Warm breezes of spring will be blowing into town soon, making you want to rush to take your boat out. Halt. Wait a minute. Not so fast. There are a couple of things you need to do before you back My Pride And Joy down the ramp or turn the ignition key.
Check the condition of your fluids and hoses. Replace as necessary, especially if you haven’t changed your fluids recently. Check hoses for loose hose clamps. Check fuel filters, air filters, spark plugs and the flame arrestor. Clean or replace as applicable. Check the engine timing and make any necessary adjustments. Lubricate the throttle, steering and shifting.
If you’ve got an inboard, check the engine block and manifold drain petcocks to make sure they close securely and don’t leak. Replace if necessary. They should close securely. Replace if there is any sign of a leak. Check the stuffing box or shaft log for leakage.
If you’ve got an outboard or sterndrive, don’t forget to check the raw-water pump impeller to make sure it’s pumping a healthy amount of water. If it’s been two years since you replaced it, you may want to do it now. Check the sterndrive bellows. Really get in there and look for signs of wear and/or cracking.
All boat owners should check their sacrificial zincs and replace as needed. Zincs are cheap insurance, and they’ll be much harder to change out later if you’re going to leave your boat in the water.
Check and charge your boat batteries, if applicable. Replace them if necessary. Better to do this at the dock than away from shore. An outboard needs at least 13.8 to 14.2 volts to trigger the magneto. Batteries more than three years old should be looked at carefully, especially in hot-weather climates. Go as low as 11 volts, and the engine will spin without starting. Check the battery posts and all other connections for loose connections and/or corrosion.
Rinse the bilge thoroughly of any accumulated debris, or anti-freeze if you winterized last fall. Put a generous amount of marine bilge cleaner in to assure sanitary conditions if water accumulates. Make sure the electric bilge float arm is functioning properly. The bilge should go on when it’s manually raised. Check that all bilge ducts, pipes and hoses are free of obstruction. A plumber’s “snake” will clear most blockages.
The exterior of your boat needs to be thoroughly cleaned at least twice a year if not more often. First, close all the windows and hatches, so the cleaning and rinse water only goes where you want it to, and remove any seat cushions, etc., that you didn’t take off the deck during winterizing. Next, get out your brush collection, you’re going to need them all — the soft polyester bristle brush for fiberglass gelcoat, bottom paint and other painted areas and varnished wood; and the polypropylene brush with its stiff bristles, perfect for cleaning nonskid decking and uncoated teak. Remember, when cleaning teak, avoid running with the grain or you may remove the soft wood fibers as you scrub.
With proper winterizing, an extremely snug boat cover and a little bit of luck, you may only need to use a general purpose cleaner, but I prefer to take the time at the beginning of the season to apply a more heavy-duty polymer-based polish. Apply a coat of polish every six months for best results. Waxing every three months is best to keep the boat in shipshape condition and combat the setting of future stains.
If you find yourself with some stains that either weren’t cleaned off properly during winterizing or, more likely, just happened over the winter, consider West Marine Pure Oceans Fiberglass Stain Remover (800-BOATING, www.westmarine.com), simply spray it on, follow directions and repeat as needed. It’s even gotten off tree sap stains from my deck, though two applications were necessary.
Once you’ve worked on any particularly difficult stains, start scrubbing at the highest point on your boat and follow the washwater down. This will eliminate the chance of having to clean an area twice due to dirty runoff.
Once the boat deck and hull are in shipshape conditions, take out your docklines, cushions, etc. Wash them down with a boat wash and allow them to air dry. Coat cushion snaps with Vaseline for a season of easy on-and-off use. Lubricate the zippers of your clear plastic enclosures and canvas boat cover zippers with a snap and zipper lubricant made for the marine environment — yes, Chapstick will work, but the results won’t last all that long.
To keep mildew from forming on your cabin’s vinyl fabric liner during the coming hotter and damper weather, regularly spray with Lysol or another disinfectant. Alcohol is a main ingredient and is safer on fabrics than bleach, which if it drips may stain or otherwise damage the upholstery beneath. To remove any accumulated musty cabin smells, place a dryer softener sheet by the return register of the air conditioner.
To deodorize musty carpeting, first clean as recommended above and allow it to dry thoroughly, then sprinkle on 20 Mule Team Borax generously. Let it sit undisturbed for an hour before vacuuming up unpleasant winter smells. Clean the cabin fridge with straight white vinegar to remove any mildew odors. For continued deodorizing, don’t rinse afterwards.
Don’t forget to drain the storage antifreeze from your water system and flush it thoroughly before use. Before scrubbing your toilet, drop two Alka Seltzer tablets in the bowl. After they fizz, brush the bowl as usual for a sparkling new shine. Flush the head periodically with 1 gallon of warm water to which you’ve added 1 cup of baking soda to deodorize and clean. Flush with a gallon of warm water afterwards. Baking soda works well with the waste digester/deodorant found in most holding tanks.