29 Spring Commissioning Tips from Sea Tow

A vessel examiner assisting passengers off a power boat prior to conducting a vessel safety check. Photo/USCG

It’s as predictable as the crocuses coming up in March. We’re talking about a boater’s annual Spring Commissioning project. For some do-it-yourselfers,it’s a great time to head down to the boatyard, roll up your sleeves, and put in some much-needed elbow grease to get your boat ready for a trouble-free season. For others, it’s simply the time to call the boatyard and let the pros do it.

Either way, the nonprofit Sea Tow Foundation for boating safety and Sea Tow Services International, Inc. offer the following checklist of tasks that should be performed prior to launching the boat for another season of fun on the water.

Boat Bottom:

  • Power-wash and remove any loose paint, dirt, grease, barnacles or other marine growth. Do the same for the lower unit or prop shaft, trim tabs, and propellers.
  • Mask off the waterline and paint the bottom, lower unit, and trim tabs using either hard or ablative antifouling paint.
  • Remove and replace all zincs.
  • Inspect all through-hull fittings, grates, and engine-water intakes to ensure they are clear of barnacles and debris.


  • Inspect the hull and gelcoat for cracks, blisters, or other damage. You can repair minor dings and scrapes yourself, but for any major items like gelcoat blisters, it’s best to hire a fiberglass pro to do the job right.
  • Test the navigation lights (masthead, sidelights, stern light) for proper operation and make sure the lenses are watertight. They should be bright enough to be seen from at least a half-mile away.
  • Clean the windows, seats and other surfaces. Replace cushions that were stored indoors.
  • Wash, compound, and wax the topsides. Strip and re-varnish any brightwork.
  • Inspect ground tackle including all connections. Replace worn line, splices, or rusty shackles. Secure the clevis pin to the shackle with mousing (safety) wire. Trim excess for handling safety.
  • Test the anchor windlass for proper operation. Secure anchor.
  • Check the VHF antenna to make sure it is installed properly and then test the VHF radio. You can perform a free Sea Tow Automated Radio Check (ARC) to ensure that your VHF radio is working. (Visit http://www.seatow.com/boating-safety/automated-radio-checks to find the right VHF channel for an ARC request in your area.)
  • Clean all deck surfaces and hardware. Inspect all hatches and ports for watertight seals.

Engine Compartment and Bilge:

  • Check the bilge and remove all debris and water.
  • Check bilge pump to make sure it is working, especially the automatic float switch. Make sure the strainer is clear of debris and hoses are in good shape.
  • Clean all battery terminals, check water levels, charge, spray terminals with corrosion inhibitor, and reinstall.
  • Change the oil and fuel filters on the engine(s) and generator. Refill with fresh oil and fuel. Change or top off lower unit or outdrive gear oil.
  • Pump grease into zerk fittings on engine, bearings, etc.
  • Drain antifreeze from engine cooling and fresh water systems and replace with fresh water.
  • Check spark plugs, fuel pump, electrical system, fuel lines, hoses, clamps, and engine drive belts for signs of wear and damage. Repair/replace as needed.
  • Flush and drain holding tank.
  • After launching the boat, check for possible leaks. If you see water coming in, determine the source of the leak, haul the boat, and repair/re-check.

Safety Checks:

  • Reinstall all marine electronics. Check connections for a secure fit and test all items for proper operation/integration.
  • Verify that emergency flares and fire extinguisher(s) are not past their expiration dates and are still in good condition.
  • Avoid groundings by updating your paper and electronic charts. The charts will let you know where it is safe to boat and which places to avoid.
  • Ensure all life jackets and the throwable cushion/ring are undamaged and ready for use. Make sure you have life jackets that will fit all of your family members and friends who may go out with you on the boat. Remember that children may have outgrown their old life jackets over the winter months,so you might need to buy them new ones.
  • Other equipment checks include, visual distress signals, fire extinguishers, ventilation, backfire flame control, sound producing devices, navigation lights and marine sanitation devices.
  • Check carbon monoxide detector to insure it is working properly. Install a detector in your cabin if you do not have one.
  • Schedule a courtesy Vessel Safety Check with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or U.S. Power Squadron in your area.
  • Renew your Sea Tow membership for peace of mind on the water.
  • If you have an iPhone or Android, download the free Sea Tow App for smartphones at www.seatow.com/app. It will put GPS, navigation, tides, weather and other information at your fingertips, as well as allowing you to call for help with the swipe of a thumb.


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