No matter how conscientious I am there is always an element of uncertainty when it comes to getting the boat ready for the new season. I compare this to other folks I know who just rush through fall winterization and hope for the best the next spring.

Even in areas where boating is a year-round activity, there are offseason months when the boat is not used. It is during those times that gremlins sneak aboard. Those pesky things can undo some of your handiwork or untighten someone’s fall maintenance. They cause something to fail that worked just fine months ago.

I’ve heard owners complain that their windshield wipers worked fine last fall, now they don’t. The same is true for stabilizer systems, pumps (connections continue to corrode when left alone in a damp environment), and other things like light fixtures, stereo systems, and windlasses. Not always electrical in nature, but those devices do account for a fair share of these gremlins.

It is a common belief that it is better for East Coast boat owners to take their boats south to Florida in the winter as they will suffer fewer problems in the spring. Perhaps that is because they are in a warm environment, or, perhaps more importantly, continue to be used.

It is one of the universal truths that everyone with a boat experiences.

(Below: 'My Boat Life' YouTube channel gives their springtime routine for their boat.)


I have a friend who just bought a 23-year-old center console, a Boston Whaler Outrage. It turned out the 17-foot boat needed a new outboard, and the saga that ultimately determined that outcome took many weeks. No one could have known this seemingly simple boat purchase could have become such a drama.

In the years I’ve known this experienced owner, he and his wife owned a Grand Banks 42 Classic, a Fleming 55, and a Grand Banks Eastbay 38. That’s just for starters. They also owned Beneteau sailboats (at least one raced to Bermuda), and a couple of Etchells campaigned out of the Annapolis Yacht Club. And let’s not forget a 26-foot center console and a host of small sail and power boats that resided at his dock over the years.

I followed his search for the right Whaler, and the unfolding dark comedy when he finally found one. After a couple of months of not knowing when and if its Evinrude motor could be brought back to life, the decision was made to buy a new engine, no small feat in these supply chain days where boat builders get first dibs to every outboard that comes off the production line.

Buying an outboard engine without a boat attached proved a story in itself.

In any case, the new engine arrived, and the boat’s obvious issues were identified and corrected. New switches were put in, a new battery, and decades of “postproduction” wiring cleaned up. Things were looking up, and the boat finally splashed near his house, ready to start a new boating season.

One would think any troubles associated with a small boat, especially a simple one with the reputation of Boston Whaler, would be minimal.

I recently followed up to hear about his new adventures around Annapolis, in plenty of time before the Blue Angels perform for another graduating class of the U.S. Naval Academy later this month. Seeing this thrilling team of Navy pilots over the skies of Annapolis never ceases to thrill, and it is always best to watch them from a boat.

watching the blue angels by boat 

I was surprised to learn that the new-to-him center console was indeed in the water…and leaked. Even in an unsinkable Boston Whaler, water is coming in from somewhere. With all scuppers and through hulls closed or blocked off there is water collecting in the shallow bilge. And guess what, the bilge pump doesn’t work.

My friend had already planned to bring his new boat over to a local marina to have the bottom painted. It now looks like his work order is bigger. They need to find and fix a leak, as well as replace a bilge pump buried in the belly of the boat.

Another friend has a Downeast cruiser, one of those nice Back Cove beauties. He bought it last year, running it down to Annapolis from Connecticut in just one day with a Coastie friend as crew. They planned to stop for the night along the way, but the boat ran so well they kept going, making the delivery in one impressive day.

His Back Cove was professionally shrink-wrapped last fall, and the boat survived the mild winter without incident. His enthusiasm about the upcoming season is truly infectious. It is a great boat for how he and his wife spend weekends around Chesapeake Bay.

The crew who did the shrink wrap did an outstanding job. They also took it off, unfortunately along with his VHF antenna. I’m not sure how that happened. Perhaps it was on a bit too tight, as the folded antenna came right off, cable and all.

Before this boat goes any distance from his home dock, he’ll need to install a replacement antenna, along with a new cable, fittings, and connectors. I guarantee this will not be a simple ten-minute effort. It never is.

I am a big fan of little projects around one’s boat, as it breeds familiarity with the boat and its systems, even if the boat has been in the family for years. After sitting unused during the offseason, it is an opportunity to reacquaint oneself with systems and components. And that is always a good thing.

I’ve had my share of unexpected issues, and spring brings many of them to light. One stellar example comes to mind.

I bought a new sailboat in 1985. It had just arrived from Taiwan to the dealer in Annapolis. Ta Shing was one of the better yacht builders in Taiwan back then.

bill's sailboat in 1985

I did most of the maintenance myself over the years, fancying every project one step closer to cutting the lines and heading over the horizon.

About 10 years down the road, I was getting the boat ready for another wonderful season. I had done the winterizing myself so was well versed at the steps each system required. Anyone who owns an older Taiwan trawler or sailboat has probably experienced what happened next.

I turned on the water pump to energize the system and began the process of draining the tanks and lines of pink propylene glycol. One faucet at a time, I ran the system until it ran clear, then moved onto the next fixture. It didn’t usually take very long to run the antifreeze out of the water system.

But the water pump would not stop running when I turned off the last faucet. It just ran and ran, no water coming out, but not building up any water pressure either. And I knew the system was not out of water.

I’ll cut out the hours of investigation that followed but suffice it to say it qualified as the mother of all “it’s always something” springtime events.

The Whale and other semi-rigid hose and quick connect connectors for marine plumbing were not yet available (as far as I know), so builders used flexible plastic water hose and regular hose clamps to connect the systems. A red line ran down the length of the clear hose for hot water, and a blue line for cold.

The hose ends went on hose barbs of various T, elbow, and other connectors and then clamped with regular hose clamps. I could just barely touch some of these hoses and clamps by reaching my arm under the saloon sole just above the bilge. I found the 3/4-inch clear, once flexible hose had become stiff and brittle from age. The hose barb connectors were apparently metric so neither hose nor hose barb fit together perfectly, even when new, relying instead on tight hose clamps.

Now with age and stiffness came air leaks.

I found it almost impossible to tighten the clamps under the saloon sole one-handed. I attempted to switch to smaller diameter/width hose clamps where I could reach, but that was temporary. Not a solution.

Anyone with an older boat with such systems must at some point accept that it needs to be replaced with more modern components. Which takes it beyond the scope of a little something noticed during spring commissioning.

As I said, dealing with the issues of boat ownership, even these surprises discovered in the spring, add to the experience and problem-solving abilities of the competent cruiser.

And if truth be told, at least for some of us, this is also a big attraction to the cruising lifestyle. It keeps us vibrant and in the game.

Sure beats the alternative.


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