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Spring Boat Maintenance
By Wayne Ek


Author: Wayne Ek

Every year around February or March you read about it and every year you have to do it or pay someone to do it; spring boat maintenance.   Tackling this annual ritual can run the gamut from supreme drudgery to extremely expensive.

The easiest way to accomplish a spring tune-up is to drop your rig off at a local dealer you trust and have them do it for you.  If youíre not handy with tools and donít have a basic knowledge of marine maintenance or just donít have the time or interest then this could be the most sensible way to go.  It will be more expensive to have it done by the dealership but probably cheaper in the long run than trying to do it yourself. 

There are still some things that can be done at home to cut down on the cost, even if youíre going to take it to a dealership. Theyíre simple and not overly time consuming.

The Batteries:
If possible itís nice to be able to charge your batteries once of twice over the winter season.  Depending on how and where you store your boat, this may entail pulling the batteries out of the boat and storing them in the garage.  Iím not running gel-cell batteries in my Ranger, so each spring the first thing I do is make sure each battery is topped off with distilled water.  Then I bring them up to full charge.  If I find corrosion on the terminals I clean it off with a mild solution of baking soda and water, then I flush the battery and compartment with straight water to clean up any residue.  Then I check each terminal connection and spray them with Quicksilver Corrosion Guard.

The Engine:
The first thing I check for on the engine is rodent (mice & chipmunk) problems.  Iíve lifted the cowling more than once to find a mouse nest or stash of acorns some chipmunk has left for me. I do a visible check of all hoses and wires, looking for wear or rodent damage.  Then itís on to the grease fittings. By following the ownerís manual you can save some time and money by lubricating all the grease fittings on your own.  Iíve been using 2-4-C with Teflon by Quicksilver, which is available almost everywhere.  It comes in cartridges for the standard grease gun or a screw-in cartridge for Quicksilverís Pistol grip gun, which makes this job a little easier.

You should have changed out your lower unit gear lube last fall.  If you forgot, now is the time to do it.  I like the type of gear lube pumps that screw onto the 32 fl. oz. bottles of gear lube.  Quicksilver manufactures one, as do other companies.  The Quicksilver pump will take adaptors that allow it to be used with just about any outboard or sterndrive.  A word of warning - since there are no industry standards for gear lubes presently established, donít try to go cheap and save a few cents.  Use a gear lube recommended by your engineís manufacturer.  If you cannot find that try Quicksilver gear lube.  Just make sure you use a top-of-the-line product that is specifically formulated for marine use.  On some outboard brands the gear oil drain screw is magnetic.  Check it for any metal shavings and remove them before reinstalling it.  Remember, if the drained oil is milky looking, water is probably getting into the gear case.  You need to have your dealer check the lower unit at this point.

Next check hydraulic fluid levels for any steering units or power tilt/trim units, if your rig has them.  This is another place to use a brand name fluid or one recommended by the manufacturer.  Use a universal hydraulic fluid that will mix with all hydraulic fluids and one that will prevent foaming, oxidation and corrosion. 

Now is the time to pull the propeller and check the shaft for fishing line or damage.  Actually you should be pulling the propeller off a couple of times each season.  Remember to lay all the nuts, washers, sleeves or adaptors out on the ground in the same order they came off the shaft.  This makes reassembly so much easier.  Take a look at the propeller, if the blade edges are rolled over or showing an excessive amount of nicks/dings, now might be the time to send it in to be rebuilt.  Even slightly damaged blades will take performance away from your boat and running a boat with really damaged blades can lead to all kinds of shaft/seal problems down the road.  Before putting the propeller back on lube the shaft.  You can use the same 2-4-C you used earlier.

The Trolling Motor:
Pull the propeller on the trolling motor and check for fishing line or other debris.  Check the trolling motor propeller for broken blades or chips.  This is kind of a personal choice.  I replace my trolling motor propeller if itís damaged.  I want the maximum performance from my trolling motor and a damaged propeller will not give you that.  If youíre running a bow mount trolling motor, check the mounting bolts or mounting isolators to make sure they are still tight.  Next check the pull rope to make sure it is not starting to wear.  Breaking a pull rope when lifting the trolling motor up can damage the motor when it slams down.  Ok, hereís a segue to a shameless plug.  If youíre running a Motor Guide trolling motor you have to try the new ďHydrilla HackerĒ propeller.  I ran one all last season and it worked great.  This newly designed propeller will go thru everything-- milfoil mats, dollar pads, pencil reeds and even maiden cane.

General Clean up:
I like to use a shop vacuum to clean out the bilge area.  Iím amazed at all the fishing line, gravel and miscellaneous junk that you find down there.  Remember to check your pumps and housings if you can get at them.  Iím running a Ranger Boat and Ranger uses Mayfair cartridge pumps on their bilge and live well systems so they are easy to pull out to check the housing and impellers.

When I get to the built-in cooler and live wells itís just a matter of vacuuming out the live wells. I like to pull the drain screens and clean them.  Then I wipe both the cooler and live wells down with a very mild bleach and water solution, rinsing them with plain water.  Donít use soap in the live wells, it takes forever to rinse it out; and even after a thorough rinsing you will still end up with a bubble bath most of the time.

Next I check all the toggle switches and breakers to make sure they are working.  Then I check each pump to make sure it is running.  If I have time I fill the live wells and check the pumps that way.  Then I hook up the graphs and make sure they have power along with the trolling motor.  Check all the lights now to make sure they work.  If you had rodent problems over the winter now is when you will usually find it. 

Vacuum out all the carpeted storage compartments and then add an anti-odor/mildew product.  Iíve been using Odor Absorber Natures Air Sponge for a couple of years and it seems to work just fine.  Wipe down the storage compartments that are not carpeted with an anti-mildew product, the same stuff thatís used on shower stalls.  

Thereís not too much left to do but tighten downs all the screws and bolts.  Even after doing spring maintenance all these years Iím still amazed at the number of bolts and screws that need to be tightened each spring. 

Final Checks:
When I get that first nice spring day I will pull the boat out of the garage and hook the engine up to the garden hose.  Once you see water running from the engine you can start it.  If your rig has water pressure and temperature gauges now is the time to check them.  Then I like to make sure the tilt/trim and jack plates are working.  Check the steering to see if you can notice any problems.  Also, before you shut the engine off pull the kill-switch to make sure it works.  Now is the time to check the trailer lights and brake fluid levels in the trailer reservoir if your trailer has one.  Also, check the tire pressure on all the tires including the spare.

The Embarrassment Factor:
Finally check your boat and trailer to make sure they have current year registration.  And remember to put the drain plug back in.

With the quality of todayís boats and motors even the most minimal of yearly maintenance will help keep your rig running and make the annual spring tune-up next year a much easier task. 

As always, stay safe and we hope to see you on the water.

Wayne Ek is a fishing guide, tournament angler and writer living in Alexandria Minnesota . For more information you can contact Wayne at Agape Fishing Guides (