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Mother Knows Best


Did you ever wonder why mom insisted on doing spring cleaning every year? Was she acting out some maternal ritual or did her apparent compulsion actually have some logic behind it? Why did she pick this particular time of the year to banish you to the playground so she could turn the house upside down? Why not do it in the summer or fall?

As always, there was a method to mom’s apparent madness. She knew that if she buckled down and performed these labors in the spring, she’d have all summer long to pursue more pleasurable activities, like bridge club and driving you to the pool. 

We could all learn something from our moms when it comes to spring commissioning. We tend to think about it as a procedure to get our boats ready to launch when we should look at it as the perfect time to do all those nit-picky but necessary maintenance chores so we won’t have to take time away from boating during the season. Looking at it in that light, there’s potentially a lot more work to do, but since it’s probably too soon to actually be out on the water, we can spare the time. And to those lucky enough to boat year round, having a set time of the year dedicated to upkeep makes a whole lot of sense too. 

If you live in a northern climate you probably prepped your engines last fall so they would be ready to go, but there are other chores to consider around your engine room beyond those required just to get your boat ready to go in the water. Let me suggest a few that perhaps you hadn’t thought of:


Do you have all the tools aboard that you need, or have some mysteriously migrated to parts unknown? Even if you normally carry just a minimum number of tools, now’s a good time to inventory what’s there. Nothing is more embarrassing than not being able to lay your hands on the proper screwdriver and having to try to make do with one of your dinner knives. (For a suggested list of a few speciality tools you should have aboard, see “All Kitted Out” ▶)


It’s common practice when a boat’s on the hard to open and close all seacocks a few times to make sure they’re working smoothly. But you should also shine a light up into each through-hull from the outside to make sure barnacles and other debris haven’t restricted the openings—a common cause of engine overheating. The same is true for external strainers, which often get clogged with barnacles and bottom paint.

Fire extinguishers 

A surveyor once told me that the most common failing he found while inspecting boats was expired or discharged fire extinguishers. Spring is a good time to haul yours out, inspect them, and replace or recharge them as necessary. And don’t forget to check that big one in your engine compartment; it needs periodic inspection and recharging as well.

Spare Parts 

Even if you never lose sight of land, you should keep a selection of basic spare parts aboard, especially things like filter elements, fuses, electrical components, clamps, and additives. You’re supposed to replace them as you use them but sometimes we do forget. Take an inventory to ensure you have everything aboard that you might need.

Steering Fluid 

When’s the last time you checked the level of hydraulic steering fluid in that reservoir on your engine-room bulkhead? Steering systems do occasionally leak, and low fluid is a sign to inspect your system. It’s better to find out now than lose steerage when you’re far from home.

Hose clamps 

I’m a little obsessive about these because I’ve been victimized by failed ones too many times. Cheap hose clamps rust, and all of them eventually loosen due to thermal expansion and vibration. A few minutes with a screwdriver—or better yet, a nut driver—will make sure yours are good for the season.

Drive belts 

Like any other rubber component, drive belts get brittle with age, stretch, and can become glazed, allowing them to slip. If they do, you may end up with an overheated engine or a dead battery—or both. Shine a strong light on each belt to look for cracks, a sign of aging, and a shiny underside, indicative of slippage. Check the belt tension—it should deflect about a half-inch. Less and you’ll stress a bearing, more and the belt will slip. 


You probably don’t need me to remind you to check your propeller blades for nicks and dings, but while you’re at it make sure to also cast an eye on the cotter keys and retaining nuts. It’s pretty rare for the keys to fail and the nut to loosen, but it does happen.

Sacrificial anodes (or if you prefer, zincs)

This is another no-brainer. Everyone checks them before spring launch, but you’d be surprised how often you miss one or two, like that one back there in the marine-gear heat exchanger. To prevent that, make an inventory and keep it with your important papers, and dab a bit of brightly colored paint on each head. 


This is probably not something you think about as part of spring commissioning, but I learned a few years back that it’s wise to make sure your policy is up to date and appropriate in terms of coverage and amounts. If the value of your boat has declined, as inevitably occurs, you may find you can reduce coverage and save a few bucks. More likely is that your policy doesn’t reflect all that new stuff you added last season. Make sure it’s covered!

As we all learn over and over, always trust your mother. Do your nautical spring cleaning and you’ll feel a lot better about playing around this summer, be it at bridge or boating.

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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