How to Prepare Your Boat for the First Launch of the Season
It is getting warmer outside and boating season is fast approaching. Is your boat ready to hit the water?
Before launching your boat for the first time it is important to prepare it for use after its long months in storage. You will want to inspect and service the electrical system, engine, and trailer, as well as performing general cleaning and maintenance.
This simple guide will give you the basic steps necessary to enjoy your time out on the water, instead of scrambling to fix unexpected problems. Make sure to have your owner’s manual handy for any maintenance requiring disassembly or replacement of mechanical or electrical parts.
After removing the cover from your boat and revealing your prized boat beneath, the first thing you will want to do is inspect the hull. Check for any gouges or cracks, and look for missing or loose rivets as well. If you locate any cracks or gouges, and feel confident in your fiberglass skills, you can attempt to repair them yourselves. If not, you can take them in to a local repair shop for professional service.
After you have inspected and repaired the hull (if needed), you should check the propeller for any dents, chips, or cracks, and replace if necessary. This is also a good time to remove the propeller and check for any fishing line or other debris around the propeller shaft. Remove any foreign objects from the shaft and apply lube before re-attaching the propeller.
After you have ensured that the hull and propeller are both sound, it is time to do some general cleaning. Wash and wax (if desired) the hull, and clean the windows and stainless steel thoroughly. The better your boat looks out on the water, the better you will look at its helm.
The interior of the boat is where you will spend most of your time, so the better condition it is the more you will enjoy your expeditions.
The first thing to do is check the vinyl on the seats and benches for holes and tears, and repair as needed. You should then vacuum the carpeting and clean any other dirty areas within the interior of the boat.
After sitting for months without use, the bilge and livewell areas (if you have one) will have accumulated a rather unpleasant odor, and should be cleaned. Avoid using any toxic chemicals and cleaning solutions, as they will be pushed out into the water through the bilge, or potentially remain within the livewell and kill any fish placed inside of it. To clean the livewell and bilge, a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water should do the trick, without any harmful side effects. Just to make sure, thoroughly rinse the areas after cleaning as well. This is also a great time to test your bilge pump by utilizing it to push out the water/vinegar mix used to clean it.
Nothing ruins a great day out on the water like your engine giving out a couple miles from the shoreline. Inspecting and performing routine maintenance on your engine before taking it out for the first trip of the year can ensure this never happens to you.
The first thing to do is drain any fuel in your tanks and replace it with brand new fuel. The ethanol in gasoline will have collected water over the long winter months, which can be potentially harmful to your engines.
You should then inspect your fuel filter, spark plugs, air filter, and water pump impeller for damage and deterioration, and replace them if needed. The gas lines and other rubber tubing should also be inspected, and if they are cracked, split, or brittle to the touch they should be replaced immediately.
Finally, you should consult your owner’s manual and apply lube to any indicated areas to ensure optimal performance and longevity.
The engine is only one part of the equation that makes your boat go, the electrical components of your watercraft should be inspected after removing it from storage as well.
The most obvious part of a boat’s electrical system is the battery, and it is also the most important. First check the water levels in your battery to ensure they are adequate, and then perform a full charge on your battery and check to ensure that it will hold its charge properly. If it does not hold a full charge, or is older than two years old, you should consider replacing the battery.
You should then move on form the battery and make sure that your boat horn sounds loud and clear, that your lights function properly, and that your fishfinder/GPS (if applicable) are receiving power. Any additional electronics on the boat should be tested for functionality as well, such as radios. If a device does not work, check the fuses first before taking anything apart or replacing devices. This is also a good time to ensure that you have a full set of extra fuses available on the boat.
Finally, you should check all of the wires for damage or wear, and replace or repair as necessary. You should also take this time to detach and clean all terminals with a wire brush, then re-secure them firmly to their positions. Always remove only a single wire at a time, to ensure that their positions do not become mixed up.
No matter how much preparation and planning goes into a boating trip, accidents do sometimes happen. That is why it is vital that you have the necessary safety gear onboard your watercraft and ready to use.
Essential on any personal watercraft are lifejackets for each passenger, a non-expired fire extinguisher, signal flares, and a ‘ditch bag.’
A “ditch bag” should contain everything you would need if you were forced to abandon the boat. It should contain water, a GPS, a VHF radio, signal mirror, whistle, and first aid supplies. If you are forced to ditch your boat in miles from land, this kit could save your life, and the lives of anyone with you.
The last, but definitely not least, thing to check is the boat trailer. The first thing to inspect is the condition of the tires, which should be replaced if there are cracks evident, or the tread is getting low. The wheel bearings should also be inspected and lubed, and re-packed if needed.
The coupler and catch are possibly the most important pieces of the trailer, as it would be quite alarming if they releases while you were on the highway and your boat started rolling along of its own accord. Check to make sure it is attached firmly to the trailer and that it attaches and locks securely to your trailer hitch.
The springs and suspension on a boat trailer are just as important as those on your car, and should be inspected for wear and any possible damage. If needed, the suspension should be serviced by a professional. This would also provide a perfect time to have the boat supports serviced if needed.
Finally, hook up the trailer’s electrical to your vehicle and ensure that the lights are in working order. Bulbs should be replaced as needed.
Getting your boat ready for your first time out on the water might take a while, but you will see the rewards of your labors every time you step out on your boat.