Here’s a typical spring recommissioning scenario: Your best boating buddy calls you Friday afternoon to tell you the first raft-up of the year is on for tomorrow. Not being one to miss out on a good party, you hook up first thing in the morning and tow your boat to the ramp. And that’s as far as you get.Your half-dead battery expires after trying to start your balky engine, and even a jump start doesn’t work. You make the drive of shame back to your house and, like a golfer, take a Mulligan and do it right the next time.
Inspect Your Gadget
First, get a flashlight and perform an inspection of your engine’s wiring, hoses (squeeze them) and belts. Rodents and other critters love sharpening their teeth on rubber (I know, I had a pet rat). Droppings inside your boat are a telltale sign you’ve had visitors. If you have a sterndrive, check the rubber bellows around your outdrive for cracks. If you stuffed rags down intakes or into the exhaust to prevent intruders from entering, remove them. You should have loosened your engine’s belts during winterization to prevent undue stretching, so snug them up. Get a socket wrench and test all of the bolts to make sure they are tight, including those on your engine mounts and the steering assembly. Test your throttle cables to make sure they move freely.
Check Your Liquidity
Next, check all fluids. During your boat’s winterization, you should have changed your oil (four-strokes) and outdrive gear oil to prevent impurities or metal filings from bonding to the engine’s innards during its hiatus. Make sure the fluids are at the correct levels and are free of contaminants. If you have a closed cooling system, check the level and the state of your antifreeze. Antifreeze can last several years, and the best indicator of its health is its color. If it is a murky, rusty shade of brown, change it. Don’t forget the reservoir for your power trim and also the tank for your boat’s power-steering fluid, if so equipped.
On the Down Low
Check the lower unit for bare or corroded metal. If bad spots are found, lightly sand them, spray them with primer and touch them up with outdrive paint, avoiding any sacrificial zinc anodes. If zincs show appreciable wear, change them. Inspect your prop and skeg for dings, and repair them as needed or take them to the prop shop. Pull the prop and clean the spline of old grease and relubricate with marine grease. If you are running a sterndrive, check the engine block, looking for rusty metal, which you should sand, prime and then paint. Springtime is the best time to replace your engine’s water-pump impeller. If the old one you are replacing has rubber vanes that don’t crack when you bend them, keep it as an emergency spare and compare it to the new one to make sure you have the correct replacement. Always lubricate the vanes with petroleum jelly to provide lubricity when the pump is started dry for the first time before the water can prime it.
Fuel Me Once
If you topped off your fuel tank with STA-BIL-treated gas, you should be good to go in the spring, but a quick smell test is always a good idea. Good gas smells like … gas. Contaminated or old fuel usually has an off smell that’s readily noticeable. Spring is a good time to replace your boat’s fuel filter in case you have had water intrusion into your tank over the winter. If you suspect your fuel has a lot of water, see if you can find a marina that has a mobile fuel filter. It acts like a dialysis machine that can cycle your fuel through to remove water.
Make sure your batteries are fully charged and are topped off with distilled water for those that require maintenance. Reinstall them on the boat, making sure to clean the terminals and lightly cover them with electrically conductive grease. Once they’re installed, turn on the battery switch and check all electrical accessories. Don’t forget to check your bilge pump’s automatic float switch. Also, raise and lower the engine or outdrive several times.
Run your boat on the trailer at home to make sure it fires up after having first attached a water supply. If you fogged your engine, the exhaust will be smoky at first but should quickly burn off. Closely monitor your engine’s temperature and oil pressure. Make sure your steering system is working before you leave home: Crank it fully from lock to lock several times. If you have a rack-and-pinion steering system and left the rack exposed over the winter, it could be seized up. If so, take a two-by-four, place it at the end of the rack and gently tap it with a hammer to free the rack.
Ready for Launch
After launching your boat, start it and let it warm up before heading off. Double-check that you are getting water circulation, and continue to watch the gauges closely. After shoving off, stay close to the ramp for the first 30 minutes in case a problem develops. And don’t leave home without a paddle and a cellphone.