The uncommonly mild winter in much of the country coaxed people back to their boats earlier than usual this year, and that makes Erik Klockars smile.The weather in New England was so good that the independent Connecticut marine mechanic was getting calls from owners in mid-February while he was at the Miami International Boat Show. During the last weekend of the month, he says, owners’ vehicles nearly filled the parking lot at a marina in New London, Conn., where he works on boats. “If they’re not looking to get into the water, they’re looking to get their boats worked on to try to avoid the big rush that usually happens in the spring,” he says. “If everyone waits until the last minute, there aren’t enough people to do the work, and owners are up against a deadline.”
Klockars, who is also a technical consultant for Soundings, encourages boat owners to begin their spring preparation work as soon as the weather breaks and freezing is no longer a concern. “Start opening up the boat as soon as you can,” he says. “Spend one hour, two hours, three hours [at a time]. Start working on your boat.”
The sooner you begin to poke around, Klockars says, the sooner you’ll spot a problem that will take time and work to correct — a faulty switch or wire in the engine or a starter ruined by condensation, for example. “What failed during the storage time?” he says. “What moisture got into something? What pump went bad? You just don’t know.”
If you discover that you’re facing a major repair, or one you’ve been putting off for financial reasons during the recession, this spring is the time to address it, either on your own or with a yard’s assistance. Schedule work now so you’re not on the bottom of the yard’s docket when it’s time to launch. And if you do decide to put off that repair for one more season, be sure your towing insurance is up to date. You may need it. Better to get the work done now that needs to be done. Things always seem to go wrong on the water at the worse time.
If the rising cost of fuel is a concern, remember that a clean bottom, a fresh coat of bottom paint and a well-tuned engine will enable the boat to run more efficiently. Use fuel additives and make sure the props are clean and undamaged. Remove excess weight from inside the boat and reduce windage topside by removing deck or cockpit enclosures. Operate at a fuel-friendly cruising speed, avoid head seas and winds, plan the shortest routes to destinations and time your passages with fair tides.
If your boat has an inboard, Klockars says, your goal is to get all of the systems that were shut down for the winter functioning again. Open seacocks, reconnect hoses and tighten clamps that were removed during winterization. Be sure the strainer caps are on tight.
Inspect the engine and the water, electrical and waste systems, and charge and reinstall your batteries. Flush your engines and water system, and reconnect your hot water tank. “You want to flush the antifreeze out of everything that had antifreeze in it and that allows you to test your systems at the same time,” he says. “Test your engines. Be sure everything on your engines is working. Be sure all of your systems are working. Test all of the systems on your boat. Test everything.”
Klockars says flushing is important even if you live in a warm-weather state and don’t need to add antifreeze when you store your boat. “Even fresh water, if it sits, it smells like raw sewage,” he says.
Klockars says one mistake owners commonly make is forgetting to reconnect the hot water tank after flushing the freshwater system and refilling the main water tank. When that happens and the boater turns on the hot water heater, he says it “fries” the element in the heater.
If your boat has an outboard, put a set of muffs on the engine, fire it up and see if it runs smoothly, Klockars says. If the boat has a washdown system or a pump system, be sure to reconnect the hoses.
Although this should be a no-brainer, don’t forget to reinsert the drain plug before you or your yard puts the boat in the water, Klockars says. The final test of connections and systems comes right after the boat is launched. Open your hatches and check your connections once the boat is in the water, and you’ll know whether it’s truly watertight. Failure to follow these standard procedures can lead to the kind of mistake Klockars once saw a boatyard make.
“There were too many people working on the boat,” he says. “The customer was working on it. It was on the schedule to get launched. Nobody picked the hatches up and looked to see that the hoses were not attached to the seacocks. The next morning, the only things exposed were the outriggers. It could have been saved if someone had just followed procedure and lifted up the hatches to find out what was going on. I don’t care if you launch it. I don’t care if the yard launches it. I don’t care if a friend launches it. You always pick up the hatches to be sure it’s watertight.”
If you believe your engine needs a tune-up, Klockars says, wait until you get it in the water and can give it a quick ride. “I like to run the boat once first,” he says. “Any kind of fogging fluid, any kind of offseason preparation to the fuel is now burned off and out of the system.”
What if you’re not mechanically inclined and want your boatyard to do all of the spring prep work? What should you be telling your yard to be sure it does everything you need it to do? Klockars says there are several things you should consider.
“Do you need the bottom painted?” Klockars says. “That’s No. 1 because that’s the longest procedure you’re going to have to look at. Do you need zincs on the bottom of the boat? Most boats need zincs every year. Do you need the batteries installed? Do you need any of the systems flushed? Do you need all of the fresh water flushed out of the system? Do you need any of the hoses hooked up? Did the yard’s mechanics put the boat away? If they put the boat away, they should know what needs to be done in the spring.”
If you want to paint the bottom or improve the hull’s gelcoat, you’ll certainly need to be an early starter, Klockars says. Those are time-consuming, tedious jobs.
“Most of the people I see have the outside of the hull done by a professional, which would be the painting, polishing and waxing of the boat,” he says. “That’s usually done by somebody who does it on a daily basis.
“Most everything else you can do on your own,” he says. “It just takes the mindset to go in there and do it, taking your time and getting the boat prepped and ready before you go to the launch.”
Check the condition of your dock lines and anchoring gear. If your boat lives on a mooring and you take care of the tackle, make sure that it is in working order.
You’ll probably have family with you for the first outing of the season, perhaps some friends, and you won’t want to disappoint them, Klockars says. “The biggest thing is to have no surprises. Fix it before you want to enjoy it.”
Nothing spoils a day on the water like calling for a tow.
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This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue.