Video: Spring Commissioning Tips, Part I

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It’s mid-April and time to start prepping your boat for the season. For many boaters, this means first removing the shrinkwrap (or tarp) and “waking up” the engine from its winter slumber. To find out how the pros go about the process of spring commissioning, I stopped in again at North Atlantic Marine Services in Wareham, Massachusetts. North Atlantic is AMTECH-certified marine technician training facility, but they also store and service boats and engines. Co-owner Steve Lawrence walked us through some of the commissioning steps for an outboard-powered center console. As you’ll see in the accompanying video, there are a lot of things to take care of before splashing the boat for the first time.

Step 1: Shrinkwrap Removal

While it seems like the most basic of tasks, removing the shrinkwrap from a boat should be done slowly and methodically so as not damage the gelcoat, rubrail, trailer, engine, handles and other exterior components. In their enthusiasm to uncover their boat for the season, many boaters rush through the job and end up causing expensive and time-consuming work.

Steve begins the removal process by cutting the straps at the bow of the boat, and making small slits in the wrap up to the gunwale to give him some slack. Carefully pulling the plastic material away from the hull, he works his way methodically around the boat, taking his time so as not to risk slicing the gelcoat or rubrail with his razor knife.

When cutting the straps supporting the shrinkwrap, Steve is careful to hold the blade of his knife away from the boat, so that he won’t damage the gelcoat or some other part of the boat if his hand slips.

Once he reaches the transom, Steve peels back the shrinkwrap from around the engine, then climbs aboard. Cutting from inside the boat lets him see what lies behind the shrinkwrap. Extra caution is used when cutting around the T-top, as accidentally slicing the canvas top or scratching the rod holders could prove very costly.

Once the shrinkwrap has been removed from the boat, it can be recycled. North Atlantic and other environmentally conscious service centers, boatyards and marinas have their shrinkwrap and other waste products picked up by a recycling company and reprocessed. If you remove your own shrinkwrap, go the extra mile by checking with recycling centers in your town before chucking the used wrap in the trash.

Step 2: Battery Install

Next up on the commissioning checklist is installing the batteries after they have been fully charged and load-tested with a voltmeter. As part of the battery install, Steve makes sure that all positive battery terminals are covered to meet Coast Guard safety requirement, and uses locknuts, as opposed to wingnuts, to secure the terminals to the battery posts. Wingnuts have a tendency to loosen over time, especially after a season of running through heavy seas.

Step 3: Visual Inspection

Once the batteries are hooked up, Steve removes the cowling and checks for any signs of rodent infestation. Mice and other critters love to get into engines during the winter, and they can do a lot of damage, especially to wiring. If you evidence of a rodent nest, inspect the engine wiring and fuel lines carefully.

Step 4: Trim/Tilt Test

At this point Steve tests the engine’s tilt and trim mechanism to make sure it’s functioning properly. He does this by raising and lowering the engine using both the helm and engine-mounted trim controls.

Step 5: Priming the Fuel System

This article and the accompanying video focus on commissioning procedures for a 2009 250-horsepower Yahama 4-stroke. It’s important to point out that this particular engine may have different commissioning requirements than other makes and models, so always make sure to consult your owners manual or a certified marine mechanic before starting your engine after storage.

Before starting the engine, Steve reconnects the leads to the fuel pump. He disconnects the pump at the end of the season as a precaution, because running it before the fuel system can be primed can damage or destroy the pump.

Next it’s time to prime the system by squeezing the priming bulb to pump gasoline into the engine. When the bulb is hard, the system is primed.

Step 6: Cooling Water Source

After a check of the oil level (remember, this is a 4-stroke engine) it’s time to attach the “earmuffs” for supplying cooling water to the lower unit, and a hose to the upper cooling-water port. Note that this “dual-port” setup may not apply to other engines.

Steve explains that it’s very important to remain near the engine while it’s warming up. The earmuffs that supply water to the lower unit often vibrate loose, or can be pulled off if someone accidentally trips on the hose, and this can lead to the engine overheating and cause major damage to the water pump and impeller. If you have small children about, keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t play with the hose or earmuffs.

Step 7: Engine Startup

With the water at full pressure and flowing from the telltales and propeller hub, Steve fires up the engine. After an initial sputtering, during which the winterizing fluids are burned off, the engine should quickly settle into an easy idle. After 10 minutes or so, Steve checks the temperature of the powerhead at several points with a sensor to make sure it’s heating evenly and within the desired range.

Step 8: Checking for Leaks

At this point Steve makes another visual inspection to check for any fluid leaks below the powerhead and around fuel line connections.

He then moves on to check the shift, throttle mechanism and alternator, and changing the spark plugs and zincs, but we’ll save those steps for Spring Commissioning Part 2!

Related Information:

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.

To sign up for one of North Atlantic Marine Service’s detailed boat and engine training courses:

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