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How to Complete an Annual Inspection of Your Pontoon Boat

One of the sweetest experiences for a pontoon owner is when the warmth of spring arrives and melts the winter frost. Soon, you’ll be able to bring your pontoon out of winter storage and hit the water for good times in the warm sun. However, you should first complete the process of spring commissioning to transition your pontoon boat from storage to the open water. Spring commissioning, consisting of three main procedures, is pivotal to extending the lifespan of your beloved pontoon boat.

The first step in spring commissioning is to undo the winterization process that you should have completed once the weather started to grow chilly (see the article “How to Winterize Your Pontoon Boat” on this site for a step-by-step description of this necessary process). During winterizing, you filled your pontoon’s engine with anti-freeze and simply starting the engine will remove this from the system. You also should have “fogged” the engine with a fogging spray, which will also be burned away with the first start of the engine, but don’t be concerned if you see a billow of white or bluish-white smoke produced by the burning off of the fogging spray. If you did not change the oil during winterization, change it now and check the gage to insure that it has been filled to the top. Take this opportunity to change all spark plugs with new ones to avoid a failure in open waters. Also, check all of the engine’s belts for any looseness or wear and replace them with new tight belts if you discover any slack. If your pontoon boat is equipped with an outboard motor, check that the engine is properly circulating water through the system; if not, immediately shut down the engine to avoid damage and replace the water pump.

Once you’ve completed de-winterizing your pontoon boat’s engine, you’ll want to inspect the steering gear. Much like brakes on an automobile, the proper functioning of a waterborne vessel’s steering system is a critical component of basic marine safety. The inspection of the steering gear is easily accomplished by observing how the engine interacts with movement from the helm. If you notice any resistance or anything hindering the full movement of the engine in response to the steering, you will need to take some preventive actions. A simple fix is to grease the pivot points or cable attachments of the pontoon’s engine. Give special attention to these areas and check for any loose bolts or other worrisome signs of improper response. If your pontoon boat uses a mechanical cable system to mediate control between helm and engine, be sure to inspect this cable for corrosion or wear. If you discover any of these problems, replace the cable with a new one. If your pontoon boat utilizes a hydraulic steering system, you will want to refill the fluids in the helm and cylinder systems.

The second main step of spring commissioning is cleaning the exterior of the pontoon boat. More specifically, you should wax and buff the fiberglass of your pontoon boat to remove oxidization and protect the surface from the fading effects of sustained and oftentimes intense exposure to sunlight. Before waxing, wash down the pontoon boat with soap and water to remove any build up of dirt or grime and then dry the surface with a soft cloth. Next, apply a silicone or Teflon-based wax, such as those on our online store with a clean, dry, and soft cloth and remove according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If you want to restore the colorful shine of the fiberglass gel coat, you can buy color restorers that remove surface oxidation. If you have the skill, you might consider using a power buffer on the fiberglass, but be aware that untrained use of this equipment might lead to the unwanted and unsightly effect of removing the color gel coat. Also, don’t go overboard by waxing interior fiberglass surfaces because that can lead to you literally going overboard! Waxed surfaces are quite slippery when wet, so simply wash the interior fiberglass surfaces of your pontoon boat with mild soap and clean water. Finally, if you want to remove the oxidation stains from aluminum surfaces, you can purchase marine-grade aluminum cleaners and polishers on our website.

The final step of spring commissioning your pontoon boat is the application of an antifouling paint. This coat inhibits growth of slime and other forms of undesirable marine growth. You only need to concern yourself with this step if you keep your pontoon boat in saltwater year-round. It is not necessary for pontoon boats kept in freshwater conditions. Obviously, you’ll need to remove your pontoon boat from the water for this process. Once the hull is dry, apply an undiluted coat of antifouling paint to the pontoon boat with a standard paint roller. Apply this liquid all the way to the pontoon boat’s waterline and touch-up any surfaces that you miss (such as around straps) with a small paintbrush. Take great care not to apply any antifouling paint that contains copper to aluminum surfaces, as this can lead to rapid and destructive corrosion.

After completing these major steps of spring commissioning, there are a few other details you may want to attend to, though not all are not applicable to every pontoon boat. Inspect the connections of your marine electronics, such as depth finders or radar systems, and apply an anti-corrosive to the connections. You can extend the life of vinyl materials, such as pontoon furniture and seats, by applying a coat of cleaner, available at our online store

A Spring Pontoon Boat Commissioning Checklist:

  • Start engine to burn off anti-freeze and fogging spray
  • Check belts for fit and tightness
  • Change oil if you did not do so during winterization
  • Change all spark plugs
  • Be sure engine is circulating water. If not, replace water pump
  • Inspect steering gear for restricted or abnormal movement
  • Inspect steering cable (for mechanical steering) or fluids (for hydraulic systems)
  • Wash and dry fiberglass surfaces
  • Apply a silicone or Teflon-based wax to exterior fiberglass
  • Apply color restorers to exterior gel coat (optional)
  • Wash and dry interior fiberglass surfaces
  • For boats in water year-round, remove from water and apply antifouling paint
  • Other miscellaneous cleaning and preventive maintenance
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