Get set for the new season with these checks on systems and equipment, says surveyor Ben Sutcliffe-Davies

Now the days are getting longer and the weather warmer, it is clear, a new season is just round the corner. Don’t be tempted, however, to scrimp on a sensible set of checks for your boat before you sail off. This month, we’re looking at reliability – visit: for a full set of checklists.

If you’ve had time over the winter, hopefully you will have tackled a number of jobs to get ready for the new season, most of which are relatively simple and straightforward, though some will have needed a little more planning, time, and possibly professional assistance.

1 Beneath the waterline

Tackling what is under the water has to be a priority as it can’t be done once you’re back in. Anodes should be near the top of the list. Remove any anodes that are more than 50% consumed as they won’t have enough material left to last the season. Ensure the bolts are secure and if they’re bonded in that the wiring is secure too.

2 Check your rudder

Check for rudder movement. If there’s wobble, the bearings may need replacing, which can be a harder job depending on how they are accessed. If you’re not sure, get a professional to help you.

A seacock on a Bavaria Vision 42

Painting a seacock will do little to improve longevity. Proper maintenance is essential. Credit: Graham Snook/Yachting Monthly

3 Seacocks

Service your seacocks if you can, though many are not serviceable, so the best you can do is to exercise them to check they work smoothly and to look for corrosion; importantly, do not forget to remove the hose tail as this is a point of failure. Seacocks are a semi-consumable item, so you should plan to replace metal ones every five years. While you are at it, make sure all hoses on board are securely attached with two stainless steel hose clamps in good condition.

servicing a winch on a boat

Credit: Wayne Palmer

4 Service your winches

Winches can be serviced at any point, but if the grease is going to harden and get sticky, it’ll be over winter. Strip them down, regrease them, using light oil for the pawls and springs, and put them back together.

5 Keep it clean

As you get closer to launch day, wash the boat down, including deck gear and topsides and you’re ready to polish.

6 Prepare your bottom

The last job to do is to refresh the antifoul, as close to launch day as possible, with enough time for it to dry in (hopefully) warmer weather. Ask the yard to move the hull supports, or touch in the unpainted areas with the boat in the slings.

Photo: Graham SNook/YM

7 Engine

In most years the RNLI’s single main reason for call-outs to yachts is for engine failures. Hopefully you will have changed the main engine oil in the autumn as part of the winterisation. If not, it’s well advised to do an oil and filter change before using her. Be mindful when changing oil to ensure no spilt oil goes into her bilge. Try to take any spent oil to a local recycling collection point. Checking gearbox oils can be equally important, especially if you have a saildrive arrangement.

Checking or replacing essential items including water pump impellers, belt tensions and ensuring the drive pulleys are clean, with no corrosion developing that will shred a drive belt in minutes, is always a good move.

Make sure the engine mounts are in good order, along with the shaft coupling and check the gland condition. With fuel it’s a very good idea to check your fuel and that the fuel filters are clean.

It’s possible to ask an engineer to polish your fuel if emptying the tank isn’t an option. Carrying a few spare filters is also a sensible back-up.

Anodes within the engine cooling system are easily missed, so check your manual, or with a main dealer if you’re not sure. There may also be longer-term service requirements for things like engine tappet adjustments to check.

Photo: Lester McCarthyYM

8 Rigging checks

Before sailing off it’s worth going over the basics, especially if you have recently been launched. Some yards have to let go backstays for lifting and it’s really important that they are double-checked for tension and for correctly fitted clevis or split pins. Making sure the roller furling is in good order and everything is turning again is also a sensible precaution. If your mast was unstepped, check all running rigging is properly reinstated and that the whole rig is correctly set up and tensioned.

9 Anchor

The ground tackle needs to be in good order – I’ve opened anchor lockers in the spring only to find a rusted-together ball of chain. Ideally, flake the chain out on the ground while ashore and redo any worn or missing markers. If rope is spliced or shackled on the chain, check it for wear and check the splice or shackle. The same goes for any joins in the cable, including between the chain and the anchor, making sure bolts are secured with Loctite and shackles are moused with wire. Make sure the bitter end is secured with cord for quick release. Ideally keep a knife in the locker to cut it in an emergency.

10 VHF and AIS setup

It’s all well and good having lots of fancy equipment like radios, AIS, and PLBs, but unless they are all properly registered and set up they are not much good. Make sure you have your VHF radio licence, that your callsign and MMSI number are correct and entered into your radio and AIS. Also check that your radio/AIS has a GPS feed and the Lat and Long it shows is correct. For your PLBs and EPIRBs, ensure that the correct details are registered with the coastguard. Many instruments and digital charts also require regular software updates installing.

11 Fire and emergency

Inspect all onboard fire extinguishers are in date and up to pressure. There should be one in every space, and one in the cockpit locker to fight a fire from on deck.
If you have aft cabins with only a single exit, putting a fire blanket in each cabin is also sensible.
Buy some new LED torches and batteries to put in each cabin with a few spares, so you will always have a working torch to hand.

The correct way to store a liferaft for easy access. Photo: Graham Snook/YM

12 Safety equipment

Jackstays – Ideally jackstays should be removed over winter. Reattach carefully, and mouse shackles. Use new rope for any lashings. If wire, check for splitting around swages, or cracks in plastic sheathing where rust will become an issue. Webbing should be inspected for chafe and worn stitching. Inspect deck fittings and their backings and any other tether anchor points.

Flares – Small non-commercial yachts do not have to carry pyrotechnics, but if you do, they must be in date. If yours are out of date, dispose of them properly, at an amnesty or chandlery.

Liferaft – I regularly see liferafts stowed in locations where owners would never get them deployed in an emergency. Consider where you can safety stow yours, either in a dedicated cockpit locker not under loads of equipment, or ideally on deck in a GRP case with a hydrostatic release, and without extra lashings.

Some boats with a dedicated locker in the cockpit sole or transom have locks in the handles that are essential to unlock before sailing off. It’s also important to understand if you can deploy it without having to drop the transom. Make sure the liferaft is in date and that you know what equipment it contains.

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