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March 2023

Checklist for Spring Launching

This information, in different form, was originally published on Boat Trader.

For boaters in the haul-out-and-hold-on zones of the chilly north, spring is a busy time. As soon as the weather breaks we start burrowing in garages and workshops, getting our gear together for launching. Of course the ease and speed of commissioning a boat in the spring is directly related to how well it was winterized when the leaves turned in the fall. Assuming that you put your boat away right, here’s a checklist of basic commissioning items to help you get underway.

Time to take off the winter coat. If you used shrink-wrap, it needs to be recycled.
  • Uncover your ride. If you use a high-quality tarp (not one of those lousy blue things) dry and fold it carefully for next season. If your boat is shrink-wrapped, take or send the old wrap to recycling. Do not throw it in a dumpster. It will come back to haunt you as a ghostly plastic nightmare.
  • If your topsides are looking dirty or drab, wash and compound them first, then wax them with good marine paste-wax. It shines better, protects better, and lasts longer than “easier” liquid wax products. No pain, no gain.
  • If you use an electric buffer, inspect the pad carefully for any debris that you might grind into the gelcoat. And keep that buffer moving – don’t hold it in one spot to hit a problem area, or you’ll have a problem area.
  • Don’t wax non-skid deck areas! Wash them and you’re done.
  • Use acid-based rust and stain removers sparingly, be careful how you rinse them, and avoid using them over an aluminum trailer.
  • Apply your antifouling paint. Don’t paint your running gear with copper-based paint without a barrier coat, and don’t paint your transducers at all.  If you have more to paint than just the bottom, here's a boat painting guide that will help.
  • Replace hull zincs.

Mechanical Systems

  • Outboard engines that have been properly inspected and winterized in the fall should be ready to roll. Even so, it's a good idea to take off the cowling and have a look around. Mice and other critters can make mischief over the winter. Double-check wires, hoses, hose clamps, oil condition, water intakes, and zincs. 
  • The procedure for inboard engines can vary quite a bit depending on what type of boat and engine you have, and can include different plugs, cooling system prep, and parts replacement. So you’ll have to follow the manufacturer’s specific recommended procedures. But the following items are pretty much universal:
  • Check all hose clamps and fittings. Tighten as necessary. Check hoses for cracking and chafe.
  • Check your wiring. Electrical connections suffer in the winter from temperature changes and humidity. Clean your terminals, change them if necessary, and spray with a corrosion inhibitor.
  • Check throttle and shift cables, lubricate with marine-grade Teflon or grease.
  • Check your seacocks for free movement and lubricate as needed. Open those that need to be open for launch (raw-water intake!) and close those that need to be closed.
  • Make sure your strainers are clear and clean.
  • Check steering cables or hydraulics for proper tightness, wear, leaks, and smooth movement of the engine, rudder, or outdrive.
  • Double-check fluid levels — lube oil, transmission oil, lower unit oil, coolant, etc. (These should have been checked or changed in the fall.)
  • Check heat exchangers for deposits and obstructions. Clear out your old zincs and install new ones. (Again, it's best to do this in the fall. And don't use acid cleaners with zincs installed in the heat exchanger.)
  • Check cooling water impellers and replace if necessary.
  • Check belts for wear and proper tension.
  • If your engine needs new spark plugs, wait to change them until after you’ve burned off last fall’s engine fogger residue.
  • Check engine zincs, replace if necessary.
  • On stern-drive boats, carefully inspect outdrive bellows for cracks and deterioration from winter weather.
Review your hose clamps before launch.

Plumbing Systems

  • Drain all plumbing lines of antifreeze. (You used the non-toxic pink stuff in the fall, right?) Dispose of it properly.
  • Fill your freshwater tanks.
  • Flush the plumbing lines with fresh water long enough that coloration (from the antifreeze) is no longer visible. Then, flush a little longer.
  • Open raw water intakes for the head, raw water washdowns, live-wells, and other plumbing systems.
  • Check all your hoseclamps for rust and tightness.

Boat Trailer

  • Spray all connections with contact cleaner.
  • Test your brakes if your trailer is equipped with them.
  • Grease wheel bearings (if you didn’t grease them in the fall), lubricate hitch mechanism, overhaul winch cable or strap and check for wear/weakness.
  • Carefully check your tires (you blocked the trailer up in the fall to prevent settling, right?), including treads and sidewalls, and inflate to proper pressure. Do the same for your spare.

Safety Gear

  • Make sure flares, fire-extinguishers, and other required equipment is up-to-date.
  • Check PFDs and stow them in an easy-to-access place.
  • Test bilge blowers and bilge pumps.
  • Overhaul your anchoring gear and stow it so that you can deploy the anchor quickly.
  • Make sure your first-aid kit is stocked and up-to-date.

Miscellaneous Checks

  • Are the batteries fully charged?
  • Is the registration renewed and have you put the current sticker on?
  • Is your boating license on board or in your wallet?
  • Sunscreen, bug repellent, toilet paper, plenty of fluids for the crew?
  • Drain plug installed? Repeat: drain plug installed?
  • Check. Check. Check. See you on the water.