Start Your Engines!

Published in the April 2009 Issue April 2009

The snow is receding. The days are getting longer. Birds are on the move. What does that mean?

Spring cleaning.

For those of you keeping your pontoon or deck boat within sight, it's that time again when the boat is resurrected from hibernation. Much needs to be inspected before it hits the water for another summer of wakeboarding, cruising or fishing. You may have done a stellar job winterizing it a few months ago, but that doesn't mean you can lightly assume everything is still good to go. That boat is an investment, and as such it needs to be prepared for another change in season. How are you going to prepare it? Here are several simple pre-season tips to get your boat back into commission, not necessarily in this order. Now start your engines!

1. Filters And Fluids

Just like in your car and tow vehicle, change the oil along with oil and fuel filters. But whereas your car's oil is replaced every 3,000 miles, you should replace the oil and filter on your pontoon at least once per season. If you don't have enough room for an oil pan drain plug, use an oil drain suction pump. It has a long flexible tube, which is inserted into the oil dipstick tube and fed into the crankcase. The used oil is sucked up in the tube and into a container either by an electric pump or by a vacuum created from hand pumping.

In order to increase fuel efficiency, check the air filter and replace if necessary. Check the hydraulic fluid in the hydraulic fluid reservoir to make sure it's full. Assuming you checked the fluid level last fall and it was full, if it's no longer full, trace the whole system to pinpoint the leak. Examine hydraulic hoses for weak spots, and all hydraulic fittings for corrosion and tightness. Also, check the power trim/tilt unit reservoir fluid level.

Check all the fuel system and hydraulic fittings. Check all fuel lines for loose connections or deteriorating connections. At least once a year, replace the fuel-water separator filter and carburetor fuel inlet filter. Much like replacing an oil filter, wipe the gasket on the new filter with a little bit of clean oil and screw it onto the adapter until the new filter is snug.

Next, make sure everything that needs to be lubricated is. Including blocks, pad eyes, the steering control valve (through the grease fittings), all steering system pivot points, throttle and shift linkage pivot points and drive unit upper and lower swivel pins to name a few. Also, check the power steering unit and all linkages for loose, missing or damaged components.

2. Arrest That Flame!

One effective way of cleaning the flame arrestor, which serves as an air filter and as a safety feature against engine backfiring in the engine compartment, is spraying the fins with carburetor cleaner. Then blow out the fins with an air compressor until the fins are dry. At any rate, make sure the flame arrestor has been sufficiently cleaned and dried before reinstalling. Wipe all accessible surfaces if necessary.

3. Electric Avenue

One of the first things you need to check is the battery. How's the battery water level? Is there corrosion on the battery terminals? Disconnect the negative battery cable, then the positive. Clean the cable clamps and battery terminals if there is corrosion, and reinstall the cables in the opposite order and tighten the clamps. Check all wiring connections between the alternator and engine to make sure they are tight and clean. If the boat ignition is equipped with a warning buzzer to reflect low oil or an increase in operating temperature, check the buzzer by turning the key on without cranking the engine. Once those are in the clear, check that the boat starts, so you can charge the battery in your storage unit rather than out on the water. All terminal connections at the distributor should be clean and tight, as well as the ignition module and ignition coil. The battery should be in acceptable condition and fully charged. If in doubt, make sure you have a new battery on hand.

Check all other electrical systems as well. Flip all electrical switches to ensure that each circuit is functioning correctly. Unplug connectors from the back of each unit and check for corrosion. Test all gauges, make sure you have spare fuses on board as well as spare bulbs for all lighting fixtures (and insure those are working as well), inspect antennas, inspect wiring for wear and chafe and check all electrical devices such as depth finders and GPS units.

4. Clean The Bilge

Check to make sure the bilge pump is fully operational. Clean the bilge area for signs of oil accumulation and other debris, which can accumulate over the course of a single season. Open the raw-water pump and check for damaged impeller vanes. To be environmentally savvy, make sure all cleaning solvents and degreasers you used to clean the bilge have been wiped clean and removed, so as to prevent them from discharging into the water once the bilge pump turns on.

5. Cool Your Jets

Replace all the zinc plugs in the cooling system, and check all hoses for signs of defects such as cracks or other forms of deterioration. Start the engine and get it to operating temperature, while checking the cooling system on the way. Exhaust risers should be warm but not too hot to touch. If that's the case, there may be an obstruction. If your boat is equipped with a closed-loop cooling system, check the level of the coolant and top off if necessary.

By the way, exhaust connections should not have signs of cracking or leaking-black smudges if dry exhaust, drips if wet. It is a U.S. Coast Guard requirement to run the blowers for a minimum of four minutes prior to starting the engine, so check to make sure the blower hoses are not obstructed, and that one end is close to the lowest part of the bilge.

6. Check Your Belts

Much like the cooling system hoses, check the condition of all drive belts for splitting, crazing and cracking. Replace the belt if the underside is starting to glaze, but don't throw away the old one. Save it as a spare just in case your new drive belt someday shreds and you're stranded out on the lake. Check the belt for tension by pressing down on the belt with your thumb. The deflection should have play of no more than a half-inch or so. Check and tighten all v-belts.

7. Safety Equipment

The U.S. Coast Guard requires that there should be at least one approved life jacket or personal flotation device for each person on board. Now is the time to check the inventory and condition of your safety equipment. Check the life jackets for signs of dampness or mildew. If your boat is 26 feet or larger, you must have one Type IV throwable on board.

Inspect the gauges and date tags on all fire extinguishers on board. Any that are out of date or below pressure should be recharged or replaced. Holders must release easily. If you have a dry-powder extinguisher, turn it over and shake vigorously to loosen the powder if the powder has become compacted. Test the horn to make sure it is working properly. If you have visual distress signals such as flares, check to see that they have not expired.

If you have an Emergency Position Indicating Radiobeacon (EPIRB), it must be registered. The registration must be good for three years. The battery has a legal service life of five years, and the expiration date should be on a label somewhere on the unit.

Above all else, all owners manuals you have for your fire extinguishers, EPIRBs, etc, (along with all aftermarket equipment) must be on board.

8. Hull of a Cleaning

You want the hull to continue looking spectacular. Check for blisters, scratches, abrasions and gouges and repair as necessary. Inspect rudder and fittings, trim tabs, rub rails and the swim platform and ladder. Check the condition of the canvas for anything that could be a concern. Check drains for winter debris. Inspect the transducer and thru-hull fittings. Finally, clean the windshield, apply a coat of wax to the hull and clean and polish all metal fittings. For minimal impact on the environment, use a mild detergent to scrub your boat. When scrubbing, don't use one kind of brush-use a soft head brush for sensitive areas, a moderate one for tougher surfaces and a rough-bristled one for anything below the waterline that really needs a good scrub.

With a few hours of work each weekend-or one long re-commissioning marathon-you can get your boat ready for another sun-filled summer of relaxation, without preventable maintenance issues.

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