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Before the Launch

Making a checklist of maintenance items can prevent little problems from becoming big ones.

Spring launch can be an especially challenging time. The rush is on, with every boater wanting to get back on the water, and more than a few boaters needing a long punch list addressed first. Add the pandemic’s labor and equipment-supply shortages, and things your boat needs can easily get skipped or missed.

Before the yard sends the Travelift to launch my boat, I make sure there’s a check mark of completion next to all the mechanical and other maintenance items that can only be
addressed while the boat is out of the water. I am a big fan of lists, and without those check marks, mistakes can happen. I never want to forget to tighten a sea strainer filter lid, or discover that a thru-hull overboard discharge fitting is cracked. I want to go boating, not need another haul out and more down time. That’s why the last item on my list is always following up with the boatyard to catch little remaining
problems before they become bigger ones.

One late November afternoon when the boat was hauled for the season, I had the yard inspect the overboard macerator pump for the fishbox. It needed replacing. This work was done, but the overboard discharge hose from the pump was never reconnected. The hose was in the way of work being done to the rudder post packing gland, and the pump guy never came back to finish job. I caught the problem by checking the rudder post in the spring, and prevented water from flooding the bilge before the boat hit the water in April.

It is no problem to eyeball big jobs such as bottom washing, painting or waxing the hull. But overlooking the smaller chores can result in major problems. If I had not checked that rudder post, there is no way to know when the leak may have been discovered—and a bilge full of salt water is not the way to start a season. Similarly, who has not heard about or seen the guy (or been the boat owner) at the launch ramp who
forgot to install the transom drain plug?

As my boats have gotten larger over the years, so has the length of my checklist. But my routine remains the same.

I start in the engine room. With each fitting for the mains, generator, washdown, air conditioning and thru-hull seacock valves, I remind myself of the time I challenged the stubbornness of the diesel’s raw-water seacock in an effort to the clean the globe and basket filter. I lost that challenge and ended up holding the broken handle in my hand. I managed to open the bronze strainer, quickly remove the basket, and slap down the lid without too much water overflowing into the bilge, but I learned that force does matter. And I sweated until the next haul out to disassemble the internal ball valve mechanism, and then clean and grease it back into proper shape.

The follow-up from that episode is that I now exercise all the valves throughout the bilge monthly. Bronze raw-water strainers deserve regular inspections. Gaskets can wear out or deteriorate over time, and the green bonding wires for metal housings are important allies to counter corrosion. Make sure all connections are in place and secure.

Water and lube oil fluid levels are next on my list, along with an inspection of hoses. While it might not be necessary to swap out the old hose, waiting too long can lead to breakdowns, sizable leaks and increased expense, particularly if hydraulic and fuel-line hoses are involved. My rule with any hose is to replace it sooner rather than later.

House and starting batteries also demand attention before heading to the launching well. Battery life is age-related, so it is better to replace batteries before they fail. Charge them fully before start-up and make sure that wet cell batteries are topped off. Check battery connections, and clean all terminals for solid contact. Power up the battery chargers to be certain they can supply sufficient juice.

Bilge pumps are next on my list. Activate the float switch by lifting it, to confirm that the pump turns on. Bilge pumps with built-in float switches generally have a knob or dial that turns to power the pump; regardless of the type, be sure the pump is capable and reliable. Float switches are often connected to high-water alarms, and these too should be tested. Wiring and terminal connections to the pump can be troublesome, so inspect, clean, repair or replace. Look around near the pump and float switch for debris. Trace the discharge hoses for chafing or minute holes that could weep water back into the bilge, overboard discharge thru-hull fittings and hose clamps. Replace any suspect hose clamps with corrosion-resistant, stainless-steel clamps, and avoid overtightening the fasteners if you use a socket set instead of a screwdriver.

Like a pilot who gives his plane a thorough walk-around before climbing aboard, I like to give one last look at the boat’s propeller. I give it a shake to be sure the strut bearing has no wobble that could indicate a soon-to-be-worn cutlass. Rudder and shaft zincs should be tight and secure, unpainted and new.

Each plastic thru-hull fitting also gets an inspection. Bronze thru-hulls that remain unpainted should not have an orange crust, which could indicate electrolysis. I also look in the exhaust to make sure it did not become a winter home for pigeons or other wildlife.

When I am finally ready for that long-awaited ride to the launch, I can feel the excitement building. To be sure, there is still topside work to do—cleaning and polishing, varnishing and the like—but I have major gratitude for the boatyard and the hardworking staff who are the unsung heroes of the boating industry. Because of them, I feel great heading into spring.

This article was originally published in the April 2022 issue.