Prepping Your Boat For Spring Cruising

The marina parking lot is filling up on the weekends, buffers are whirring and engines are lighting up. The sounds of spring are in the air.

It’s time to prep for spring cruising. Here’s what we do to start the process of preparing Mai Tai.

Pull Out The Squawk Sheet

I start by pulling out my squawk sheet. This is a list of things I noticed that were suspect or just plain not working from the last time we operated the boat. This list includes everything from a burned out light to leaks, rust and faulty equipment. Whatever is left on the list is taken care of now.

Into The Bilge

The bilge is where the magic happens and is the place I spend most of my time while preparing for spring cruising.

Follow The Clues

Water in the bilge is evidence of a leak, or leaks. The hard part is to find the source, or sources.

Since leaks usually leave stains these become the best clues. If the boat hasn’t run for a while you may not be able to see water dripping. But, you can usually see the stains it leaves behind.

Sources of Water Intrusion

It helps to know what the sources of water in the bilge can be from. At least then you will have some idea of what and where to be looking.

Water intrusion can come from three places. From under the boat, over the boat (rain) and from within the boat (cooling systems).

Sings of leaks from deck plates and windows will usually show up on the port and starboard sides of the boat. Engine cooling leaks will generally leave stains on the floor under the engine. Water from under the boat is probably the hardest to track down and the most dangerous. But, if you look closely there will still be telltale signs.

Check all through-hulls, like rudder stock, drive shafts and cooling system shut-off valves. There will always be signs of leaks even if they are just slow drips.

Electrical Systems

There are probably more stranded boats because of electrical problems then any other cause. And battery failures are at the top of the list. Giving your electrical system a good look-see at the beginning of the season can save you a lot of stress.

Checking Battery Connections

All battery systems are susceptible to corrosion at the terminals and other connections. I start at the the battery terminals, checking for corrosion and tightness of the main cables. From there I work my way through the system.

Typically, most problems arise in the negative connections so that’s what I focus on first. Checking the termination points of the main grounding cables first, such as the ground at the engine block. Then following grounding terminals on the distribution blocks and then the main distribution panel.

Checking Battery Condition

If you’re using flooded lead acid batteries check the fluid levels and top off if needed. Only use distilled water!

If you’re using GEL, AGM or Lithium batteries you don’t have any battery maintenance chores other than checking cable connections.

Performing a load test on any battery type to see what condition the battery is in will tell you if your battery can adequately perform it’s function. A battery load tester is a very valuable tool to carry onboard. They are not expensive. Prices for simple testers range from $10 at Walmart, $20 at Harbor Freight to $70 at many other outlets. If you have a multi-tester it may have this function.

Mechanical Systems

Mechanical problems can pop up when you first start the new cruising year. Many can be avoided by doing some basic checks and servicing.

Checking And Servicing The Engine(s)

There are the obvious chores, like changing the oil and filter. While doing this chore pay particular attention to the oil that comes out of the engine. Especially pay attention to the color, viscosity and smell.

The condition of the oil tells us a lot about the condition of the engine. Milky colored oil suggests water/coolant leaking into the crankcase. If the oil seems thin or smells of fuel then fuel may be leaking into the crankcase. If the oil is sparkly, like it has glitter in it then there may be some excessive wear taking place.

Most engines use some kind of rubber impeller system to pump cooling sea water water through the engine exhaust system. Impellers are common failure points. Pull the impeller(s) out an give them a look to see if there are any chunks missing and the rubber is flexible. Keeping extra impellers onboard is not a bad idea.

Inboard engines also have internal cooling systems similar to your car. It recirculates coolant, usually anti-freeze, through the system. Check the coolant level and the pressure cap on the reserve tank. The pressure cap can fail and cause cooling issues.

Check rubber parts including all hoses and belts for cracks and signs of wear and tear. Replace any that look suspect.

Check all ignition parts. I usually pull a couple spark plugs to check their condition. They can tell me if the engine is running rich or lean. Check the gaps and reset to specs or replace. Check the spark plug wires for corrosion at either end. Pull the Ignition rotor cap and check for cleanliness and signs of arcing. In the case of a points distributor system check the condition of the contacts and the gap.

The last thing for today is to check the transmission fluid, assuming you have inboard engine(s). Check the gear oil on outboard engines. Top it off if necessary.

That’s about as far as we can go today. I’ll pick it up again shortly. If you have any questions or comments fell free to write back.