Spring Maintenance Avoids Trouble

Avoid problems and downtime with a little preseason boat maintenance.
Cottage Dock
Photography courtesy of Thinkstock

Michigan features more than 3,000 miles of beautiful coastline, making small boats a common sight behind vacation homes. Look next to, or inside, many cottage garages in the offseason, and you’re likely to find a boat huddled on a trailer, waiting to be set free from its heavy winter cover.

As with a cottage, there are yearly maintenance tasks to complete before the season starts. Owners can perform most small boat maintenance with some mechanical ability, but for those with a lighter toolbox, a visit to the local marine repair shop is a must to ensure a safe and enjoyable summer afloat.

The Michigan winter can be hard on boats stored outdoors, so extra care should be taken to check their overall condition each spring. Canvas covers should be inspected where points or edges chafe to ensure a small hole doesn’t become a more-costly repair. Proper storage of the cover is important to prevent mildew or pest damage.

Smaller boats can require less attention, but they do need yearly TLC to make sure a day on the water ends at the same dock where it began. Nothing ruins a cruise like being towed back to shore, and many common problems are easily avoidable with regular maintenance.


The first pre-launch task should be to inspect or change fuel filters as required. Some can be cleaned and reused, but when in doubt, change them out. Metal fuel tanks should be checked for rust and all tanks for leaks each spring.

Woman pouring oil into boat
Photography courtesy of Thinkstock

Fuel must be stored with an added stabilizer to extend its usable life. Without added protection old, stale fuel can cause performance and mechanical issues. Small boats may sit unused for a season or two, so if the age or condition of the boat’s fuel is unknown, properly dispose of it and start fresh.

Although Michigan’s freshwater environment does not corrode parts like salt air, rust still is a reality. That makes regular spark plug, distributor cap and rotor changes important. Dockside advice is, of course, abundant, and many boaters take the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” stance about tuneup parts. But 43 years of experience in salt and freshwater have proven to this old captain that every season should start with a fresh tuneup.

Marine engines have water pumps with rubber impellers that keep them cool. Whether the engine is running hot or not, rubber wears out, and a new pump every few years is a good investment. It also is important to check the gear oil, even if it was done in the fall.

Engines, steering systems and trailer axles all need a yearly helping of grease, which goes a long way toward preventing wear and ensuring the smooth operation of moving parts. The trailer’s grease fittings usually are addressed, but there also are fittings on the steering cable and where moving parts pivot or tilt. Be sure to find and fill each grease fitting with plenty of the manufacturer’s recommended lube.

Owners can perform most small boat maintenance with some mechanical ability, but for those with a lighter toolbox, a visit to the local marine repair shop is a must to ensure
a safe and enjoyable summer afloat.

For safety’s sake

The most critical items to inspect before spring launch very often are overlooked. Required Coast Guard safety gear must be inspected and replaced as necessary at the start of every season. Faulty or expired flares and fire extinguishers or aging floatation devices can land a boat owner in hot water and also can be a threat to life and limb. It is important to verify the condition of all safety equipment, right down to the whistle, before backing the boat down the ramp.

With so much water, so many beaches and an abundance of on-water attractions, it’s easy to see why the National Marine Manufacturers Association ranks Michigan third in U.S. boating destinations. No matter what size boat sits at the cottage dock, a maintenance and inspection routine should be considered mandatory. Once the cover has been stowed away and before a coat of wax is applied, a little maintenance will keep the boat running its very best and help to make the summer memorable for all of the right reasons.

A boating writer and licensed captain living in Grandville, Chuck Warren has been working around boats for 50 years.

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