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Follow this quick checklist for carefree cruising

Authored by Cindy Badley
April 3, 2024

By Doug Jackson, Commodore, Great Lakes Cruising Club

Spring outfitting for all boats

  • Bottom paint: What’s the condition? Can it go another season or does it need a repaint?
  • Thru hulls, hoses and hose clamps: Make sure all thru hulls operate smoothly; inspect hoses for stiffness, rot, leaks, etc; and inspect hose clamps. All hose connections below the water line should have 2 stainless hose clamps for each connection. Once the boat has been launched, check for any leaks.
  • Engines: Inspect engine strainer to ensure it’s not cracked or bent from ice, is free of corrosion, and is clean. Check all fluid levels (antifreeze, oil, transmission). Inspect shift cables/linkage. Start engines, test that the transmissions work in both forward and reverse. (If you didn’t change oil, filters, etc., last fall, do it now). Also inspect the alternator/water pump belt. Look for cracks or excessive belt dust.
  • Bilge pumps: Test them to ensure the float switches and the pumps operate properly.
  • Fuel system: Inspect fuel lines, tanks, and exhaust manifold for leaks or corrosion. Fill fuel tanks if needed.
  • House and starting batteries: Charge them now. A load tester can determine the remaining useful life of batteries. Ensure all battery connections are clean and tight.
  • Steering system: Ensure it is working freely and does not bind stop to stop. Lubricate as needed.
  • Electronics: Ensure all electronics start and are working properly. This includes VHF radio, chart plotters, auto pilot, radar, speed and depth indicators, etc. Check manufacturer’s website for any software/firmware updates and install them as appropriate.
  • Water systems: Drain or flush any antifreeze used to winterize the boat from domestic water systems, A/C units, wash-down pumps, etc. Ensure the domestic water system runs without leaks. If you don’t have an accumulator, ensure the water pump turns off after turning the faucet off.
  • Dock lines: Inspect dock lines for wear and replace as needed.
  • Generator: Inspect all hoses, if not already done, change oil and filter.  Start generator and confirm it is working.
  • Shower Sump Pumps:  Test them to ensure they are working properly

For sailboats

  • Inspect standing rigging, especially swage fittings for cracks, rust, etc. Inspect all running rigging for any lines that show excessive wear. Replace as needed.

From a safety standpoint

  • Install (or inspect) both carbon monoxide alarms and smoke detectors inside cabins. CO is a deadly, silent killer and boats create CO via their main engine exhaust and any generators. 
  • Check fire extinguishers to make sure units are still charged (in the green). Remember – all dry chemical extinguishers need to be replaced or recharged (if possible) every 10 years.
  • Inspect flares and check expiration dates. Consider upgrading to electronic flares that are now approved by the USCG and Transport Canada.
  • Check your personal floatation devices (PFDs)
  • For non-inflatables: Inspect them for wear and tear, waterlogging, fading, etc. Discard and replace as needed. Make sure you have sufficient PFDs for your boating needs.
  • For Inflatables: Check for tears, rips, abrasions, or holes. Visually check that the inflator status is green, and the expiration date of the canister is current. Manually inflate each PFD and leave inflated for 24 hours. After 24 hours, observe if there are any leaks. If the PFD holds inflation (i.e., no leaks), manually deflate and repack. If the PFD does not hold air, there is a leak, the recommendation would be to send the PFD to the manufacturer for repair (if available) or discontinue use or discard the jacket. Ensure you have spare inflation canisters and activation bobbins (if so equipped).
  • Number of PFDs: Carry the size and type of PFDs needed (i.e., you may need specific children’s sizes for children, grandchildren, etc).
  • Inspect man-overboard gear. Inspect throwable PFDs and any Lifesling for wear, abrasion, fading and deterioration. Replace as needed.
  • If your vessel is equipped with a life raft, ensure the certificate date has not passed.
  • EPIRB and PLBs: Check battery expiration date.  Replace battery if necessary.  Test to confirm the unit is working.

Another thought

  • Digital Selective Calling: If you have not updated your VHF radio that provides DSC – consider doing so. DSC provides a higher level of safety when needing to reach the Coast Guard. For DSC to work, your VHF radio needs GPS access (either internally or from other on-board electronics) and needs to be registered and obtain the MMSI number. For more information on DSC go to

Wrapping up

     This article attempts to put together a fairly comprehensive list of items that should be inspected or installed. This article is by no means the final statement on everything you could or should inspect. Consult sources such as the U.S. Coast Guard at: among others. Do not wait until it is too late.