Skip to main content

Bringing your boat out of hibernation

Spring is just about here

As Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in his “Canterbury Tales”: “Whan that Aprille with his shoures sote” — oh heck, spring is just about here, and since you have a boat you might as well enjoy it, despite the economy. Fuel prices have come down from last season, and the wind is free. Still, the emphasis here is on saving some money.

Image placeholder title

1. If you used a more-expensive silver tarp to cover your boat, hose it down, let it dry and store it in loose folds. They’re reusable for several years. Salvage the framework if it did its job. Make a sketch of the assembly and label it.

2. For general cleaning, a solution of bleach and water will work for fiberglass and plastic. Baking soda gets rid of odors in the drinking water and in the refrigerator. “Casey’s Solution” — a 50/50 mixture of alcohol and ammonia — is a great homemade brew that works on everything but mold and mildew. Bleach kills mold and mildew, but elbow grease, along with a household product such as Tilex, can get the stains out and kill the odor. Whatever you do, never mix bleach and Casey’s Solution; the gas that forms when ammonia meets bleach is toxic. Black-streak removers work well.

3. Bleach will also get rid of any organisms that grew in your freshwater lines during the winter. To clean your potable water system, add a very small amount of bleach to the water. We’ve used about three or four drops per quart, less than a cup for a 35-gallon water tank.

4. If you used a multiseason ablative bottom paint with a signal-coat — a first coat of contrasting color — you will see where the paint needs touching up. Multiseason ablatives work when the friction of water wears away the outer layer of paint, exposing fresh biocide. These are great paints, but they aren’t for trailer boats, slow movers, or boats that rarely move from their berths. Some boats require modified epoxies. Remember, you can’t put a vinyl-based paint over anything but vinyl-based paint. Before painting, wipe the area with solvent, even if the hull was power-washed. Then sand with 80-grit free-cut paper.

5. Check your zincs. Make sure they are in contact with bare metal, not paint, and never paint over your anodes or bronze grounding plates.

6. Check the stuffing boxes on rudders and prop shafts. I lost a boat once because the packing in the stuffing box for my rudder failed. Ensure that the stuffing boxes haven’t loosened. It’s amazing what years of vibration can do. If you have shaft seals, “burp” them by pulling back on the seal and letting a small amount of water through. Make sure it is reseated and resealed.

7. I hope you topped off your fuel tanks and stabilized the fuel before you put her to bed last season. If not, you may need to hire a pro to clean the fuel system. Change the primary and secondary fuel filters — they’re a helluva lot cheaper than replacing injectors or worse. Older diesels may require manually bleeding the fuel lines. Most modern engines do it for you.

8. If you didn’t change the engine oil last fall, now’s the time. Open the seacock to your raw-water filter and run the engine long enough to warm the oil in the crankcase. (It’ll take a lot longer than five minutes.) Stop the engine and use a vacuum pump to remove the oil through the dipstick fitting. Be careful — that oil is hot. Now fill the crankcase with the recommended oil.

9. Reinstall your batteries and check the charge. Generally, fully charged batteries will not freeze. However, lead-acid batteries are continually self-discharging, and you can’t trickle-charge gel cell or AGM batteries. Clean any corrosion from the terminals with a wire brush or burnishing tool and a solution of water and baking soda. Grease the terminals and charge the batteries to full capacity using a proper charger for your type of battery.

10. Check your electrical panels and wiring, as well as lamps and housings, especially those in awkward locations.

11. Enjoy the season. You only go around once. If you do it right, once is enough.

This article originally appeared in the April 2009 issue.