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How To Recommission Your Boat

Maintenance & Repair > How To Recommission Your Boat

It's that time of year again and boy do I love it. The birds are singing, the sun is shining and the kids are playing outside again (at least here in the northeast). You can smell it all through spring and summer, the excitement of just being outdoors again.

On the negative side, the grass is growing, there's mulch to spread, weeds to pull, cars and trucks to wash and wax and the kids have something different to do every weekend. But beneath it all, there is one constant sound calling your name from under the din. Listen for a second. Can you hear it It's your boat. Calling out to you for just a few hours of your time.

In return for this time, your boat is willing to stand by you and your family through the whole season of fun on the water. So before you get too carried away with the rights of spring, make sure you've taken the time to properly recommission your craft.

Minimum Recommissioning

The amount of service required when recommissioning the boat and motor after storage depends on the length of non-use, the thoroughness of the storage procedures and the storage conditions.

At minimum, a thorough spring or pre-season tune-up and a full lubrication service is essential to getting the most out of your engine. This includes changing wear items like spark plugs and fuel filters, and replacing all lubricants (which weren't replaced prior to storage). And it includes at least checking all of the adjustments for the throttle and shifter controls.

If the engine has been properly winterized, it is usually no problem to get it in top running condition again in the springtime. If the engine has just been out in the garage and forgotten for the winter, then it is doubly important to perform a complete tune-up before putting the engine back into service. If you have ever been stranded on the water because your engine has died and you had to suffer the embarrassment of having to be towed back to the marina you know what a miserable experience it can be. Now is the time to prevent that from occurring.

Annual Maintenance

Take the opportunity to perform any annual maintenance procedures that were not conducted immediately prior to placing the motor into storage. If the motor was stored for more than one off-season, pay special attention to inspection procedures, especially those regarding hoses and fittings. Check the engine gear oil for excessive moisture contamination. The same goes for oil tanks on oil injected 2-stroke motors. If necessary, change the lower unit gearcase fluid or drain and refill the injection tank oil to be certain no bad or contaminated fluids are used.


In the days of yore, a salty dog would ALWAYS replace the water pump impeller at the start of each season. A smart boater knows how important the impeller is. Face it, if it fails, your motor overheats and strands you, PERIOD. Although there are many stern drive applications on the market today that allow you to change the pump right there in the engine bilge, most pumps will require dropping the lower unit. On most stern drives and outboard boats, you definitely won't be able to change the impeller while at anchor and I REALLY wouldn't want to do it while beached unless I absolutely had to.

With that said, materials used for impellers have improved dramatically over the years. And, though I'm still tempted to replace mine today, I'm looking out at my boat whose 2001 motor still has the original impeller in place on almost 200 hours of service. I know this inexpensive little part doesn't owe me anything, but I think I might just let it go ONE more season.

Before you make the decision to let it go, ask yourself the following questions. On stern drive or inboard motors, did you monitor your engine temperatures last season Did they remain steady all season, never creeping upward On outboards, did you always check the cooling indicator stream Did it remain strong all season And perhaps most importantly, did you always flush your motor but NEVER start it out of the water

If you answered yes to everything, then know that you're taking a calculated risk and watch the temperatures/water pump operation closely. If you answered NO to any of the questions or just want that extra insurance. Go ahead and change your impeller now.

And, while you're at it. Most of the same questions can be applied to your thermostat. Thermostat's require less frequent replacement, but they are also cheapinsurance. If nothing else, make sure you keep the tools necessary to change it on board. In a pinch, you could always remove it and limp home.

Other items that demand your attention include:

  • Install the propeller. Most people remove the propeller for storage purposes. Hopefully you inspected it at that time in case it needed to be filed, repaired or even replaced. Now is the time to install the prop, making sure the splines are freshly greased so the hub won't freeze on the shaft. And now is the time to make sure the propeller is installed and properly secured.
  • Install the battery (or batteries) if so equipped. If you did not attend to one or more of the batteries over the winter, or if one or more are more than a few seasons old, it might be a good idea to consider replacing one at this time.
  • One alternate to replacing older marine batteries is to purchase a portable jump starter/auxiliary power source. These tools which essentially consist of a rechargeable battery pack and built in jumper cables (plus a 12-volt accessory outlet) have become wildly popular the past few years. They can be carried in your car or truck for daily use should the need arise, or kept on the boat as a back-up battery. In addition, when camping, they can be used as an accessory outlet to recharge cell-phones or power portable radios.
  • Inspect all wiring and electrical connections. Rodents have a knack for feasting on wiring harness insulation over the winter. If any signs of rodent life are found, check the wiring carefully for damage, do not start the motor until damaged wiring has been fixed or replaced.
  • For 2-stroke outboards with a remote oil tank, if the line was disconnected, remove the cover and reconnect the line, then prime the system to ensure proper operation once the motor is started.
  • If not done when placing the motor into storage clean and/or replace the boat fuel filters at this time. Also, clean or replace the engine mounted filters (which are often purposely overlooked during winterization if the process used was to leave a sealed fuel system filled with treated fuel.)
  • If the fuel tank was emptied, or if it must be emptied because the fuel is stale, take the time now to fill the tank with fresh fuel. Keep in mind that even fuel that was treated with stabilizer will eventually become stale, especially if the tank is stored for more than one off-season. Pressurize the fuel system, either by pumping the primer bulb on outboards, cranking the motor on carbureted inboards/stern drives, or by cycling the ignition key on fuel injected motors. Once the fuel system is pressurized, carefully inspect all fuel lines and fittings for leaks.
  • Once you're sure about the boat's operating systems, don't forget about the boat itself. Now is the time to clean the cushions, wash the deck or shampoo the carpet and wax (or even bottom paint) the hull.
  • If you're a trailer boater, don't forget to service the trailer. Check the tires and the spare for proper inflation. Grease the wheel bearings. Check the trailer lights and, if equipped, the brakes. And lastly, perform a thorough physical inspection of the trailer frame.

Once your boat and motor is read to start for the first time, either launch the boat or hook up a suitable flushing device (such as a pair of universal flushing muffs for the gear case of an outboard or stern drive). Turn on the water and start the motor.

Run the engine at idle speed and warm it to normal operating temperature. Check for proper operation of the cooling, electrical and warning systems.

Oh, and one more reminder. Before putting the boat in the water, take time to verify the drain plug is installed. Countless number of spring boating excursions have had a very sad beginning because the boat was eased into the water only to have the boat begin to fill with it.

Happy Boating!

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