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Spring Commissioning: Eleven things you may (or may not) have missed

April 3, 2019

Well, it’s almost here, a new boating season. As always, we need to commission our boats before we can use them. However, in our rush to get our boats in the water, we often overlook some critical commissioning steps. Here are some suggestions to help avoid future problems.

 
1.  Inspect those hose clamps. Hose clamps are often in out-of-the-way places and hard to see. These will be the ones most prone to corrosion and failure. When replacing a hose clamp, make sure it is completely stainless steel. Automotive style hose clamps will have stainless steel bands and cadmium plated steel worm screws. Those screws will corrode and fail.
If double h
ose clamps are used, they must be installed correctly. They should be separated by at least a quarter of an inch and the screws should be on opposite sides. No clamp should come within a quarter of an inch of the end of the hose barb. Any closer might result in cutting the inner hose lining and lead to hose failure.
While you are checking the clamps, inspect the hoses themselves. All hoses have a finite life span. Look for aged and brittle hoses as well as soft hoses. A soft hose might indicate that the inner liner has separated and might lead to restricted or blocked flow through the hose.
 
2. Clean the bilges. Hopefully, your bilges will be dry, easing this job. Get any trash or loose debris out, Clean the bilges of any oil or deposits. Get anything out that might clog the bilge pumps or foul the pump switches. Clean out any limber holes and allow free drainage. Exercise the pump switches to make sure they operate smoothly and actually turn the pumps off and on. If you have a bolt-on keel, check the nuts on the keel bolts for rust or corrosion.
 
3. Clean the battery terminals and apply a thin coat of dielectric grease. Corrosion of the terminals will result in poor charging, poor starting ad possible overheating of the terminal itself. Check the electrolyte levels and the batter specific gravity with a hydrometer.
 
4. Flush the antifreeze out of the water heater. The water heater is sometimes overlooked when you flush the antifreeze out of the rest of the water system. You will only leave it in the water heater and allow it to be “cooked:” once!
 
5. Exercise those seacocks. Modern ball valves with stainless steel balls and Teflon seals don’t often need servicing. However, they should be opened and closed often to ensure they work smoothly and no foreign objects are blocking them. Older style seacocks with rubber plugs or tapered bronze plugs will need servicing. Cleaning and/or greasing will be needed. While you are at it check the thru-hull itself, especially composite or Marlon fittings., UV rays will degrade and an unsupported hose might impose a strain of the fitting, causing the fitting to crack
 
6. Check those flexible pump impellers. Many service manuals suggest replacing pump impellers every year. If you don’t replace, at least inspect for wear and missing impeller teeth. If you find missing Impeller parts, you will need to fish out the broken pieces from the cooling system. Most pumps will only require the impeller be replaced. However, some pumps have stamped metal bodies and cover plates. Inspect this type for wear and replace if necessary.
 
7. If you have an I/O, inspect the rubber bellows. Check for splits or cracks or a brittle bellows. If you store outside or in an uncontrolled space, check for critter damage. I had a relative’s I/O sink because a mouse had chewed a hole in the bottom of the bellows in a place difficult to see.
 
8. Check for water. Check your water separators in the fuel lines for water. You can also detect water in your fuel tanks with a water detection paste. The paste, available on Amazon as well as others, is placed on the end of a stick. The stick is placed in the tank to the bottom. Any water in the fuel will turn the paste to an indicator color. Don’t forget that gasoline with ethanol will phase separate if too much water is present. Water and alcohol will drop to the bottom of the tank while octane poor gasoline rises to the top. There is no way to recombine the two, you will have to drain the tank and replace the fuel. The paste also works in diesel fuel tanks, although diesel won’t phase separate.
 
9. Inspect the tra

iler. Check the wheel bearings for grease, water or corrosion and repack. This applies even if you have Bearing Buddies. Check the shackle bushings for brittle or broken bushings. Check the leaf springs for broken leaves. Apply a thin cost of grease to the trailer coupler socket. Check all the lights for proper functioning including all turn signals.
 
10. Check all fluid levels. This includes engine oil, transmission fluid, coolant levels, battery electrolyte levels and lower unit oil. Drain a half teaspoon or so of the lower unit oil and inspect. It should look like very dark honey. If it looks like coffee with milk, you have a water leak somewhere in the lower unit. If the oil feels gritty, you may have a bearing or gear problem. Either way, get it fixed before it becomes a real (expensive) problem.
 
11. Check that driv
e line. If you have an inboard engine, start at the transmission /shaft coupler and make sure the bolts are tight. If you have traditional packed shaft seal, check for excessive water leaks and tighten or replace as necessary. Service packless shaft seals according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Check for worn cutlass bearings and replace if too loose. Cutlass bearings have about a ten-year life expectancy and should exhibit little or no side-to-side or up-and-down movement. Check the prop for any nicks or bent blades.
One final thought: don’t rush it. I know the sun is out, the water inviting but take things at a reasonable pace and get them done. Your boating season will be better for it.


 

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