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Old 05-03-2004
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The Definitive Spring Work List


Prudent sailors know that before leaving the dock, it's best to check all the items on the maintenance list.
The romantics among us love to personify sailboats, generally in the form of a shapely she. But most boat owners know that a sailboat is really a machine composed of thousands of small parts. Like the war that was lost for want of a nail, the failure of many of these parts can ruin an entire sailing season.

Machinery likes to be worked and often fails from sheer idleness. After a period of layup, a boat needs a thorough checkup before it is put back into service. So, I offer you a checklist that you can use to help get back on the water with a minimum of surprises. It is not possible, of course, to cover every piece of gear that every sailor could possible have on his or her boat, but if your solar panels and wind generator don't work, it won't stop you from sailing.

Don't let this list daunt you with its length—many of the items only require a glance or a few moments to complete. It is a reminder, though, that it is always easier to maintain constant vigilance throughout the year, doing as much of the inspection and maintenance as possible throughout the season and at layup. If you neglected your inspection last fall, you may pay now with a big load of work while those who kept with the chores over the winter are out there sailing in those clean, brisk spring winds.

Print this list out, take it to the boat this weekend, and begin the process. A few of the smaller items can always be taken home for tweaking during the week—a far better pastime than watching the tube.


Whether cruising or racing, proper preparation is the key to a bottom job that will allow the boat to sail at its full potential.
Hull    There are numerous areas to check regarding the hull on any boat, but here are the basics that you must cover:
-Make sure the bottom is clean and has a good coat of antifouling paint on it.
-Clean and wax the hull.
-Clean the bilge and pump strainers.
-Make hull numbering legible and legal with current stickers.
-Touch up paint on boot, sheer, name, and hailing port.
-Inspect and clean the chainplates (make sure they're leak-free).
-Check bobstay or boomkin fittings for rust or other problems including metal fatigue.

Deck    Once again, you could drive yourself crazy with all the areas that ought to be checked, but here are the essentials:
-Protect exterior woodwork.
-Ensure that nonskid still has good nonslip properties.
-Clean and wax the deck where necessary.
-Check to see that hatches and ports are operational, leak-free, and have no substantial corrosion in their parts.
-Inspect stanchions, pulpits, and lifelines to ensure that they're in good condition.
-Make sure cleats and chocks are firmly affixed.
-Wax and polish all stainless or metal work.
-Check that deck blocks, tracks, and travelers roll and slide smoothly.
-Make sure that ventilators are operational and leak-free.
-Clean, repair, and treat all canvas work, even the stuff that's in storage.

Mechanical    Of course almost everything on board a boat is mechanical, but make sure that you particularly go over these items:
-Make sure you've got all tools and spares on board.
-Inspect rudder, shaft, and bearings to be sure they're smooth and tight.
-Ensure that wheel or tiller has positive feel and is in good condition.
-Check to see that steering cables or hydraulic hoses have no flaws.
-Make sure the steering quadrant is tight.
-Adjust steering packing gland if necessary.
-Make sure that refrigeration system(s) is operational.
-Test heating and air-conditioning systems.

Plumbing    This area of the boat includes not only your water and fuel tanks and your head, but also the propane system if you have one.
-Check for leaks in LPG and fuel systems.
-Inspect thru-hulls.
-Service any seacocks and make sure they're leak-free.
-Clear and service scuppers and all valves.
-Clean out all strainers.
-Inspect hoses and hose clamps to make sure they're sound and tight.
-Drain and flush water tank, and then re-fill it.
-Make sure the toilet and holding tank are operational.
-Test all pumps and systems so that they're operational.
-Ensure that all faucets and fixtures are working and leak-free.


Time invested in troubleshooting before there's any trouble is time well spent. Voltmeters can be difficult to use in the dark and in pitching seas—when electrical problems are most likely to manifest themselves.

Electrical    Essential as your electrical system is, you definitely want to make sure everything here is operational.
-Charge batteries and make sure they're topped up with water.
-Check all electrical cables for damage and bright, tight connections.
-Make sure all  circuits, lights, and appliances are operational.
-Ensure that all gauges and monitors are operational.
-Get 120-volt power cord in good condition.
-Check battery charger, inverter, and 120-volt appliances.

Engine and Propulsion    There shouldn't be much to do here, but this is where the old adage about "for the want of a nail" really comes into play.
-Clean engine and see that it's free of rust.
-Check engine mounts.
-Make sure that lube oil is clean and topped up.
-Top up transmission fluid.
-Make sure that coolant is clean and topped up.
-Inspect pump impeller for wear and any leaks.
-Inspect and tighten all belts.
-Make sure all hose and electrical connections are tight.
-Be sure that all gauges and alarms are operational.
-Correct any misalignment of the engine.
-Adjust packing gland—and repack if necessary.
-Inspect cutless bearing.
-Clean propeller and inspect for dings.
-Make sure that propeller nuts and cotter pins are tight and sound.
-Renew shaft zincs as necessary.
(Repeat all applicable above for second engine or generator)

Mooring and Anchoring Gear   
Here's an area that directly affects the security of your vessel, so don't skimp.
-Check anchor rollers for operation.
-Inspect and test windlass.
-Check anchors for or rust or other problems.
-Inspect and seize anchor shackles and swivels.
-Inspect anchor rodes and fasten the bitter ends to the boat.
-Inspect dock lines for chafe.
-Inspect chafe guards.
-Inspect fenders and lines.
-Check that the boat hook is on board.

"Inspect rudder, shaft, and bearings to be sure they're smooth and tight. Ensure that wheel or tiller has positive feel and is in good condition. Check to see that steering cables or hydraulic hoses have no flaws..."
Spars, Rigging, and Sails
This is broad area, and probably one that you'll revisit throughout the sailing season. -Check paint on spar—clean and wax as necessary.
-Inspect sailtracks.
-Lubricate sheaves on all blocks and mast fittings.
-Inspect tangs, tang bolts, goosenecks, spreader bases, and ends.
-Check spreaders and spreader boots.
-Inspect mast lights, antennas, instruments, and electronics.
-Clean and service all winches.
-Inspect bobstay and fittings.
-Check that roller furling operates smoothly.
-Inspect rig and check rig tune.
-Ensure that turnbuckles turn freely and have no bends.
-Inspect all clevis and cotter pins and re-tape for chafe protection.
-Make sure that all running rigging is clean with no worn spots.
-Inspect shackles to ensure that they open and close easily.
-See that running rigging is properly rove.
-Ensure that spinnaker pole ends and chocks operate smoothly.
-Inspect all sails to see that they're clean and without tears.
-Have a look at stitching, patchwork, and rings.
-Check that the battens are sound and properly in place.
-Look for chafe on the leech, foot, and luff lines.
-Make sure that sailcovers and bags are clean and in good condition.
-Inspect lifelines for wear and corrosion.

Electronics and Navigation Depending upon how extensive the electronics are on your boat, the maintenance here is pretty easy.
-Make sure that underwater electronic transducers are sound and operational.
-Check antennas and cables for damage.
-See that the main compass has no bubbles and reads easily.
-Replace all dry-cell batteries where necessary.
-Test all items to see that they get power.
-Ensure that you've got current charts, books, and nav tools on board.


You needn't be a workaholic to successfully tackle your spring work list, but being organized will help you get back on the water and under sail sooner.

Interior    Again, there's not much to do here, but it's all important.
-Make sure you've got all applicable ownership papers on board.
-Get the cushions, covers, and carpets clean.
-Clean bulkheads and interior surfaces so that they're free of mildew.
-Make sure that the galley stove is operational.
-Check all doors, drawers, and cabinet hardware for operation.

Dinghy    Of course this area may not apply to all boat owners, but it doesn't hurt to be informed.
-Make sure the dinghy has its legal numbering and stickers.
-Make sure that the dinghy is clean and free of leaks.
-Make sure the dinghy repair kit is on board.
-Check the oars, oarlocks, drain plug, bailer.
-Put outboard, key tether, fuel tank, hose, and safety lock in place.
-Inspect davits and falls, or other dinghy storage equipment, for operation.
-Check that outboard storage bracket and lift are solid.
-Check that you've got outboard oil and spare parts.

Safety Gear    Last but never least, these are the things that could save your bacon when something goes wrong, so make sure you cover these areas carefully.
-Make sure that your PFDs are legal, clean, and easily accessible.
-Ensure that the fire extinguishers and flares are up to date.
-Make sure the bell and horn are operational and accessible.
-Check that the legal oil and garbage discharge plaques are in place.
-Make sure that the harnesses and tethers are in good working order.
-Make sure that the first-aid kit is current and complete.
-Inspect the COB pole and equipment.
-Update batteries in the EPIRB, flashlight, and other signaling equipment.

I realize that this list represents a fair bit of work, but even if you have other people maintain your boat, you'll want to have a list like this handy to check the areas that they've worked on. Of course there may be other issues I haven't mentioned that pertain to some sailors, like the care and condition of a trailer if you keep your boat on one, but covering the above items should keep most boats in working order. Now get out and enjoy that vessel.

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