How to Get Your Boat Ready for Water in Spring

Boats at port

In the Northern Hemisphere, the seasons are changing, and many boat owners are eager to get in the water as soon as possible. If you live in a place with dry, cold winters, you’ve likely had your boat in storage for the past several months—and it’s finally time to take it out and enjoy it the way it was meant to be enjoyed.

However, before you get it to the water, there are several measures you should take to ensure it’s in good shape—and prepare it to function properly.

Do a Visual Inspection

Your first job should be to run a quick visual inspection. If you kept your vessel under a tarp or canvas, check it for any tears or external damage that could have compromised its ability to keep your boat protected. Once you take it off, inspect your boat thoroughly with your eyes. You may notice bits of damage, rust, or worn components that need your attention.

Some of the most obvious things you might notice are cracks in the hull, or scratches to the paint. This is the perfect opportunity to repair these flaws.

If there is a chalky residue on a GRP hull it could be a sign of oxidation, which may need treatment. Clean and wax it with recommended materials.

Now is a good time to check your anti-fouling; when it was last done, and does it needs attention?

While you’re walking around the boat, this is also a good chance to check all your screws and fittings. Are these nice and tight? Are they properly lubricated? Also, inspect your sea cocks and all hoses and clamps.

Wash and Wax the Boat

Even if you kept your boat well-protected, there’s a good chance it accumulated dust, debris, and mildew over the winter. Before you set it in the water, it’s important to give it a thorough cleaning. This will prevent the further build-up of more materials, improve the vessel’s resilience to external damage, and overall make it look nicer. While washing the vehicle, make sure you’re using maritime cleaning products; conventional auto cleaning products may damage the vessel.

Next, apply a layer of wax to the boat. Some people believe that waxing is just about making the boat shiny, or prettier when it’s in the water. However, this thin coat of wax also serves as a layer of protection. Wax will shield your vessel from the elements, including harsh sunlight, and keep it resistant to damage.

Clear the Bilge

Take a look at the bilge. Sometimes, rain, melted snow, and other forms of water can accumulate here over the course of a long winter—especially if your boat wasn’t adequately shielded from precipitation. Test out the bilge pump, ensuring that the pump works, and the filters are free from blockages and pump the water out before you set your boat in water.

Charge Your Battery

Over time, the battery on your vessel will slowly lose its charge. If you’ve left it untouched for many months in winter, the battery may be nearly drained. Accordingly, it’s a good idea to check and charge your battery before you head out on any kind of voyage. Fortunately, this is an easy process. Your battery may be mounted in a hard-to-reach area of your boat, but once you locate it, you can turn the battery off, lift the lid, and check its terminals and connections.

Sometimes, you’ll need to perform some light cleaning to get rid of corrosion or dirt. After that, you can start the charging process, connecting your battery charger to the battery directly. Not all battery chargers are equally good for your battery life, so be wary.

Conduct Basic Maintenance

There are many boating components that require periodic attention and maintenance, so seasonal changes are a good time to consider them. For example, you’ll need to change the oil in your boat, just as you would a land-based motor vehicle. Most experts recommend changing the oil at least once a year, or after 50 hours of use. You may also want to perform an outdrive service.

If you’re conducting a thorough inspection, you’ll want to look at:

  • The fuel system. The fuel system is a vital component of your vessel, so give it a thorough inspection for any leaks, brittleness, or cracking. You may need to replace some components if they present a safety hazard. Additionally, you’ll want to check the engine, exhaust, and ventilation systems.

    You should have drained the fuel tank before winter or filled it to about 95%, to reduce water vapour collecting in the tank. Water is the greatest enemy of diesel fuel injection components. Once water enters the fuel system it will rapidly wear and oxidise steel components, leading to rusting, corrosion, wear and seizure. The space between the fuel and the water is also a breeding ground for the Diesel Bug, a bacterial formation which contaminates the fuel by producing waste, usually evident as black or dark lumps. The sludge can drop to the bottom of the tank or may be suspended in the fuel. Either way it could clog up the filters and lead to expensive damage, but it can be treated and rectified by additives or filtration.
  • The electric system. All your electrical components should be clean, tightly connected, and corrosion free. If you don’t replace these problematic components, they could present a fire hazard or interfere with your vessel’s ability to operate.
  • Belts, cables, and hoses. Belts, cables, and hoses can wear out quickly, so don’t assume they’re in full working order unless you manually check them. Worn belts are easy to spot, due to leaving behind black residue or fitting poorly. Most of these components are easy to replace.
  • Fluid levels. Your oil is one of the most important fluids in your vessel, but it’s also important to check your power steering, and power trim reservoirs. If the oil was not changed at the end of the season, do it now and change the oil filter. The cooling system should also be flushed and the antifreeze replaced.
  • Propellers and hulls. Look for any pitting, cracks, or distorted shaping in your propellers and hulls. In mild cases, these can lead to vibrations. In severe cases, they can wreck your drivetrain.
  • Check the sacrificial anodes. Replacing any that are more than half-depleted is usually a good rule-of-thumb.
  • Lubricate and grease anything that needs it. Every boat is different so make a list to be sure you don't miss any important areas, and this will make the task easier next time.
  • Rigging and sails. On sailing boats, inspect rigging for broken wires as well as running backstays and halyards. Check all lines and sheets for chafing. Spin the winches to check that they purr smoothly. If they don't, now is the time to strip and service them according to the instructions in your manual.

    Your sails should have all been checked before winter and dried thoroughly before being stowed. If you have any doubts about their condition, check them again now, before you need to rely on them in windy conditions.
  • Metal and teak. A bright appearance will not just make your boat look more appealing, but regular cleaning will avoid pitting and corrosion. Use a good metal polish recommended for boats and be prepared to sand down the teak from time to time and apply stain and varnish or teak oil.
  • Wipers. Inspect and replace as necessary and apply a rubber lubricant to protect the wipers from the marine weather. Some people recommend stowing the wipers until needed to lengthen their lives.
  • Over-winter damage and airing. Check the boat carefully for any leaks that may have developed and look to see if you have had any unwelcome visitors, such as mice, who may have found a comfortable home in your seat cushions. Open the boat up on a dry spring day so that it is thoroughly aired.
  • Bits and pieces. Round up all the equipment you took off the boat at the end of autumn. Make sure it's all clean, tidy and in good condition, also whether you really need it. Boats can get so cluttered. Look over the chart table and check that it is well equipped, not forgetting the condition of your charts. They may need replacing.
  • Trailer. If you trailer the boat, check it carefully and inspect the tyres, checking air pressure. (Don't forget the spare). Make sure all the fasteners and welds are in good condition and nothing is loose or broken. Hook it up to your vehicle and check all the lights and connections. Don't assume it is fit for purpose and then be disappointed when you want to head off to the sea.
  • Start the engine to test that it is running smoothly. Marine engines are usually cooled by seawater, so it’s best to do this once your boat is in the water. If your engine has a coolant tell-tale, check that water is spurting out – this indicates the coolant water is flowing correctly.

Conduct a Safety Check

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you’ll want to perform a safety check for your vessel. Do you have the proper number of life jackets, and are they in good enough condition to keep your passengers safe? Be sure to evaluate the class and size of each life jacket, to ensure they’re meeting the recommended specifications for each of your passengers. If you have auto-inflating life jackets, it is a good idea to have a couple of the right size spare gas cylinders and auto releases on board in case one of the life jackets is used.

Do you have the correct class and number of fire extinguishers? Are they charged, and currently stored in the correct place, and are they in date? Do you have at least one installed carbon monoxide detector, and is it working properly?

Ensure you have the right compliment of flares for where you intend to use the boat (e.g. coastal/offshore), and check their condition and that they’ve not expired.

You may be able to take advantage of a safety inspection as conducted by a formal organization, like the US Coast Guard (USCG), USCG Auxiliary, or US Power Squadrons or The Boat Safety Scheme in the UK, to double check your work.

Making it Easy

This is only a rough guide, and far more detailed information can be obtained from your boat and engine manual. If the whole process seems too onerous, many boatyards will do it for you – at a price.

If you need any repairs done by a boatyard, or a new piece of equipment fitted, get it scheduled early. Don't wait for the start of the season when the yards will be busy, and you want to be on the water.

But you know your own boat and may take great pride in working on it yourself, as well as knowing exactly what has been done.

If you’re interested in getting a new boat, or trading yours in, take advantage of the listings at TheYachtMarket. You can search for boats for sale, either new or used, or list your own boat as available for purchase.

All finished? Time to go boating…

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