your shoes, or lack thereof may have something to do with it. For sudden onset of pain that accompanies weakness or inflammation, definitely schedule a check up. But many of us can get back on the right foot by committing to wearing good shoes. Find a pair of deck shoes with non-slip soles and some arch support. The self-draining types are comfortable in bare feet and practical on wet decks.
Take a Break to Stretch and Relax
At least every hour on the boat, put down whatever it is you are doing, whether casting or manning the helm and do some basic stretches. You may already know what your body needs, from your days in sports or time with a physical therapist. My own routine is to interlace my fingers and stretch my arms over my head, lean back and take a few deep breaths to open my chest. Then I’ll slowly bend over, touch my toes and enjoy a few more deep breaths. Lastly, I’ll lie flat on my back and pull my knees to my chest. The key is to find stretches or postures which offset muscle groups that get tight. Some of my fishing pals are into yoga and swear by its benefits.
Drink (Water!) Until You Pee
It’s good practice to drink water constantly during the day. If you aren’t urinating occasionally, odds are you’re not getting adequate hydration. You pay attention to the indicator stream from your outboard’s cooling system, right? Why not take your own body as seriously? Hydrating yourself not only helps prevent heat stroke, but wards off muscle cramps, headaches and other complaints that seem to arise after a day on the water.
Beware Danger Zones
Ramps and docks pose underestimated risks for boaters. Make sure no one reaches out to cushion a boat that’s coming in too hard. Few Florida anglers carry boat hooks, but really we should. Also, if you’re walking on the ramp, keep a hand on your truck or trailer, and step carefully to avoid slipping. Teaching a crew member to back the trailer down while you drive the boat on to the bunks, if your rig is so designed, helps minimize the need to walk on wet concrete.
Another danger zone: Anyplace on your boat besides the helm seat! Think about it. If you’re running the boat, you should be gauging the comfort and safety level not by how you feel, but whether your passengers are seated or standing securely and confidently, without being subject to sudden forces. Arms and wrists, in particular, are easily broken if a person is lifted into the air or slips on the deck if the boat jumps over a wave.
Remember: At the helm, you have instant feedback from throttle and wheel adjustments. You can anticipate bumps in the road. Ensuring crew safety and comfort is your primary job. FS
First published Florida Sportsman August 2016