Spring Marine Engine Preparation

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The temperatures are beginning to rise, and thoughts turn to boating. It's time to think about getting that boat out of mothballs and ready for summer fun. If your boat has been winterized or just stored during the off season, there are some things you should do to make sure all systems are operating and you are ready to go.

One very important thing to consider is timing. If you are going to use your boat for fishing or other activities before warmer weather hits, get it out of storage and into the water before the rush is on. Many dealers end up working around the clock in order to accommodate the large number of customer's boats that need to be readied for the summer season. If repairs and problems weren't taken care of during the off-season, your dealer may be overwhelmed with spring work that needs to be completed before many customers can get near the water.

We highly recommend that you pick up a shop manual for your engine to help you through each process. To find and purchase a shop manual online for your particular engine Click Here.

Here are ten tips to prepare your boat for spring start up:
  1. If it wasn't done last fall, change the fuel filter/fuel-water separator.
    Most engines are equipped with at least one fuel filter or fuel-water separator. These filters should be changed to eliminate moisture and contaminants that are trapped in the filter.

  2. Your boat should have been stored with the fuel tanks full.
    This helps prevent moisture condensation in the fuel tank. Fuel conditioner should have been added to the fuel tank(s) prior to storage. If they weren't, top them up now and add a fuel additive that will absorb any moisture that may have formed while the boat was stored.

  3. If it wasn't done last fall, change the engine oil and oil filter.
    Start the engine and allow it to come up to operating temperature before changing the engine oil and oil filter. This not only allows for a better oil change, but also picks up moisture that may have condensed in the engine while not in use. This moisture can then be removed with the old engine oil. Many boats are designed to allow the oil to be removed through the dipstick tube. This can only be accomplished by the use of an oil evacuation system. If no evacuation system is available, the oil must be drained by removing the oil pan drain plug. If this method is used, be sure to place a drain pan under the engine to catch all of the used engine oil. As the engine oil is draining, loosen the oil filter using the proper filter wrench. It's a good idea to place a container under the filter to catch any oil that may drip as the filter is loosened. Many oil filters are mounted vertically and can be removed easily if precautions are taken to prevent the filter from being tipped when it is removed from the engine bilge. Other oil filters are mounted horizontally or even upside down. These present a larger problem when they are removed. For those filters, a catch pan must be placed under the filter to catch all of the used oil that drains from the filter. Used motor oil is considered a carcinogen (can cause skin cancer if skin is exposed over long periods of time). Use caution and clean your hands often when working with any used motor oil. As with all petroleum based products, proper disposal is very important. Used oil and oil filters should be recycled or disposed of according to state and local regulations. Never dispose of used oil and oil filters in the landfill. This allows the used oil to soak into the ground and possibly contaminate the ground water.

  4. One more item that should have been taken care of in the fall, is to change the lubricant in the outdrive or transmission. If it wasn't, do it now.
    Drain the lubricant in the outdrive or transmission and replace with new fluid. Again, it may be necessary to place a drain pan under the outdrive to catch the used lubricant as it is drained. If an evacuation system is available, it can be used to evacuate the used lubricant. Some outdrives require the removal of the propeller to allow access to the drain plug. It is a good idea to remove the propeller at this time and inspect the propeller hub, propeller shaft and splines and the oil seals located behind the prop. With the fluid out of the outdrive, it's a great time to pressure test the lower unit and inspect for signs of leaks or damage. When reinstalling the propeller, be sure to lubricate the prop shaft splines with quality marine grease. This will help prevent wear and make prop removal much easier next time around. Once again it is important to dispose of used lubricants properly.

  5. Lubricate all grease fittings.
    Normally, there are grease fittings located on the steering arm, shift and throttle linkages and outdrive pivot points. Be sure to lubricate all of these points according to manufacturer recommendations.

  6. Check the cooling system.
    Depending on the vessel and engine configuration this can be a simple or complex operation. Many dealers drain the engine block and risers prior to storage. They may also drain the heat exchanger and all hoses in the cooling system. Make certain all drain plugs are reinstalled in the engine block and risers. Be sure all cooling system hoses are connected and that the connections are tight. Engines equipped with a closed cooling system still need the raw-water side of the system drained and protected. Dealers often run the engine in an anti-freeze solution while preparing the engine for its oil change. This circulates the anti-freeze through the entire cooling system and will prevent engine and outdrive freeze damage. If this method was used, the block and riser drain plug should already be in place. If you have any doubt, have your dealer check the system before you head for the water.

  7. Close all potable water systems.
    This will once again vary depending on your boat and the systems on board. Be sure to follow your manufacturer recommendations when servicing these systems.

  8. Charge and reinstall your battery.
    If your boat was stored with the battery removed, place the battery on a slow charger to insure that it is fully charged, then reinstall the battery. It would be a good idea to load test the battery at this time. This check will test the battery's ability to hold a charge under a load, like when the engine is being started or when other heavy loads are placed on it.

  9. If the transom drain plug was removed during storage, reinstall it.
    There's nothing like the adrenaline rush you get when you discover the transom plug is out and you are trying to figure out how to get your boat back on the trailer before it comes to rest on the bottom.

  10. Inspect your trailer.
    Make sure all trailer lights are operating properly. Check the winch cable or strap and tie downs. If there are signs of wear or damage, replace them. Check the trailer coupler and safety chains. Make sure the coupler is locking to the hitch ball and ensure that the safety chains are not damaged and can be attached to the tow vehicle easily. Also, lubricate the wheel bearings on the trailer. If the trailer is not equipped with grease hubs, the wheels should be removed and the bearings inspected and lubricated.

If you are unsure of the steps or requirements for the spring preparation of your boat, contact your local dealer or service provider. They are trained in these procedures and provide quality workmanship and products for this type of service. There are even service providers who will come directly to you whether your boat is at your home, in a marina, or in a storage facility. They are equipped to provide this same quality service from a remote location.

Spring is the time to get out and enjoy your boat. Preparing ahead of time will give you peace of mind and insure that your boat is ready to go when you are.

This article was written by Jim Crosby Director of Operations at Q Lube Marine Services. Q Lube Marine Services offers mobile marine preventative maintenance services for inboards (gas and diesel), inboard outboards, and outboards. For more information about their services visit their website at www.qlube-marine.com