SPRING IS HERE…
Commissioning Tips to Prepare Your Boat for Launch
Prepared by Jorge Pecci, SafeWaters Underwriting Managers
Caution: every boat is different and your boat may need additional service attention that this list does not cover. Having an experienced professional perform the work is always a good idea.
I. Engine and Running Gear
Raw Water Pump Impeller
If you didn’t replace your impeller during winter storage, install a new one and keep the one you removed as a spare.
- Change these at least every other year. They wear and become harder to tension.
- They should deflect no more than half an inch when pushed with a finger.
- Keep the belt you’ve just swapped out as a spare.
If you didn’t replace them during winter storage, replace your primary and secondary fuel filter elements.
Tip: Treat a generator like the engine it is.
In the spring, start it up, put it under load, make sure it shifts properly before you go out and run it up to full operating temperature.
- Grab hold of the propeller and push it from side to side. There should be little, if any, movement. If there is, you may have a problem with your cutless
- Over time, the packaging material gets compressed and hardens, and the lubricating grease wears off.
- Traditional stuffing boxes with a packing gland and flax packing should never drip more than one to three times a minute when running in gear and should keep the bilge almost dry when not running.
- While you’re there, give your prop a good cleaning and get it nice and shiny as you’re pondering what kind of fouling prevention, if any, you’re going to apply.
- Now is also a good time to check your prop for impact damage or dezincification.Periodically, the packing nut needs adjusting; if the gland leaks too much, packing needs to be replaced
Tip: Pay attention to the condition of the hose surrounding the stuffing box and replace if worn.
- Those on your prop shaft will certainly need to be replaced.
- If you have a saildrive, check the pencil zinc in the drive leg and if it is more than half eroded, replace it.
- Raw-water cooled diesels will have one or more pencil anodes situated in inconvenient locations around the block; these too must be checked and probably replaced. Some freshwater-cooled diesels also have zincs in their heat exchangers.
- Watch for signs of electrolysis resulting from stray current entering the water through a shore power system issue or more likely, from a boat that has a faulty ground.
- Changing anodes and maintaining corrosion protection is critical. It is highly recommended you change your anodes every year.
Sail and stern drives can literally be eaten away when their protective anodes become corroded.
Diesel Engines Air Filter
- Clean air filter, if installed.
- Once you’re up and running and the engine is under load, note the color of the exhaust. This will tell you what is going on inside your engine.
Black exhaust indicates either too much fuel or not enough air, or an unsuitable prop. Check for a clogged air intake or improperly adjusted fuel system.
Blue smoke indicates that oil is burning in the combustion chamber. Possible causes could be worn piston rings or cylinder walls, worn valve guides, or a clogged crankcase ventilator. Refer to your engine log and note last year’s oil consumption. If it gradually increased over the year, do a compression test on each cylinder before calling a mechanic.
Engine and Transmission Oil
- If you have not changed the engine oil at winter storage, do so now. You can’t change the oil in a saildrive leg when the boat is in the water, so this is a job you should do every couple of years before launching.
- When replacing engine oil, always replace the oil filter.
II. Batteries & Electrics
If you’ve left your batteries on board over winter, check electrolyte levels and top stage up as necessary and hook them up to a trickle charger.
When batteries are reconnected in the spring, test them with a voltmeter in case the dashboard gauge is not accurate.
If the battery registers 12.7 volts, in general, you have a healthy battery.
- If you only have 11.7 volts, the battery is significantly weakened.
- It’s wise to check batteries before storage and again in the spring to compare.
- If you load-test batteries in the fall, you can arrange for replacements over the winter.
- Inspect all terminals for signs of corrosion. Grease the posts and clamps with Vaseline.
- If your terminals still have wingnuts, take this opportunity to replace them with nylocs or nuts with lock washers—they are more secure.
- Open your distribution panel and inspect the connections by wiggling the wires where they enter the terminals. If any connections are bad, better to know now than find out on the water.
Tip: When you connect a battery charger, come back in a while and check voltages and the temperature of the battery by touching it. If it is hot and the voltages don’t seem right, the battery is likely faulty and needs to be replaced.
Speed Log Transducer
Remove the speed log transducer, push out the pin that holds the paddlewheel in place and clean off the remnants of the fouling that accumulated on it the previous season. Paint it with transducer antifouling.
- If your mast has been out for the winter, ensure that all the electrical cables and VHF antennahave been reconnected correctly. Don’t trust the boatyard rigger to have done this.
- Stick your head inside the anchor lockerand check the electrical connections on the windlass motor.
- It is common to find corrosion on these. Disassemble, clean and reassemble with a coating of Vaseline or other dielectric grease.
- If the windlass has foot switches, inspect their wiring connections too.
- Finally, look at the DC ground connectionto the engine block. This is a prime source of electrical problems.
- Make sure the wire terminal is clean and secure,
- Smear it with Vaseline.
III. On Deck and Below Deck
- Lower your anchor and lay out the rode for inspection. It’s better to find a damaged nylon rode now than when you least expect. This is a great time to re-apply markings on the chain and/or rope.
- Check that anchor shackles are securely moused with seizing wire—preferably monel—and that the bitter end of the rode is secured to the boat!
- Have the tackle ready to deploy in case the engine quits between the launch well and your slip.
- Setting the anchor will keep you safe until help arrives.
You service your winches every year, don’t you?
- Doing this every second year should be adequate. It’s better to service your winches while your boat is on the hard. That way, if anything falls overboard, you can usually find it.
- Clean the parts with mineral spirits or diesel (which you can later pour into the used engine oil container you’re taking to the recycling center) and do not use grease on the pawls and springs, just a few drops of engine oil.
- Flush out the antifreeze in your water system with freshwater, then partially fill the tank, add a quarter cup of Chlorox, and run each faucet/foot pump in turn until the water coming out smells of bleach.
- Let stand two or three hours, then flush the system through again. This should kill any bacteria that have made their homes in the water system.
- Carefully inspect each of your lifelines, paying particular attention to where the wire enters the terminals. This is where they are most likely to fail.
- Vinyl-coated stainless wire is particularly suspect, because the white coating often hides rampant rust.
- If vinyl-coated lifelines are more than a few years old, it would be good to replace them.
- Check that all your blocks spin freely. If they don’t, rinse them out with freshwater.
- You usually don’t need to lubricate.
- Test your electric bilge pump and float switch by pouring a quart or so of water into the bilge sump.
- The lowly bilge pump deserves top-level attention.
- Test float switches and alarms – these boat and life-saving devices are inexpensive and deserve to be replaced occasionally to ensure top performance.
- Test your manual bilge pump Typically, these never get used, and the diaphragms can harden and crack.
Check all electrical connections to pumps and other important systems: the image below shows what water does to them.
- Look over your propane stoveand make sure the delivery hose has not become chafed or kinked.
- Test the solenoid operation; light the stove to be sure all burners are working. Check the propane tank locker and it’s overboard drain.
- Flush the drain to ensure that the hose is intact and not clogged.
- Never let propane drain into the bilge.
- Refrigerators and ice makers sometimes have a water line.
- Make sure it’s not leaking once the appliance is turned on.
- Air-conditioning on boats use raw water for cooling and heating; at the start of the season it can be hard to prime the pump.
- Some units have wing nuts to enable priming of the AC line; loosen the fitting until water escapes, then tighten it again and the system should be primed.
- Check the overboard discharge to ensure there is a stream of cooling water.
Pump a 50:50 solution of water and white vinegar through the headsand leave it overnight to clean mineral deposits on the inside of the bowl, pump and valves.
- Follow up with a healthy shot of washing-up liquid or baby oil to lubricate the pump.
- Check and operate all seacocks to make sure they are free to turn.
- Cone-type seacocks can be easily disassembled and lubricated; to grease a ball valve, close it, then apply a dollop of waterproof grease from both inside and outside the boat.
- A slim paintbrush or stick with a glob of grease on its end is an ideal applicator; inside the boat, you’ll have to take off the relevant hose, apply the grease and reinstall the hose.
- Work the valve a few times to distribute the grease.
- Always keep a wooden plug handy or attached to the seacock for emergencies.
Check all hose clamps. Even so-called “marine” fittings can corrode.
- It is critical to check all hose clams and hose condition.
- If you kept your boat out of the water during winter, even a dip in a hose can create a problem if it doesn’t drain fully and the freeze-thaw cycle creates a leak. – Conduct a thorough search for leaks after the initial launch.
- It’s a great idea to keep the boat in the slings or on the trailer until you’re sure no water is entering.
- If it’s cable and quadrant, check that the chain is lubricated and the cables are correctly tensioned—about 1in of deflection is appropriate.
- Run a rag or folded-over piece of paper towel along the cable to check for meat hooks. Make sure the cotter pins are in place on the clevis pins securing the sheaves: these have a habit of working free (always fit the clevis pins with the flange uppermost, so they can’t drop out if the pin does come adrift).
- Spin the wheel from side to side and listen and feel for any signs of binding or play in the system.
- Inspect each of your turnbuckles. It’s rare, but the barrels can crack. The studs, too, can suffer from crevice corrosion.
- Make sure that cotter pins are securely in place; bend back any protruding pin ends and tape over them.
- Closely inspect the gooseneck and boomvang connections on the mast and boom for corrosion, small cracks, loose fasteners and any other signs of wear and tear.
A Teflon-based or other dry lubricant in a spray can with a long plastic nozzle will get them turning; for longer-term lubrication, you’ll have to remove the sheaves and apply a heavier grease that won’t be washed away in the first rainstorm.
- Note that some sheaves are self-lubricating and shouldn’t be greased.
- Check for cracking around the sheave boxes, shroud tangs, and where halyards exit the mast.
- These are signs of metal fatigue and could signal the beginning of the end for the spar.
Signs of discoloration or rust at the points where rigging wire enters terminals indicate that the wire may be nearing the end of its life.
Another sign is “fishhooks” or broken strands. Check every toggle and make sure the cotter pins are secure.
- Before launching, make sure all safety equipment is on board and up to date:
- Life jackets
- Fire extinguishers, etc.
- Do a vessel safety check. It’s not just the police who do safety checks. Do your own safety check a day or so after launching to ensure a problem hasn’t developed since it went into the water.
- When you cast off for the first time, make sure you bring in all of the lines, including the shore power cord!
IV. Outboard Engines
- As the engine warms to its normal operating temperature (this should take 10 to 15 minutes), use a digital temperature gauge to check the powerhead at several key points to make sure it’s heating evenly and that there are no “hot spots” that could indicate a problem.
- Check the alternator with a voltmeter to see if it’s putting out the correct charge.
- The optimal charge should be between 14 and 14.5 volts. Any higher or lower could indicate a problem.
Shift & Throttle
- Check the shift and throttle controls from the helm. If the boat has electronic controls, this needs to be done while the engine is running.
- Shifting between gears should be easy and smooth, but not too loose.
- After checking the shift and throttle, perform a “lock-to-lock” check of the steering to ensure ease of movement.
- Again, the steering should be nice and smooth, with no binding, sticking or play in the wheel.
- Any play could indicate low hydraulic fluid level or a leak in the line.
- Replacing the sacrificial anodes (zincs) on the engine and other metal parts can be done in the fall or spring.
- A boat that spends a lot of time in saltwater should have its zincs replaced annually.
Spark Plug Replacement
- The spark plugs used in today’s high-performance engines are not cheap, running upwards of $20 per plug. To extend the working life of the plugs, maintain a “winterizing set” and a “summer running set.”
- At the end of each season, remove the summer plugs and install the winterizing plugs to burn off the oil and winterizing fluids during the commissioning process in the spring.
- Replace the winter plugs with the summer plugs.
- If you didn’t do this in the fall, inspect the prop for signs of damage.
- A bent, chipped or cracked prop can rob an engine of efficiency and affect the boat’s top speed and performance.
- Also make sure there is no fishing line wrapped around the prop or shaft.
Paint & Wax
Cover any dings or chips on the outboard housing or skeg with touch-up paint. Also consider applying a coat of wax to the engine cowling.
Check the engine mounting nuts on the transom to make sure they are tight and secure.