Spring. I’ve often said that, for boaters, spring truly arrives that second warm weekend in April, when a boat owner starts to experience visions (pangs?) of being out there; feeling the warm sun on their skin, the salty spray on their face and, hopefully, not hearing the clunk or clank of something going awry.
If there is one thing I’ve learned over the decades, it’s that when it comes to boats, an ounce of prevention is certainly worth a pound of cure. Said another way, in every single instance I have experienced, the cost of preventative maintenance is a fraction of the price of an in-season repair or replacement. Not to mention the loss of some portion of your boating season.
This might explain why everybody and their brother publishes a ‘Spring Commissioning Maintenance Checklist’ of one sort or another. I have nothing against these checklists; they definitely provide boaters with an attack plan for getting their vessels back in the water. Some of the lists are really quite good, such as this one from SeaTow. But at the end of the day, most seem like slight variations off the same themes; collections of generalities that may become rote and, therefore, less effective.
But what good is criticism if we don’t try to make improvements, right? To this end, I’m offering up a Spring Commissioning Checklist but from the perspective of what I do for a living: Recreational and Commercial Marine Systems. Here are some of the things you should be thinking about if you want to avoid having to call someone like me just prior to a long, hot holiday weekend.
Marine Air Conditioning and Heating
1) Check the seawater strainer. If seawater flow through the system is not properly maintained, the amount of heat transferred will be reduced which greatly impacts system performance and system strain. To avoid this, check the seawater strainer for debris or for changes from freezing temperatures. In addition to doing this at commissioning, the saltwater flow should be checked at least monthly during the summer; this will vary depending on the quality of water that a boat sails or cruises in.
2) Clean your return air filter. Proper and efficient system performance requires an unobstructed flow of air to the evaporator. In-season, inspect the return air filter and clean or replace it as necessary; you’ll find it on the blower/evaporator assembly and, possibly, another built into the return air grill assembly. The proper filter material for a marine environment is different than that typically used for household or commercial applications. These filters are the first line of defense against an obstructed evaporator coil, a situation that requires potentially costly chemical and mechanical treatments to resolve.
3) Secure fixings and connections. By their very nature, systems on boats vibrate and shift about. Checking and, if necessary, tightening system fixings and electrical connections is a key step during spring commissioning. While you are doing this, you should also inspect hoses, coils and other piping for wear or leaks.
4) Check for mold and mildew formation. These contribute to unpleasant and unhealthy conditions aboard any vessel. Once mold or mildew take hold, traditional cleaning methods typically do not resolve the problem. We have a number of solutions available to overcome mold and mildew.
The Head and Holding Tanks
1) Inspect holding tank vents. Annual inspections are critical. Check for obstructions at the overboard fitting for the vent; very frequently spiders or mud wasps chose the narrow opening of a holding tank vent overboard to make their nest. Holding tank vent filters (if your vessel is fitted with one – and It SHOULD be) need replacement in order to function properly.
2) Remove holding tank accumulation. Even frequently emptied holding tanks begin to accumulate sediment that, if not addressed, will continue to gather and reduce tank capacity. At least every other year, this sentiment must be reduced. It can be cleaned out by hand using inspection ports or, more easily and certainly more genteel, it can be eliminated via an enzymatic cleaning which liquefies tank buildup and enables you to flush it during pump-out.
3) Check the head system for proper function. Are the seals working? Does the bowl clear when the head is activated? Does the bowl rinse properly? How long does your VacuFlush system hold a vacuum? Nothing disturbs a night of rest on board like the constant cycling of a vacuum generator; without a flush, the system should hold a vacuum for 8 hours, leaving you well rested and ready for the day.
Navigation and Sounding Electronics
1) Current software. Verify that your navigation systems operating software and electronic charting data are current. Without the most current software in your system, you are in danger of relying on out of date navigational information, incorrect GPS data, incorrect tide, current or celestial data and possibly be missing useful new features.
2) Inspect vessel for rodent droppings. Finding evidence of plastic and rubber-hungry rodents should translate into a raised vigilance in your wire, pipe and tube inspections. Mice love lining their nests with the plastic/rubber insulation in electrical wiring and, seemingly, the heavier the gauge the better they like it.
3) Evaluate and then service your batteries. They are the heart of your boat’s electrical system so they deserve an annual check up. Has the battery been drained during storage time? Is it holding a charge? How old is the battery? – this is a good time to remind yourself. Once you know it will stand up to another season, make sure terminals and connectors are clean and secure. Check battery fluid levels and top off with distilled water, if necessary. Finally, wipe the battery top clean of any water or residue that could become a conductive path.
1) Check the seals. Maintaining proper cold box temperatures becomes a big challenge when seals are faulty. Make sure insulation is clean and adheres properly to the intended surface. Rodent droppings should be a red flag here as well.
2) Clean the coils. As with boat AC, evaporator coils must be kept clean to promote operational efficiency as well as prolong the coil life.
If you are uncertain or just don’t have the time, we are available to perform many different aspects of Spring Commissioning Maintenance. We’re also happy to take a moment and answer questions you might have about any of the above. I’ll close by saying this: Whether you do it yourself or have someone else perform it, Spring Commissioning Maintenance definitely falls into the “pay me now or pay me later” camp.