At the start of the season, the dewinterization steps seem so painful. Since you had to winterize your boat, all you’ve wanted is to be back on the water already. But preparing your boat to get back into action isn’t something you can put off or avoid.
After all, failure to properly dewinterize can cost you time and money. If and when problems arise, you’ll be kicking yourself for not taking the time this spring to prepare. Taking care of your boat the right way in early spring can save you from being stranded out on the water.
Give yourself time to inspect your boat and all its equipment. Make patches. Do repairs. Clean up. Protect your investment. I know you’re eager to get out and play, but don’t neglect your boat. Circle a weekend on the calendar and mark it as “spring boat inspection” right now, and plan to give yourself at least another weekend for any additional spring boat prep work that you may need to get done.
1. Remove the Boat Cover and Inspect for Critter Hibernation
If you’ve take preventative steps to secure your boat during winterization, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about this. But from time to time, it happens anyways. One thing I recommend is investing in a battery-operated ultrasonic pest repellent. This way, you never have to worry about the dangerous chemicals that other repellents carry, as this can be harmful and toxic to your pets and children.
Even if you put your boat away and are very diligent about preventative measures during winterization, every so often you’ll come across smaller critters like rodents or birds. They can find the thinnest of gaps in your canvas (or desperately scratch and chew their way through). So when you pull back your boat cover, roll it back slowly and check for mice nests and anything that looks suspicious like chew marks or scat.
This—among many reasons—is why you need a boat cover. If you haven’t yet purchased yourself a canvas cover, take a look at the post comparing pontoon covers. Even if you don’t own a pontoon, it’ll give you some ideas of how to analyze covers.
2. Clean All Canvas, Vinyl and Carpeting
Go out and purchase yourself a shop vacuum that you can bring on board with you to vacuum any leaves or dust that might’ve crept underneath.
Be sure to vacuum the cushions, vinyl, and if you’re a pontoon owner—your bimini top!
While you’re at it, make sure there’s no cracks or tears in the vinyl upholstery or benches. Patch them up if there are. Seat covers are also something you could invest in; they protect the vinyl from UV rays and mildew.
3. Check the Engine & Propeller
Checking your boat’s engine and boat’s propeller. Same as the hull, you’ll want to check for dents and damage.
Of course, this includes an oil change and the correct additives when you replace your oil filter. This is an important step to keep your boat’s engine from corroding or rusting over time. Fuel lines especially have the tendency to crack over winter with dry cold temperatures.
Same goes with any belts. If you give a belt some pressure, you can easily determine if it has lost slack. Also, take notice if the engine seems to have black soot. If it does, you should decide to invest in a new belt. Depending on how bad it is, you could chance it until next season. But do it sooner than later!
This is a perfect example of why you need to do this ahead of time and not the weekend you want to get out. You may need to replace a line, meaning an unexpected trip to the store. You may even have to wait for a shipment to arrive.
4. Check Cooling System & Replace Antifreeze
If you flushed out the cooling system as part of your winterization steps, now’s the time to refill it. If you skipped this step—anticipating you’d do this come spring—you’ll now want to flush and drain out the cooling system, following up with replacing the antifreeze. To do so, use a diluted coolant with equal parts water (50/50 mix is standard).
And while you’re at it, just give the hoses a glance over. Make certain there’s no cracks or worn areas that could cause leaks and a headache later on.
Lastly, connect the wires of your spark plugs again.
5. Replace Battery
The last thing you want to find out is that you have a dead battery after you’ve launched. But a dead battery can be prevented beforehand by taking the cautionary steps.
As in my newbie guide breakdown on pontoon winterization, I recommend hooking up your boat battery to a trickle charger over the winter months. But if that’s not an option, or you just didn’t do that this year—no worries! Just make sure the battery is charged. And give the battery a day or at least overnight to fully charge.
6. Check for Damage
Check for damage anywhere on all the boat’s physical surfaces, inside and particularly outside. Look for new dents that could eventually cause leaks. If you spot a ding and don’t remember if it’s new or not, start keeping a diagram like they do at car rentals (there’s a nice example here).
It doesn’t have to be fancy—just make sure to mark the date the damage happened or you noticed the dent. The next time you’re unsure, just refer back to your diagram.
7. Polish and Wax
Polishing a boat’s brightwork may seem unnecessary. However, this simple maintenance can support the integrity of the moldings, preventing structural damage to windshields, fiberglass or whatever else they could be holding together or fastened against.
Use a power washer (though not too hard) to get the dirt and mildew off that might have accumulated over the season. After it’s squeaky clean and dry, then you can do your wax job to make it good and polished.
If your boat has teak, you could power wash the teak and then apply a fresh oil finish as well. Just be sure that the oil has plenty of time to absorb into the wood before you take the boat into the water.
8. Attach Electronics
Attach—and test!—your electronics before going back out on the water. This goes for your GPS or any navigational devices, depth finders, etcetera. If you have lighting system installed or speakers. Basically, if it’s controlled by a knob or switch, it should be tested!
For obvious reasons, this step comes after connecting the battery and ensuring it’s running. But another step you’ll need to take is to turn the battery back off again by switching off the bilge pump. After it’s switched off, check to see if the automatic bilge pump float is working correctly.
9. Trailer Look Over
It’s important that your trailer is just as maintained as your boat, especially if you plan to haul long distances.
Check the tires! Not only to see if they’re flat but check the trailer’s tire pressure as well! If the boat hasn’t been sitting on the trailer bed all season, you’re about to add to more weight! If it has been sitting all season, that’s even more reason to check the tire pressure.
Check the trailer’s signals. This is a two-person operation, so grab a spotter and have them give you a thumbs-up or thumbs-down while you test your trailer lights. You may need to replace a bulb or two after they’ve been sitting around through the cold winter months.
Lastly, add lubricant where you feel it necessary.
10. Check for Stiff Steering
Check the power steering cables. Usually, on our first spring launch, the steering can be a bit stiff. Of course—as luck would have it—this is always something you notice after you’ve already launched. But don’t force it to turn if it doesn’t want to turn; you’ll only cause more damage.
There are a few problems that could be the culprit, but the most probable cause is the blockage in the steering tube. It might take a little effort to get out hard grease that’s blocking it, but once you do you can use a steering tube brush to clean the tube. After that, re-grease and place back the steering cable. And you’re good to go.
11. Add the Finishing Touches
Lastly, add all those extra toys and accessories you might’ve taken out: Waterskis, inflatables, grills and fishing equipment. Be sure to place back the correct amount of life jackets and verify other safety equipment like First-Aid kits are stocked. Same goes with the fire extinguisher; in case you didn’t know—they have an expiration date.
A spring tradition I like is treating myself by adding something to my kayak. And you can do the same with your boat! After you’ve cleaned her up, give yourself a reward and consider an upgrade by purchasing an accessory like a ladder or new set of marine speakers. And if you’re not sure what to add—spring boat shows are a fantastic way to gather ideas and inspiration.
12. Take Care
Maintaining a boat takes a lot of effort. So pack yourself a small lunch in the cooler and head to the marina or storage facility to stay for a while. Bring a buddy to keep you company, preferably one that knows a thing or two about boats that can help you spot issues (or just be a sounding board). Take your time. Make the day or weekend of it and don’t rush the process.
In the end, it can prevent a very costly repair in the future.