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Spring Launch Checklist

The snow has melted off the boat cover. The weather is no longer icy. Once again, it is time for spring commissioning. This should be an exciting moment, not a daunting one, and Heartland Boating is here to help with the following tips.

How easily spring commissioning goes is in part a reflection on how well you winterized. For example, if you've already flushed and replaced the engine coolant and changed fuel filters, lubes and transmission/lower unit fluid, you're well ahead of the game. If not, those need to be incorporated into the spring plans.

Whether you've stored your batteries in a garage and are about to reinstall them, or left them on board, now is the time to load-test them with a voltmeter. Charge or replace if necessary. Inspect all battery and other electrical connections for corrosion and clean them with either an emery cloth or 1/4 box of baking soda added to a pint of water.

A boat isn't a boat without its engine, so go slowly here and be thorough. On an inboard, check all the hoses and clamps and replace any that show signs of cracks, softness or corrosion. The same goes for the belts, which should have a 1/2-inch or less of give. Scrutinize belts for tears, gouges, splitting or shiny spots.

Remove any storage anti-freeze and replace with 50/50 anti-freeze and water, or a premix. Even if you changed out your fluids last fall, check that they are still at the appropriate levels — this goes for inboards, outboards and sterndrives.

Inspect spark plugs on gas engines, inboard or outboard, and clean the flame arrestor on an inboard. Check both engine and non-engine zincs, so you start the season fully protected. Don't be tempted to use a "close enough" size, zincs are specifically sized and placed for a reason. Inspect pump impellers, with a particular focus on the raw-water ones that get the harshest use.

Diesel owners should clean the air filter, if the engine is so equipped.

Examine lower units for paint bubbling as well as physical damage. Repair and repaint as needed. If you've got outboard power, check the priming bulb to ascertain that it is sufficiently firm. Eye it, as well as hoses and clamps, for cracks, soft spots and corrosion.           

Whether you're changing out the lower unit lube fluid or did it last fall, look at it now to make sure it's clear. Milky fluid may indicated a prop shaft seal leak. Speaking of leaks, look closely at the trim cylinders. The shafts themselves should have some oil on them; apply if necessary after removing any corrosion.

Check all through-hull fittings and clean and lube them until they function efficiently. Thoroughly flush anti-freeze from the fresh-water system until the water runs completely clear.

Even if you weren't met with a horrible, musty odor when you first entered the cabin, check the corners, closets, cabinets and even under carpeting for mold and mildew. You can use a two-to-one water-diluted bleach on most hard surfaces, but be sure to test your mixture in a discrete area first.

Back on deck, inspect any vinyl, canvas, Isinglass, etc., that was not removed for storage. Clean and repair as needed, then apply vinyl and protectants to ward off UV rays and help repel future stains. Waterproof your canvas. Don't forget to check the dock and anchor lines, paying particular attention to chafe spots and replacing if needed.

Clean out the bilge, then pour in some bilge cleaner to be proactive as water collects during the season. Verify that the bilge float arm is working properly.

If the boat is out of the water, this is the perfect time to visually inspect the hull for dings, crazing and blisters. Repair as needed with an applicable do-it-yourself product. Any oxidation should be addressed as well, and the gelcoat restored as close as possible to showroom luster with the appropriate polish or compound.

Then, the entire boat should be waxed with a durable PTEF wax to make summer cleanup easier. But stop! Before you apply the protective polish, which should be used on deck as well, thoroughly clean the boat starting at the top and working your way down to follow the path of the dirty water and avoid cleaning it twice. Remove rust and other stains with the appropriate cleaner; there seem to be as many different cleaners as there are stains these days.

Lastly, replace electronics removed for the winter. Before you plug them in though, touch up the connections with a shot of non-solvent-based anticorrosive. The protective lubricant you sprayed on when winterizing has probably, to some extent, dried out. Skip the petroleum jelly, as it can also seal in moisture.

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