The sun is finally spending a bit more time in the sky, and the long awaited spring thaw is beginning in many parts of the country. It’s time to give some serious thought to de-winterizing the boat you so lovingly tucked away for its seasonal slumber.
The to-do list is pretty long, but if you plan ahead and do it in chunks, it won’t be quite as daunting. The temptation to just tear off the tarp, put in the drain plug and take off for the nearest water is strong, but how much fun are you going to have when the engine sputters and dies in the middle of the lake?
Do it right the first time, and you’ll be having fun all season long!
It may be easiest to break the chores down by category. You don’t have to start in any particular order, as long as you get them all checked off the list. If you feel raring to go, you can start with the engine. If you want to ease your way into the work, start with checking the safety equipment—which might justify a little shopping at the boat store!
Even if you gave your boat a decent cleaning before storing it, you might have been rushing the job. Take a good, detailed look in the light of day. Check for any mold or mildew. Give the boat a thorough wash and wax. While you have it out of the water, does it need some scraping and new bottom paint? Repair any scratches or dings. If you have a wood boat, give extra attention to any potential rot.
Give the inside a good cleaning as well. Repair any cushions that may be cracked or starting to fray. Give any covers an inspection for cracking, fraying or loose connections.
As long as you’re cleaning, and going through the contents of your boat anyway, make an inventory. List what you have and what you need. You don’t want to be on a preliminary outing and find you’re out of some staple item. As you go through your systems checks, add to your list. If you need a new belt, hose or life jacket, you don’t want to be making extra trips to the store.
Yes. We’re going to talk about life jackets. Again. Check them for rips, tears and holes. Are all the attachment points still secure? Does the material inside sound dry and crackly? The flotation material may be past its buoyancy prime. When was the last time you bought a life jacket for little Johnny? Was he 8? That size is not going to work on a 15 year old. Do you have a suitable flotation device for every passenger?
Check the fire extinguishers. Do you have the correct number and class for your vessel? Are they all fully charged? Check the dates and ensure they’re stored in the correct places onboard.
Check your carbon monoxide detector. Is it working? Is the battery fully charged? Do you have one for every enclosed space on your boat?
If you often boat offshore, in an area with spotty VHF transmission, in known treacherous waters, or areas know for sudden weather, you may want to consider investing in an EPIRB. An activated EPIRB will broadcast a repeating SOS signal with integrated GPS information making your chance of rescue much higher in a dangerous situation.
Find out if there are boat safety inspections offered in your area. The US Coast Guard, the USCG Auxiliary and the US Power Squadrons typically provide them.
You should have your electrical systems checked regularly by a qualified professional, but that being said, before you get going for the spring, take a look at all of the connections. They should be free of corrosion and tight. Take a wire brush to any corroded cable ends or battery terminals. Charge up your battery and test it.
While you’re at it, test your bilge pump and high-water switches and alarms.
Hoses, Belts, Cables, Etc.
Inspect all these items for wear. Make sure belts are still tight to their pulleys and not leaving any residue or showing cracks. If there are any signs of internal corrosion such as bulges or cracks on the control cables for the steering or shifting, you’d be best off to replace them before they fail. All components made of rubber or rubber-like materials should be checked for cracks or brittleness.
Check the fuel hose. It should still feel flexible. If it’s cracked or overly soft, replace it. Make sure there isn’t any damage to your fuel tank. Look for evidence of leaks. Check all the connections to ensure they’re tight and the clamps are holding properly.
Look to make sure the venting for the engine is clean and clear, and check to see if the exhaust is exiting without any blockage. Clean or replace the air filter.
Check Fluid Levels
This is a really good time to change the oil and oil filter. Top off all other fluids like the power steering and coolant. Check your hydraulic trim fluid. If you haven’t changed it in a year, change it now.
A damaged propeller can cause all sorts of problems for your boat, including damaging your drive train. Check for pits, cracks or dings. Replace the bearings when needed. If it’s in really bad shape, replace it. If it isn’t propelling you through the water efficiently, you’re wasting a lot of gas money.
This is just a basic list to get you started. The minimum, you might say. You can get into a very detailed spring inspection on your boat if you’re inclined and/or able. If this sort of thing doesn’t interest you, feel free to pay someone to do it for you.
Of course if you own a sailboat, your list is going to look a bit different, but you get the idea. A little bit of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Stay safe and enjoy another year on the water!