CAUTION: About “spring commissioning” or “summerizing” your boat

If you were away from the Lake Michigan shoreline this holiday weekend, you enjoyed temperatures in the upper 60’s and 70’s in Wisconsin and Illinois. Our boating season can feel short, and a beautiful weekend like this is not to be wasted. But, before you pull your boat from storage and get under way, make sure she is serviced and ready for the water. A short season can become dramatically shorter if you overlook a few simple things or defer maintenance. 

I will not propose to re-write the many checklists that are available through BoatUS and many other boating websites. I also would not suggest that you use these quick and easy checklists without also referencing your owner’s manual collection which should give you your service intervals and maintenance tips. But they are a good start.  

This is a short story about a damage claim. I received a phone call from an insurance adjuster who was handling an overheat claim on boat. I made a call to the insured and she told me of their service diligence, in that they have the boat “winterized” and “summerized” every year by the dealer they bought the boat from, who also does all their service work. After a brief description of the events leading up to this engine’s last moments, I make a trip to visit the boat. It is immediately obvious to me that the overheat was the result of a failed water pump impeller. The impeller is broken into little pieces and can be found throughout the cooling system. The impeller condition tells me it has not been changed in a long time.  

I visited the service desk and requested the service records. As is the case with many of these smaller dealers / boat service businesses, the owner was there and ready to help with reviewing the records. They pulled a service history back to 2007 verifying that they “summerized” and “winterized” the boat every year since they took it on trade and sold it to this family. They also performed a few other minor services over that period of time.  

My question to them…When was the impeller last replaced? The shop owner reviewed the service records and said they did not have any record of this being done in their shop.  

I asked if a purchase of an impeller had ever been made…no record of the part ordered or sold.  

I asked if they ever had the boat serviced elsewhere or perhaps by mobile tech, on the water. They did not know for sure, but bragged on their belief that this customer only worked with their yard for service work.  

I asked what services were included with a “winterization” and “summerization.” The list was fairly inclusive of all the typical annual maintenance regimens. What was not included was inspection or replacement of the water pump impeller.  

It is about this time that I see the eyes of the shop owner as they realized that the cause of the overheat was a wasted water pump impeller. I could also read their eyes as they contemplated their role, followed by the knee jerk response that it is the owner’s responsibility to make sure the service intervals are performed. The only words spoken were a polite “thank you” as I took the service record printouts and left the shop.  

I reported to the insurance company that it was lack of maintenance that caused the overheat. A water pump impeller should be replaced at 1 – 2 years intervals, generally (make sure you check your manual or speak with your servicer for your boat). Most insurance policies don’t cover lack of maintenance so the vessel owner was in for a bill for replacement of the engine and all the labor that goes into installing it. They also lost their boating season.  

The moral to this story is, be careful of terms like “summerization” and “winterization” or any bundled services your shop offers. They may include seasonal service procedures, but not those that might be required every two or more years or based on engine hours. I felt bad for the boat owner who just wanted their servicer to take care of all the work and let them enjoy the boat during the season. They assumed that all the service intervals were being performed seasonally and never thought they needed to be students of their owner’s manual.  

This is not to say that they could not have lived in this bliss, but just needed to ask a few more questions. “What services are not included in the seasonal packages?”  

As for any service shop owners, service managers, service writers, etc, help your customers stay up on their service intervals. Yes, it is their responsibility, but it is your opportunity.  

As for this boat owner, they realized what had happened and I suspect they took their business elsewhere. The $6K or more to replace the engine would have gone a long way toward preventative maintenance.  

BoatUS has this, often referenced guide to spring commissioning. It is a great guide to making sure you have a good boating season. But make sure you are reviewing your owner’s manuals or asking the question…”Is there anything else I should be doing?” It is a relatively inexpensive question.

Check out the BoatUS checklist for spring commissioning.