Finally, it’s starting to feel like spring here in Guilford; a mild winter gave way to an unseasonably cold spring but it finally feels like it’s time to get the boats back in the water.  Many of our customers hire us to provide seasonal service so we’re busy prepping boats and providing re-commissioning services. It’s a very important part of the boating process – a misstep in the re-commissioning process can make for an expensive and inconvenient repair down the road. We know that many boaters ready their vessels on their own so we thought we’d share a bit of our expertise on the subject.

One caveat – this is not an all-encompassing process for every boat out there. There are many types of vessels, many types of engines and many different situations. The first bit of advice:  check your specific owners and service manuals. And make sure you (or somebody you know) understands what they are doing. If you are uncomfortable, contact our yard as we have significant experience in this area and will do everything we can to fit you into our schedule.

Spring re-commissioning is directly related to the steps you undertake when winterizing your engine and boat systems. The more you do or have done for winter de-commissioning, the more likely that systems which worked just fine last fall will function properly in the spring. As a reminder and the beginning of your spring pre-launch activities, here is the list of tasks which should have been completed prior to winter storage:

  • Engine oil & filter changed
  • Fuel filters replaced
  • Fuel tank stabilized (filled or empty)
  • Outdrive or lower unit oil changed
  • Outdrive unit removed for inspection and/or servicing
  • Battery serviced, removed and charged for the winter season
  • Battery cleaned, fully charged and cables removed, wire tied and marked as positive and negative leads if left in boat
  • Lube shifting cables and steering systems
  • Shrink wrap or boat cover with large vents, to prevent mold for forming inside the cover.

Clean and charge your batteries

Job one:  clean and charge your batteries.

The first step is to charge all batteries and install them, clean the terminals and cable ends. If you have wingnuts, this is a good time to consider replacing them with stainless steel lock nuts to prevent the cables from loosening up. Coast Guard regulations require that batteries be properly secured and battery posts covered.

Now that the batteries are in place, inspect and check operation of all electrical items and electronics. Test helm and cabin switches and note anything that is not working properly. One key test:  turn off the battery switch (if equipped) and ensure the automatic bilge pump float switch is working.

Next, if you have water systems onboard you will have to remove the antifreeze and, if antifreeze was introduced into the fresh water tank, it should be flushed out prior to connecting the pump and flushing the water lines. There are commercial products available to disinfect the water system; follow the directions carefully. Pressurize the system and open each faucet/shower head one at a time until clean water flows. If you have them, don’t forget the transom or anchor wash faucets.

Once you are done with water systems, it’s time to move onto the engine room or compartment. Visually inspect everything to make sure there hasn’t been any hose breaks; cracks or rodent damage (this is common – mice love chewed plastic and rubber for nesting). Check the engine oil level and inspect the bilge area for fluid leaks. Check the coolant level, the power steering fluid and the transmission/lower unit or outdrive oil. A visual inspection of all fuel lines for external cracking and flexibility should be performed. As a rule of thumb, we service engine seawater pumps every other season to ensure they are in good condition. When doing this, be sure to grease the attaching hardware so it will come off two years from now.

Prior to moving to engine start-up, depending upon your familiarity with the engine, it might be a good opportunity to read the operator’s manual to assure you understand the proper start procedure.  If you will be running on the hose, install the ear muffs or water hook up. Again make note: there are some engines where you will need to supply water in more than one location and this will be a very expensive mistake.

Critical step: Inspect the engine compartment before starting engine.

Critical step: Inspect the engine compartment before starting engine.

Check the engine control cables for condition and operation; place the shifter in the neutral position and check the safety/kill switch. Please make note: on any engine with an electric fuel pump, you must prime the fuel system prior to turning the key as dry running an electric fuel pump will severely damage it internally.

You are now ready to start your engine. When it starts, there will probably be some smoke that clears from the exhaust; this is the fogging oil from winterizing and will coat the spark plugs. Check for oil pressure if you have a dash gauge, then go to the engine and look for water running from the exhaust. If you see none, stop the engine immediately and recheck your hose connections. Once water is flowing, run just above an idle speed. Check your dash gauges to confirm proper operation. Back in the engine area, inspect with a flashlight for any for fluid leaks under the engine and listen for any exhaust noise such as loose belts or hoses. Take care when doing this and keep clear of the engine.

Other checks to make at this point include the steering system for tightness or looseness, ensure the propeller is clear and shift into forward, neutral and reverse; listen and feel for anything abnormal. Shut down the engine using the safety stop lanyard (if equipped) to ensure it is working and then turn off the ignition key. Remove it and do one final inspection of the engine area. Raise the engine or drive and listen for any strange sounds from the trim – tilt system. Ideally, a complete servicing of the ignition system should be performed to ensure the engine is running at its best.

Now that you are done with the vessel interior, inspect the exterior of your boat and the boat trailer. Replace any plugs you may have removed. Wash (or power-wash if you are in a place where it’s appropriate) then add a new coat of bottom paint and a couple of coats of wax and you should be ready for the season.

As a reminder, we here at Brown’s Boatyard have going through this procedure hundreds (if not thousands) of times and we know exactly what we’re doing. If you are uncomfortable with the re-commissioning process it might make sense to hire us to do it. As the old adage goes, you can pay us now or you can pay us later. And paying us later is usually a lot more expensive. Happy boating!