It’s getting to be springtime around here, and we all know what that means. While some may “ooh” and “ah” over the bushy new wildlife, we in the sailing world prepare to do the same for our boats. We’ve pulled together some timelessly helpful spring commissioning hints to help you prepare for this exciting season!
S.O.S. (aka Springtime, Oh Shoot!)
We know it can be stressful, but don’t panic. We are prepared to answer your S.O.S distress signals. Here’s our advice on some common issues people run into.
Problem: My lines are stiff and brittle. What can I do to loosen them up?
Solution: Make sure your lines are still strong: It’s important to keep track of how long your lines have been in use because dock lines wear down after years of contact with the elements. If you have doubts about their strength, it’s probably time to get new ones. It’s much better to be safe than sorry.
A tip for making dock lines softer is to wash them in laundry detergent and fabric softener in your normal machine and let them air dry.
Problem: I’m always in a rush to get everything done. How can I ensure I’ll be ready to splash my boat on time?
Solution: Keep up with your maintenance year round, and if your marina helps with commissioning, don’t expect them to pick up the slack if you are running behind. Think about how much less time you’ll spend in the spring getting your boat ready to sail if you spent a few hours here and there doing work during the winter. Not to mention, the work will be less rushed and stressful, and can even be family or crew bonding time.
Take advantage of the dreary days. We’re sorry to say that rain is not a good enough excuse to be lazy. This is a great time to make sure your licenses are all up to date. For example, be sure to take a peek at your dinghy and fishing licenses along with your documentation and registration. Also, make sure your boat is up to date with the proper PFDs, fire extinguishers, bailing devices, and navigation lights in order to ensure your sailing season will be a safe one.
Be sure to build in extra time for repairs. There will always, always be something unexpected that pops up. Even if it’s just a small problem, you’ll be glad you had the extra time.
Problem: There are so many things to get done, and I don’t know where to start.
Solution: Start by taking a simple scrub brush and water to thoroughly clean your boat off. It’s good to have a clean boat before you begin any repairs, and this may also allow you to find a problem you may not have noticed otherwise.
It’s All Fun and Games… Until Something Explodes
Of course, it is very unlikely that your boat will actually burst into flames, but from interviewing several marinas, we’ve learned that horror stories can (and do) happen to the best of us. It is always important to give your boat a thorough check before heading out for the first time. We’ve compiled some advice from marinas about what to double and triple check — things that are often broken, forgotten, or just plain troublesome.
Broken: Bill Millar from Clarks Landing says that boat owners forget to “check their seacocks and the thru-hull fitting.” These can be very dangerous if broken, and are prone to cracking because they sometimes are mistakenly stepped on. Remember to lubricate and exercise them to ensure they are still in good condition.
Forgotten: People often ignore their batteries, which can be a dangerous mistake to make. Bill says that just checking it isn’t enough; batteries need to be fully tested beyond seeing if they turn on and off. “Because newer boats with their powerful engines and computer controls rely so heavily on battery power, attempting to do service with a bad battery can really mess up the electronics.”
Troublesome: This seems to be a common theme, but Bill says that it is important you don’t wait until spring when marinas are already busy to start repairs. Bill also enforced the importance of doing procedures properly. “If you are unsure about anything, call and ask your dealer, or someone else’s if they don’t want to tell you.” In many cases, repair jobs gone wrong can be the most costly and time consuming for you and your marina.
Horror Story: Bill has actually seen boats go up in flames when their batteries are hooked up incorrectly.
Broken: Paul Matrangola from Tidewater Marina says that he’s encountered many people that have trouble starting the engines because the fuel lines have not been properly bled. When replacing filters, it is common for people with small diesel engines to introduce air to the lines. The engine can’t handle this and will shut off. Make sure you are confident in how to replace filters correctly before you tackle this task.
Forgotten: When starting the engine for the first time, Paul says it is common to forget to open the cooling intake valve and fuel valve because it had been shut off during the winter.
Troublesome: Doing minor fiberglass repairs can be tedious, but it is important to do them well. “It’s not only a science, it’s an art,” explains Paul, and one that he suggests you leave to the professionals if you’re inexperienced. It is a misguided belief to think you can follow the directions closely, sand everything, and add some epoxy and everything will look perfect. Talk to a professional before you tackle this project. There’s no shame in asking for help.
Horror Story: Paul remembers one drastic commissioning gone wrong when boat owners stacked their kitchen with so many pots and pans that the thru hull for the sink ripped out. Water was unable to drain and the boat sank as a result. Clean out the clutter even when your boat is not in use!