Mar 20, 2019

WAKE UP Your Boat

After a long winter hibernation, here’s a few tasks that should be done to ensure a safe and successful boating season

By Andy Mack

Winter is almost over, and spring is knocking at the doorstep. The first robins of the year are making an appearance, the rivers are starting to open, and spring training baseball is on the radio.

I, for one, have put my ice fishing gear away and am ready to get out on the open water. All my fishing rods and reels have been inspected and have fresh spools of line. My lures and terminal tackle have been organized and re-stocked.

It is time to “wake up” the boat I reached out to a couple of industry experts to find out what they recommend for getting your boat ready for another season. I also included some of the tasks I do each year to prepare my rig. 

Trailers for sale or rent …

I think the most important and often overlooked aspect of boating is getting your boat to the water. Your boat trailer must be in top working order, especially if you travel any distance to the boat launch.

How many times have you passed a boat trailer on the side of the highway with a flat tire or was missing a tire and rim altogether? I admit both have happened to me.

So, every spring I begin by thoroughly inspecting my boat trailer. I begin by looking at the tires. Inspect the tread. Is there any uneven wear? Is there enough tread left? Trailer tires can be relatively inexpensive, and I will not hesitate to replace tires that appear to be worn out. In my opinion, the cost of a new tire or two is much less than the cost of missing a day of fishing because of a flat tire.

I will also check the lug nuts and torque them to the manufacturer’s recommendation.

After tires, the bearings are the next item I inspect. Part of my fall winterization is to grease the bearings. However, I recommend you clean and re-pack the bearings at least once a year. Because the trailer is exposed to water several times a year, it is possible for water to get into the hub assembly and breakdown the grease. Inspect the bearings, races and grease seals. Simply replacing the grease seals is a good idea even if they show no signs of wear. Clean the bearings and re-pack them with fresh grease that is intended for marine use.

If your trailer has brakes, you should also look at the brake assembly as long as you have the tires off to re-pack the bearings. And while the tires are off, look at the axle and leaf springs and shackles. For the most part, you are only looking for obvious signs of trouble. Look for broken leaf springs. Tug on the leaf springs and make sure the shackles do not have any excessive play in them.

The next thing I will look at on the trailer is the lighting and electrical system. Make sure all the lights work. I can’t emphasize how important this is. One functioning tail light is not acceptable. By law, every light on the trailer must be functioning properly.

I admit that auto electrical systems are not my cup of tea. If a light repair involves more than changing a bulb, I reach out to a professional. I’m a huge fan of LED trailer lights. They are very reliable and not as susceptible to water, not to mention how bright they are.

Check the wires for wear and fraying. Make sure the holes where the wires come out of the trailer frame still have the protective rubber grommets in place to protect the wires.

Next, look at the tongue. Spray the tongue with a little lithium grease and check the functionality. Look at the winch and the strap or rope on the winch. If it’s looking old or worn, replace it. Check your transom tie-downs as well.

When the boat is off the trailer, look at the bunks or rollers, depending on what type of trailer you have. If needed, grease the roller assemblies. If your bunks have worn or missing carpeting, consider replacing it.

The final aspect of the trailer I check is the spare tire. Make sure it is in good shape. Over time, they tend to “dry rot” even though they’re not in use. Also make sure the spare is properly inflated. By the way, do you have a small jack and proper sized T-bar in your tow vehicle in case you get a flat?

Boat check

Now that we’re confident our boat trailer is in good working order, we can turn our attention to the boat.

Before you uncover the boat after a long winter, look at the travel cover itself. Look for rips and tears. Check the straps or snaps. I like to apply a conditioner to the cover material each spring. Travel covers are expensive, and the conditioner can extend the life of the cover, as well as help its effectiveness in protecting your boat.

Once the cover is removed, look at the interior. Hopefully, no rodents decided to take up winter residency in your boat. If you didn’t do so in the fall, now is a good time to vacuum and wipe down the interior. I will check all the compartments and clean out any garbage I missed in the fall.

Andy Pharo of Pharo Marine in Waunakee recommends charging all the batteries in your boat. Pharo Marine uses a procedure they call “Spring Run Up.” After the batteries are recharged, Pharo said, you should re-connect your batteries and electronics and check them. Turn on the boat’s navigation lights, live well pumps and bilge pump to make sure everything is functioning properly.

Pharo Marine’s Spring Run Up procedure involves starting up the engine and running it until it comes up to temperature. They check to make sure the water pump is working, Pharo said, and that the engine is functioning properly overall.

If you want to do this yourself, Pharo recommends that upon arriving at the launch for the first time in spring, back the boat in the water just enough to run the engine while keeping the boat on the trailer. Make sure the engine gets up to temperature and that the water pump is functioning properly. You should see a steady stream of water coming out of the motor. If there is only a small trickle, you should have the water impeller replaced. The water impeller in your motor is a part that should be replaced every couple of years. 

Safety check

Step inside your boat and take some time to inspect and assess your safety equipment.

Begin with your life vests. Check to make sure they are present and in good shape. Next, make sure you have a proper throwable flotation device. While not mandatory, I like to keep a rope attached to my throwable device.

Check your fire extinguisher and make sure it is not expired. Most have a gauge that indicates whether it’s still good. If your boat has a built-in horn, make sure it works. If you do not have a built-in horn, make sure you have a hand-held device like an air horn.

If you fish or boat on the Great Lakes, you need to have flares on board. Flares have an expiration date printed on them. Check yours to make sure that they are current.

I keep a first-aid kit in my boat that includes a fish hook remover kit. I also make sure I have new bottles of bug repellant and sunscreen. Check your docking gear. Make sure your bumpers and ropes are in good shape. It’s also a good idea to keep a small tool kit in your boat to help with simple on-the-water repairs.

The outside of your boat is also important. Whether you have an aluminum or fiberglass boat, it is important to protect your investment. Jack Kuglitsch of All Out Marine in Allenton in Washington County highly recommends applying a wax or sealant product to the finish of your boat during the spring. A boat’s finish is much like an automobile finish, he explained.

“The more work you put into taking care of it, the better the long-term results,” Kuglitsch said.

A wax or sealant will help later on in removing water spots and scum lines. Kuglitsch also recommends applying an ultraviolet protectant to the vinyl interior of your boat. Seats, dashboards and other vinyl interior areas are susceptible to the harmful UV rays of the sun. A UV protectant will keep your interior looking like new.

Taking care of your boat investment is important. Time is precious, especially time on the water. Following these simple steps will tilt the odds of an enjoyable and successful boating season in your favor. So, get out there, cast a line and get hooked up!


Andy Mack is a USGC Charter Captain and licensed Wisconsin fishing guide with more than 35 years of experience. Mack specializes in walleye, salmon, trout and panfish throughout Wisconsin, including the Great Lakes and Winnebago system. Contact him at 262.510.1452, by email at amack15@att.netor online at