Vance Manufacturing's Spring Boat Maintenance Checklist

Fishing season is approaching, which means anglers around the country anxiously await the abundance of hearty sunshine and hungry fish that spring promises. After months of hibernation in their dens, anglers prepare to head out on the open water by gathering their lures, stocking up on line and dusting off their sun hats. However, every good boater knows that a rig requires more than just a quick dust in order to perform at its peak. You may have done a lot to your boat before storing it last fall, but time and weather exposure can manifest in problems once you're out on the water. Thorough boat maintenance after an off-season is important for several reasons, ranging from the preservation of your engine to the safety of your passengers. Here's how to de-winterize a boat without damaging it or finding failures after launching it on its first voyage this year.

What You'll Need

Along with common hand tools, there are a few parts and fluids you should have on hand to get your boat ready for the water:

  • Recently purchased fuel
  • Fuel filter
  • Spray lubricant (We recommend Strike-Hold. This metal conditioner frees up parts like a penetrating oil, but it leaves behind a dry lubricant for long term protection.)
  • Motor oil and oil filter (four-stroke outboards)
  • Two-stroke oil (two-stroke outboards)
  • Non-detergent oil for jack plates
  • Fogging oil
  • Distilled water

Prepare Your Outboard: How To Start a Boat Motor That Has Been Sitting

If you try to crank the engine without any preparation, there's a good chance you'll break something. Here's how you can be sure every part of the engine is working before the first test run.

If you have a four-stroke outboard, check the oil. It's a good idea to change the oil and filter if you didn't before storage. This removes dirt from last season along with moisture that may have accumulated in the winter. For two-strokes, top up the oil injection reservoir or mix the oil in with your new container of gas.

Check the battery and top up the cells with distilled water. Remove any corrosion on the terminals and reconnect the electrical system.

Flush out the cooling system to remove salt and other contaminants left over from last season. The Shoreline Marine Motor Flusher makes it easy to channel water from a garden hose through your outboard's cooling system. Check your maintenance records: If you're due for a new water pump or a thermostat, get these repairs out of the way before your boat's in the water.

Using the throttle when parts are stuck can break components. Before your first test run, remove the air box. Use spray lubricant on the throttle plates, springs on the throttle control arm and joints on the throttle link arm. Move the linkage by hand to make sure everything moves freely.

Check the fuel lines for cracks, and replace them as needed. Remove the sediment cup and clean it out. If your engine has fuel injection, open up the drain on the FSM/VST to remove any residual fuel. On carburetor-equipped engines, remove the plug on the float bowl to drain the carburetor. Pour fresh fuel through the FSM or carburetor to flush out any leftover residue. Once the fuel looks clean, you can fit the drain plug and fill the tank.

Remove the spark plugs and spray fogging oil into the cylinders. Connect the battery and crank the starter a few times to spread the oil across the cylinder walls. Install the plugs and reconnect the plug wires. Connect your water source to the cooling system and start the engine.

Checking Your Accessories

This is the best time to consider upgrades for your boat. If you find the performance of your outboard is underwhelming, you might not need a bigger motor, just a better way to use the power you have. A jack plate lets you get your outboard into a better position to exert power, improving your hole shot and maintaining water pressure at full throttle. When used properly, a jack plate like our aluminum JPL4500 will keep the motor perpendicular to the water at top speed. This increases hull lift, minimizing drag and increasing top speed.

Looking to fish in shallow water but constantly worried about damaging your prop? A hydraulic kick-up plate like our HYDKU-6500 lets the tiller engine swivel out of the way when it strikes an obstacle, preventing damage. The built-in hydraulic system lasts longer than spring-based plates, and it doesn't require an external reservoir or pump.

Whether you have a new or old jack plate, you should top up the oil reservoir. Remember to move the plate down to purge any air bubbles before lifting the plate and adding oil through the filler hole. Make sure the plate and steering cables move freely. Apply lubricant as needed.

Do a check of your boat's electrical accessories, including the horn, radio and lights. Be sure to look over the equipment you keep in your boat. Is the fire extinguisher within its expiration date? Is the anchor onboard? Are your personal flotation devices onboard and in good working order?


When you're cleaning the interior, pay particular attention to the bilge pump and the surrounding area. Debris likes to gather around the intake, reducing performance. Once the pump is clean, pour some water around it and turn it on. It's better to repair a broken pump now instead of finding out it doesn't work when you're taking on water.

When it comes to your hull, a slick surface is a fast one. Thoroughly rinse your boat to remove surface dirt and grime. From there, clean in two stages: first with a mild detergent, then with a heavy-duty cleaner designed for your boat's hull material. Give the boat a final rinse to remove any cleaning products, then give it a thorough wax. This helps the hull cut through the water, and makes it harder for algae and other grime to cling to your boat.

Thorough boat maintenance after an off-season is important for several reasons.