By Vincent Pica, Commodore, First District, Southern Region (D1SR), United States Coast Guard Auxiliary

Back in the fall, we talked about how to get the boat ready for a long, cold winter. Time and tide is now on our side. So, before you start your engines, ready the boat!

Getting Started

As with any project, the beginning is the best place to start and for “commissioning”, i.e., getting the boat ready for service, the beginning is the front of the boat. For those that trailer their boats, the front of the boat is the trailer. Who wants to go flying down Route 27 and see their boat doing somersaults along the side of the road?  How do you prevent that? Well, start with the strap that comes out of the winch. Connected to the bow eye, it’s the first line of defense. Pay out a few feet and make sure that there aren’t any frayed or torn segments. If there are, you’ll need to cut out that entire segment and re-attach the strap. If you aren’t sure how, get help from a competent mechanic or dockmaster.

While you’re at it, spray the winch and all the moving parts with penetrating oil.  Pay out the entire strap if need be and re-coil it so that you’re sure there’s a good covering of the moving parts. Take a walk around the boat and be sure the binding straps are all equally in good shape. If not, replace them.

As to the boat itself now, open the anchor locker and flake out the anchor rode and lay the anchor “on the hard.” Check the shackles and the rode itself for excessive wear, and replace or repair as needed. No sense having the boat float away because the anchor rode wore through or a shackle pin gave out. Be sure that the navigation lights are working. If not, take the bulb to the marine hardware store and replace it – plus spares.

Your storage area(s) might be forward, so open them up and ensure that PFDs, tools, etc. are all in good condition. Check that there’s no standing water in the compartment. If so, the “limber holes” are clogged and the water can’t get to the bilge to be pumped overboard. Every ounce of weight that wasn’t on the boat when it was manufactured changes its centers of buoyancy and gravity. In heavy seas, that just might matter a whole lot.

Next are the cockpit and electronics. Disconnect them, spray them with some “white grease,” reconnect and test the gear. If a connector is corroded, replace it. This will keep salt in the air from penetrating your electronics.

If you haven’t checked the PFDs, do it now. Check your whistle, horn, flares – any and all safety equipment. Don’t forget your fire extinguisher(s). If it isn’t “in the green,” chuck it. Also, gently shake it side to side, head over end. If you hear a “thunk,” the dry chemical has solidified. It’s now a good door stopper.  You should hear a low “Shh…” sound as the suppressant moves back and forth.

Check the fuel tank. Is the “sender wire” in good condition? How about the filter? Check the fuel lines, too. Weak or cracked hoses must be replaced, along with rusted hose clamps. How are the battery and the clamps that attach to the posts? Just like a car, all this has to be in good condition.

The engine is the most obvious component to ready for service. Change the oil – all the oil – including what’s in the foot of the engine. You’ll need a large straight-slot screwdriver for the two screws (high and low), a bucket and a quart of oil. Find all the grease fittings and gently pump new grease in until it comes out somewhere else. Don’t forget the steering cable fitting. Be sure that the oil dipstick is properly seated. If you have trailer, check the tires and the lube the bearings. As with engine grease, pump it in gently. Who wants to push out a seal?

Reset the spark plug(s) before you put the engine cover back on – unless you’re going to work on the prop. Some old models might start up when you turn the prop – and that will definitely ruin your Saturday. Once ready to start the boat, be sure it’s in water! You need the coolant! It will smoke at first from the fogging oil you laid in the fall but that will quickly pass. OK, there are surely more things to do, but you’re well on your way to heading out.

If you are interested in being part of the USCG Forces, email me at or go direct to the D1SR Human Resources department, who are in charge of new members matters, at and we will help you “get in this thing.”

Captain Kevin Reed is the Captain of the Port and Sector Commander for U.S. Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound. CAPT Reed is responsible for all active-duty, reservist and auxiliary Coast Guard personnel within the Sector. As a Commodore of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary First District, Southern Region, Vin Pica works closely with CAPT Reed and his staff to promote boating safety in the waters between Connecticut, Long Island and 200 nautical miles offshore. Sector Long Island Sound Command Center can be reached 24 hours a day at 203-468-4401.

Editor’s note: Weekly updates for the waters from Eastport, ME to Shrewsbury, NJ including discrepancies in Aids to Navigation, chart corrections and waterway projects are listed in the USCG Local Notice to Mariners.