Getting Your Boat Ready for the Season
Even if you live in an area that enjoys a warm climate all year round, you’ll want to download our Spring Start-Up Checklist before the next boating season begins. It lists out all the chores that need to take place, from fuel systems to safety gear inspections, which should happen on an annual basis whether you winterize your boat or not.
For those of us who do winterize, however, spring commissioning requires a number of additional actions to reverse the process.
De-Winterizing Your Boat for Spring
The major systems that need de-winterizing include:
- Plumbing Systems
- Batteries and Electrical Systems
In addition to de-winterizing systems, other spring commissioning tasks may include:
- Removing a Winter Cover
- Cleaning and Waxing
- Painting the Bottom
- Taking Care of Teak
De-Winterizing Your Boat's Engine
The exact process you follow to de-winterize any marine engine will be different depending on the type of engine, the manufacturer, and the model. The biggest differences are between outboard engines, and inboards or stern drives.
In the case of outboards, the main task is generally giving them a water supply, starting them up, and burning away the fogging oil you (hopefully!) used to ease its winter slumber. That fogging oil usually makes some smoke and the engine may not run as smoothly as usual, but don’t let this worry you. And as soon as the smoke’s cleared out, you’re ready to do the annual maintenance and inspection chores listed out in that Spring Start-up Checklist.
Inboard engines, including sterndrives, have a different winterization process, and will probably take a bit more work to prep for the season. There may be drain plugs you removed which need to be put back in, cooling systems may need to be flushed, and seacocks may need to be opened back up. This can vary quite a bit from engine model to engine model, so either make sure you have the owner’s manual handy or consider taking the boat to a pro for its spring commissioning.
Spring Commissioning for Plumbing Systems
Boats that have freshwater systems, heads with holding tanks, sinks, and showers, should have been treated with antifreeze in the fall. This means that now you’ll need to flush these hoses and lines with freshwater, until you’re absolutely sure all the antifreeze has been washed away.
- Fill all the tanks up.
- Open all the faucets and showers.
- Let them run until you stop seeing any discoloration from the pink, non-toxic, propylene glycol antifreeze.
- Then let them run for a minute or two more, just to be sure the lines are completely flushed out.
Spring Commissioning for Batteries & Electrical Systems
In most cases, the only thing you’ll need to do to get your boat’s marine battery ready for the new season is make sure it’s in place, hooked up properly, and fully charged. Many people remove the batteries from the boat and put them on a maintenance-charger over the winter, so in this case they’ll need to be put back into the boat with the leads properly connected. Even if your batteries stayed aboard, however, don’t neglect to hook up a charger before you try launching the boat—the number-one problem boaters report encountering on a spring shake-down cruise is a low or dead battery.
Additional Steps for Spring Commissioning Your Boat
You’ve gone through the Spring Start-Up Checklist and de-winterized your boat? Excellent—but there are a few other spring commissioning chores that may be in order.
- First off, you’ll want to remove that winter cover.
- If you used a tarp or canvass cover, wash it and then allow it to sun-dry, before folding it up and stowing it away for the season.
- If you used shrink-wrap, remember that it’s recyclable. Many marinas collect it and there are also some state and/or regional services, so do a little searching to find the best way to recycle shrink wrap near you (and read our Clean Boating Guide to learn about other environmentally-friendly boating practices).
Cleaning & Waxing
- Then, give your boat a good cleaning and waxing. This isn’t just a matter of making the boat look good, either. Wax helps seal the pores in the hull’s gel coat, which protects it from oxidation and makes it easier to clean later on.
- Cleaning vinyls and canvass is also very important, since it helps keep mold and mildew at bay. Refer to our guide on How to Clean a Boat to get the scoop on how to best clean all the different pieces and parts of your pride and joy.
- If you keep your boat in a wet slip, you may need to paint the bottom before launching it for the spring. This depends to some degree on where you do your boating and what type of bottom paint is on the boat.
- Some paints need to be refreshed annually, while some others are good for multiple seasons.
- Take a look at Antifouling Paints: Which Paint is Best for Your Boat to learn more about the different options, and if a paint job is in order, visit our How to Paint a Boat Guide.
Teak is another item that requires some spring care.
- Even if the teak is untreated it should be cleaned with a gentle cleaner (made specifically for teak) and a soft brush.
- Special Note: Never use a pressure-washer or a strong stiff-bristle brush on teak, as it can chew soft parts out of the wood and leave divots and ridges behind.
- After cleaning the teak some people like to oil or varnish it, which can give the wood a beautiful look. However, be forewarned that once teak is treated it will require additional maintenance through the years. Most oils and varnishes only last for a matter of months, and require regular re-application to continue looking good.
Ready to Hit the Water?
Okay: so you’ve now completed the de-winterization and spring commissioning process. Next comes the fun part—it’s time for a shake-down cruise. This is an important “chore,” if you want to call it that, because this initial cruise will give you the chance to discover any issues that may have arisen over the winter.
Now’s the chance to find out about them so there aren’t any unexpected surprises that put a damper on the fun days of boating to come, which makes the shake-down cruise a critical part of the process of getting your boat ready for the season. Yes, let’s call it a chore, even though for the first time in months you’re about to feel the wind whipping through your hair, the sunshine and spray on your skin, and your very own boat underfoot. Somehow, we think you’ll manage to suffer through this one.
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Editor's Note: This article was originally published in March 2020, and updated in February 2021.