Spring Commissioning Checklist

For most boaters in this region, the days leading up to launch day can be the busiest of the year, and it’s easy to overlook important commissioning chores when warm breezes beckon. Your boat may have more or less equipment than is listed here. The important thing to remember is that checking ALL of your boat’s systems will help ensure an easy launch and a trouble-free season.

Outside the Hull

Inspect the hull for gelcoat blisters, distortion from poppits and stress cracks, particularly around the keel and rudder.

Inspect the propeller for dings, pitting and distortion. Make sure cotter pins are secure. Grip the prop and try moving the shaft - if it’s loose, the cutless bearing may need replacement.

Inspect the cutless bearing. If the rubber’s cracked, it’s time to replace it.

Check the rudderstock for straightness and smooth operation.

Inspect the engine intake strainer and make sure it’s secure and free of corrosion.

Replace old zincs.

Apply new bottom paint if necessary – don’t forget to cover transducers with antifouling transducer paint.

Wash and wax the topsides. 

Below Deck

Check engine fluid levels. Engine oil becomes acidic as it ages, and acid damages bearings, so if you didn’t change your engine oil in the fall, now’s the time.

Inspect, lubricate and operate all of the seacocks. Inspect hoses and clamps and replace as necessary.  Check the propeller shaft and rudder stuffing boxes – make sure they’re tight.

Inspect fuel lines, including fill and vent hoses, for softness, brittleness or cracking. Check all joints for leaks and make sure all lines are well supported with non-combustible clips or straps with smooth edges.

Inspect fuel tanks, fuel pumps and filters for leaks, and make sure all clamps are tight and rustfree.

Check engine belts for proper tension, and replace any worn or cracked belts.

Disassemble, clean and reassemble the fuel filters, replacing any dirty elements.

Inspect cooling hoses and fittings, and replace any that are stiff, rotted, leaking or cracked. Make sure they fit snugly and are double-clamped.

Check the impellers on all water pumps, replacing any with broken or missing vanes.

Remove and inspect exhaust manifold for corrosion (or have a professional do this job).

Clean and tighten all electrical connections, especially both ends of the battery cables.

Clean battery terminals with a wire brush, top up the cells with distilled water (if you have leadacid batteries), and make sure the battery boxes are clean and dry and the hold-down straps are secure.

Fully charge the batteries.

Operate your battery switch. If the switch feels like it’s sticking, or not fully engaging, replace it.

Turn on all cabin lights, navigation lights, and compass lights, replacing bulbs as needed.

Inspect the bilge blower hose for leaks.

Fill your water tanks, flush your fresh water system and then pressurize the system to make there are no leaks. If you detect a “rotten egg” smell there are microorganisms growing in the tank. Drain the system and refill it, adding some bleach to the water. Repeat until the water has no smell.

Pour some fresh water into the head and pump it into the holding tank to ensure everything’s working. Operate your Y-valve. Power up your macerator pump to make sure it hasn’t seized from lack of use.

Inspect the entire steering system, checking cables for proper tension and cable clamps on the rudder quadrant and pedestal for tightness. Lubricate the cables and pulleys.

Check stove and remote propane tanks for loose fittings and leaking hoses.

Inspect the electric bilge pump and float switch to make sure they’re working properly.

Power up your electronics and make sure they’re functioning properly.

On Deck

Use a hose to check for deck leaks at ports and hatches. Renew caulk or gaskets as necessary.

Inspect lifelines for rust or broken strands – the presence of either means the lifeline is unsafe. Make sure all clevis pins have cotter pins and are taped.

Inspect dock and anchor lines for chafing, and replace any bad ones.

Check shore power cable connection for burns, which indicates the cable and/or the shore power inlet needs replacement.

Disassemble, clean and lubricate winches, replacing any worn out pawls and springs.

Check hydraulic vangs and backstays for leaks.

Top up your fuel tank, being sure to add a bottle of diesel fuel conditioner. This will provide your fuel pump with the lubricity that the new ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel lacks.

Rigging and Sails

Inspect standing wire rigging for broken strands and rusty swages, which can indicate impending rig failure.

Inspect halyards and other running rigging for wear and chafe.

Inspect all shackles for cracks and bent or missing pins.

Ensure that cotter pins are in place and taped.

Inspect spreader boots and replace them if they’re worn.

If your sails weren’t serviced at a sail loft over the winter, check them for missing slides and pennants, make sure they’re clean, dry and mildew-free, and install mainsail battens.

Don’t forget to install your masthead wind indicator, antennas and instrument sensors. Safety Gear and Paperwork

Check the expiration dates on your flares and replace outdated ones, and check your fire extinguishers to ensure they’re fully charged.

Be sure that you have properly sized and wearable life jackets in good condition for each passenger, including kids and pets. If you have inflatable PFDs, make sure their inflation cartridges aren’t expired.

Inspect inflatable Man Overboard recovery gear.

Test your smoke, carbon monoxide and bilge alarms.

Replace old charts, guides and tide books. r Ensure that your boat’s registration license and your safe boating certificate are up to date.

Review your boat insurance policy and update coverage if needed. Make sure you have fuel spill insurance coverage.

Launch Time

Check the stuffing box and all through-hull fittings for leaks.

Run your bilge blower for at least five minutes.

Run up the engine, checking again for leaks in hoses, raw water strainer, etc. and be sure that water is pumping through the exhaust. (If not, power down and ensure the seacock is in the open position. If it is, it’s possible that debris was pulled into the thru-hull, or the lifting strap is covering the intake.)

Ensure that sufficient engine cooling water is pumping before leaving the travel lift well.

Head out and run the engine for a while. Things can get jostled loose during the launch, so re-check everything, especially thru-hulls, seacocks and engine fluid levels. To take your springtime launch checklist one step further, get a free vessel safety check from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or U.S. Power Squadrons. For more information, log onto

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