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Start the new season with a proper fitting out

The Earth has made another circuit around the sun, and it's time to get ready to launch another boating season. Same game, new day. We can bid a sobbing farewell to the miseries of winter, as those of us fortunate enough to own a boat begin spring preparation and fitting out.

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1. Engines

If you were penny-wise and pound-foolish at the end of last season, you neglected to add stabilizer to your gas before putting your boat to bed for the winter. The ethanol in gasoline absorbs moisture - more so when it sits for long periods - so it can cause water to collect in your fuel tank and fuel system. Worst case, untreated gasoline left long enough can go through a process called phase separation, which occurs when the ethanol surpasses a certain water saturation point and the ethanol and water separate from the gasoline, forming a layer at the bottom of the tank. Chances are that hasn't happened, but why tempt fate?

Also, ethanol is a solvent that can loosen debris in the tank or fuel lines and allow it to reach the engine. If the engine is older, you might want to consider replacing the fuel lines, O-rings and other rubber or plastic parts. Hoses labeled SAE J1527 are OK for use with ethanol-blended gasoline. Bottom line: Use stabilizers that target ethanol and carbon-cleaner treatments whenever you fill up.

If you have a diesel engine and didn't use an additive, a small garden might be flourishing in your tank. That's especially likely if you neglected to top off the tank before storage. Check your fuel filters and water separators. Nothing stops a diesel or gas engine like water contamination or dirty fuel.

2. Topside

Have you ever noticed the crud that builds up on even a covered boat? Nah, not on your boat. The less fortunate among us should use a soft brush to clean non-skid surfaces. Stiff brushes will skip over the low spots, and you'll really have to use some elbow grease. I don't like elbow grease and try to avoid it.

Lots of water is a must, along with an effective detergent. TSP used to be the cleaner of choice but no more. There are a number of boat soaps, black streak removers and non-skid cleaners that work well - many with minimal environmental impact. Foaming cleaners are especially effective, along with water and a soft brush, for non-skid surfaces. Black streaks on the hull and fenders and black stains around the exhausts will require hard work and specialized detergents.

I've never liked wash-and-wax products. I prefer separate ones and still like paste wax. I know it's not the smartest way to go, but if I were smart, would I have boated on the Great Lakes with their short, short season? If you are going to use a cleaner wax, wash the hull to remove any grit before applying.

If your boat has teak, clean the surface using plenty of water, then sand and varnish or use a finish such as Sikkens Cetol. I used Cetol because I hated waiting for varnish to dry, then sanding before the top coat. Cetol has a gloss finish to provide a varnish-like appearance. There are varnish formulations that allow for an overcoat without sanding. Teak decks do not require oiling, sealing or treating with a preservative. To remove surface dirt, use plenty of salt water and a moderately stiff bristle brush. A teak cleaner may be appropriate if the deck has been neglected for a long time.

3. The hull

Bottom painting probably requires at least the removal of a layer of oxidized anti-fouling if the boat was dry-stored. If you use a multiseason paint, a light scrub might not be a bad idea. Then you have a choice of paints, depending on the type of boating you do. Racers can use a Teflon-fortified, vinyl or epoxy/vinyl bottom paint if the boat is dry-stored. These paints reduce friction and allow for burnishing before each launch.

Those of us, power and sail, who are not obsessed with going fast can use an ablative or modified epoxy paint. The big difference is that ablative paints are formulated to expose fresh antifouling as water passes over the hull, keeping the bottom clean and reducing performance-robbing drag. With the rising cost of gasoline and diesel, ablative paints are worth considering, but the boat must be active for this type of paint to be effective.

If your boat only occasionally leaves the dock, you might want to consider a modified epoxy paint with a higher concentration of biocide. Keep in mind that a frequently used boat with this type of paint will leach out the biocide more rapidly, and the antifouling will be less effective as the season wears on. You're left with an inert layer of bottom paint that at some point must be removed.

4. Interior

Use a bilge cleaner. If you have mold on fabric, wood or glass, use a solution of bleach well diluted in water. There also are products from West Marine, Defender, Hamilton and other marine retailers that may work.

Reinstall any electronics you removed from the boat - and don't forget those paper charts as a backup to your plotter.

5. Safety

Check your seacocks, hose clamps and any gaskets before you go into the water. Also, take a look at your steering gear. Check your running and riding lights before the mast goes up. Clean your battery terminals and check for corrosion on your wiring and at the switch panels or distribution panels.

Fitting out is worth the effort. Enjoy the new season.

This article originally appeared in the May 2011 issue.