Hook up the batteries: Last fall, you should have removed the batteries and kept them fully charged to prevent electrolyte damage. Reinstall the batteries, make sure connections are tight and coat the terminals with insulating solvents that prevent corrosion.
Inside tip: As you reconnect accessory power cables, make sure to avoid reversing polarity. That ugly spark is only the beginning of what could become a bigger problem.
Reinstall the electronics: Other items that should be stored indoors are your high-tech gadgets, like fishfinders, GPS units and other battery-powered necessities. Turn those on and make sure they boot up and are in working order before the first trip. Check connections and wiring for any wear and tear—and especially if your boat is stored outdoors. Pesky rodents might have nested in the boat over winter and munched on the wiring.
Inside tip: Check devices using SD cards to make sure ample storage is available. Software updates rolled out over the winter can max out the card you thought had plenty of available storage.
Inspect the plumbing: If your boat is stored outside in the cold, check all the PVC-fitted plumbing for signs of cracks. Do the same with hoses and clamps. This time-consuming chore can be worth the effort on the very first trip. Cracked plumbing with thru-hull fittings can cause leaks or worse.
Inside tip: While you’re at it, flip the switches on bilge and livewell pumps to ensure those are in working order.
Look at the upholstery: Inspect the undersides of the seat cushions for signs of life, namely mold or algae that can damage the fabric. While you’re at it, check inside the compartments for signs of moisture retention.
Inside tip: Treat upholstery now with a cleaning protectant spray designed for marine use. Follow the directions and add some elbow grease to get your seating looking showroom new.
Battery check: Replace all of the batteries in your flashlights, and buy fresh spare batteries to keep on boat. If any of your flashlights have rechargeable batteries, give them all a charge, and enter reminders on your calendar to recharge them again in the future.
Inside tip: Store spare batteries, phone chargers and ear buds in a small airtight plastic storage box. They will be easier to find when needed the most.
Check the straps: Check the winch strap for signs of deterioration and replace if needed. Do the same for the transom tie-downs.
Inside tip: Spray the gears of the winch with lubricant to keep them in good working order.
Check the tires: Trailer tires can develop a flat spot when parked for extended periods during winter. Flat spotting occurs where the tire’s footprint is pressed against the ground. Normal driving under warm conditions usually smoothes out the spot, but consult the dealer if the problem persists.
Inside tip: Check the spare tire for proper inflation. You want it to be ready for use if needed.
Safety gear check: Seldom used, often neglected, these must-haves need to be in working order at a moment’s notice. Take inventory of the first aid kit and replace any missing items. Check the fire extinguisher pressure gauge, making sure it reads in the green zone. Check expiration dates on handheld meteor flares. If they are set to expire midseason, put a reminder on your calendar. If they expire within a month or two, you might as well replace them now.
Inside tip: Keep a marine first aid kit onboard with medical supplies specifically designed for boating emergencies. The same holds true for the fire extinguisher. Use a Coast Guard-approved model instead of the household version you store in the kitchen pantry.
Schedule a Vessel Safety Check: If you want the Coast Auxiliary or Power Squadrons to help make your boat as safe as possible, schedule a Vessel Safety Check. If your boat passes, you receive a VSC decal for the year.
Inside tip: Volunteer members of either group will come to your marina or your house (for trailered boats) to conduct a VSC.
Check the registration: Are your boat and trailer registrations up to date? Don’t get stopped on the way to or out on the lake this summer with an expired registration.
Inside tip: Now is the time to save the date of when the time is to renew.
Don’t leave home without it: The drain plug. It’s easy to forget and can cut short your very first trip.
Inside tip: Better yet, keep a spare onboard at all times in case you do forget the plug at home.