Pre-Season Maintenance Must Do's

If you've been boating long enough, being towed in is not an unfamiliar experience. Nothing spoils a day more than breaking down on the water and it always seems to happen at the most inopportune time. More often than not, however, the problem is simple and avoidable with a little bit of pre-season attention.

With the sun out and the weather warming, I see more and more boats coming out of storage. Most boats suffer more from sitting than from actual use. Fuel gets stale, belts crack, batteries run down and seals dry out. Three spring time maintenance must-dos include: fresh fuel, fresh fluids and a fresh charge.

Since most recreational boaters are running gas engines, we'll keep the discussion focused here. Step one this spring, top up the tank with fresh gas thereby diluting the old gas sitting over winter. (Also, adding fuel stabilizer in the Fall is a good idea.) Add a can each of water absorber and octane boost with the fresh gas for some extra insurance at very little cost.

Fresh fluids typically mean engine oil and gear box or lower unit oil. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for specifics. Marine engines run harder than car engines. Higher revs and frequent starts and stops break down the lubricating properties of oil faster. There is also a higher tendency for water to find its way into these areas either by seeping or condensation. A milky consistency suggests the presence of water, a condition requiring further investigation.

Third, with good ventilation present, put that battery on a charger to top it up. Even when batteries are not used much, they don't last forever. If properly cared for, four seasons is about all I would rely on. If the charger shows high initial amp draw that falls off over time, chances are good the battery is still serviceable. An internet search of "marine battery maintenance" will provide more detailed information on batteries.

Once your fuel, fluids, and battery have been freshened, don't overlook belts, hoses and zincs. These are annual inspection items, checking for wear, cracking, leaks or other abnormalities. Follow the engine manufacture's schedule for service and maintenance of non-visible items, such as water pump replacement and valve adjustment. The water pump is a common cause of breakdowns and often overlooked. Many shops recommend replacing it every year or every hundred hours on most engines (inboards and outboards) to be safe.

Lastly, rather than temping fate with the whole family, plan your first day on the water with a boating buddy. Run your boats hard for an hour close to the launch point then look, listen and feel. Use your natural senses to discover and diagnose any potential problems. Breakdowns often present with clues ahead of time and if you happen to have one, your boating buddy offers a short tow back.

A Saturday afternoon of spring maintenance can help avoid a whole day of breakdown hassles and disappointment. Have fun and boat safe.

Jonathan Bloom is a USCG licensed Master and ASA certified sailing instructor. He can be reached via

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