A few years ago, I did an article on project creep using one of my project boats as an example. As we are contemplating the coming boating season and the resulting commissioning projects, I thought it worthwhile to revisit the concept of “Project Creep”. The definition I used in that past article was that project creep happened when you start out to build a Mini-Cooper and end up with a bus. There is always the temptation, when deep in a project, to say “as long as I have this apart I might as well do that, too”. I’ll try to give you some tools and suggestions to minimize the possible complications. After all, the idea is to get the boat in the water so you can enjoy it, right?
A concept critical to the prevention of project creep, in the process of commissioning, is “triage”. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, Triage is defined as “the assigning of priority order to projects on the basis of where funds and other resources can be best used, are most needed, or are most likely to achieve success”. We need to apply that process to our commissioning activities, sometimes at several levels, in order to get the boat in the water so we can enjoy it, without undue heartburn.
My first levels of triage are: safety concerns, essentials and would-be-nices. The safety concerns category is self-explanatory. If it concerns the safety of you and your passengers, it must be done and whatever funds required need to be expended. You need to inspect and possibly replace things like PFD’s, flares, sound signals and man overboard gear. Inspect lifelines, rigging, rails and handholds; anything that, by failing, would endanger life and limb. Other items in this category might affect the safety of the vessel. Items such as hoses, thru-hulls and seacocks and, hose clamps should be inspected and replaced as necessary.
Items in this category need to be scheduled so as to arrive at launching time in a completed status, ready to launch a safe boat.
The next category, essentials, is items that will need to be accomplished for the safe and efficient operation of the vessel. Working electronics, updated charts and guidebooks, current insurance and towing coverage are essential to the safe operation of the vessel. Normal maintenance functions are also included in this category: engine servicing and tuning, oil and coolant changes, filter replacement, prop servicing. If you have outboards and didn’t change the lower unit oil in the fall, do it now.
Don’t overlook the status of your fuel, drain any water from the bottom of the tank or filter bowls. If you use diesel fuel, drain some off in a glass container and inspect for any growths or “bugs” in the fuel. If you store any amount of gasoline in your tanks drain some and check for any phase separation of the fuel. If it has phase separated, meaning the water and ethanol have separated from the gasoline, the tanks will have to be drained and refilled with clean gasoline. Be sure to have the yard properly dispose of the bad gas.
Inspection and/or repainting of bottom paint should also be in this category. Don’t overlook servicing the water systems and the head. Nothing ruins a summer cruise like having to rebuild a malfunctioning head while underway. Clean the water tanks and refill with fresh water. Make sure you flush any antifreeze out of the system. Be sure to include the water heater. “Cooked” antifreeze will affect your water quality for the entire season.
The items in the “would-be-nice” category are those items that will make you appreciate your vessel and how it reflects on you as the skipper. Waxing the hull, touching up paint dings and scrapes, and replacing tattered flags come to mind. Cleaning or replacing cushions and cleaning any dodgers or canvass enclosures, including cleaning or replacing vinyl windows in the canvas can be considered. Consider cleaning or replace soiled and oily fenders. They look terrible and can transfer that yuck to the hull. At least wash your dock lines and inspect for snags and hackles.
If you have any wood you plan on varnishing, make sure you can complete the task in time for launch or determine it you can varnish after launch. Many will take items off the boat to varnish in the comfort of their garage of basement. Don’t leave it to the last minute or you may not have doors or drawer onboard for launch.
You should now have three triaged lists. They can be on paper or in your computer. The advantage of having them in a computer, say a spreadsheet, is that you will have them as a starting point for next year’s commissioning.
We aren’t done yet, though. We need to triage the lists based on times and schedules and then combine them into a final project plan. You will need to consider how long tasks will take and do they require scheduling with the yard or other service provider. Remember that the closer you get to the start of boating season the more service providers will be backed up. If you need your props serviced, get them to the prop shop as soon as you can. The same thing applies to electronic shops, canvas shops and upholsterers.
Make sure you have slip reservations in place so you will have a spot to launch to. Most marinas today require an insurance endorsement so be sure to follow up with your insurance carrier. Discuss the possible launching schedules with the yard, especially if you or the yard is going to paint the bottom. Some bottom paints have specific time frames between painting and launching. Failing to heed that schedule could compromise the bottom paint.
At the end of this process, you should have a master list of projects in the order they need to be tackled. In addition to the list, I usually take a calendar and jot down the critical dates that tasks need to be started or finished by. Keep that calendar with your lists and refer to it often so you don’t miss any critical dates.
Sounds like a lot of non-boating work, doesn’t it? However, once you have gone through the process you can be better assured you will get to the launch date with things well in hand. And that makes for a better boating season. Best of all, if you keep your lists, you will have a great starting place for next year’s commissioning.