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Springtime Without Tears

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Launch day means spring has finally arrived. Soon you’ll be out on the water again, and all will be right with the world. That’s the plan, anyway. But first make sure the old barge is up to snuff, that the boatyard did everything you asked, and that gremlins didn’t create springtime problems that weren’t there in the fall. Here are a few tips, along with suggestions for routine maintenance that for most skippers is anything but.


1. In wrapping up your transaction with the boatyard, work orders and the bill are your Old and New Testaments. Reconcile them: Make sure the yard finished everything on the work order, including any additional winter jobs. Match the completed tasks with the bill, since mistakes are common; in fairness to the yard, most are honest errors, and a few minutes with the yard manager will set things right. If nonessential jobs have neither been done nor billed, bring the boat back after the springtime rush.

2. Make sure everything taken apart has been reassembled. Have any hoses that were removed from through-hulls during winterization been replaced and double clamped, for instance? Are the batteries reinstalled correctly, properly secured, and their posts and clamps cleaned? If the batteries are not fully charged, find out why not—maybe the yard “forgot” to remove them. If they wintered aboard, slowly self-discharging, they might have frozen if the weather was frigid, and a frozen battery can’t be brought back from the dead. Ask the yard manager to explain. Also check all your antennas, which were lowered before the cover was fitted; they are easily cracked or broken during shrink-wrapping.

3. Look for inadvertent breakage and incomplete or poorly done work. Sometimes in fixing one thing, a yard worker will damage another and maybe “forget” to mention it to the foreman. One PMY staffer’s fuel manifold was broken when the yard crew reinstalled his batteries. No one noticed, so when he arrived to pick up his boat, she almost turned into a bomb. Check carefully anywhere the yard did work—carry a flashlight and mechanic’s mirror, and take your time.


4. Clean the water tanks and plumbing by flushing out the faucets, showers, washdowns, etc., with clean water. The tanks should have been stored nearly empty, with nontoxic antifreeze added to what remained, and the mixture pumped through the lines. Use enough water to clear the plumbing, but not so much that antifreeze contaminates a whole tankful. The antifreeze tastes horrible, so you’ll know when it’s gone. Once the water lines are clean, fill the tank. Not only does this rinse antifreeze out of the plumbing, but it also ensures everything is working right. Check for leaks while the water’s running.

5.Change the bulbs in the nav lights. A bulb burning out underway at night is a pain to replace, even if you notice it’s gone, which you might not. It’s easier to do this in the spring, even if it means replacing bulbs that are still good. It also forces you to open the lights, clean them, and check their function. Hang onto the old bulbs as emergency spares, but keep them separate from new bulbs. Make sure nothing you’ve added to the boat—enclosures, antennas, etc.—obscures the lights.

6. Dinghy outboards need love, too. Most folks have the yard service their main engines and genset but forget the outboard until it craps out—always miles away from the mothership. Do it now, and don’t forget to change the oil in the four-strokes. Operate all other dinghy-related systems (davit, hoists, etc.), and service each according to the manual. Wash and wax the dinghy, too; treat inflatables and RIBs according to the manufacturer’s instructions.


7. Visit the engine room, checking all the things the yard should have but probably didn’t unless you specifically asked it to. Inspect V-belts for proper tension and overall condition; check the zincs in the heat exchangers, always overlooked; pull the dipsticks to ensure the oil on them is clean and new—old oil is black, new oil is almost clear. The oil filter should have the date it was changed written on it, too. (Is there any spilled oil that needs cleaning up?) Installing new raw-water impellers in the spring is cheap preventive maintenance vs. the possible consequences of losing one underway. Make sure the fuel manifold valves are open or closed correctly; yard workers sometimes change them, for reasons known only to themselves. Do all seacocks open and close freely? Cold weather can cause leaks, so check everywhere, including the stuffing boxes (that’s why you clean the engine room thoroughly before layup). Crawl aft and check for water leaks around the rudder posts and hydraulic leaks around the steering cylinders and autopilot. Turn the wheel hard to port and starboard several times to expel air from the hydraulic system, then check for leaks again. Top off the fluid level if needed.

8. Using the photos you shot of your boat in the fall—you did take pictures to show the condition of the vessel when you left her at the yard, didn’t you?—check the hull, deck, and bridge for new scratches, gouges, abrasion from the winter cover, and so forth. (The same PMYer who had the fuel-manifold damage mentioned earlier also suffered a broken hailer and gouged aluminum on his tuna tower when the yard dropped the arch for shrink-wrapping.) Look for damage below decks to joinery, carpets, countertops, mattresses, etc. Boatyard workers often traipse dirt, paint, and other yard gurry onboard, soiling carpets or scratching teak and holly cabin soles. Repairing damage that wasn’t there last fall could be the yard’s responsibility&mdassh;but once you leave, it’s yours. Pre-lay-up photos are powerful evidence when disputing damages with the yard. Shoot film so you can’t be accused of doctoring digital photos, which is easy to do.


9. Start the engines, let them warm up, and look in the engine room again for any problems—fuel leaks, etc. Start the genset, and do the same. Make sure the air conditioning works and is pumping cooling water; new impellers here are a good idea, too. Leave the docklines secured and slip the boat into gear—it’s rare, but if the yard removed the props during winterization, the workers sometimes put them back on the wrong shafts, so forward gear becomes reverse. How embarrassing, and maybe expensive, too—better to check while you’re still tied up.

10. Most yards do a good job of caring for your boat over the winter and take pride in quality workmanship at fair prices (“fair” doesn’t always mean “cheap,” however). When you’re satisfied that everything is copacetic, pay the bill promptly to help the yard stay in business—too many good boatyards have been replaced by waterfront condos. Then enjoy the boating season.

This article originally appeared in the April 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.