There’s something different about spring commissioning work, as compared to the usual chores and tribulations that you boat owners have likely been through (read Boat Ownership Advice: Embrace the Hacksaw to get a taste of what you're in for, if you're new to boating). While boat projects can be very satisfying indeed, no one really enjoys any sort of drudgery that takes them away from using their boat on a warm, sunny day. Spring commissioning, on the other hand, actually gets us closer to that finish line of being able to enjoy boating again. So while everyone may not relish spending the weekend on their back slinging antifouling paint, the task is done with a very bright light at the end of the tunnel: making that first run of the season in your pride and joy.
To help make that first watery expedition as trouble-free as possible, we’ve compiled a handy list of areas you’ll want to address as you get ready, replete with lots of supplementary articles from the editors of boats.com and our colleague site boattrader.com. Ready, set, go!
Hopefully you carefully covered your boat before the winter set in, or even better, had it carefully shrink wrapped to seal out the elements. Either way, get started by pulling off the cover. If you have a custom canvas cover, it's a good idea to take it home, carefully scrub it down, and let it dry before putting it away. Shrink wrap should be taken off and recycled. Luckily most marinas have an area where shrink wrap can be deposited for recycling. Read Shrink Wrap Recycling: Easier Than You Think to find out more about doing the right thing with your old shrink wrap.
Wax on Wax Off
Starting out the season with a boat that has a clean slate–inside and out–is a must. Even if your boat was lovingly covered during the winter, it will need a bit of scrubbing and polishing. A thorough spit-shine followed by wax not only makes your boat look good, but also protects it from the elements all season long.
Get started by reading 12-Step Pre-Season Prep and then check out Easy Cleaning: A Lazy Man’s Guide to Spring Cleaning, to learn which polishes and cleaners to use on everything from stainless-steel to vinyl. Then make the Karate Kid's trainer Mr. Miagi proud by polishing and waxing your gelcoat or two-part paint system before you launch. You can get the skinny on the best methods and materials to use by reading:
- 10 Tips to Keep Gel Coat Gleaming
- Gelcoat Maintenance: Shiny Side Up
- Final Finish: Make Your Gelcoat Gleam
- Boat Waxes and Polishes for Making Your Gelcoat Shine
- Restoring Gelcoat Like the Pros: Elbow Grease Required
- How to Restore Faded Gelcoat on a Boat
Water, Water, Everywhere
We're going to assume that you properly winterized your boat's sensitive systems before Old Man Winter swept into town. If you didn't, you're in for some unpleasant and expensive surprises. If you did, now's the time to commission areas such as fresh and raw water plumbing systems, raw water engine cooling circuits, bilge and shower sump pumps, marine heads and macerators, and any other system you ran antifreeze through at layup time.
Fill up your water tank and run fresh, clean water through all your fixtures; open up raw water intake through-hulls and reintroduce raw water to your engine(s), marine heads, and raw water wash down pumps; and flush your bilge pumps and shower sumps with clean water. We've complied a handy checklist to help you make sure you don't forget anything in our Get Your Boat Ready for Summer: Checklist feature.
Know Your Anodes
Lots of folks think that sacrificial anodes–aka zincs–are found only on gear such as props, shafts, struts, rudders, and other underwater appendages. But other areas like engine and generator blocks and outboard lower units also have zincs, which often go overlooked at commissioning time. Used up zincs in an engine or lower unit can cause wallet-busting problems down the line.
To get a better understanding of what zincs do for your boat and the places you should look for them, have a look at the following features. You'll be glad you did.
- All About Anodes
- Protecting Against Marine Corrosion
- Galvanic Soup
- Protecting Metal Rudders With Sacrificial Anodes
If your boat spends even part of the season in the water, a good, fresh coat of antifouling paint on the bottom at the beginning of the season is a must. If your boat's bottom already has bottom paint on it and is in good condition, all that's needed is a thorough sanding and reapplication of new paint. But if layer upon layers of flaking bottom paint is your reality–or you've never painted a boat bottom before–give these handy features a read.
- How to Paint the Bottom of Your Boat
- Bottom Stripping Basics
- 10 Tips for Cleaning Your Boat Bottom and Saving Fuel
- Bottom Paint for Freshwater Boats
And if your entire boat needs a new paint job, check out our How to Prep a Boat for Painting and How to Paint a Boat videos.
What Wood You Do?
Ahh, there's nothing better looking than a beautiful boat trimmed with lots of well cared-for teak. To keep it looking that way, teak, mahogany, and other marine woods all require annual care. And there's no better time than the beginning of the season to spruce it up. That is, unless sanding and varnishing are at the top of your summertime boating plans list.
If you've got wood on your boat that looks less that stellar, or some that simply needs a springtime tuneup, have a look at these helpful features on keeping your brightwork in tip-top shape.
- Exterior Marine Wood Finishes: Part One, Traditional Varnishes
- Exterior Marine Wood Finishes: Part Two -- Oils, Sealers, Hybrids
- Varnishing Art
- Teak Trimming Tips
- Top Tips for Teak
- The Care and Feeding of Teak Decks
Systems Check Up
Once you've recommissioned all of your systems as described above, it's never a bad idea to check and double-check how well these systems and their components are working. By going over every piece of your boat with a fine-toothed comb you can prevent a lot of problems that could conspire to ruin your summer happy hour cruise. Not sure what to look for? The following articles will give you plenty of ideas about where to check for trouble on your boat, before it happens.
- Is Your Boat Ready for the New Boating Season?
- Top Five Spring Outfitting Mistakes
- Ethanol and Water in Fuel
- Spring Outboard Checkup
- Spring Shake-Down Cruise: 10 Problems to Look For
As you're crawling through your boat commissioning systems, you should take the opportunity to inventory your safety gear. In addition to making sure you have the correct U.S. Coast Guard approved equipment, you should also check to ensure flares are not expired, personal flotation devices are in good repair, and that first aid supplies are not out of date.
If you're unsure of what you should have aboard or how to do your own safety check, give the following features a look.
- 10 Tips to Make Sure Your Safety Gear is in Order
- Boat Safety Gear You Need Aboard to Avoid a Ticket
- Expired Flares and Medical Supplies
- PFDs: 5 Tips to Find One that Fits
Once you get through the spring commissioning process, Mom's Mink will be ready for all of your boating season adventures. You say you're not sure where this year's cruising will take you, or what you'll be doing? Read 5 Extreme Boating Adventures, to make a few additions to your boating bucket list. And rest assured that if you follow the advice in all of these articles, your boat will be ready for action the moment summer arrives.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in March 2012, and updated and expanded in March 2018.