Spring Fitting-Out Safety Checklist

Written by Captains at Seaworthy Magazine

A Complete Safety Inspection of The Engine, Hull, and Other Systems Should Take, at Most, Only an Hour or Two. This Spring Can Make the Upcoming Boating Season A Lot Safer and More Enjoyable.

• Inspect and lubricate seacocks. Hoses and hose clamps (two at each fitting below or near the waterline) should be inspected and replaced as necessary. This is also the best time to replace gate valves, if any, with seacocks. Gate valves are prone to failure and are not as reliable as seacocks. You also can’t glance at a gate valve to see that it has been closed.

• Replace deteriorated anodes  (zinc, aluminum or magnesium). They disintegrate and give a good indication of what would happen to vital underwater machinery if the anodes were not there. Note: If the anode has vanished or has been reduced to powder, check the other metal surfaces, especially underwater, to make sure they did not also suffer from electrolysis. Anodes that disappear after less than one season indicate a serious problem with the boat’s bonding and/or electrical system. (Look first for chafed wires or battery cables, which also have the potential to cause a fire.)

• Inspect prop(s) for dings, pitting, and distortion that can create excessive vibration and can loosen everything from screws and bulkheads to dental fillings. Make sure cotter pins are secure. “Tired” props, incidentally, can be rejuvenated by a machine shop. Finally, grip the prop and try moving the shaft. Looseness indicates the cutlass bearing probably needs to be replaced.

• Check to make sure the rudderstock hasn’t been bent. Also try moving the rudder. Any looseness must be corrected (the remedy depends on the type of installation you have).

• Inspect the hull for blisters, distortion, and stress cracks. Small “pinhead” blisters can be dried, sanded, and filled. Large blisters may require professional attention. Distortion and/or stress cracks are two other hull problems that should be addressed by a marine surveyor or repairer.

• Make sure engine intake sea strainer is free of corrosion and is properly secured. Strainers that were not drained properly in the fall could have been bent by ice over the winter. Replace any questionable parts.

Outdrives and Outboards

• Inspect rubber outdrive bellows for cracked, dried, and/or deteriorated spots (look especially in the folds). A bellows that is suspect should be replaced.

• Replace deteriorated outdrive anodes.

• Check power steering and power trim oil levels. Follow manufacturer’s maintenance schedule or use factory authorized mechanic.

Control Cables

• Inspect outer jacket. Cracks or swelling indicate corrosion and mean that the cable must be replaced. (Note: Don’t try to remedy the problem by squirting lubricant into the cracks or wrapping duct tape around the outer jacket; most lubricants are incompatible and will only make things worse.)

In the Water

• Check the engine shaft and rudder stuffing boxes for steady leaks and looseness. Some weeping or even an occasional drip should be evident at the engine shaft stuffing box (not the rudder). If leaking can not be stopped by tightening the nut, gland should be repacked. (Caution: Over tightening the nut prevents leaking underway, which will burn out the packing material.)

• Use a hose to check for deck leaks at ports and hatches. Renew caulk or gaskets as necessary. Don’t rely on a bilge pump to overcome a multitude of deck leaks.

Engines and Fuel Systems

• Inspect fuel lines, including fill and vent hoses, for indications of softness, brittleness, or cracking. Any that are suspect should be replaced with Coast Guard approved J1527 hose. Check all joints for leaks (or use your finger and look for stains under or around the fitting) and make sure all lines are well supported with non-combustible clips or straps without rough edges.

• Inspect all of the other components in the fuel system–fuel tanks, fuel pumps, filters–for leaks. A dry rag can be used at connections or you can trust your nose. Clamps should be snug and free of heavy rust.

• Replace fuel filters.

• Exhaust manifolds should be removed and inspected every few years for corrosion, which could be restricting water flow.

• Clean and tighten electrical connections, especially both ends of battery cables. Loose connections can “arc”, which creates an enormous amount of heat and is a fire hazard. Studs, nuts, and washers should be copper—not aluminum or steel. Dissimilar metals have the potential to cause galvanic corrosion. Problems ranging from a weak contact to arcing could be the result of a poor choice of washers. Wire brush battery terminals and fill cells with distilled water.

• Cooling hoses and fittings should fit snugly and be double-clamped. Hoses which show signs of old age—rot, stiffness, bulges, leaks, and/or cracking—should be replaced.

• Inspect bilge blower hose for leaks.