Get Your Boat Ready for Spring!
Patrick’s Top 10 Pre-Season Boating Check List
By Patrick McNaughton
Boat Nerd and Chief Idea Officer at Tidal Wake Boating Products
Copyright © 2019 Patrick McNaughton
Our enthusiasm to shed winter’s chill, and our excitement to get outside and on the water again, make it easy to forget that your boat and trailer took the winter off too. If you’re like many boaters, you wait until late fall to end your boating season. It’s cold and windy, so you’re in a rush to get your boat winterized and into winter storage. Most people winterize in the fall and wait until spring to inspect, maintain and fix any problems.
Here is a list of my “Quick Top 10” things to check in the spring. It will take less than 60 minutes to ensure your boat is ready for the water and an enjoyable 2019 boating season.
1. Trailer Tire Inspection (5-minute Check)
Your trailer has been sitting in the same spot for months. First thing to do is to check the trailer tires. Make sure the tire pressure is at the posted PSI on the sidewall of the tire. Next, check to see that there are no cracks in the sidewall and that the tread is adequate.
A quick tread test involves using a penny. Place a penny in the tire grooves and make sure you cannot see the top of Lincoln’s head. If you can, your tread depth is below the minimum and your tires should be replaced. A typical tire should last three to five years. During this time the rubber composition will break down and the tires could fail regardless of the tire tread depth or appearance — (this happened to me!).
2. Trailer Tongue and Coupling System (5 Minutes Check)
The connection between your vehicle and the trailer is possibly the greatest safety concern when traveling to your favorite lake. Be sure the tongue latch operates easily from the “engaged” to “disengaged” — it should be properly lubricated to move easily.
Be sure you have a safety release pin or screw that holds the latch in the engaged position while pulling the boat and trailer. If it is missing, replace it. There are several style pins or screws that are usually available at auto, marine and hardware stores. If you have trailer brakes, check the brake fluid level. If it is low, fill to the required level. The suggested brake fluid level is usually printed on the reservoir cover or the tongue (typically is it DOT 3 or 4).
3. Trailer Lights (5 Minute Check)
It’s easy to check your trailer lights. Simply plug your trailer into your towing vehicle and turn the lights on. Have a second person stand behind the boat to check that all the lights work. Check your operating lights, brake lights and turn indicators. Over the winter, connections can corrode, come loose, crack or break. If you’re having problems, the first thing to check is your ground wire connection. Be sure there is a corrosion-free ground wire connection between the trailer’s frame, the trailer light plug connector and the ground wire on the trailer. This alone can solve many problems that affect one or more lights. If a problem persists that you cannot fix yourself, take the trailer to a nearby technician during daylight hours.
4. Wheel Bearings (5 Minutes)
Many trailers are equipped with “bearing buddies.” This is an easy way to determine that your wheels are properly lubricated. If you don’t have them, I recommend you get them. Typically, a shot of grease in each zerk should last a season under normal use and conditions.
5. Boat Electrical (10 minutes)
First, make sure you have a fully charged battery that has not cracked in the cold or gone beyond its useful life – (unable to discharge and recharge fully). If you doubt the battery’s condition, most marinas and auto stores will perform a free battery load test. A good battery will give you peace of mind and save you the frustration of a dead battery at the launch or on the lake. If necessary, replace the battery. Gel batteries are recommended for marine use.
6. Boat Accessories (10 Minutes)
With your battery installed and charged, quickly turn on and off your electrical accessories – Nav and anchor lights, bilge pumps, live wells (manually). For night time boating make sure you have a working spotlight onboard. Also check stereo, marine radio, depth finder, and fish locator. If so equipped, check the power tilt and trim, and trim tabs as well.
7. Inspect the Transom (5 Minutes)
Inspect the boat’s transom for any surface cracks or other abnormalities. There is a lot of structural stress put on this area of your boat, since this is the area that powers and steers the boat. For outboard engines, inspect transom mounts. Look for evidence of fluids or any drippings. For I/O drives, inspect hoses and rubber gaskets/bellows. For inboards, check the propeller to be sure it has a useful nut and cotter pin installed. This is also a good time to make sure you have a boat drain plug stored in a handy, easy-to-find place. I STRONGLY recommend having a back-up drain plug in the glove or tool box for the “just in case.”
8. Ropes Anchors and Lines (5 minutes)
Take a quick inventory to make sure you have the necessary lines to tie and launch your boat, and to secure your boat safely to a dock in a minimum of two places. Check your anchors and confirm that they’re connected to the anchor lines with reliable knots or hardware. Check lines for tangles or knots that could inhibit your ability to deploy an anchor quickly in an emergency. If you use bumpers, be sure they are in the boat and properly inflated (if they are the inflatable type).
9. Safety (5 minutes)
Make sure you know and follow your state’s boating regulations and requirements. In general, you may need: a. Current boater registration stickers on board or displayed. Some state registrations are for multiple years and it’s easy to forget that they need to be in the boat. b. Life vests for everyone on board c. A horn, whistle, bell or other sound devices d. Fire extinguisher (charged and up-to-date) e. A throw-able flotation device
10. Spring Launching (5 Minutes)
Ready to launch? Install the drain plug then back the boat and trailer into the water. Start the engine and let it run for several minutes to warm up. Any fogging oil or other treatments used for winterizing should burn off in the first couple minutes. Let the motor settle into a smooth and normal idle speed prior to launching the boat off its trailer.
A Few Other Considerations
1. Keep your hull clean. It makes your boat perform as the manufacturer intended and saves fuel.
2. Keep your propeller in great shape. Check the prop for any dings or chips. Imperfections throw the prop out of balance causing additional wear and tear on the shafts, bushings and bearings as the prop spins. It also reduces fuel efficiency, and causes vibrations throughout the boat which causes screws, nuts and bolts to shake loose. Minor damage to a prop can be minimized by using a fine metal file, but it is recommended to have a professional prop rebuild or replace it with a new one.
3. Keep your boat clean. Your boat will perform better and last longer if it’s kept clean inside and out. Many states require boat and trailer inspections after the boat is reloaded on the trailer and prior to going down the road. Invasive species can travel from one body of water to another when there are remnants on the boat or trailer.
4. Keep in mind that there are other important and complex items to inspect in the spring and throughout the season. This list is an ”Easy Guide” to some of the most important, “skipper friendly” pre-season checks. Abnormalities beyond the scope of this article should be addressed by a marine service professional.
Well, there it is, my spring “go-to” list. What are your favorite tips & tricks for Boat Prep and care? We would love to hear from you – email me at [email protected].
Be Safe, Have Fun and we’ll See Ya on the Water!
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