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 important items to attend to, starting with removing the shrinkwrap then moving on to battery installation and outboard engine checks. Walking us through the process is marine technician and service expert Steve Lawrence of North Atlantic Marine Services in Wareham, Massachusetts.
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 prepping your outboard for the season.
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, rub rail, trailer, engine, handles and other exterior components. In their enthusiasm to uncover their boat for the season, many boaters rush through the job, only to end up causing expensive and time-consuming damage.
Steve begins the wrap-removal process by cutting the straps at the bow of the boat, and making small slits in the wrap up to the gunwale to create 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, he 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 is installing the batteries after they have been fully charged and load-tested with a volt multimeter. As part of the battery install, Steve makes sure that the batteries are strapped down and that the positive battery terminals are covered as per Coast Guard safety requirements, and uses nylon-insert locknuts (as opposed to wingnuts) to secure the terminals to the battery posts. Wingnuts may be easy to use, but they can loosen over time, especially after 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. Believe it or not, 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 motor 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
Note: 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, to make no one accidentally starts the engine before the fuel system can be primed, which can damage or destroy the pump.
Steve primes the system by squeezing the priming bulb to pump gasoline into the engine. When the bulb is hard, the system is primed and ready to go.
Step 6: Oil Check & Cooling Water Source
After a check of the oil level (remember, this is a 4-stroke engine) Steve attaches the “earmuffs” for supplying cooling water to the lower unit, and also connects a hose to the upper cooling-water port. Note that this “dual-port” setup may not apply to other engines. Again, check your manual before commissioning.
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 can vibrate loose, or can be pulled off if someone accidentally trips on the hose. This can cause the engine to overheat and 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 Water & Fuel Leaks
At this point Steve makes another visual inspection to check for any leaks in the cooling water system, or any oil or fuel leaks below the powerhead and around fuel line connections.
He then moves on to check the shift, throttle mechanism and alternator, as well as changing the spark plugs and zincs, but we’ll save those steps for Part 2!
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.