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How to Recommission Your Boat

A proper spring commissioning will help identify potential problems before they get worse or become a safety concern.

Is there anything more exciting in life than putting your boat back into the water? Whether your boat has been on the hard for the whole winter or just a quick haul out—there’s a lot to do to bring each system back into service. Use this checklist to think through re-launching your boat.

Every boat is different. Depending on the systems on board, your boat may have additional needs or you may be able to skip some items on this list. Check the manual for anything specific to your boat.

This checklist assumes that your boat was properly decommissioned when it was hauled out. There are likely some additional maintenance tasks to consider while your boat is on the hard. Even if you keep your boat in the water year round, it’s recommended to haul out once a year to perform maintenance and give it a good once-over.



Pre-Launch - before the boat is in the water:

  • Seacocks Lubricate all seacocks and ensure they open and close freely. Check that each hose is double-clamped with stainless-steel hose clamps and they are free of rust.

  • Sacrificial anodes Replace the sacrificial anodes—often called “zincs”. It is recommended to replace anodes every year. The locations will vary depending on your boat, but sailboats tend to have them on the prop shaft and maybe the heat exchanger.

  • Wash Wash the deck, topsides, and hull using water with dish soap to remove wax, grease, and any remaining sea creatures from last season.

  • Bottom paint Depending on where you live and the type of bottom paint used on your boat, you will likely need to freshen up the bottom paint every year or two, as needed.

  • Transducers Remove and clean the transducers. Lubricate the O-rings before reinstalling, and paint with water-based anti-fouling transducer paint.

  • Buff & wax Buffing and waxing gelcoat not only makes it shine like new, it protects it and extends its life. Buff and wax the topsides, cockpit, cabin top, and all other smooth gelcoat surfaces (basically everything except non-skid) every year.

  • Steering cables Lubricate the chain. Check tension by pushing on cables with finger and that there is about a 1” deflection. Turn wheel all the way from one side to the other to feel for any binding or play in the system.

Launch - once the boat is in the water:

  • Check for leaks

    Do an initial check for leaks as soon as your boat is in the water. Open all seacocks, check thru-hulls, stuffing box, and rudder post for any sign of water entering.


Pre-Launch - before the boat is in the water:

  • Fuel filters Replace both the primary and secondary fuel filters if they weren’t changed when the boat was hauled out. Order replacement filters for next time.

  • Oil & filter Change the oil and oil filter if they weren’t changed when the boat was hauled out. Order replacement oil and filters for next time.

  • Impeller Check the impeller for any signs of wear and replace if it hasn’t been replaced within the last year. Keep the old one as an emergency spare if it is in good condition.

  • Belt Check for wear and replace if necessary. Belts should be replaced at least every other year, but you can keep the old one as a spare. Check the tension by pressing on the belt with a finger; it should deflect 1/4 inch — 1/2 inch. Adjust the tension if it deflects more or less.

  • Air filter Clean and replace if necessary.

  • Fluid levels Check all engine fluid levels, including coolant, transmission, and hydraulic steering.

  • Raw-water intake Ensure strainer is not cracked, is free of corrosion, the top fits appropriately, and the gasket is in good shape. Clean it thoroughly.

  • Exhaust Check that the drain plugs are tight.

  • Prop Look for dings, pitting, or any distortion. The prop and shaft should turns freely by hand. Clean and lightly sand the the prop and shaft.

  • Blower Check that vent hose is free of debris and cracks. Turn the blower on and ensure it has airflow.

  • Shaft & Cutlass bearing Grab prop and push it from side to side. There should be no or minimal movement.

  • Bellows Check outdrive bellows for cracks and tears, looking especially in the folds.

Launch - once the boat is in the water:

  • Fuel valve Fuel valves open, bleed and prime lines if diesel

  • Run engine Start the engine. Ensure water exiting with exhaust. While still tied to dock, put into gear and throttle up.

  • Stuffing box With engine running and transmission in gear, the stuffing box should drip 2-3 drops per minute. Otherwise, it may need adjusted.

Shake down - once the boat is away from the dock:

  • Fill fuel tanks Ensure there are no leaks at fill pipes, overflow vent, or fuel line connections


Pre-Launch - before the boat is in the water:

  • Batteries Reinstall the batteries if you removed them while on the hard. Top up lead acid batteries with distilled water. Clean the terminals if there is any corrosion. Connect & tighten terminals. Coat the battery connections with dialectric grease or spray to prevent corrosion.

  • Shore power Inspect shore power cable and connections for any signs of overheating or electrical shorts. Charge batteries.

  • Electronics Turn on each switch at the electrical panel and ensure everything powers on.

  • Running lights Check that all navigation lights work, including stern, bow, steaming, anchor, etc. Now is a good time to make sure you have spares.

  • VHF radio check Perform a radio check by hailing your local boat yard, marina, or fellow boaters.

  • Navigation equipment Ensure any chart plotters or other navigation equipment turn on and your GPS location is accurate.

Shake down - once the boat is away from the dock:

  • Autopilot turn the auto pilot on and check that it holds a course under motor.


Launch - once the boat is in the water:

  • Bilge pump Check bilge pump and float switch by intentionally pouring some water in the bilge. Ensure float switch turns bilge on, and then turns off once water is gone. Also test the manual bilge pump.

  • Water tanks First flush any antifreeze out of water tank with fresh water. Partially fill the tank and add a quarter cup of bleach to sanitize the system. Run each faucet and foot pump until the water coming out smells of bleach and let it sit for a few hours. While you’re waiting, check the system for leaks: check all faucets, foot pumps, sink drains, hose connections, and tanks. Flush the bleach water from the system and completely fill water tanks.

  • Shower sump Run water in the shower and check that the shower sump turns on and properly empties.

  • Head Check head operation by filling and draining. Check head and pump handle for leaks.

  • Ice box Pour water in the ice box and check for proper drainage.


Pre-Launch - before the boat is in the water:

  • Ports & hatches Look for signs that the seals on the lenses are failing and may need re-bedded, such as dirt, gaps, water trails, mold, mildew, or algae growth.

  • Anchor rode Lay the rode out and inspect for signs of chafe or wear. Check that anchor shackle is securely moused with seizing wire and bitter end is secured to boat.

  • Brightwork Clean and refinish external teak every year.

Launch - once the boat is in the water:

  • Anchor locker Fill with water and ensure it drains.


Pre-Launch - before the boat is in the water:

  • Stays & Shrouds Run cloth over to find “fishhooks”, which indicate that they need replaced. Check that swaged fittings are free of corrosion and cracks.

  • Turnbuckles Remove tape from last year. Check for corrosion or cracks. Lubricate threads. Check cotter pins. Re-tape with rigging tape

  • Boom Check gooseneck and boomvang connections for cracks or corrosions.

  • Sheaves Clean and check for wear or cracks. Lubricate with calcium grease or silicone spray

  • Winches Service the winches by cleaning and re-lubricating.

  • Blocks Check that all blocks spin freely. Rinse with warm soapy water and optionally lubricate with silicone spray.

  • Running rigging Check that all lines are in good condition and free of chafe. Consider cleaning lines by washing them.

Launch - once the boat is in the water:

  • Clean & wax mast Waxing your mast will protect any coating and slow corrosion. Cleaning the mast track will make it easier to raise and lower your main sail.

  • Step mast Stepping the mast—especially for keel-stepped masts—is best left to professionals. However, nobody cares about your boat as much as you do, so ask if you can be present and ensure that all the electrical cables have been properly connected.

  • Tune standing rigging You can either do it yourself or seek the help of a professional rigger.

Safety gear

  • Flares Check expiration and replace if expired. Keep expired flares as backups.

  • Fire extinguishers Perform a full inspection.

  • Air horn Test and replace if necessary.

  • Smoke, carbon monoxide, LGP alarms Test all alarms and ensure you have spare batteries.

  • Floatation devices Check and service life jackets, MOB equipment, or any other flotation devices.


Pre-Launch - before the boat is in the water:

  • Stove/oven Connect fuel source. Light the stove to ensure all burners are working. If your boat uses propane, check that the tank locker properly drains by flushing with water.

  • Clean

  • Oil teak Use lemon oil on interior wood finishes. It dries with a slightly waxy finish and is antimicrobial, antiseptic, antiviral, and antifungal. Apply every 2-3 months.

  • Cushions & curtains Remove cushions, curtains, and any other fabrics when your boat is out of the water to keep them from getting that permanent “boat smell.” Give them a good cleaning before reinstalling.

Launch - once the boat is in the water:

  • Deck leaks Run a water hose over all hatches, ports, windows, and chainplates. Check below for leaks.

  • Air conditioning Turn on and check that water is discharging overboard. You may need to prime the pump.

Do you think we got it wrong or are missing something? Let us know!
Curated By
Avatar of Brandon Keepers Brandon Keepers
Spring Commissioning Tips
Spring Commissioning


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