A thorough inspection and some basic service can prevent a lot of common problems boaters encounter that can ruin a great weekend on the water. Due to the wide variety of boats and trailers out there we can’t cover everything specific to each, but this list is a good starting point for a trouble free boating season!
- Registration Paperwork: Check to make sure you have all the necessary documents for the waters you are boating or fishing. These may include current state registration and boat sticker, insurance identification, local lake permit if applicable and a fishing license if you are an angler.
- Hull or Pontoons: A thorough visual inspection of the hull – look for cracks, distortions or blisters in fiberglass. For aluminum boats and pontoons check for cracks, broken welds, loose rivets or other damage. Check to be sure you have all drain plugs and that they still fit tightly, be sure the rubber seals haven’t cracked or dried out. Check all hull through fitting such as water intake, aerator live wells inlets and bilge pump water outlets to make sure the seals are intact and hoses attached and are in good condition. Make sure they are free from any blockage or obstructions.
- Batteries/Electrical: Check the batteries for overall condition and charge level, charge if needed. Inspect the battery casing for cracks and clean the terminals if dirty or corroded. If your battery is beyond the warranty period you may want to consider replacing it, they often do not last more than two or three years. Dirty or corroded battery terminals are a leading and preventable cause of starting issues. To clean the terminals, use a wire brush or fine grit sandpaper to remove any corrosion and then spray Bel-Ray Rust Preventative Coating or 6 in 1 lubricant on the connection to inhibit further corrosion. Also, inspect the cables and connection ends for corrosion and cracks. All batteries must be secured in the boat per the manufactures standards, i.e. battery box or hold down mechanism.
- Electrical Accessories: After the batteries are inspected, charged and installed it is time to check the other electrical components including running lights, depth finders, GPS, trolling motors and radios. Also run the bilge pumps and aerators to make sure they all are working properly.
Safety Equipment Checklist
- PFDs (Life Jackets) must be U.S. Coast Guard approved, in good serviceable condition and of suitable size for the each person on the boat. Children must have properly fitted PFDs designed for children. Wearable PFDs shall be readily accessible and a throw able device must be immediately available. PFDs cannot be stored in unopened plastic packaging. For Personal Watercraft riders, the PFD must be worn and indicate an impact rating. Boats 16- feet or longer, must also have one Type IV.
- Fire Extinguisher: Check your local regulation but most boats over 16-feet are required to have a fire extinguisher on board. It should be fully charged and mounted in a place with easy accessibility. Be sure you have the correct size for your boat and check for an expiration date or the gauge on the extinguisher for charge status.
· Visual Distress Signals (VDS):
Recreational boats 16-feet and over used on coastal waters or the Great Lakes are required to carry a minimum of either three day and three night pyrotechnic devices, one day non-pyrotechnic device (flag) and one night non-pyrotechnic device (auto SOS light) or both. Recreational boats less than 16-feet on coastal waters or the great lakes need only carry night visual distress signals when operating from sunset to sunrise.
· Ropes and Anchors: Inspect your anchor lines, dock lines and landing ropes for damaged, chafed or areas that have deteriorated over time from sunlight, replace as necessary.
Engine Check List
- Propellers: Check your propeller for cracks, pitting distortion and dings. An off-balanced propeller can cause unwanted vibration leading to damage to your gearcase or drivetrain and bearings. It’s a good time to remove the prop and lubricate the shaft with Bel-Ray Waterproof Grease to make sure the prop does not seize to the shaft. Additionally check the propeller nut and cotter pin to make sure the propeller is secure.
- Outboard Motors: Start with the fuel system and remember to be careful because you’re working with flammable gas and vapors. Inspect the fuel line and look specifically for any dry rot, brittleness, cracking and any loose clamp connections. Check the fuel tank for leakage, damage, or cracks. Replace the fuel lines or tank if it is questionable or showing signs of concern. Inline and engine mounted fuel filters should also be replaced if it was not done as part of your winterization.
- Fluid Levels: Check and fill your fluid levels, engine oil, power steering, power trim and tilt reservoirs, gearcase and reservoir on sterndrives. Change the gear oil if was wasn’t done during winterization. Check the Bel-Ray YouTube video on the “In Jim’s Garage” playlist for tips and DIY instructions.
- Cable Hoses and Clamps: Remove the cover and inspect all cables, hoses and clamps, make sure there are no cracks, swells or loose clamps.
- Spark Plugs: It’s good practice to replace the spark plugs every spring, it’s cheap, preventative maintenance.
- Before Leaving for the Boat Ramp: We strongly suggest testing the engine first, make sure it starts and runs. Do not start the engine without water, use a flusher or cups that mount on the water intake portion of the lower housing. The motor flusher connects to a garden hose allowing you to safely run the motor at low speed to insure it will start and run.
Trailer Check List
One of the most commonly overlooked, but probably most important, pieces of boating equipment is the boat trailer. Trailers consist of a frame, axles, bearings, hubs, tires, bunks, rollers, winch, and lights. Some boat trailers are equipped with trailer brakes. Each piece of the trailer is important and demands periodic inspections. Check the Bel-Ray YouTube videos on the “In Jim’s Garage” playlist for more tips and DIY instructions.
- Tires: These need to be inspected for tread wear and separation before each trip. Check for proper inflation and don’t forget the spare. Periodically check the torque on the lug nuts throughout the year. Boat trailers equipped with trailer brakes need to be monitored for brake pad/shoe wear. Trailers are submerged in water repeatedly and may rust or lock-up inside the drum. Replace any worn or needed parts and use Bel-Ray Rust Preventative Coating on bare metal surfaces to prevent rust and corrosion.
- Bearings: The bearings and hubs failures are the most common on the boat trailer. They are packed with grease to reduce friction. Without proper lubrication heat can build up in the bearings at highway speed and cause failures that can leave you stranded on the side of the road. Water from repeated submersions can also permeate into the grease and bearings causing the grease to break down, this allows heat is increase resulting in the bearing failures and/or spindle damage ruining the hub and possibly the axle. The easiest way to keep bearings packed is the use of bearing protectors such as Bearing Buddy that replace the dust cap on the outer end of the hub and are equipped with a grease fitting. One or two shots of Bel-Ray Waterproof Grease before each use can prevent an expensive hub or axle replacement.
- Rollers & Bunks: Other aspects of the trailer that require attention are the bunks and rollers. Check these for breaks or cracks and if necessary replace damaged parts. Broken rollers or bunks can cause problems launching and loading the boat and may damage the hull.
- Lights: Check the trailer lights for all functions. Replace blown bulbs immediately, burnt our lights are a safety risk on the road. Most trailer light assemblies are not water tight, so always unplug trailer lights before launching or loading. Bulbs get hot when the brakes are applied and if they are suddenly cooled by water, a blown bulb may occur. Unplugging the pigtail can save the light bulbs. Upon inspection, if no lights burn, check for corroded connections, damaged wiring and proper ground on trailer to find the problem. LED lights can be installed to improve reliability and reduce maintenance.
- Winch: Inspect the winch to be sure it’s in proper working order. Pay close attention to the winch strap or cable and make sure the connecting hook is properly secured. If the strap or the cable is worn or frayed, replace it. Worn or frayed cables and straps can break causing injury or damage.
- Trailer Frame: Boat trailers are built from painted steel, galvanized steel or aluminum to prevent rusting. Regardless of the material used, the frame needs to be inspected for cracked or broken welds or heavy pitting in the metal. If you need to repair any welds your trailer be sure to find a qualified welder. Additionally perform a visual inspection of the axles and springs for rust corrosion or damage.
Trailer maintenance is critical to safety on the road and should not be overlooked. A little routine service on your trailer can prevent a failure that could result in leaving the boat by the roadside while trying to find replacement parts miles away.