Get your boat ready: A seasonal approach

My goal at the end of the fishing and boating season is to have spent so much time on the water that I’m looking forward to other activities. Have there been times when my lawn has been super shaggy? Many of them, yes. Did it take me a longer-than-anticipated to build the back deck? I stand guilty as charged. Do the leaves get raked on a regular basis? No, they pile up to a point where they are several feet thick. Am I the talk of the neighborhood? Yes, but not necessarily in a good way.

It’s a matter of priorities, so while my yard may be a mess I have caught one heck of a lot of fish. I’ve put a lot of hours on my outboard too. So has my wife and kids. We’ll cleaned up the yard outside of fishing and boating season, but during the season look for us on the water. When it comes to year round boat maintenance I favor a seasonal approach. We spend more time having fun and less time breaking down.

Fall

Properly winterizing your boat saves future time. Professional winterizing is a great idea to get ahead of any potential issues. If you’re a DIY’er, you’ll need to flush your engine, stabilize your fuel, change oil filters and refill with new oil, change lower unit oil and refill, and fog your 2 stroke engine. Remove your prop and grease your propeller shaft. While you’re at it, pack your steering cable with grease, too.

Remove electronics, batteries, and all lines, fenders, and safety gear. Clean your bilge, spray with an anti-moisture agent, and add a little anti-freeze.

Trailers should get a once over, too. Check wiring, all lights, rollers, bunks, hubs, support brackets, leaf springs and tires. It’s best to place cinder blocks under your trailer axel to take the pressure off of the tires.

Winter

 In some parts of the country winter is hard on boats. Check your boat in the winter, particularly if you leave it in the water. Snow, rain and ice fill up cockpits and if drain plugs freeze then water and snow weight drops the gunnels closer to the water line. A chop from a Nor’easter can flood and sink the boat. Regularly inspect your boat to make sure water drains is important. Sustained, cold weather drains batteries so trickle charge your battery to ensure juice gets to your bilge pump.

Check on tarps that can blow around and let snow, ice and rain into your boat. Re-secure tarps as necessary. Shrink wrap is preferable, but if your boat is stored in your yard check to see that there are no punctures made by falling limbs. Patch holes before water enters.

Boats stored on jackstands are subjected to wind and weather. Constant wind and the weight of snow can cause boats to shift and settle especially if they are stored on sandy soil or gravel. That extra weight can cause hull deformation, so be sure that you have enough jacks to match your boat’s size and additional weight.

Ideally, boats stored on trailers should be lifted so cinder blocks can be placed under the axel. If you haven’t raised your boat and trailer you can avoid flat spots on tires by moving the trailer a little bit. Check the pressure and if it’s low then head to the nearest gas station to re-inflate. Store your trailer on a hard surface and never on grass or soft sand.

Spring

If you’ve done a thorough job winterizing your boat in the fall then your spring pre-launch prep isn’t so bad. You’ll want to replace and test your electronics, and wash and wax the hull. Aluminum boats or those stored in the water in a slip or on a mooring ball need bottom paint. Scrape and sand the bottom, and apply the anti-fouling paint as air temperatures dictate. Charge and install your battery, add fresh gas, and check your navigational and trailer lights. Cold weather and rubber don’t always mix, and fuel lines and tires may be worse for the wear. Look for cracks and replace as necessary.

If you’ve serviced your engine in the fall then water pumps, thermostats, oil and gas filters, and fluid levels are good to go. Nonetheless, check them out and top off as needed. Similarly your prop and lower unit oil will be fine. Larger boats with bilge pumps should be reviewed for functionality, with the circuit, the pump and the automatic switch being the most important.

Cold weather shrinks caulk, so lay a fresh bead around decks, casting platforms, or wherever necessary. Grease also shrinks, so repack wheel bearings. While you’re under the trailer check leaf springs and brackets. They can rust during seasonal storage.

Add your safe boating gear, with one life jacket per boater, a throw cushion, a fire extinguisher, anchor, line, whistle, flare, and mirror. Add GPS, cell phone, clothing, food and water for emergency, too.

Summer

Summer time should have you on the water and not repairing your boat. Still, in season maintenance is part of boat ownership. Washing down your boat, running freshwater through an outboard used in the salt, topping off fluids, and inspecting your prop should be done after every use. Repack trailer hubs with grease after each launch.

For engines, change spark plugs, lower unit grease, water pumps and 4-stroke engine oil every 100 hours. Check rollers and bunks on your trailer. Rollers should spin freely and tears or holes in bunk carpets should be fixed. Also inspect your hull, trailer and prop should be done after each use.

I refer to the following chart and perform additional work as necessary.

 

Task Time in months    Hours of Operation
Oil and filter 6 375
Water Pump 2 200
Fuel filter 12 100
Transmission oil 24 2000
Drive belt 12 1000
Flush cooling system 72 6000
Clean air filter 6 1000
Check prop After every use After every use
Steering cable grease 12 Season
Battery charge 12 Charge after periods of low/no use

 

More fishing, more boating, and more family time means more fun. In twenty years we’ll all look back on those times, and that’s why they are important. I highly doubt that we’ll remember a time when cutting the grass was a memorable experience. Along the way we’ll maintain our boat, for if we take care of our boat, motor and trailer they’ll all take care of us.