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You may have prepped your boat for winter last year, but here are 14 tips to ensure this boating season will be trouble-free.

You put your boat away for the winter by doing all the right things: changed the oil, winterized the water system and engine, and emptied the boat of all extraneous gear for the offseason. So you might think there's not much to do come spring except take the cover off, fire up the engine, and head out to the wild blue yonder. Hold on! Not so fast. While there is no doubt that tasks done in the fall speed things up come spring, there are still some things to be addressed before you hit the water. Things can go wrong on even the best-maintained boats, so it pays to complete a few checks that will both ensure you don't break down on the water, and your boat and its equipment is safe for you and your family. Even if the marina took care of putting the boat away in the fall, you probably won't need a mechanic for the jobs on our list. Almost all of the basic actions here can be completed at no cost. You won't need a ton of tools either, and in many cases, all it takes is a visual check. So what specifically do you need to check?

Bilge Pump And Switch

The best way to make sure your pump and switch are working is to do what Mother Nature would do: add some water to your bilge. You'll instantly know if all parts of your system are working. If not, check electrical connections at the pump and switch, which are the most common areas for failure. If you're faced with a trickle outflow, it may be time to upgrade to a larger pump and hoses.

Control Cables Throttle, shift, and steering cables usually slide inside a sheath and it's hard to see their condition. Grab hold of one and twist it around; if you hear crunchy sounds, chances are there's rust inside and it's time to replace. If the cable is just a little stiff, its time to replace the control cables.

Bellows Check Leaking bellows are one of the most common reasons inboard/outboard (I/O) boats sink at the dock. Even if they looked OK in the fall, carefully inspect them now before your boat goes in the water. Check your bellows with the sterndrive raised and lowered, looking for cracks or sea life such as barnacles and oysters that are sharp enough to tear it open. Many I/O boats also have exhaust and shift cable bellows, so check them as well. If one bellows is bad, they should all be replaced.

Cockpit Drains Over winter, your cockpit and deck drains may have accumulated a lot of crud, from leaves to dirt to critters. A clogged or slow cockpit drain can sink a boat, especially an older one that might already be squatting lower in the water. Send a high-pressure burst of water from a hose into each drain to make sure it runs free. While you're checking how fast it drains, inspect the thru-hull fitting as well. Plastic fittings degrade in the sun, and if they crack, they can allow water back into the boat.