“The sea finds out everything you did wrong.” This invaluable truism comes from Francis Stokes, a guy who knew a thing or two about boats—he completed six solo trans-Atlantic in the early 1970’s before the advent of many technological advances sailors today take for granted. So what’s the takeaway from Francis’s advice? The open water is an unforgiving place—meaning an ounce of preparation is worth its weight in gold.
Sure, the weather’s warming up—but you’d rather not take an unanticipated dip in those all-too recently thawed waters thanks to a neglected maintenance routine to get both you and your boat up to speed for the new sailing season. To make sure you’ll be trimming the sails instead of treading water this spring, here’s a checklist to help you prep your vessel after a long winter.
Keep in mind; the advice below assumes you have previous boating experience. If you’re new to boating, or simply not technically inclined, consider hiring an American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC)-certified technician or mechanic to regularly perform maintenance inspections.
- Reinstall and recharge all batteries and fill lead acid batteries with distilled water. Make sure all electrical connections, including battery terminals, are free of debris and secure and insulate with protective spray/grease.
- Reopen seacocks and make sure handles move freely. All hoses should be double-clamped with stainless-steel fasteners. Replace any that look rusted.
- Check the raw-water intake strainer is tight and free of any irregularities.
- Ensure running lights are operational and replace bulbs if necessary.
- Check VHF and GPS antenna connections.
- Look for signs of leaking at trim cylinders and hoses as well as at hydraulic steering pumps and rams. Replace the O-ring or gasket if necessary.
- Inspect port lights, hatches, and deck fittings for dirty or displaced caulking, water trails, dirt, and green corrosion, any of which signals a leak that needs to be re-caulked.
- Check flares, fire extinguishers, carbon monoxide and fire alarms. Replace/recharge as necessary.
- Make sure all fuel hoses are flexible, with no leaks, protrusions, or corrosions.
- All engine hoses should fit snugly and be solidly secured in place. Replace any clamps that show signs of corrosion.
- Replace fuel filters and clean or replace air filter.
- Make sure your oil change is up-to-date. Check fluid levels in the transmission, hydraulic steering fluid, and coolant devices.
- Check engine belts for signs of stress and wearing.
- Examine exhaust manifolds for signs of corrosion and water seepage that indicate blockage. If you suspect a problem, remove the manifold and inspect thoroughly.
Remember: This list is by no means exhaustive. Every boat is unique and the work required to ensure it’s seaworthy will depend on whether it’s used in fresh or salt water, its size, manufacturer, model and the state in which it’s registered. Be sure to get the specific precautionary information you need for your vessel to ensure you prepare adequately and your boating season is safe and enjoyable.