The cold is slowly coming to an end. This can only mean a few things are around the corner, first there is turkey season and secondly, fishing and boating season will shortly be upon us. It is time to start getting ready now rather than waiting for the season to be upon us.
I think it is really important that we winterize our boats properly ,but it is just as important that we also take the proper steps to get our boat ready before we put them in for the first time. The last thing we want to do is get the family, and the boat packed up and head down to the ramp to find out that our boat is not ready for the summer.
You are going to want to check for a number of things, and sometimes certain aspects can slip your mind at the worst possible times. The list I have created below will help you to prepare for the next season and have your boat cruising the waterways until deer season starts. This is a general list, and each boat is different and may require its own maintenance, refer to your maintenance manual for any specific questions that you may have.
Trailer Care and Maintenance
I always like to start with the trailer. Whether your boat has been in dry dock, or it has been sitting on the trailer in the backyard, a trailer can take a beating through the winter. You don’t want to run into troubles before you even get the boat in the water, so you need to check your trailer and make sure it is ready for the summer.
The first thing you need to do is make sure that your trailer is legal to be on the road. Check and see that your registration is up to date and all your tags are valid for the year. Then the next thing you want to check is the brake lights. Like all of you may know there is nothing more annoying than having to fix your brake lights.
If they aren’t working, as I have found to be a regular occurrence with mine. Maybe I am not buying the right lights, or I am not wiring them good enough, I shoot over to WalMart or West Marine and pick up a new set every two or three seasons for a relatively low price. After the brake lights are ready, I like to check on the rollers or pads.
You want to make sure that the roller hasn’t rusted or the carpet on the pads is still in working condition. To replace the pads are generally not that expensive so they can be a relatively easy fix. Replacing the carpet every so often isn’t a bad idea either, as it can really protect the hull of your boat while your are putting the boat on and off the trailer.
I also like to take the trailer to the gas station and fill the tires up and make sure they are still in good working condition. It is also a good idea to buy a spare, me personally I like to have a spare of everything just in case something should go wrong. Last but not least I will walk around the trailer and replace any parts that look like they are rusting and I try to spray WD-40 to keep all the moving parts lubed and ready.
I am first going to cover the things you need to check on your inboard motor, and then I will get to the outboard motor as they are generally easier to maintain. The first thing to look at is the oil and filters, and you are going to want to change the oil and the filters before you put it in the water just for good measure. Then you are going to want to check and change the engine filters, and it's important to have a few spares on board as well.
It is also important to check all of the fluid levels, this includes the transmission and coolant. You will want to refill these as necessary. Last but not least check the belts and record all of your information in your maintenance log, and if anything seems to be off you should probably take it to a mechanic and have a professional take a look.
Outboard motors are generally a lot easier to maintain, but it is still just as important to look at them before you put your boat in. I like to replace my spark plugs at the beginning of the season to start. Then I will inspect the inside of the motor for any wear or tear on wires or connections. Then I inspect the fuel lines, tank, and primer bulbs for cuts or leaks.
With all of those parts in working order, I usually like to inspect the prop. I make sure the prop isn’t bent or loose. The last thing I want to do is have my prop fall off. I also always inspect the transom. I like to check and maybe replace the reinforced piece of wood if it looks like it is beginning to rot. Last but not least I will lube and spray down all of the parts.
Safety and required Equipment
You are going to want to make sure that all of your safety and signaling equipment is up to date. The most important piece is the personal flotation device. United States Coast Guard regulations require you to have a life jacket for each person on your boat. So make sure that all of the life jackets are easily accessible and in working order. It’s just common sense to have them on board, and the last thing you want to do is run into an emergency and not have enough life jackets. Also, the Coast Guard will fine you for not having them, so it is cheaper to have the proper amount of life jackets then paying the fine.
Next, you will want to check the fire extinguishers, if they have lost their charge it time to get a new one or have them recharged. After the fire extinguishers I like to make sure that all of the medicine and medical supplies in my first aid kit are up to date and still in working order, or you can replace anything you had to use last year. Finally, It’s a good time to check and make sure my signaling devices are in working order as well as my distress signal. Also, you want to check the navigation lights and make sure they are all working, and have extra bulbs on the boat in case something goes out while you are underway.
Its good to go out and have fun, but it is paramount to make sure all of your safety equipment is properly working. It isn’t fun thinking about emergencies, but every year people die on the water, so it is important to make sure you are prepared.
Inspecting the hull is usually not a difficult task, it is probably the easiest thing to do. If your boat has been in the water, it may be smart to take it out and make sure the hull is in tip-top shape. I like to go around the hull and make a visual inspection. I am looking for abrasions, punctures or scratches that may need repair. I think it is important to address any minor issues because if they are left alone, they will only get worse with time.
This is also a good time to go ahead and replace any of the zinc anodes on the boat. Next, I like to go check the swim platform and the ladder. You want to make sure the ladder is in working condition, and the swim platform is clean. Last but not least this may be a good time to look at the paint and touch up or repaint any spots that may need to be fixed.
Once the hull is squared away, I like to go below deck and check to make sure all of the internal pieces are functioning properly. I will first check the bilge. I want to make sure they are in good working order in both automatic operation as well as manual operation. It is good at this time to also make sure that the bilge has oil in it. Then I look to test and lubricate seacocks.
Following all of those checks, I usually look to make sure all the hoses and clamps are working, and I will replace any that seem to be worn out. All of these preventative measures can help keep your boat from breaking down when you least expect it.
Electrical systems and water do not mix, and as your boat gets older and is exposed to the elements your electrical systems are at an increased chance of wearing down and eventually shorting. So I recommend that first, you check the battery. Make sure that the batter is holding a charge and general rule of thumbs says that you should replace the battery every 3 – 5 years. You also want to make sure that the terminals are free of corrosion. One way I like to take corrosion off is to pour a little coke on the terminals, and they will break down any buildup that has occurred.
This is also the time that I usually check my GPS to make sure that it is working properly and all other electronic equipment. Once you turn the boat on you can make sure all of the gauges and lights are working properly and that you have spares for anything that may break while you are underway. Then I like to do a visual inspection of any wiring that you can see. I make sure all of the pieces appear to be in good working order or I tape any that may be starting to fray. Finally, you will want to check all of the fuses and replace any that may have blown.
Before I conclude this article there are few other general things that I believe to be important before you put your boat back in the water. A boat can collect a lot of dirt and grime throughout winter, and this is the perfect time to go out and clean the hull, deck and any other places that have been neglected over the winter. I then apply a nice coat of wax to have my boat looking great for the season.
I also like to go through and wipe down all of the windows and make sure they don’t have any cracks or issues with them as well. It is also a good time to polish any metal pieces, as they will usually get some rust on them over the season and neglecting to clean them will only lead to more degradation of the material.
Last but not least make sure that your registration is up to date. If it's not, it is better to play it safe and update it before you get caught. This is also a good time to check and make sure that you have some kind of towing insurance. Whether that is through sea tow or Boat U.S., you want to make sure that your policy is still valid so if you do encounter an issue, you won't have to rely on someone else to tow you in.
Boating is a great way to get out and enjoy the outdoors. Whether you are a regular weekend boater, or you take your boat out every day, the time that you put into your boat in the spring will pay dividends in the long run. If you follow these simple steps, you can have your boat running all season long. I hope you have enjoyed this article and you get your boat out on the water with and enjoy the 2018 boating season.