Prepare for a Carefree Boating Season

Posted: April 1, 2012

Get organized with a to-do list.

By: Deane Hislop

It’s time to gear up for another memorable season on the water. In the spring rush to get the boat ready, it’s tempting to just paint the bottom and get back to cruising again. But to do so without a thorough inspection can be an invitation to future trouble.

We all want our boat to run well and enjoy a trouble-free season. We want to go where we want to and do what we want without having to worry about mechanical failures, and it’s time to make a concerted effort to prevent them.

The extra hours that it takes to methodically inspect vital systems and to make repairs where necessary will save time spent broken down at the dock or in a boatyard. As with so many of life’s other endeavors, preparation is the key to success. Don’t neglect the details. A loose connection or fastener can lead to a major calamity. A couple of weekends of preventative effort can lead to weeks of carefree boating.

You’ll need a list of things to do and a list of the necessary tools, parts and supplies with which to do them. Nothing slows down spring maintenance more than repeatedly running to the store because you don’t have a hose clamp, a chamois, a tube of grease or a fuel filter. The lists are reciprocal in nature. The “to-do” list will generate entries on the “tools and supplies” list, and when you go over the supplies you have on hand, you’ll remember things to do.

Whether you have a runabout or a motoryacht, having a step-by-step to-do list will concentrate your effort and get the job done faster. What follows is my boat’s spring to-do list. It’s laid out to help organize the annual ritual of spring maintenance, making the tasks more manageable. And most importantly, it will help you identify and fix problems now, before they become problems under way.

Spring maintenance to-do list:


• Clean sea strainer baskets

• Inspect through-hulls and ensure seacocks are working

• Check the stuffing box for abnormal leakage; tighten or replace packing gland if required 

• Check auto and manual operation of bilge pumps

• Check thruster reservoir for leaks and fill 

• Check trim tab reservoir for leaks and fill 

• Replace absorbent pad in the bilge and check for signs of fluid leaks

Freshwater System

• Flush tank

• Inspect the air vent line to ensure line is clear

• Inspect waterlines for leaks

• Test pump operation

• Replace in-line filter

Deck Hardware, Hull & Dinghy

• Check deck hardware fittings for tightness, especially the rail stanchions

• Check sacrificial zincs and replace as required

• Wash and wax boat and deck gear

• Clean Bimini and covers

• Clean and inspect dinghy and davits

• Check window wiper blades for cracks and deterioration

• Remove anchor chain from locker, and inspect rode, shackles and length markers

• Clean and oil windlass

• Check O-ring on water- and fuel-fill caps

• Clean, inspect for cracks and apply light coat of oil to porthole gaskets

• Inspect shore-power cord and the connections

• Service kicker and dinghy motors 

• Inspect dock lines and anchor rode for wear

Electrical System

• Check battery condition and fluid level, and clean the terminals

• Reconnect battery cables, positive cable first; apply protective grease to minimize corrosion

• Check DC electrical panel and terminal ­connections to ensure all connections are clean and tight

• Test bilge blower to ensure proper operation

• Once engine is running, check all gauges 

• Test propane/gas sniffers

• Check operation of all electrical appliances

• Check cabin, anchor and navigational lights

• Test horn to ensure it’s working

• Service generator


• Close coolant pet-cocks if drained in the fall

• Inspect raw-water pump impeller, and replace if required

• Check engine oil and transmission fluid condition and level; add or change if required

• Check coolant overflow bottle’s fluid level

• Replace fuel filters and add biocide to fuel

• Check drive belt condition and tension 

• Inspect belt tension bearing

• Inspect for fluid leaks

• Check engine coolant level and condition; replace if required

• Check coolant hose condition and replace 

• Check pencil zinc in cooling system and replace if flaking

• Inspect and clean air cleaner/spark arrester

• Flush heat exchanger, gear oil cooler and raw-water after-cooler

• Open fuel shut-off valve, if equipped

• Ensure engine mounts and drive coupling nuts are tight

• Check exhaust clamps and hoses

• Inspect sparkplugs’ cables, if applicable, for cracking or brittleness

• On non-electric ignitions, change points, condenser, rotor and distributor cap

• Ensure seawater discharge at exhaust when engine is running

• Test engine alarms to ensure operation

Furnace/Air Conditioner

• Run furnace to ensure proper operation

• Check for fuel and fluid leaks

• Check fluid level on hydronic units

• Replace fuel filter


• Check operation and service as required

• Inspect hoses and clamps

• Replace breather tube filter

• Ensure breather vent is not blocked

• Check Y-valve and macerator

• Clean shower sump-pump filter


• Replace CO2 detector batteries

• Clean interior

• Restock galley

• Replace items taken off the boat in the fall


• Defrost freezer

• Clean and restock

• Check 12v and 110v operation

Range and Stove

• Fill and inspect propane bottle if applicable 

• Check range and stove operation

• Inspect for gas leaks

Safety Equipment

• Check flares’ expiration dates and replace if necessary

• Service fire extinguishers if required

• Service life raft

• Replenish first-aid kit and replace expired items

• Ensure PFDs are in good condition

• Ensure all required safety equipment is on board

Spare Parts and Tools

• Replenish all essential spares for the season (hoses, belts, impellers, fuses, bulbs, filters, etc.)

• Ensure at least the basic tools are stored on board

Steering System

• Check reservoir level

• Check mechanical systems for wear and rust; lube as required

• Inspect and lubricate cables and linkage

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