Spring Commissioning Your Boat

Follow this nine-step spring-commissioning routine to ensure your boat and boating season run smoothly.
Boat launch lift
Getting ready for serious summer fun means following all these spring-commissioning steps. Courtesy Lenny Rudow

The weather is warming up and it’s time to pull that cover off your boat and celebrate the arrival of a new season, which means it’s also time to run through the boat’s spring-commissioning checklist, ensuring the boat is ready for action asap. Naturally, you want your boat to run perfectly from day one. So be sure to check all of these pre-launch boxes and ensure that your new round of boating adventures is problem-free.

Remove and Stow the Boat Cover

If you had the boat shrink-wrapped, be sure to dispose of the plastic where it will be recycled. Some marinas and marine associations have recycling programs, but it differs from one place to the next. With a little help from your good friend Google, however, you can find out where to take the shrink wrap to have it disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner in most states.

If you have a reusable boat cover, pack it into a large box or canvass bag (if possible) before stowing it away. If you just pile it into the corner of a shed or garage, there’s a good chance mice or some other critters will find it an appealing place to nest, or delightful to chew on and make holes.

Give the Boat a Quick Wash

It’s not the boat’s hull we’re concerned with at this point, but the topsides. Over the winter, an accumulation of dust and dirt is sure to have collected, and if you do all your spring commissioning on a dirty boat you’ll be grinding that grime into the deck, seats and other surfaces as you tread back and forth. So before getting to work, a brief rinse-down is in order.

Open boat hatch
Inspect every compartment and open every hatch, and shine some light into the bilge and make sure there’s no off-season damage from water, critters or insect invasions. Courtesy Lenny Rudow

Make a Thorough Visual Inspection

Go through the boat from stem to stern and look at everything. We mean e verything —open every locker and hatch, and shine some light into the darkest depths of the bilge. Even a well-covered boat is subject to winter damage from water intrusion, wildlife and insect invasions, and other unforeseen events. Now’s the time to locate and identify any damage and get the repairs underway. Also eyeball all of your vessel’s safety gear and make sure the flares and fire extinguishers are primed and are up to date. Check your boat’s fuel tanks, make sure they’re healthy and not leaking. However, if you discover an issue, here’s how to replace your boat’s fuel tanks.

De-winterize the Engines

Just how you perform this task will depend on the type and model engine(s) your boat has, so follow the manufacturer’s instructions. That said, this is usually just a matter of reversing the winterization process you followed last fall with inboard. If you have outboards, then winterization looks like this. Also, be sure to change out the oil and oil filters.

De-winterize the Boat’s Plumbing Systems

Antifreeze needs to be flushed out and replaced with fresh water, drained systems need to be refilled, and certain pumps may need to be primed. As you go through this process, also remember to open any seacocks and/or valves that may have been closed. If they are stuck or frozen, it’s time to repair or replace them.

Review the Electrical Systems

Hopefully, you had the boat’s batteries on a trickle-charger all winter, but if not, now’s the time to top them off. Then fire up the power and test every system on the boat. Flip each switch and make sure the lights are coming on, the pumps are running, the fans are blowing and the actuators are actuating. If you need to update the boat’s switching panel, you can learn how to do that here.

Paint the Hull Bottom

If you paint your boat’s hull bottom, it’s time to sand and scrape it to ensure your paint gets a solid bond to the hull. Follow these steps to prepare your boat’s hull bottom for paint. Pick the antifouling paint of your choice to avoid excessive growth during the season. There are several options and you can read about how to choose the correct bottom paint for your boating environment here.

Best Antifouling Bottom Paints

Man inspecting boat hull
When applying the first coat of wax after giving the boat its spring bath, be sure to use a heavy paste wax. Using a thick paste wax will make the boat shine bright so you can see your reflection. This process will require a second application. Courtesy Lenny Rudow

Give the Boat a Thorough Wash and Wax Job

Remember, how thick and thorough a wax job you do now will determine how easy it is to keep that boat’s shiny gelcoat gleaming all summer long. And be sure to use a thick, protective paste wax. Paste wax will last a lot longer than other varieties so it should always be used for this initial base coat. Now’s not the time to cut corners with a quick-and-easy liquid wax or a combination cleaner/wax. When you’re done, it’s time to start all over again because one coat of wax is never enough, you really need two to ensure complete protection.

Best Boat Wash Soaps

  • Meguiar’s M4364 Marine/RV Boat Wash – 64 Oz. Container – Shop Now
  • Star Brite Concentrated Biodegradable Boat Wash – Shop Now
  • Star Brite Super Orange Citrus Boat Wash & Wax – Shop Now
  • Star Brite Power Pine Boat Wash Super Concentrate – Shop Now
  • Orpine Boat Soap – Shop Now
  • Orpine Wash & Wax 1-Gallon – Shop Now
  • West Marine Heavy-Duty Boat Soap – Shop Now
  • Woody Wax Boat Soap Ultra – Shop Now

Best Paste Waxes

  • Collinite Heavy Duty Paste Wax – Shop Now
  • West Marine Advanced Paste Wax – Shop Now
  • Collinite Insulator Wax – Shop Now

Best Waxes

  • Meguiar’s M6332 Marine Wax – Shop Now
  • Collinite 925 Fiberglass Boat Wax – Shop Now
  • 3M Marine Cleaner & Wax – Shop Now
  • Star Brite One-Step Cleaner Wax – Shop Now
  • Star Brite Premium Marine Polish – Shop Now
  • Better Boat Marine Polish – Shop Now
  • Flitz Metal, Plastic and Fiberglass Polish – Shop Now
Tandem boating
Whenever possible, it’s a good idea to perform your shakedown cruise in tandem with another boater. Courtesy Lenny Rudow

Go for a Shakedown Cruise

Finally, it’s time for some real fun. But don’t plan for a party. You should do the shakedown cruise with a trusted companion, who knows boats and can lend a hand should any issues arise, not with a bunch of friends who are simply looking to take a boat ride. While we have our fingers crossed for you, we also need to remember that the initial spring shakedown cruise will often reveal unexpected issues. That’s why it’s always smart to take one in the first place. It’s also smart to perform a radio check before leaving the dock so you know your communications systems are in order, file a float plan with someone you trust, make sure your towing insurance is in place, stay relatively close to home, and if possible find another boater who’s ready for a shakedown and go in tandem.

Congratulations boater, you’ve made it through the winter. Now follow this spring commissioning regime, and you should be in for an awesome season out on the water.