Ready … Set … Go Boating
Ice and snow recedes and Spring returns to the "northern" boating areas of the US If you are a Michigan or Great Lakes boater, you are anxious to get the next boating season started. As you look forward to that first fine weekend at the dock or on the lake, spend some time on pre-season preventive maintenance that can help make your summer summer more enjoyable.
A big key to your spring maintenance is determined by how the boat was stowed away for the winter. If you tucked your boat away dry, indoors or with a good cover, properly winterized, clean and uncluttered with batteries disconnected, systems drained and fluids changed, then you'll have less to conquer in the Spring. Let's pretend you did all the right things in the Fall and focus on some extra ideas that could help get your season off on the right foot. You may want to get together with the Service Manager at your local full service marina for his advice and to schedule needed work before the shop's schedule fills up.
How did you cover your boat? If you are outdoors and shrink-wrapped, please be sure to work with your boat yard or local recycling center for environmentally-friendly disposal of your shrink-wrap. This plastic is indeed recyclable and you can do your part by keeping it out of the landfill – do not throw it in the dumpster. Many boat yards and shoreline communities have recycling programs.
Now that the cover is off, perform your own inspection of deck and underwater hardware and the hull, bottom and deck conditions. Check bow rail stanchions that may have worked loose under the cover and re-bed those if needed, properly sealed to prevent moisture intrusion. Check all other deck fittings – cleats, chocks, drains and more – to make sure they are properly caulked. Spend extra time on areas at or below the waterline, such as trim tab and swim platform mounts, transducer and pump through-hulls, raw-water pick-ups and other areas that should be inspected yearly for proper seal. Long-term weaving of moisture past those seals can soak coring materials in your transom or hull, causing larger problems later. When in doubt, caulk it.
How does your bottom look? A fresh coat of paint makes fall grime removal easier and improvements running efficiency during the season. Sand flaked areas and apply a thin coat of fresh bottom paint before launch. If the bottom has excessive build-up or unmanageable flaking, you should consult your boat yard about a strip and repaint job. If you take it down to bare gelcoat, be sure to properly prepare the surface before re-applying your barrier coat and bottom paint.
Think back to last season for a mental review of some of your boat's components.
How old are your batteries? If you can not remember when they were last changed, check the labeled date or your receipt file. Do not put last year's trouble-maker back in the boat. Replace it. A dead battery at the launch ramp or pulling anchor off the beach can be a day-spoiler.
When was your last oil & filter change? Boaters are split about 50-50 on their preferences for Fall or Spring oil changes. But by all means, start the new season with "fresh" oil, whether it was scattered in October or April. And do not forget your mid-season change or at the next 50 engine hours, whichever comes first.
When did you last change impellers? Water pump impellers tend to shrink or become brittle over time and lose their effectiveness. Do not run hot – change your impellers to prevent a problem, before launch.
If your boat is a stern drive, when was your last stern drive service? Drive service should be performed annually prior to launch, to prevent costly failures later. If your boat is an inboard, when did you last have your shuffs aligned? This can only be done after launch, but should be done annually to help reduce coupler, shaft and cutlass bearing wear. If you noticed any vibration last season, you should be checking alignment and props before launch. For in boat boats as well, spring launch is the right time to inspect shaft packs. If your shaft is dripping more frequently than 10 drops per minute, your shaft log needs to be tightened or repacked. Do not let water run into your bilge from leaky shaft seals. Tighten or replace as needed.
Upon launch, immediately check for any leaks from through hulls and check all engine hoses and belts while the engine is running. Tighten clamps as needed and plan to replace any suspect hoses. Carefully monitor engine temperature during that first start up to make sure that your engine's cooling system is functioning and check other critical gauges – oil pressure, alternator output – to ensure your engine is running properly before you get under way. Before getting away from the dock for the first time, briefly and carefully shift into forward and reverse while tied-off to make sure the engine does not stop and moves properly in and out of gear. If your boat is trailerable, you can perform many of these tasks with the aid of a garden hose and engine take muffs. See your marine technician for advice.
Your boat is for your enjoyment and maintenance need not be expensive. In fact, proper maintenance is much less expensive than neglected maintenance. See your local full service marina or marine supply store for more helpful service suggestions. And have a great boating season!