The Complete NT Spring Commissioning

by Dave Jones

If we can believe the predictions of Puxatawny Phil, we have only six more weeks of Winter before we arrive at that magic season for northern Nordic Tug owners - Spring - when all thoughts turn to getting our boat ready for launching and what we need to do to make the Spring, Summer and Fall cruising seasons safe, reliable and enjoyable.

We will soon start to receive our latest boating magazines with a plethora of articles about how to commission our boats but they are often incomplete or generic in nature. Since this will be my first season performing Spring commissioning on 37-212, "Sir Tugley Blue" which we acquired last summer, I decided to develop my own checklist which became the basis for this article. I believe I have hit all the items I need to cover before and at launch, however, I cannot guarentee its completeness for your particular vessel. If you have to winterize your boat, there will certainly be some additional items to perform. If you see any glaring ommissions, please send me an e-mail. The checklist I developed, a Word document, can be seen by clicking the Checklist link. Feel free to modify it to suit your needs.

The Outside

Commissioning starts with cleaning the outside of the boat. Although I store STB inside during the winter, it is covered to keep dust to a minimum. Assuming no-one has gone crazy sanding their bottom, a good wipe down of the hull and topsides is sufficient prep for the next step - a thorough inspection of the hull and topsides to identify any needed touch-up. If you are not so fortunate, a good washdown may be on the cards.

Since we are in freshwater and I have only one season on the bottom paint, the only work to do on the bottom this year is to clean the boot stripe with one of the many available cleaners and inspect and touch up any light areas of bottom paint. If you are not in these happy circumstances and have to re-paint, clean, sand as necessary, and apply fresh bottom paint to the bottom. On my 32, I had been using Petit Hydrocoat (in freshwater) for four seasons and have been pleased with how well it applied (water-based, low VOC) and protected the bottom - reasonably priced as well!

While under the boat, also check the rudder, prop shaft, hull and thruster "zincs" and replace as necessary. By the way, did you know "zincs" or sacrificial anodes are available in three materials, zinc for saltwater, magnesium for freshwater and aluminum for brackish water. Make sure to use the correct type for your cruising environment as the wrong type will erode quickly or possibly fail to provide protection. Now is a good time, to clean the prop and inspect/fix any damage, clean the rudder and check for damage, and check the bow thruster prop. Check the tightness of the prop nuts, that the cotter pin is intact, and the cutless bearing is snug. Check the tank vents to make sure the mud wasps, spiders and other insects have not plugged them up.

Visually inspect through-hull openings for integrity and damage and that the knotmeter paddle is clean and spins freely. If you have a helper, check your speed instrument while the paddle wheel is spun. If there is no reading, troubleshoot the problem while the boat is out of the water as it is much easier.

The next job - a major one - is to prepare the topsides for the season. In my case, with a new boat, it is easier than for many. I usually wipe the hull down with white vinegar to remove any hard water spots and then rinse. (Now is the time to do or have done any gel coat repairs that are needed.) I will then polish the hull using a professional rotary polisher/foam pad combo and follow-up with two coats of Collinite wax. For tight areas, I use a 4" detail pad on the polisher or just the good old hand. On my 32 with a dark green hull, each season meant buffing, polishing and waxing - at least three days of hard work just on the hull with a two day wax mid season! If you need to buff your hull, invest in a good quality rotary polisher and pads. The $40 two handed orbital "polishers" sold at many aut/marine stores will not "cut" it!! Learn to use the polisher at a slow speed using a mild compound and a medium cut pad. If that does not cut through the oxidation, move up to a more aggressive compound and pad. Realize you may have some swirl marks and dullness to remove with a finishing compound and a light cut pad before you wax. The rub rail on my 32 responded well to an annual buffing using a seperate pad, polishing, and waxing, retaining a good black shine all season. I will try the same approach on the 37.

Starting on top of the pilothouse, check the integrity of any items mounted on the roof. Verify cables penetrating the roof are adequately sealed, Inspect hatch gaskets and latches - apply a coat of thin coat of silicon to gaskets. On the upper deck, check the integrity of the rail and stair fasteners, antennae, anchor light pole, flag pole, and other accessories. Check that any fastener penetrating the pilothouse roof or upper deck appears well sealed. A regular 5yr screw rebedding is a good idea.

If your NT has the pilothouse/upper deck joint, inspect it carefully for degredation of the sealant - replace if necessary. See the Maintenance Section of the GLANTOA site, "Recaulking the Pilothouse to Salon Roof Joint" for details of this job.

Now clean, polish and wax to your heart's content before going below. Also clean the non-skid thoroughly. When you are outside, and can rinse the boat down, try sealing the non-skid with a product called Woody Wax. While not cheap per bottle, Woody Wax is extremely simple to apply and lasts about six weeks - a bottle will last a season. It was ranked the best treatment by Practical Sailor. It makes cleaning the decks significantly easier. If you cannot rinse the boat, postpone this job until you are in the water. Oh! - while you are up top, clean the rear pilot house windows and screen. Put some silicon on the screen and window slides.

In the stern cockpit, empty the lazarette out and find all the things you thought went overboard. Inspect the steering gear (including autopilot sensor) for tightness of fasteners, fluid leaks, and any evidence of water leaks from the rudder post. Clean the lazarette and check the function of any seacocks by exercising them and leave them in your preferred position. If your fuel tank is accessible, check for signs of any leaks and the integrity of visible fuel lines. Some NTs have bilge pumps in the lazarette, sometimes hidden under the tank - verify they run on auto by raising the float switch and also function on manual. If you have an auto alarm, verify it sounds. Check the tightness of all hose clamps in the lazarette. Repack the lazarette making sure items cannot interfere with rudder motion and apply silicon to the gasket.

If your NT has a propane locker in the stern cockpit, clean it out, making sure its drain is clear. Check the tank(s) for current certification and freedom from corrosion and check the integrity of hoses, and valves. Clean out the stern locker if you have one.

Work down each side of the salon and pilothouse, cleaning, polishing and waxing. Clean/polish windows and apply silicon to window and screen tracks. Make sure the deck fill retaining chains are secure and o-ring seals are sound. Apply a coat of silicon grease to the o-rings.

Oil all door locks and padlocks and wax door tracks to make the doors slide easily. Clean and polish the pilothouse windows and apply a good coat of Rain-X to the forward windows. (You can Rain-X all the windows- helps keep them cleaner and they spot less.) Clean the windshield wipers with alcohol pads and replace them if worn.

Clean, polish and wax the foredeck and railings. Inspect the anchor for damage, check any shackle pins are seized properly, and line to chain splices are not worn. Also check anchor bridles and snubbers for wear. Verify the windlass works from both deck buttons and inside pilot house. Check that any chain markings are still clear. Clean the fenders and wash mooring/dock lines (if not done already). Fabric softener in the wash water will make lines soft again. Polish and wax exterior stainless steel and check the integrity of caulking.

The Inside

Now for the inside of the boat. I like to do a thorough clean of all the surfaces, cupboards, and lockers from the top down as this can reveal any touch up that is needed, minor repairs, etc. If necessary, clean the carpets. Clean and polish the windows and mirrors and apply Fog-X to the pilothouse windows (really minimizes condensation on cool days).

Condition all of the teak. Only six words but a one day job for two!. Use a 50/50 mix of Daly's Seafin Teak Oil and Formby's Lemon Oil, let set for a few minutes and buff to a nice sheen. Your teak will really appreciate this. If your teak needs more help than this, check out the article In the Maintenance Section, "Teak Maintenance."

Pull the hatch for "shaft alley" and, depending upon your boat, remove any stored items. Check the integrity of any visible fuel lines (the 37 has a bunch in here), hoses and tanks and the tightness of hose clamps. Exercise any seacocks and fuel valves and leave them in your preferred position. Verify any bilge pumps run on auto by raising the float switch and also function on manual. If you have an auto alarm, verify it sounds. If you have a fuel polisher, it's a good idea to run a cycle to ensure your fuel is in prime condition for the first start of the year. Inspect the PSS shaft seal if you have one on your boat. See the article in the Maintenance Section, "PSS Shaft Seal Maintenance," for more information. Clean any strainers for fresh water and washdown pumps if they are located in this area. Repack items as needed.

Check your spares inventory and tools to make sure they are complete and replace items as necessary.

Go through your documentation to make sure the following are on board:

While in the paper checking mode, verify current charts, Nav Rules, Coast Pilots, port guides, and other publications are up to date. Check the Navigation and Safety Section as there are a number of current documents availble for download. Also check your electronic charts to see how out of date they are - you may be surprised! If you use C-Map charts on your chartplotter, Jeppesen offers an annual update program for about $90 - check their site at Other chart comapanies offer similar programs.

Safety Equipment

USCG Regulations require minimum safety equipment for different boat sizes. Read the Regulations and make sure your boat complies. Since these are only minimums, a prudent boater will exceed these minimums - after all, would you only want three flares and one extinguisher on board? Each space on board should have its own dedicated fire extinguisher, even the head.

Inspect lifejackets for sufficiency, availability and damage, including function of strobes. If you have self-inflating jackets, make sure they are armed and and routine maintenance has been performed. If you carry lifejackets for your children or grandchildren, make sure they are the correct size - kids grow at a surprising rate over the winter! Check fire extinguishers to assure gauges are in the "Green" and invert them several times to break up any clumping of powdered ingredients. If you have a Fireboy system in the engine room, read the manual and perform required checks such as annual weighing, re-certification of tanks., etc. Record checks on equipment tags.

Take out the first aid kit, check the inventory, and replenish items as needed (check expiration dates). Change batteries in smoke/fire/ and carbon monoxide detectors and test them. Charge any hand-held equipment such as GPS and VHF radios. If you have an EPIRB, verify that its battery is current and will not expire during the season. (You may have to send it in for battery replacement and lose its availability for several weeks.)

It's a good idea to get out your VSC Checklist from last year and run down it to double check you have everything covered. If you do not have the form, click on the VSC link.

Helm and Interior Electrics

WIth power applied to the AC panel, verify voltage is available at each breaker. Be careful not to power up A/C units if you are not in the water. Apply power to the DC panel and verify breaker switches work. Power up all instruments (chartplotter, radar, AIS, tridata, VHF, stereo, TV, etc.) to make sure they function to the extent possible in storage. When in the water, confirm full functionality of each instrument and alarm setpoints for things such as minimum depth are still valid. Check function of wipers, washers, horn (make sure there is a secondary sound signal available), navigation lights, bow thruster, fuel gauges, tank gauges, and other equipment you have. Check the steering fluid level and top up if necessary. If there are things you need to check further on the water, keep a list.

Go from stem to stern, verifying each light, outlet (110v and 12v), heater, appliance (oven, microwave, cooktop, fridge, freezer), and fan function correctly. Clean the filters for air conditioning units.

Dinghy and Outboard

Often overlooked until it's needed, check the dinghy and its fuel tank for leaks and damage. Discard any old fuel or use it in the car. Fill the tank and add any additives. Make sure the fuel line/bulb are still sound with no cracking. Check to ensure that the dinghy Registration numbers and decals are current and required safety equipment is available. Make sure oars are serviceable.

Go over your outboard manual and ensure routine maintenance such as oil, spark plug and filter chages are complete. Check the prop for damage.

Inspect dinghy davits and slings to make sure all fasteners are tight and there is no damage.

Engine Room

This is the heart of the boat and since we only have one engine it is imperative that it be in top condition.

Perform a thorough visual inspection of the entire space and engine/generator for anything that looks abnormal. Do not ignore the generator even though it can be a pain to remove the sound box panels. If any leaks are evident determine the source and correct - they usually do not get better with the engine hot. Check engine room air intakes to make sure they are clear and have not accumulated any aninmal nests or other debris.

Check all fluid levels - engine/generator coolant, engine/generator oil, transmission oil (if you have a correlation cold to hot - otherwise check first thing in water). Of course you changed the Racors and engine fuel filters , engine/generator oil and filters and transmission oil before winter storage so you shouldn't have to do that! If your coolant is old, you may want to get it checked to verify it is still OK. Inspect any air filters and clean/replace them if necessary. The Maintenance Section has a short article on "AirSep Cleaning".

Go hose-by-hose around the engine and check them for flexilbility, freedom from cracks and damage. At the same time check that hose clamps are snug. Do likewise for the generator. Don't forget other hoses in the area. If you remove impellors for layup, replace them now. Open up raw water strainers (engine, generator and A/C) and clean the strainer baskets out. Check the condition of the o-rings and replace them as necessary. Apply silicon grease to the rings and snug up the retainers. Exercise all seacocks and leave in your preferred position. Verify you have emergency plugs available nearby. Also inspect engine belts for tension and damage. Although our boats are almost exclusively used in fresh water, don't ignore the engine zincs. To the extent possible, check exhaust piping for evidence of leaks.

Clean all battery tops and terminals (including remote batteries for the windlass and thrusters) and check terminal connection for tightness. It's a good idea to spray the terminals with an anti-corrosion product. Follow major cables and charger cables to their terminations and check connection tightness. If you have wet cell batteries, top up each cell with distilled water. If AC power is available, charge the batteries up and when fully charged. let them sit for the recommended time before verifying voltage (and specific gravity, applying any needed temperature correction).

Lastly verify all engine room lights and outlets work and replace bilge oil pads. They make leaks much easier to see and trace.

In the Water

When the glorious day come to splash the boat and motor off, there are still a few things to do first. Set up your seacocks for proper raw water flow - most important! Align fuel valves. Set up your DC panel appropriately.

When in the water, inspect all accessible area for signs of water leakage. Burp the PSS shaft seal to ensure the seal faces are clean. FIre up the engine and verify instruments show good readings for idle rpm, oil pressure, voltage and other parameters your panel may have. Check you have exhaust flow. Verify the bow thruster works and while tied up make sure you have forward and reverse gears. In Neutral, run up RPM and back off to idle. If AOK, you are now ready to move off.

I like to do a short run before going to the dock to check out a number of things including instrument and electronic functions, steering response, and, when the engine is at operating temperature, performance against past data.

At the dock, perform other checks that you put on your list that could not be done out of the water such as A/C and toilet function. Also recheck all spaces for leaks. When the engine has cooled a bit, do a thorough inspection to ensure everything looks OK. Now that water is available, fill your water tank and add a cup of hydrgen peroxide per 100 gallons( 3% drug store grade) about halfway through the fill to disinfect the tank. (Avoid using bleach as it is not good for aluminum tanks) After letting the tank sit for an hour pump out and refill (adding H2O2 again)l. I like to do two flushes, before a final fill. Any residual peroxide will not harm you or your tank.

This should successfully complete your Spring commissioning but also go through the Checklist.

Happy Boating and Hope to See You on the Water!!