Get Your Boat Ready: Spring Commissioning Checklist

For boaters in the haul-out-and-hold-on zones of the chilly north, spring is a pretty exciting time and boating spring fever is a common affliction. As soon as the weather breaks, thousands of us start burrowing in garages and workshops, getting our gear together for spring commissioning. Of course the ease and speed of commissioning a boat in the spring is directly related to how well it was winterized when the leaves turned in the fall. Assuming that you put your boat away right, here’s a checklist of basic commissioning items to help you get underway, with the full explanation and tips for each below:

boat ride in spring
The first boat ride of spring is a much-anticipated event. Photo by Lenny Rudow

Spring Boat Commissioning Hull, Topsides, and Deck

  • Uncover your ride. If you use a high-quality tarp (not one of those lousy blue things) dry and fold it carefully for next season. If your boat is shrink-wrapped, take or send the old wrap to recycling. Do not throw it in a dumpster. It will come back to haunt you as a ghostly plastic nightmare.
  • Wax your topsides with good marine paste-wax. It shines better, protects better, and lasts longer than “easier” liquid wax products. No pain, no gain. If your boat’s gel coat is looking drab, see Restoring Gelcoat Like the Pros: Elbow Grease Required.
  • If you use an electric buffer, inspect the pad carefully for any debris that you might grind into the gelcoat. And keep that buffer moving – don’t hold it in one spot to hit a problem area, or you’ll have a problem area.
  • Don’t wax non-skid deck areas! Wash them and you’re done.
  • Use acid-based rust and stain removers sparingly, be careful how you rinse them, and avoid using them over an aluminum trailer.
  • Apply your antifouling paint. Don’t paint your running gear with copper-based paint without a barrier coat, and don’t paint your transducers at all. See How to Paint the Bottom of a Boat if you need a refresher on how to get the job done.
  • Replace hull zincs.
  • Stick that drain plug in before launch! Many a boat has headed directly to a Davy Jones rendezvous after this little detail was skipped.
Boats can be professionally shrink-wrapped to help protect them during transport.
Boats can be professionally shrink-wrapped to help protect them during transport. Image credit: Doug Logan

Spring Commissioning for Mechanical Systems

  • For outboard engines, review our Spring Outboard Commissioning guide.
  • The procedure for inboard engines can vary quite a bit depending on what type of boat and engine you have, and can include different plugs, cooling system prep, and parts replacement. So you’ll have to follow the manufacturer’s specific recommended procedures, or take the boat to a pro for the de-winterizing chores.
  • Check all hose clamps and fittings. Tighten as necessary. Check hoses for cracking and chafe.
  • Check your wiring. Electrical connections suffer in the winter from temperature changes and humidity. Clean your terminals, change them if necessary, and spray with a corrosion inhibitor.
  • Check throttle and shift cables, lubricate with marine-grade Teflon or grease.
  • Check your seacocks for free movement and lubricate as needed. Open those that need to be open for launch (raw-water intake!) and close those any that need to be closed.
  • Make sure your strainers are clean and clear.
  • Check steering cables or hydraulics for proper tightness, wear, leaks, and smooth movement of the engine or rudder.
  • Double-check fluid levels — lube oil, transmission oil, lower unit oil, coolant, etc. (We’re hoping you changed these in the fall or left them in good shape.)
  • Check heat exchangers for deposits and obstructions; clean as needed.
  • Check cooling water impellers, replace if necessary.
  • Check belts for wear and proper tension.
  • If your engine needs new spark plugs, wait to change them until after you’ve burned off last fall’s engine fogger residue.
  • Check engine zincs, replace if necessary.
  • On stern-drive boats, carefully inspect outdrive bellows for cracks and deterioration from winter weather.
Make sure to open the intakes for plumbing systems like livewells, or it’ll be a tough start to spring. Photo by Lenny Rudow

Spring Commissioning Plumbing Systems

  • Drain all plumbing lines of antifreeze, and dispose of it properly.
  • Fill freshwater tanks.
  • Flush the plumbing lines with freshwater long enough that coloration (from the antifreeze) is no longer visible. Then, flush then a few minutes longer.
  • Open raw water intakes for the head, raw water washdowns, livewells, and other plumbing systems.
boat on a trailer
Your boat’s trailer needs a spring commissioning, too. Photo by Lenny Rudow

Boat Trailer Spring Commissioning

  • Spray all connections with contact cleaner; test brake and signal lights.
  • Test your brakes, if your trailer is equipped with them.
  • Grease wheel bearings (if you didn’t grease them in the fall), lubricate hitch mechanism, overhaul winch cable or strap and check for wear/weakness.
  • Carefully check your tires (you blocked the trailer up in the fall to prevent settling, right?), including treads and sidewalls, and inflate to proper pressure. Do the same for your spare.
kid in a life jacket
Make sure all your safety gear is ready to roll for spring. Naturally, that includes the life jackets! Photo by Lenny Rudow

Safety Gear Checks

  • Make sure flares, fire-extinguishers, and other required equipment is up-to-date.
  • Check PFDs and stow them in an easy-to-access place.
  • Test bilge blowers and bilge pumps.
  • Overhaul your anchoring gear and stow it so that you can deploy the anchor quickly.

Read through our Boat Safety Guide, which includes a basic safety gear checklist as well as covering safe boating practices. If you have any doubt as to what gear is required federally or in your state, have a look at the USCG Regulations webpage.

Miscellaneous Spring Boat Commissioning Gear Checks

  • Are the batteries fully charged?
  • Is the registration renewed and have you put the current sticker on?
  • Is your boating license on board or in your wallet?
  • Sunscreen, bug repellent, toilet paper — do you have all your personal conveniences items handy?

Check. Check. Check! See you on the water.


Editor’s note: This article was updated on 2/6/2022.

Written by: Doug Logan

Doug Logan has been a senior editor of YachtWorld.com since 2010. He's a former editor-in-chief of Practical Sailor, managing editor and technical editor of Sailing World, webmaster for Sailing World and Cruising World, contributing editor to Powerboat Reports, and the editor of dozens of books about boats, boat gear, and the sea.

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