Spring has sprung throughout most of the U.S. and that means it’s time to dive into the boating season. But first, take time to give your watercraft a thorough checkup before you head out on the water.
Captain Doug Beck of the Lake of the Ozarks Water Safety Council cautions boat owners to be aware of the important difference between maintaining a boat and a car.
“You can’t just turn the key and hit the road like you can with a car that’s been sitting for a few months,” Beck said. “Whether a boat has been in storage, on a trailer or sitting on a lift, there is a litany of things that need to be done before you get on the water.”
Learn to Love Your Owner’s Manual
Your spring prep to-do list varies depending on the winterization you performed in the fall and the type of engine, the manufacturer, and the boat model. In addition, marine engines are more complex than ever and often require work by a certified technician. Before you start tinkering with boat mechanics be sure you are up to the task. If you’re not, get help from an expert.
In addition to the many mechanical systems you need to address during spring prep, Captain Bob May of Bob’s No Wake Zone stressed that a detailed inventory of onboard safety gear should be at the top of every boater’s list.
“Addressing the mechanics is important, but a lot of people forget to inventory the safety gear they took off the boat at the end of the last season,” May said. “Life jackets, flares and fire extinguishers can corrode, expire and get moldy from storage. All safety equipment needs to be checked and if necessary, replaced before you get on the water.”
Must-Have Boat Safety Gear
Life jackets – Make sure all personal floatation devices are Coast Guard approved, in good repair and still fit. Learn more about proper life jacket fit and usage.
Fire Extinguishers – Boat fire extinguishers should be inspected monthly to ensure this vital safety device is ready when you need it: First, check the gauge to make sure it is still fully charged. Next, look at the seals to make sure they have not been broken. Then inspect the hose to make sure it is not cracked or broken; and replace it if you find it’s not in good condition. Dry chemical extinguishers should be weighed to make sure it meets the minimum weight specified on the label. Learn more about the type of fire extinguisher you need for your vessel and how to use one in an emergency.
Cellphone – Bring along your cellphone in a waterproof pouch and keep it handy in case of emergencies.
Weather radio or app – Keeping track of weather conditions I imperative to safe boating. Check the weather prior to getting on the water and set your notifications to alert you about severe weather that might spring up throughout the day. AccuWeather app article
Flares – Check the expiration date on your flares. If they are expired or will expire during boating season you are required to replace them. Learn more about safety flare requirements and usage.
Air Horn – Regardless of size or type, nearly all boats are required to have a sound making device. Be sure you have the appropriate device for your boat and know how to use them to signal for help.
First Aid Kit – Cuts, scrapes and more serious mishaps can happen on the water. Check to make sure your boat first aid kit is well-stocked with essential supplies such as adhesive bandages, gauze, tweezers, scissors, eyewash, burn cream and more. Check out our full list of items for your onboard first aid kit.
Navigation Lights – Make sure all navigation lights are working correctly and carry a few extra lights on the boat so you won’t be caught in the dark while on the water.
Knife to cut tow ropes or fishing line that might get tangled around propeller
Heavy duty flashlight
Skier down flag to signal other boaters someone is in the water.
Belts, Cables, Lines, Hoses and Clamps
Many hose manufacturers recommend replacing hoses every five years and most hoses will last well beyond that, but leaking or ill-fitting hoses can cause nagging problems and in severe cases, even sink your boat. Inspecting and replacing faulty hoses can prevent problems before you boat ends up at the bottom of the lake. Your annual spring hose pep should include:
Inspecting all hoses for stiffness, rot, leaking, cracking, bubbling up of the hose exterior and general deterioration of the hose layers. Pay special attention to any hoses that lay beneath the water line.
Check hose clamps for loose fit and signs of erosion.
Replace faulty hoses and clamps as needed making sure the clamps fit snugly around the hose.
Double clamp fuel lines and exhaust hoses with marine-rated stainless steel hose clamps. In fact, it is wise to double clamp all lines when possible.
Belts should fit tightly around pulleys to prevent slipping.
A black residue near the pulley and a loose fit indicates the belt is worn and should be changed.
Fuel System and Engine
Ever been stranded in the middle of a lake due to a clogged fuel line? I have. Follow these tips to avoid fuel mishaps.
Before you launch, be sure your fuel tank and lines are completely drained of stale fuel and fill up with a tank of fresh fuel. NOTE: Don’t fill your tank with fuel that contains more than 10% ethanol (E10) as it will damage your engine.
Use a fuel stabilizer additive if you don’t plan on using most of the fuel in your boat within a week or two.
Inspect fuel tanks, fuel pumps and filters for leaks.
Check all fluid levels, including engine oil, power steering, power trim reservoirs, and coolant.
Change the engine oil, oil filters, and drive lubricants if not already done during winterization.
If you have a water tank on your boat, now's a good time to check it as well. If water has been sitting in it over the winter, flush it out and refill it for your first outing.
Clean or replace fuel filters and/or fuel-water separators if this wasn’t done during winterization.
Remove and inspect exhaust manifolds for corrosion every few years. Test the engine, exhaust and ventilation systems to ensure they are functioning properly.
Inspect the bilge blower hose for leaks and run the blower to confirm correct operation.
Impellers are an important but often overlooked spring prep priority.
Most marine engines have a raw water pump with a flexible impeller that pumps raw water from outside the boat through the engine's water-cooling plumbing. Impellers should never run dry. They are made of hard rubber and running dry will cause them to rapidly deteriorate. Plus, over time, wear and tear can cause the impeller to break down, sending chunks of rubber
Always lubricate the pump housing when it is opened for inspection or to be replaced. This allows the pump to suck in water without abrading against the sides of the pump. Once water starts flowing, it will continue to lubricate the housing. NOTE: Always follow manufacturer recommendations when choosing a suitable lubricant. Some manufacturers claim that oil-based grease is bad for the material of which the impeller is made. Instead, they recommend using dishwashing liquid or other lubricant. Still, other manufacturers, marine mechanics and experts agree that oil-based grease is fine because it doesn't remain long once water is introduced to the inside of the pump body.
Replace the gasket or O-ring sealing the face plate that covers the impeller. Many manufacturers recommend spreading a little grease on it. Spreading grease or lubricant (as the manufacturer recommends) on the face plate will help to avoid dry start up friction where the impeller moves against the plate.
After changing an impeller, run the engine for a while and check to be ure there is no seepage around the face plate or anywhere else.
It’s a good idea to always carry a spare impeller. While it’s good to buy an impeller made by the same pump maker, it isn’t necessary. Just be sure to invest in a quality impeller – it will save you time, money and a lot of grief in the future.
Battery and Electrical Systems
According to TowBoatUS, one in 10 calls for help is due to a dead battery or other electrical issues. Be sure to check all electrical systems before your first outing of the season and get regular inspections performed by a qualified technician.
Charge battery and secure it with a battery tray that has a base you can screw or bolt to the boat and a rigid bracket or a locking strap to hold it in place.
Inspect, clean and tighten electrical connections, especially both ends of battery cables. Use a wire brush to clean battery terminals and top off cells with distilled water when applicable.
Inspect all electrical connections for clean, tight, corrosion free connections. Corroded connections can be dangerous.
Remove corroded terminals and use a wire brush to clean them, along with all cable ends.
Charge your battery and have it tested to ensure it can hold a charge.
If you don’t boat often, use a maintenance-type battery charger to keep the battery fully charged between outings.
Investing in a digital multimeter (battery meter reader) will give you a quick and easy way to accurately check the charge of your battery.
Removing spark plugs and inspecting the tips and electrodes can help you diagnose existing problems and save future repairs. It’s also a good idea to carry extra spark plugs and fuses in case one goes out while you are on the water.
The easiest way to ensure your boat is running on healthy spark plugs, is to simply replace them with new plugs each spring.
·To determine if your existing spark plugs are ship shape, remove a plug and look for water droplets or rust. These can be signs that water is getting into the cylinder due to a bad head gasket, water in the fuel, or with inboard engines, it can be caused by a bad exhaust manifold or riser.
Inspect the tip or firing nose for a gray or light beige color – this indicates your spark plug is operating at the right temperature and your engine is functioning normally.
Dry, soft and sooty black deposits indicate that you are running an excessively rich fuel mixture. A wet, oily coating on the tip can indicate a breached head gasket, or engine oil leaking past worn valve guides or piston rings, allowing oil into the combustion chamber. Tiny specs on the tip, or a fractured insulator may be signs of detonation, an uncontrolled ignition of fuel which could be catastrophic if not repaired.
Finally, check out the electrodes for signs of excessive wear. Rapid wear is frequently a sign of overheated plugs. This, along with misfiring while accelerating and/or difficulty in starting.
Often overlooked because it sits below water, propeller problems can mean dire consequences for a boat’s performance on top of the water.
Boaters should carefully inspect their props for hairline cracks, particularly in the leading and trailing edges. Also check for dings, pitting, cracks and distortion that can hinder your prop’s performance. These can be repaired, but if they aren’t fixed and fixed properly, you’ll eventually lose the blade and that’s damage that typically can’t be repaired.
Fishing line can cause big problems when caught in your prop. For this reason, you should perform in-depth prop maintenance at least two or three times throughout the boating season.
Start by completely removing the propeller from the engine to get rid of any stray fishing line that may have wrapped itself around the prop shaft.
After removing the line, wipe off all the grease on the propeller shaft and the seal surrounding the prop shaft at the rear of the gearcase. Carefully examine the seal for any scoring or wear.
If you suspect fishing line has damaged the prop shaft seal, have the lower unit looked at by a certified technician before using it again.
Otherwise, you can simply coat the propeller shaft with the manufacturer recommended marine grease, rubbing generous amounts of the grease onto the surface by hand. Reinstall the propeller; tighten the prop nut to spec and place a new cotter pin through the prop nut and prop shaft to keep the propeller where it belongs.
Inspecting your boat’s exterior isn’t just about making sure it shines on the outside. Unrepaired nicks, dings and scrapes can worsen over time leading to rust and corrosion that can compromise your hull.
When inspecting the hull, look for blisters, distortions and cracks. Be sure to clean the hull, deck, and topsides using an environmentally safe cleaning solution.
Also, make sure the drain plug is securely in place before every launch.
Don’t Resist Spring Prep
We know this is a mind-numbingly long to-do list, but paying attention to the details now, will reward you with hours of boating fun in the future. So start checking tasks off your list and gear up for summer fun on the water!!!