Getting your boat ready for Spring

After another long winter it is finally time to get your boat ready for some summer fun! Check out these pointers to help ensure smooth sailing all summer long.
In our house the first sign of spring occurs when we receive our renewal notice from the Fox Waterway Agency for our Chain O’Lakes sticker. This is quickly followed by the receipt of our Markel boat insurance policy renewal. Who would have thought two invoices could generate such happiness. But when you live in northern Illinois, on the Wisconsin border, these two events mean you are one step closer to boating season!

Spring is the time to prepare your boat for summer fun. And since it may have been many months since your boat went into winter storage, it’s best to put some time into getting it ready to launch. But because there are so many types and sizes of boats, you will need to create your own spring checklist based on the complexities of your particular vessel; just be sure to consult your Owner’s Manual if you are a do-it-yourselfer. As for my husband (aka “Boatman”) and me, there are certain things we always undertake to make sure our 23’ Chaparral runabout ready for boating season.

Check your engine

First of all, since we winterize our boat before it goes into storage there’s no need for us to change our oil or oil filter, though we do recheck the lower-unit as creamy oil indicates water. We also store our boat without the battery so this is the time to reinstall the battery (we purchase a new marine battery every other year; as Boatman says, “it’s just good insurance”) and make sure the electrical connections are tightened and the battery is secured in a marine battery box.

Inspect your well
Boatman and I always inspect our well to make sure the hoses are secure and the belts and cables aren’t brittle. We check the fluid levels and test the bilge pump. We also conduct a visual surveillance to make sure the marine shop that winterized our boat didn’t accidently leave anything in the well (it happens!). And we always make sure the drain plug is secured (note, if you’ve had your boat bottom-painted professionally, be sure to check that your plug mount was reinstalled with marine caulk; we speak from experience as this simple oversight is guaranteed to cause a lot of angst, not to mention time and money spent trying to figure out why your well is taking on water!).

Registration, life jackets, and everything in between
When it comes to requirements, we make sure our registration and permits are up to date and any stickers are replaced before we launch. It’s especially important to check that the fire extinguishers are the correct class for your vessel and are fully charged and stowed in the proper place. Also make certain that you have life jackets (PFDs) for everyone on board and be sure they still fit your kids since they may have grown during the winter months. This is also a good time to check that your handheld VHF radio is charged, you have fresh batteries in your sound signaling devices, your distress signals haven’t expired, and your first aid kit is fully supplied. If you didn’t clean and wax your boat in the fall, do it now. Since Boatman and I are Type-A personalities when it comes to boating, we always complete this task prior to winter, but we do give the interior and windows a second cleaning, and inspect the hull.

Examine your trailer
Don’t forget about your trailer! We always check the rollers and pads, lubricate the wheel bearings and trailer jack, test the lights and electrical connections, check the tire pressure, check the brake fluid level, tongue lock and safety chains.

Since we’ve been known to have problem starting our engine on the launch ramp, after many months in winter storage, we’ve made it a practice to water test our boat on our driveway prior to launching. I have to admit that this scares me as it sounds like we’re starting several Harley’s; not to mention it’s disconcerting to turn the key on dry land. But Boatman feels “it’s just good insurance” to find out if you have problems earlier than later so we cover the cold-water intakes with “muffs” and connect them to our garden hose. After making sure the blower is on, we start the boat and let the motor warm up for a few minutes while checking the temperature gauge and inspecting for leaks. This practice has worked well for us, but only do this if you truly know what you are doing!

As mentioned earlier, these are some of the rituals that Boatman and I perform to get our runabout ready for spring. It is in no way a complete checklist so be sure to develop a list that’s right for your particular boat. You may also want to take advantage of any safety inspections offered by the US Coast Guard, Auxiliary, or US Power Squadrons. Because when it comes to boating, the best surprise is no surprise!

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About the author: Karen has been boating for 25 years and is a Markel boat insurance customer. Her 23’ Chaparral is slipped in the Chain O’Lakes, in northern Illinois, where she and her husband spend as much time as they can during the summer months.

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