After a long wet winter for UK sailors it's finally time to start planning for some boating adventures.

In the rush to relaunch, take the time to run through our list of key boat checks to do before you get out on the water—not only can they keep you safe, but they could save a lot of expenses further down the line.

Even if you have kept your boat afloat throughout the winter in a marina berth or you have a trailer sailer, there's still plenty for you to think about here.


Sprucing up

1. After a long time ashore, the topsides, decks and coachroof might be a little much. In preparation for your first trip give them a quick wash down with warm, soapy water. It may also pay to give them a good brush first to remove leaves, twigs and other winter debris.

2. For GRP hulls—if you have the time and the inclination, buff and polish the cleaned topsides with Starbrite wax or similar. This will protect the gelcoat for the coming season and prevent UV degradation. A little preventative maintenance like this spares you the expense of a more detailed cutback and polish further down the line.

3. For wooden hulls—check the varnish carefully for signs of UV damage and water ingress. It is always better to sand back and apply a coat or two of new varnish than to wait until the coating is breached and have to renew the whole thing.


Under the waterline

4. Most cruising boats require annual or biennial antifouling to stop wee marine beasties from taking up residence on the hull and slowing you down. Ensure you apply the paint above the minimum temperature—otherwise, it won't set properly and may not last the season. It's a messy job, so to be safe you may want to wear a protective suit, goggles, gloves and even a mask. Those with long-term systems such as hard antifouling or Coppercoat can probably get away with a quick sand and buff. While doing this you'll also want to xcrape off any barnacles or fouling still clinging on to the boat's through-hulls.

5. Grease the propeller according to the manufacturer's instructions and ensure no damage is visible. Clean off fouling and apply a fouling release coat, such as Propspeed.

6. Give the rudder and the prop shaft a rattle while the boat's still on the hard. If there's a lot of movement, ask a shipwright to have a look—you may need to replace the bearings. For the prop shaft you'll also want to check the P-bracket is rigid and that the surrounding hull shows no signs of stress cracks.

7. Replace hull anodes if they show signs of wear. There is usually at least one on the hull and another on the propeller of a sailing boat. Motorboats may have others on trim tabs, rudders and sterndrives. They are cheap to buy and easy to fit, protecting the much more valuable fittings on board from corrosion.


Down below

8. Grease and refasten any seacocks on board—it's a quick, simple job on land and impossible in the water. While you're at it, check for stiffness in the seacock handle. This can be a sign of corrosion, eventually leading to seacock failure—with potentially catastrophic results. All the seacocks should be closed for relaunch.

9. Engine maintenance is a key part of overwintering the boat. If you haven't done it yet, don't panic. At a minimum, you should check the seawater impeller and any anodes, replacing them as necessary. Oil should be replaced (much easier when the engine has run warm for a minute or two), along with oil filters and fuel filters. Check whether the air filter also needs replacing. Make sure the freshwater cooling circuit is also topped up, and ensure there's adequate tension in the alternator belt. You'll also want to top up wet-cell batteries with distilled water.

10. Many boatowners remove their boat's batteries for better storage and trickle charging over the winter. When you reinstall them, be careful connecting wires to the terminals. Apply petroleum jelly afterwards to protect against corrosion. If there's any doubt, get the boatyard to do it for you! Check that you've got it right by switching on the electrics afterwards.

11. Another good trick is to put some vinegar in the hoses for the heads. This will dissolve the inevitable build-up of scale. While you're at it, check that the pump handle moves freely and without squeaking. If not, you can disassemble, grease, or replace the rubber seals.


Deck equipment

12. If you drained the fuel tanks at the end of last season, refill them with enough fuel to launch the boat and treat them with a fuel additive such as fuel set—this is particularly important in diesel systems, where it stops diesel bugs from proliferating.

13. If you have a tender and outboard, it's good to have them serviced during the winter. There's still time before the sailing season starts, although waiting times will probably be longer than usual as the last-minute rush gets underway.

14. Winches and even hard-wearing windlasses can get choked up with salt crystals. Though they soldier on, you may find it harder or noisier to put them to work. The remedy is to remove the drum, rinse the mechanism down with fresh water to remove salt crystals and then regrease. Manufacturers often say you need to do this regularly throughout the season, but even once a year is better than nothing. It is no easier done ashore than afloat, but at least in the boat park, you're less likely to lose fiddly parts over the side.

15. Even simple blocks benefit from sluicing with fresh water from time to time to remove salt crystals. If they're badly seized, try using hot water instead.

16. Check that your deck hardware has been refastened properly with the pins in shackles and toggles. This is critical if you unstepped the mast during the winter. Many standing rigging requires a split ring or pin to secure it in place. Best not to reuse old, bent ones, but start afresh.

17. While looking at the rigging, run a finger around the shrouds where they enter the swaged terminal to check for the tell-tale unevenness that betrays a broken strand.

18. It's best to refill the water tank(s), but only after the boat is back in the briny.


Safety gear

19. Bring the safety gear back aboard. Lifejackets are a bare minimum to bring back aboard, as you'll need them to launch the boat. While you're at it, why not bring the lifelines and wet weather gear, too? Check that the danbuoy, throwing line, and horseshoe buoys are all in place. Remember that any flares on board have a disposal date on them—which you should respect to avoid injury. You'll need to hand them in if they're past their prime.

20. Charge the handheld VHF and check that the PLB and Epirb beacons are still powered up by pressing the test button.

21. Ensure there are softwood bungs of the right diameter next to each through-hull. These have a habit of absorbing humidity and should be regularly replaced.



22. Away from the boatyard, check that your insurance is up to date (Ripe can help you with this) and that there are copies of all key documents on board. Ensure your policy reflects your cruising plans for the year ahead and any expensive new kit you might have installed during the winter. Boat values can fluctuate according to market conditions, so it's woth reviewing your hull valuation and ensuring it is accurate.

23. You can launch your boat, but you need somewhere to keep it. If the marina or mooring renewal notice hasn't arrived as expected, ring them to check they're expecting you.

24. If you use a trailer to launch the boat, check that the road trailer tyres are in good shape, the light board is working correctly, and the launch dolly is greased and ready.


Now you've been through our checklist you'll be ready and equipped to get back out on the water.


Specialist boat insurance with Insure4Boats 

While preparing to get back out on the water with your boat check list, you may also want to consider protecting yourself through specialist boat insurance.

At Insure4Boats, we believe in our customers paying only for the cover they need—you can build your own bespoke policy online.

You'll also receive £3m Public Liability cover as standard, so you won't have to worry about third-party claims if you get into an accident on the waterways.

Learn more about how we can help here, or click the button below to get an instant online quote.  

Please note the information provided on this page should not be taken as advice and has been written as a matter of opinion. For more on insurance cover and policy wording, see our homepage.