Pre-Season Boat Maintenance

Boat maintenance before the season starts prevents fishing downtime.

Pre-Season Boat Maintenance
Clean terminals, tighten all connections, and test power levels, top right.Yamaha

Salt air and strenuous rod-bending exercises are sure to purge this ailment faster than a redfish can crush a crab. However, to take full advantage of the prescribed treatment, your boat must be in shipshape condition.

Whether your boat was winterized or not, now is the time for a preseason inspection to ensure everything is working properly and you can repair or replace anything that isn’t before the fishing heats up.

“Our policy is to change both the engine and gear oils during winterization,” says Ben Mahler, general manager of the Star Island Yacht Club & Marina in Montauk, New York. “We make sure there’s no water present that would freeze, so when we go through our spring checklist, that’s one less thing to worry about. It’s also important to follow the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule. Our season is short here, and you don’t want any unnecessary downtime from a problem that could have been prevented.”

Pre-Season Boat Maintenance
Remove the prop to check for debris and grease the shaft.Mercury Marine

Mahler says the normal regimen for spring preparation is to change all air and water-separation filters. Clogged VST filters on outboards are one of the bigger problems encountered, he adds. Engine and hull zincs, shafts, rudders and impellers should be checked and replaced or cleaned as needed. Batteries ought to be load-tested and charged, and all pumps and float switches checked, including those for livewell systems, washdowns and macerators. Freshwater tanks should be drained and refilled with a treatment additive to prevent the dreaded sulfur smell. Trim tabs should be tested on the rack or trailer to avoid having to pull the boat out of the water if there’s a problem.

“We go through the boat, from stem to stern, and check everything, including lights and electronics,” Mahler explains. “We check all systems and inspect the hoses for dry rot and the clamps for rust or breakage. This is also the time to bottom-paint the hull, if it’s going to stay in the water all season. We’ve been using Pettit Hydrocoat Eco water-based paint. It’s the best we’ve found for slime and barnacle prevention in our area. Afterwards, we wax the rest of the hull, and once we get it back in the water, we wax the boat’s topside too.”

Pre-Season Boat Maintenance
Look for signs of moisture, mold or rust, top left.Alex Suescun

Mahler says Star Island charges hourly labor rates, except for waxing and bottom painting, which are priced based on boat length. “All boats are different,” he explains. “It may only take 10 minutes to check a bilge pump on one, while it may require two guys and a half-hour on another because they have to remove fish boxes to access the pump. So we charge accordingly.”

Even in the warmer southern states where shrink-wrap and antifreeze are foreign, boaters still need to go over their boats and trailers before the season begins in earnest, according to Greg Bent, co-owner of Bent Marine in Metairie, Louisiana. “At some point, the annual engine maintenance needs to be done, including changing the oils and filters and running diagnostics. The owner’s manual provides scheduling guidelines,” Bent says. “The batteries should be fully charged using a trickle charger, and all through-hulls, hoses and livewell systems inspected for leaks.”

Pre-Season Boat Maintenance
Check engine oil and gear-case lube, and change oil and fuel filters, above.Mercury Marine

This is also the perfect opportunity to pull the propellers to check for fishing line and regrease the shaft splines. Make sure the boat registration is current and all required paperwork is on board. Confirm that all safety equipment, including flares, horns and ­whistles, fire extinguishers and life jackets, are serviceable too. And don’t overlook the boat trailer, Bent cautions. The tires, brakes, lights and bunks should all be inspected.

“Before your first fishing trip of the season, I recommend launching the boat for a shakedown cruise,” Bent says. “Make sure everything is working properly and let the engine get up to its usual operating temperature. On most outboards, that’s 165 to 170 degrees. Check to make sure the shifter is working and the steering is free and easy. If everything checks out, flush the engine with fresh water afterwards and you’ll be ready to go catch some fish.”