MSOL Marine Article - written by Capt. Joe Berta
Spring Commissioning - Part 1
With springtime approaching, a boat owner’s attention turns to that particular major asset that has just spent the last six months sleeping. You were still forking over hard earned money to keep her safe and comfortable over the cold months and now it’s time for getting something in return!
Before we get into the realm of pre-launch technical venues, let’s deal with the least pleasant consideration; insurance. Insurance is one of those things that most of us just as soon prefix with a four letter word, but it is a must and becomes easier to handle when we look at it as an act of self preservation. It protects our boat as an asset and us as a target of personal liability.
An important thing when it comes to insurance is to prevent unexpected surprises. With launch time approaching, take a look at your policy’s renewal date and when the last survey was filed. The idea here is, that about every five years your insurer will be requesting a survey, and that survey needs to be done with the boat on the hard, so the surveyor can inspect the bottom and running gear components. If your insurance comes up for renewal in mid summer and you are slated for a new survey, you will have the unpleasant surprise of having to incur the expenses of hauling the boat out to just get the survey done. So, if it looks like it’s been close to five years since your last survey, you can prevent the above scenario by contacting the insurer and asking if they need a survey this year. If the answer is yes, then you can get it done before you launch, and forget about it for another half of a decade.
Now with insurance out of the way, let’s dive into the technical aspects of our commissioning chores. Our discussion will assume a hands-on operator with average do-it-yourself skill levels aboard a fiberglass boat, and will not delve into anything relating to detailing or cosmetics.
Of course all of the do-it-yourself vessel maintenance items discussed here can be elected to hire out to a yard or professional tradesmen.
Your pre-launch activities should start with a general circle check of the vessel’s business end, the bottom. This is the time to get intimate with all that is below waterline on your boat, including hull skin and propulsion components. Get into coveralls and spend some time under the boat. You do not have to be an expert, you will be surprised how things that don’t look right can be sighted if you take your time in looking.
Look for impact or grounding damage on the bottom. You do not always “feel” when you hit a log or submerged object while under way and by locating any such damage and carrying out repairs to even superficial gelcoat gouges can go a long way in preventing further deterioration.
Take a close look at all of the fittings that penetrate the hull bottom. Depending on the boat and her equipment, you may have one or several seaconnection throughhull fittings that provide intake of machinery or climate control coolant water, draining of decks and greywater (sink, shower, etc..) or bilge drains. These will be either bronze or a black plastic looking material (Forespar Marelon) and they should be tight and well bedded (caulked) into the hull. If you see caulking pulling out, impact damage or any corrosion, note as items to be addressed prior to launch.
If you have sterndrives, inspect the zinc anodes and rubber bellows / hoses. These are routine wear & tear maintenance items. The anodes’ job is to galvanically protect your aluminum drive casing from other dissimilar metal potentials and are meant to sacrificially corrode away. When they are about 50% gone, they need replacing.
Move the drive to one side and then the other, and inspect the bellows / hoses with a good flashlight, reaching in with your fingers. The rubber hoses have a finite service life, so what you are looking for is hardening (of the rubber) and cracking or hazing. They should feel flexible and have no evidence of cracking. The bellows make the connection for coolant and exhaust water to the propulsion motor on the other side of the transom. If a hose fails, your boat will take on water and flood her bilges.
If you have inboard shafts, you need to inspect the cutlass bearings. These are the fluted rubber castings that the shafts go through, inside the struts. Position yourself under the boat in such a way that you can exert some vertical upward pressure on the shafts and try to pick up at the bearing. There should be no excess play, the bearing should be tight. These are routine wear & tear maintenance items, so you should look at the condition of the rubber with a flashlight. If excessive wear is present the bearings must be renewed. If the cutlass bearings fail while you are under way, they will score the stainless steel shafts and your expense will not only be the tow back to the dock but the replacement of the shaft as well, on top of the cutlass bearing.
Check your rudders for bearing tightness and visible impact damage.
In all drive application, I/Os or inboards, propellers should be closely inspected. Anything other than the slightest imperfection can cause driveline vibration and eventual further complications. On inboard shafts, check for propeller securing nuts to be tight, and lock nuts or safety cutter pins to be in place.
If the running gear all checks out, you are ready for bottom-paint. Boats that do not live on a trailer and are afloat seasonally, should be bottom painted. Bottom paint has some benefit in protecting the gelcoat but most importantly, it allows your boat to go through the water more efficiently as it keeps growth and zebra mussels from attaching. With today’s fuel prices, keeping your bottom-paint in good condition actually saves on operating costs. Most of the reasonably priced paints used against biofouling in our region are seasonal coatings. This means, you do it every year before launch. What kind of antifoul paint you chose depends on the boat (power / sailboat) and any marine store staff can advise you. Application is the important thing. As with all paints, following the manufacturer’s instructions is paramount. Never use any oil based paint thinners in surface preparation. Old paint should be removed in case of heavy build-up or sanded to the point of removing what is loose. Remember, you are sanding poison, so wear appropriate protection. Use a water hose with good pressure after sanding or a pressure washer with moderate setting. Allow to thoroughly dry and apply your new coating.
If you are applying antifoul paint to a new boat’s bottom or to one that have lived on a trailer before, do not abrasive sand the bottom gelcoat! Even professionals make this mistake, so if you are getting a new boat done by a yard, insist that no sanding be done whatsoever. When the smooth finish of the gelcoat is sanded, it makes into a porous surface ready to absorb water, defeating the entire purpose of gelcoat being the moisture barrier over the matt and roving bonded with resin. A thorough rinsing with soap and water can remove all contaminants and ready the surface for bottom-paint.
In Part 2 of this article, we’ll see what to look for inside the hull and around the machinery, prior to launch…
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