Spring Commissioning Checklist

For those of us who live in northerly climes, the perceptible change in temperature these days, from cold to moderate, often results in our engaging in what some would deem rather odd behavior. With glazed eyes and lock-step gait and foregoing sustenance, shelter, and the company of family, we make our way down to the boatyard to perform an annual rite: spring commissioning.

To assist you in this hallowed seafaring tradition, we’ve prepared the following checklist to make it easier for you to prepare for another season. For those whose lat/lon coordinates mean warm weather year-round, the list will hopefully provide a reminder that spring is a good time to do your annual maintenance.

The Basics

  •   If you didn’t do it before going up on the hard, drain and flush the engine coolant. Replace engine coolant, including additives, with that recommended by the engine manufacturer. Keep enough coolant onboard for one complete change (not for outboards).
  •   Drain and flush the antifreeze material you used for your head and galley water system until the water runs clear.
  •   Check the amount of material left on your engine zincs, and replace any that are half-gone. Keep spares onboard.
  •   Make sure all through-hull fittings are in working order and free of corrosion. Work them back and forth until they move smoothly. Clean and grease if necessary, and leave in the open position.
  •   Inspect all hoses and hose clamps, and replace if any signs of wear–splitting, soft spots, corrosion–are present. Keep spares onboard.
  •   Inspect engine drive belts. There should be no more than 1š2-inch play between pulleys. If there is, the belt is stretched and should be replaced. Also make sure there are no splits, gouges, tears, or glazing. Keep spares onboard.
  •   Change lube and transmission/lower unit oil and fuel filters if you didn’t do it while winterizing. When changing fuel filters, do not prime them with unfiltered fuel. Use your engine’s priming pump if you have one. If not, filter enough fuel to fill the canister by pouring it through a spare. Keep spare filters onboard and at least enough oil for one complete oil change.
  •   Charge batteries, and check the state of charge in each cell with a hydrometer. Clean the top surfaces with a solution of one box of baking soda to a quart of water. Brush on and wipe off after any bubbling stops. Rinse with fresh water and wipe dry. Also check cables and wiring for corrosion and wear, and replace if necessary. Terminals and connections should be shiny. If not, clean with an emery cloth and coat with a liquid insulating material such as Star brite’s Liquid Electrical Tape.
  •   Replace all nonengine zincs. If any signs of wear are present, replace them. That way you’ll be confident that you have a full year of protection.
  •   Inspect all pump impellers, especially those on raw-water pumps, and replace as needed. Keep spares onboard.
  •   Examine the hull above and below the waterline for blistering. If any blisters are present, repair before launching.
  •   Inspect ground-tackle shackles. Check your anchor line for fraying or degradation, especially where chafing occurs during normal lowering and hauling of the anchor.
  •   Washdown the entire boat.
  •   If you used ablative bottom paint last year, clean and repaint the bottom. Most nonablative paints are good for two seasons.
  •   Start the engines and check fuel lines, oil lines, filters, pumps, and pressure caps for leaks. Turn on all electric switches to make sure everything works, and test all lights for burned-out bulbs.
  •   Inspect fuel/water separators, and drain any water present. Clean or replace filter element as necessary.
  •   Checkunder carpets and runners and especially in closets for mold and mildew, and wash with a mild solution of bleach and water–two parts water to one-half part bleach–or use one of the many products on the market designed for this purpose.
  •   If you’re replacing props on inboard-engine boats, install new cotter pins.

Stern Drives

  •   Replace spark plugs (gasoline engines only).
  •   Inspect lower units for dings, scrapes, and scratches, and repaint as per manufacturer’s recommendations. Subsurface bubbling indicates corrosion, and the area should be cleaned, primed, and painted.
  •   Check lower-unit lube oil level. Look for signs of water intrusion, such as milky oil.
  •   Clean flame arrestor (gasoline engines only).
  •   Examine the hydraulic rams on the trim cylinders, making sure they are coated with oil and are not corroded.
  •   Pullall zincs, including the one ahead of the prop. If signs of wear are present, it’s best to put in new ones, as you’ll soon have to change them anyway once your boat is launched and you begin using her. Always make sure they are the same size. Other zincs are located on the upper portion of the lower unit and on the underside of the transom shield. Before replacing the prop, coat the prop shaft splines with fresh grease. When replacing the prop, always use a new lock washer.

Outboards, Gasoline Inboards, Diesels

Outboard Motors

  •   Replace spark plugs.
  •   Check external gasoline tanks for corrosion, and replace if necessary. Look for cracks in the priming bulb, and test it for firmness and resiliency. If it collapses, replace it.
  •   Notethe color of the lube oil in the lower unit. If it’s cloudy, there’s probably a leak around the prop-shaft seal. Fix it and change the oil.
  •   Lookfor leaks around the trim cylinders.

Gasoline Inboards

  •   Replace spark plugs.
  •   Clean flame arrestor.

Diesel Engines

  •   Clean air filter, if installed.
  •   Once you’re up and running and the engine is under load, note the color of the exhaust. This can 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 in a mechanic.
  •   If your oil filters are spin-on units, apply a thin film of oil to the gasket and hand-tighten when replacing. If the filter is a cartridge, make sure the O-ring gasket is properly seated before reinstalling. Filters should be topped off with clean oil before starting your engine.

This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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