Spring Commissioning For Your Boat

Spring clean

The days are short and grey and the temperature around freezing. Spring seems a long way away and boating even further off. But you can use this time wisely and then you won't be caught napping when the finer weather and longer days call out to you to launch your boat. If you did winterise your boat, you will have saved yourself a lot of time and effort, as well as possible problems now, (see the article on "winter care for your boat", 21 Dec 2009). But if you didn't, don't worry; you can perform those tasks now.

The Engine, Fuel System and Bilges

The engine is probably the most important piece of machinery on your boat, as well as taking the greatest amount of time to sort out. As it is also the messiest, it is a good idea to start here, and get it out of the way. If the oil was not changed at the end of the season, do it now and change the oil filter. 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 cooling system should be flushed and the antifreeze replaced. Check and replace the batteries as necessary, and start the engine to test that it is running smoothly. Test out the bilge pump after making sure that there is no oil in the bilges. Check that the pump works and the filters are free from blockages. Inspect terminal blocks and connections for corrosion. Lubricate and grease anything that needs it, and make one of those essential lists to make sure you don't miss any important areas.

Electronics and safety

Bring all electronic and safety items on board and do a thorough test to make sure that they are all working properly. Make sure you have the right sized life jackets for yourself and all the crew, and review their condition. 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. Make a list of all these items on board to make sure that none are forgotten. Review how they are stored, and what condition they were left in. A tangled life-line is no good to anyone, and an out of date fire extinguisher or flare could easily cost someone their life. Don't forget the outboard dinghy. This often gets missed out and might benefit from some TLC.


Check vinyl, canvas and all upholstery carefully for any dirt, mildew and tears. Repair holes and tears and clean with a recommended cleaner. Don't forget to check your pots and pans etc. in case someone put them away dirty.

The Hull

If your boat has been out of the water during winter, examine the hull carefully for any cracks, chips or blisters and repair as necessary. If there is a chalky residue it could be a sign of oxidation, which may need treatment. Clean and wax it with recommended materials. Inspect your sea cocks and all hoses and clamps.


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.

Wipers on power boats

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.

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.


Now might be a good time to review when this was last done, and whether it needs attention.

Paper work

Make sure that your boat registration, insurance, VAT papers etc. are all in order and stowed in a safe place.

If you need a repair 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.

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 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.


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.


Make a list of all the spring commissioning tasks you have done ready for next year. You could also make a winterising list for the end of the season so that next spring's tasks are less arduous. A shopping list of items for your boat might also be useful in case you see some early special offers.

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. 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.

All finished? Time to go boating…

Author – Dee White

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