Spring is finally here, and all across the nation countless boaters are preparing for the new season (read our Spring Commissioning Special to learn the ropes). As they get ready for that first shake-down cruise, hopefully, they’ll get through the process without committing any of these shockingly stupid 10 spring commissioning blunders. Because these are bad ones, folks—really bad. So please, at all costs:

spring boat launch

Hey, wait a sec - did I put in the drain plug?!

1. DON'T forget to put in the drain plug(s).

Or leave the seacocks closed, or fail to clip on the safety lanyard, or forget to open the fuel tank vent. Yes, that's four separate mistakes, but they all come under a list entitled "most common boating bloopers," so we're covering those right off the bat. And don’t laugh, we’ve all been there before.

2. DON'T launch your boat before the caulk is dry.

This may sound like a no-brainer, but remember that some commonly used below-the-waterline goop (like 3M 5200) takes a full seven days to cure. Splash the boat prematurely, and that stuff will never fully harden. The net result? Leaking. Lots of leaking. See Seamanship Disasters – 3 Stupid Ways to Sink Your Boat, (pay particular attention to #2), to learn what comes next.

3. DON'T change or clean your outboards spark plugs, prior to running the engine for the first time of the year.

Wait a sec—isn’t it a good move to make sure your plugs are in tip-top shape? Sure. But you want to do this after you run the engine, not prior to the first spring start-up. Remember how you (or your boat yard) fogged the engine last fall? That oily stuff burns dirty, and it’ll gunk up those fresh, clean plugs. Wait until you've burned it all out, before cleaning or replacing them.

4. DON'T paint your fishfinder transducer with any old anti-fouling paint.

Regular paint will result in reduced performance. Either leave the transducer paint-free and plan on giving it a good scrubbing now and again, or coat it with an anti-fouling paint designed specifically for transducers. There are a few out there (like MDR Transducer Paint and Petit Transducer Paint) which will keep the yuck at bay without blinding your sonar.

gel coat stain

How will you get rid of tough gel coat stains? Carefully. Very carefully.

5. DON'T use an acid-based hull cleaner to remove gel coat staining while your boat sits on an aluminum trailer.

Yes, these cleaners work (watch How to Remove Tough Gel Coat Stains, to see for yourself). But if any of the acid gets onto your aluminum trailer, it’ll eat right into the metal and cause severe damage. The directions for most of these cleaners advise you to cover the trailer, thereby protecting it. But if you can figure out a water-tight way to cover all of those beams and bunks while your boat is sitting on them, you must be a genius. Play it safe, and only use this stuff if your boat is sitting on blocks—or if you’re about to replace an already-trashed trailer.

6. DON'T try to stain teak while it’s on the boat.

Yes, you want to make that teak look good. But experienced boaters (read: those who have already made this mistake and learned the hard way) remove the teak if possible from the boat before refinishing it, especially if there’s any gel coat nearby. Otherwise, no matter how carefully you tape off the glass or brush on the stain, you’re sure to muff up a spot or two. And yes, it will deface your precious fiberglass.

7. DON'T wax a non-skid deck.

Not only will you turn the cockpit into a skating rink, you’ll also discover that it’s impossible to get the wax out of those narrow indentations in the fiberglass. So how else can you get the nonskid looking good? Some boaters like using Woody Wax, which isn't actual bee’s wax and seems a bit less slick after application. Some others like to pressure-wash the non-skid with a relatively low PSI (500 – 1,000) pressure-washer. And some people give the non-skid a wash-down with Soft Scrub, which tends to do a good job at removing stains but is also a bit harsh on the fiberglass (it’ll lose some of its luster after a few seasons of such treatment).

trailer lights

Trailer lights: we absolutely, positively guarantee that one or more won't work at the beginning of the season.

8. DON'T hitch your rig to the truck and tow it to the ramp without checking all the lights.

As any trailer boat owner can attest, when spring-time rolls around the question isn't whether or not one of your trailer light isn't working; the question is how many trailer lights aren't working.

9. DON'T grease the trailer hubs if you greased them just before winter lay-up.

This is one of those regular maintenance things that should be based on usage rather than timing. Sure, the trailer has been sitting there for months, but the wheels haven’t been turning. The grease will be exactly the same as it was back in the fall. And if you get too exuberant with the grease, the excess can get squeezed out the back of the hub—which means that as your wheel spins along, it will be flung onto the bottom of the boat. Congratulations, you now have another (big) spring clean-up chore to attend to.

wax budder

Wax on, wax off, and keep that buffer moving at all times.

10. DON'T stop moving the buffer as you apply rubbing compound, oxidation remover, or wax.

If you hold the buffer in one spot for too long it can actually “burn” an unsightly mark into the gel coat. Often these appear as dull or blurry swirls marks, and in extreme cases, can actually grind a visual indentation in the gel coat. Usually this happens when you see a stain or mark on the boat and hold the buffer on it with pressure, trying to erase it. (Bad move—you should have watched that Getting Tough Stains Out of Gel Coat video). Unfortunately, you’ll do more harm than good – always keep that buffer moving, with broad strokes across the gel coat. For more details, watch our video How to Restore Faded Gelcoat, which is part of our spring commissioning playlist on YouTube. (And you might as well subscribe to our channel while you're there, in order to get an update when we publish our next how to videos.)

There you have it, folks. 10 stupid spring commissioning mistakes that will have you pulling out your hair before the boating season has even begun. Make sure you avoid ‘em – and here are some other hints, tricks, and tips that will make sure your spring gets off on the right foot.

Get Your Boat Ready for the Season
Gelcoat Maintenance: Shiny Side Up
Top Tips for Teak
Get Your Powerboat Ready For Spring: 31 Hot Tips


How to Install Heat-Shrink Terminals
How to Prep a Boat for Painting
How to Paint a Boat
How to Paint a Non-Skid Deck

Written by: Lenny Rudow
With over two decades of experience in marine journalism, Lenny Rudow has contributed to publications including YachtWorld, boats.com, Boating Magazine, Marlin Magazine, Boating World, Saltwater Sportsman, Texas Fish & Game, and many others. Lenny is a graduate of the Westlawn School of Yacht Design, and he has won numerous BWI and OWAA writing awards.