Spring Commissioning Series: Outboard Checklist Part 2


Each day this week, New England Boating will post a new spring-commissioning video and article designed to get your boating season started on the right foot. Today we’ll look at some more important items to check on your outboard when waking it up from its winter nap.

In this video, Steve Lawrence of North Atlantic Marine Services in Wareham, Massachusetts, walks us through the steps involved in making sure all of an outboard’s systems are working properly.

Note: the engine featured in this article and the accompanying video is a 2009 250-hp, 4-stroke Yamaha outboard. Other types, makes and models of engines may have different commissioning requirements, so be sure to consult your owner’s manual or the manufacturer before prepping your outboard for the season.

1. Temperature Test

Digital Temperature Guage
Digital Temperature Gauge

As the engine warms to its normal operating temperature (this should take 10 to 15 minutes), use a digital temperature gauge to check the powerhead at several key points to make sure it’s heating evenly and that there are no “hot spots” that could indicate a problem.

2. Alternator Check

Check the alternator with a voltmeter to see if it’s putting out the correct charge. The optimal charge should be between 14 and 14.5 volts. Any higher or lower could indicate a problem.

3. Shift & Throttle

Check the shift and throttle controls from the helm. If the boat has electronic controls, this needs to be done while the engine is running. Obviously, shifting between gears should be easy and smooth, but not too loose.

4. Steering Check

After checking the shift and throttle, perform a “lock-to-lock” check of the steering to ensure ease of movement. Again, the steering should be nice and smooth, with no binding, sticking or play in the wheel. Any play could indicate low hydraulic fluid level or a leak in the line.

5. Zinc Replacement

Replacing the sacrificial anodes (zincs) on the engine and other metal parts can be done in the fall or spring. A boat that spends a lot of time in saltwater should have its zincs replaced annually.

6. Spark Plug Replacement

The spark plugs used in today’s high-performance engines are not cheap, running upwards of $20 a pop. However, to extend the working life of his customer’s plugs, Steve maintains a “winterizing set” and a “summer running set.” At the end of each season he removes the summer plugs and installs the winterizing plugs, which he uses to burn off the oil and winterizing fluids during the commissioning process in the spring. He then replaces the winter plugs with the summer plugs. This allows him to get 2 seasons of use out of a set of plugs (unless the plugs are too badly worn, of course).

7: Propeller

If you didn’t do this in the fall, inspect the prop for signs of damage. A bent, chipped or cracked prop can rob an engine of efficiency and affect the boat’s top speed and performance. Also make sure there is no fishing line wrapped around the prop or shaft.

8: Paint & Wax

Cover any dings or chips on the outboard housing or skeg with touch-up paint. Also consider applying a coat of wax to the engine cowling.

9: Mounting Hardware

Check the engine mounting nuts on the transom to make sure they are tight and secure.

Handy Spring Commissioning Checklist:

By the way, North Atlantic Marine Services provides a spring commissioning checklist on their website. It’s a long list, but taking care of each item will help ensure a smooth start to your boating season.

North Atlantic Marine’s Spring Check List (PDF)

Spring Commissioning - Engines