As longer, lighter, warmer days approach, sailors are keen to stretch their sea legs.

Whether a boat has been kept in the water or out of it during the winter, there’s a lot to do before you can embark on your first trip of the boating season. Even if you’ve had the luxury of dry or even indoor storage, you should carefully examine your boat for engine damage, corrosion, and deterioration of exposed surfaces and sails. For many boat owners late winter into early spring is the perfect time to invest in a full service for your boat engine.

Here’s a step-by-step guide, outlining the basic checks you should make as the spring approaches:

Step 1: Refer to your boat manual

This is an easy way to refresh your understanding of the basic maintenance required for your make and model of boat. The trusty boat manual should tell you which fluids, such as oils and coolants, need to be replaced. In most cases, you can also find the manual online or your local boat dealership can advise you. So head to your nearest chandlery, and buy all the necessary fluids and boat cleaning equipment before you start to de-winterise your boat.

Step 2: Oil change and engine check

It’s recommended that you change your engine oil, replace the oil filter and check the out-drive oil. Be very careful to add the correct oil additive to ensure that it is corrosion free and clean. Once all fluids are topped up, it is the time to fire up your engine and decide whether you think it sounds healthy or not. If you have any doubts at all, book a service!

Step 3: Prepare your battery for a return to the water

Examine your boat’s battery to see if it contains water or is dry. If you find and dry cells, then either top them up with distilled water or throw the battery away. A battery tester helps you to check the volts and amps. If your battery is not able to hold a charge, it should be replaced. Clean corrosion traces and attach cables from the battery terminals after you’ve cleaned it.

Step 4: Don’t forget your cooling system

You will have drained your cooling system when you winterised your boat back in the autumn, to prevent your cooling system from freezing up. Spend some time looking out for any cracks on the hoses. If there are you’ll need to replace your cooling system. Don’t forget to clear the strainer and to refill the system. Outboard engine owners should also check the rubber impeller for cracks.

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Step 5: De-winterise your fuel tank

Hopefully you will have filled your fuel tank to avoid moisture building up. If you have not done it already, replace your fuel filter and check its lines for any cracks which have formed in cold weather. Did you put additives in the petrol when you winterised your boat? If not, drain the petrol and fill the tank afterwards with a quality additive that does not contain ethanol to avoid damage from E10 petrol.

Step 6: Get your distributor ready for the season

Freezing temperatures can lead to corrosion of your distributor so now is the time to take the cap off and clean it. Examine your distributor carefully and make sure to hook all the connections back up.

Step 7: Antifouling

If you intend to leave your boat in the water during the spring and summer time, you should paint it with special antifouling paint from manufacturers such as International Paints and Hempel. It’s best to get professional advice about which type of antifouling best suits your boat’s needs, but it’s generally accepted that antifouling treatment will protect your vessel from harmful organisms, and can potentially reduce your fuel bills and emissions. Antifouling coatings slowly release biocides to keep the boat’s hull fouling free from 36 months to up to 90 months.

Old antifoul will normally have been removed when the boat was winterised, so now it should just be a case of giving the hull a scrape, sand and clean before applying fresh antifoul.

Find out more on Antifouling at

Step 8: Check your belts

You will feel whether your belts are loose if you push them down and the give is significant. Additionally, examine the belts for black soot near the pulley. In particular, the alternator belt is often worn out much faster than other belts, so we recommend you to examine it very carefully.

Step 9: Sails, mast and rigging

If you have a sailing boat then you should always inspect the sails before launching your boat, examining the general condition.  Look for wear and chafing, and check battens and batten pockets, along with any sail attachments.

Go over your mast and rigging making sure that there isn’t any corrosion or damage to the mast itself and the spreaders. All rivets and screws should also be checked and replaced if they have suffered from any corrosion. Other things that should be checked include the reefing points and the rigging, bottlescrews and clevis pins for wear and corrosion. Make sure that the masthead fitting and pulleys are in good condition and then view the halyards and consider replacing or swapping if worn.

Step 10: Check electronic marine equipment

Moisture can harm your electronic equipment and therefore you should inspect and test everything properly. Simply turning on the electronic devices such as GPS or compass is not sufficient. You should properly test them and make sure that everything is charged before your first boat trip.

Step 11: Examine your anodes

Here you’ll need to check your sacrificial anodes for any corrosion and if you see any signs of corrosion, immediately replace them. Placed at the bottom of the outdrive of your boat or on the drive shaft they are essential for protecting metal parts, such as the propellor, against corrosion.

Step 12: Examine your bilge pump

We recommend you to examine your bilge pump, circuit and automatic switch. A damaged bilge pump can lead to flooding inside your boat, which can destroy your equipment and personal belongings.

Step 13: Inspect all your safety equipment on board

Do you have enough life jackets on board and are they in a proper condition? We are constantly warned about the dangers of neglected lifejackets, incorrectly assembled operating mechanisms with pieces missing, and out of date jackets. Keep an eye out for damaged lungs, rips, tears and burns, and lifejackets that are mouldy and rotting. Typically lifejackets, dan buoys and other self inflating man overboard equipment, EPIRBS and liferafts fall into the category of requiring regular servicing, therefore boat owners should be getting into a routine of checking them all at least annually.

Step 14: Clean and repair fixtures and fittings

Trips out on the water should be comfortable as well as fun and that means ensuring your seating, beds, and all the other ‘home comforts’ are in a decent state ready for your first outing on the water. You should examine your boat’s interior closely, looking out for problems with your upholstery, vinyl and canvas. Is there any damage, mildew or dirt? Then clean or repair those spots now to avoid further spread. Often it’s worth spending on a professional clean which will really help eliminate damp (and the associated smell) that’s built up over the winter months.

Step 15: Check and treat the exterior

Check your hull for chips, chalky appearance and blisters. Clean your hull afterwards and don’t forget to wax it. In order to avoid any long-term damage, you should not only wipe down but also polish the surface of your deck and do not forget the metal and teak. It’s well worth using a high-quality polish for the metals and sand. All wood should be freshly treated or varnished.

Step 16: Review your insurance policy

It is important to know that any damage caused by freezing may not be covered by insurance. It’s a good idea to call your insurance company and find out which damages occurring during winter season are being covered. You should also review your boat insurance coverage to make sure that your policy is still active. Is your boat insured for your next travel destination? It’s well worth checking this before starting your trip and make also sure to get a decent hull insurance.

All this hard work will pay off! Now you can enjoy your time boating, with the peace of mind that you’ve prepared your beloved boat for wonderful, carefree days on the water.

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