A thorough inspection allows you to identify and fix any problems before you get out on the water. While you should perform a cursory check of your equipment and systems regularly, spring commissioning is the perfect time to do a thorough inventory of your entire boat. If it’s broken, even a little bit, fix it. If it’s showing signs of wear, repair it. If it moves and it shouldn’t, secure it. If it should move and it doesn’t, loosen it. These are general statements, but when it comes to spring sailboat maintenance, simplicity and common sense go a long way. If it’s questionable, it’s better to work on it now than to get out on open water and have it turn into a much larger problem.
Areas to Inspect
No part of your sailboat is too small to avoid problems caused by normal use. Take the time to give your sailboat a thorough once-over.
Check your hull for cracks, dings, crazes or blisters in the fiberglass. Your deck’s gelcoat needs an inspection for similar marks of wear and tear.
Check out the hatches, vents and chain plates for sealant issues or warping.
The seal around your mast boost also needs testing for water-fastness.
Check out your canvases, both on board and on the sails, for any spots that need repair. You can easily check your wires for breaks or frays by running a cotton rope on them – if it snags, it needs replacing.
Visually inspect your mast for corrosion.
Pay attention to your lines and rigging and replace anything that’s remotely questionable or starting to fray.
Spend some extra time inspecting your dock and anchor lines—if these fray to the point of failing, you’re in for a wild ride.
Make sure your mechanical equipment is up to par and functioning without glitches or errors.
Cleaning Your Boat
Not even your sailboat is exempt from spring-cleaning. A good scrubbing removes dirt and debris that can wear down your boat over time. Work from the bottom up. Starting at the hull, look for areas that need immediate attention. If you have an area at or near the waterline that’s starting to stain, clean it up with some specialized hull and bottom cleaner.
Take care of your freeboard with fiberglass cleaner. Your deck and topsides also benefit from a wipe down with either fiberglass or wood cleaner. If you didn’t clean your sails before putting them away for the winter (shame on you!), then now’s the time to do that. Also, clean out your sail slugs. Your running rigging can accumulate salt, this is easily washed by hand with laundry detergent.
If you haven’t checked your onboard safety equipment, now is the time to do it. Update/replace the supplies in your first aid kit – many aren’t aware that some emergency supplies have shelf lives. If your flares and fire extinguishers are expired, replace them. Inspect your stove and tanks fittings and hoses and tighten or replace any that are loose or leaking. If you’re not too keen on getting lost or stranded, update your out of date charts and waterway guides. For boaters that use shore power cable connections, look for burns. If you find them, the whole cable needs to go.
Stock up on life jackets for all passengers on your sailboat, paying particular attention to those for children and pets. They should be in good condition without rips, tears or deflation – and should properly fit all passengers. Hopefully you’ll never need the safety and first aid equipment on your boat, but you don’t want to find out it’s broken, useless or absent on the off chance that you do.
Administrative Nuts and Bolts
Spring maintenance also means a bit of paperwork to get your sailboat trip-worthy. Check that your boating license, registration and trailer tags are up to date and valid. Your boat insurance policy should also get at least a quick glance during your maintenance routine and an update in coverage if anything has changed. If you have a maintenance and repair log for your boat, make note of all changes made during your spring maintenance; if you don’t have a maintenance log, start one. Note any part numbers, serial numbers and manufacturer’s details in the event of a product defect, subpar performance or recall.
Take stock of the tools and supplies kept on hand for boat repairs. If you don’t have a specific tool but have needed it more than once in the past, go ahead and splurge on it. If you’re running low on consumable supplies like lubricant and wax, restock your supply. The last thing you want to do during spring maintenance is to stop your routine for a supply run — it’ll make the job that much longer.
Check and Check Again
You’ve done your initial inspection and made your repairs. Now you get the pleasure of going over your sailboat again for a secondary inspection. Wait a day or so after the initial repairs and approach your boat with a new set of eyes. Conduct another inspection and take care of any problems you missed the first time around.
If you’re planning a long voyage, take your boat for a test run to see how things hold up. It’s much better to discover that your hull repair didn’t hold up as expected if you’re within hundreds of yards of the dock rather than hundreds of miles out to sea. Taking your boat out for the first time might be fun, but it’s also a vital step in spring commissioning. That’s as viable an excuse as any to get out on the water – should you need one.