SAN DIEGO — Now that spring has finally sprung, it’s time to slough off winter doldrums and return to your boat. If you’ve spent the last few months land-bound, you can avoid many unpleasant pre-cruise surprises by tending to routine maintenance tasks.
I’m fortunate to be married to an engineer who takes great pride and satisfaction in maintaining our boat and solving her sometimes-puzzling mechanical quirks. He’s helped me assemble a pre-cruise preventive maintenance checklist to make spring cruising more enjoyable.
Check your canvas, cushions and sails for rips, torn seams and mildew as soon as possible to allow adequate time for repairs or replacement.
Exercise any equipment you haven’t used in a while, including engines, outboards, generators, electronics, navigation lights, horns and anything else that can fail or malfunction. Do this regularly so you won’t be caught, as friends were, with dead engines just before our group cruise departed.
Check all through-hull valves, turning them on and off several times, to ensure they work.
Clean your battery terminals and top up your batteries with fresh distilled water if needed. Examine battery cables for fraying.
Have you checked and/or changed your engine and transmission oil and antifreeze/coolant lately?
Look in your bilge. Is there standing water? If so, trace any leaks or problems and fix them. Make sure your bilge pumps function properly before casting off.
To prevent leaks, check the stuffing box and tighten the packing shaft nut if needed, especially if you haven’t run your engines and rotated the propellers recently.
Examine your shore power lines and repair or replace them if they show evidence of arcing or singing. Before adding new or upgrading electronics, check your electrical capacity to make sure you have adequate electrical power.
Check your flashlights and stock a generous supply of batteries, especially AA and AAA and any you commonly use for electronic devices. Make sure they haven’t exceeded their expiration dates.
Install any software upgrades for your computers and electronics, especially security updates; do this regularly to avoid hacking and unwanted intrusions.
Check all your safety equipment, including fire extinguishers and engine room fire suppressant, throw-rings and PFDs. Arv and I discovered, on inspection, that some of our old PFDs had lost their buoyancy and were worthless, while others no longer met USCG standards. We discarded and replaced them.
Don’t forget to examine and replace any outdated first aid supplies.
Get a USCG Auxiliary or U.S. Power Squadron boat safety inspection. It’s always advisable to have a second set of knowledgeable eyes check over your boat.
Moving into the galley, clean out your food lockers and refrigerator/freezer. If you see any bugs, deal with them immediately. Don’t be like me: I ignored a few weevils and they multiplied. Delay of course makes them tougher to eliminate. Store your vulnerable foods (go online for my earlier column on bugs) in glass or other sealable containers and kill weevils by freezing flour, etc., for four days or longer.
Go through your food lockers and toss any outdated cans and condiments.
Replace your herbs and spices. Ground spices and dried herbs have a shelf life of only a year, whole spices three to five years. If they lack aroma, replace them.
Don’t forget your pets! Buy fresh catnip toys (Amy loves her bananas) for your cat(s) and new toys for your dog(s). Be sure to wash or freshen their beds. Check expiration dates on their food – cans, bagged kibble and treats – and dump any outdated food.
For a pleasurable start to boating season, schedule a spring maintenance weekend or two to prepare, update and clean your boat.