Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

Get Your Boat Ready for the Season

Seaview Boatyards.

Photo courtesy of Seaview Boaryards.

Phil Riise, owner of Seaview Boatyards of Seattle and Bellingham says the yards see a lot of fishermen performing service every spring, including the seiners that stop on their way to southeast Alaska. Photo courtesy of Seaview Boatyards.

Planning is the key to timely and efficient drydocking, according to Al Turner, Sr. Project Manager at Alaska Ship & Drydock, one of Vigor Industrial’s seven shipyards. The two most important things that commercial vessel/fleet owners and operators should do is book maintenance time early and provide the yard a clear scope of the work to be performed. “They’re going to have different scopes of work, depending on what was done the year before,” he says.

Bryan Nichols, Sales Representative, Vigor Industrial adds: “Commercial fishermen are fishing so many seasons now, they can be coming in for maintenance at almost any time of the year,” he says. “As soon as you know when you will have the time, get that booked and you will have a greater chance of getting in the drydock when it fits your schedule.”

Here are Turner and Nichol’s basic tips to keep in mind for your next drydocking session:

Provide drawings. A set of vessel and tank drawings is appreciated so the yard can prepare ahead of time.

If the project scope includes work in or around fuel tanks, come in with as little fuel as possible on board. If your fuel tanks are full or near-full, the fuel will need to be removed, adding extra expense to your drydock costs.

Come in with low stores. If you‘re planning to be out of the water for any length of time, ensure any freezer foods are either used, transported elsewhere or discarded as necessary.

Know your paint brands and model numbers. If you’re providing the paint for your vessel, make sure you provide enough to complete the job and let the yard know the brand and color you need. This is important, especially for a quick turn-around job.

Don’t skimp on the paint. If you’re paying the money to get hauled out of the water, make sure you have good paint on the bottom. Some owners try to save money on surface prep or by using a cover coat. It’s the surface prep that determines how long your whole coating system lasts, so an adequate surface prep coat is as important as anything else to the life of the paint job.

Identify outside contractors. If there is work like an engine overhaul to be done, that’s another thing to communicate with the yard early in the process. Different yards will have different rules for entry and work rules for visiting contractors. Advance notice is critical for sequencing the work that the shipyard has to do with outside contractors.

Longer-term drydocking and fleet agreements. At Alaska Ship & Drydock, there are two drydocks, 9,600 LT and 3,600 LT that can handle a wide range of vessels from 100 feet in length up to large factory trawlers. Vessels can be transferred on shore if work required will take a month or longer. Cost-saving fleet agreements can also help, as operation costs on a floating dry dock are typically higher than what it would be for a marine railway, a travel lift, or almost any other kind of lift.

Alaska Ship & Drydock works under the direction of their customers and current drydock needs, however, there are typical routine maintenance tasks performed as Turner explains: “The first thing we do is pressure-wash the bottom and see what the coatings look like. Then we normally take shaft bearing clearance readings. Next we inspect the rudder/rudder bearing by taking readings in four different locations on each bearing on the rudder. If the ship has bow thrusters, we usually pop the grates off the bow thruster and take an oil sample and send it off to make sure there are no iron filings or any water in the bow thruster oil. We also check all the sea valves that are connected to the skin on the underwater body and the overboard valves, take them apart and make sure they’re seating properly.”

Turner says for underwater paint job and inspections, plan on having your vessel in dry dock from eight to 10 days minimum. “It takes cure time between each coat of paint.”


When it comes to maintaining engine support systems, there are several areas that need attention when preparing vessels for the season. “A lot of people don’t put their equipment away properly at the end of the season, and exactly what you do at the beginning of the season is dictated by what you do at the end,” says Bill Mossey, Director, Off Highways Division for Pacific Power Products based in Kent, Washington. “Regardless, checking each support system and the propulsion system are critical to reliability in the upcoming season.”

Following are some of the most important areas Mossey says should be checked:

Consult your manufacturer manuals and servicing dealer. Each engine and engine manufacturer has his own requirements. Your local dealer will understand any typical unique requirements your environment may cause. Be sure to study and understand the manufacturer requirements for lubricants, coolant and maintenance. If your engine or vessel is new to you, don’t assume that it is like your previous equipment. Vessel systems are different as are engines and reduction gears. Consulting the experts is critical to ensuring the highest reliability.

Batteries. With today’s electronic engines, battery systems are ever more important, and for vessels having been out of service for the winter, this is an area not to be overlooked. This should be the first area to check over and inspect. Clean the battery and inspect the case for warping, cracks and other damage. Ensure the connections are corrosion-free, clean and protected. Inspect the battery fluid level and if needed, add distilled water to each cell as required. Check the specific gravity of each cell; re-charge if below 1.210 and replace if any cell is more than 30 points different than another. If possible, have a local provider do a load test on batteries. Also inspect the battery cables and make sure connections are clean and free of corrosion. Inspect the battery charging system. Look at your instrument panel and see if the battery charging light is out or that your voltmeter shows the battery is being charged in the normal range (13.2-14.4 volts for a 12v system).

Fuel system. If tanks aren’t at full capacity over the winter, with the temperature changes, water can condense in them and sink to the bottom. If you have drains that are accessible to the fuel tanks, drain any water or other contamination that has collected. Some tanks are designed in such a fashion that you can put a dip-tube down to the bottom of the tank and extract any water that’s in them. Be sure to change both primary and engine-mounted secondary fuel filters. If you have water-separating fuel filters, besides changing the element, inspect the canisters or bowl area of the filter and clean as required.

Exhaust system. Be on the lookout for telltale signs of exhaust problems such as signs of soot anywhere in the engine room, around the hull structure or the engine hatches. This is a sign that there is a leak of exhaust gas or exhaust soot from somewhere in the exhaust system. Identify the leak and repair it as it’s very damaging to the engine and shortens the engine life. It can plug air filters, causing high fuel burn consumption rates and generally poor performance. Even if you don’t find any leaks, perform a good inspection of the dry exhaust system for corrosion, loose fasteners, failed gaskets and cracks in flexible exhaust bellows or flexible exhaust connections.

Engine coolant. Most Alaskan commercial fishing vessels will have antifreeze, however, it’s important to remember that it is not a “forever life” product. Anti-freeze serves two purposes; it keeps the coolant from freezing, and it also controls corrosion, galvanic action and cavitation within the engine.

Purchase a coolant sample kit from your local engine provider. In the laboratory, the coolant will be run through a series of tests to let you know not only about the level of the freeze protection, but more importantly, the level of inhibitive products that are in the coolant mixture. That will also help you know whether or not the coolant needs to be changed. Alternately, you can flush the engine and replace it.

There are many different anti-freeze products with different life spans and chemical make-up. It’s best to determine what type of anti-freeze you have and thereby, how frequently it needs to be changed. If you don’t know what that product is and it’s older than five years, it should be changed no matter what. If you have a keel-cooled system, you should drain the keel coolers entirely before installing new coolant.

Don’t be fooled if the overheating light doesn’t turn on. That’s not enough to let you know what’s really happening in today’s modern engines. Most have dissimilar metals; aluminum, cast iron, titanium, and copper nickel. The coolant plays a critical part in ensuring long life and trouble-free operation. Also ensure that you don’t mix coolants, e.g. if your coolant is green in color, only replace with green coolant. Ensure you either purchase pre-mixed coolant or, if you use water and concentrates, use distilled water or ensure the local water source meets the manufacturer’s requirements. We can’t overemphasize the need to make sure your coolant in the engine is the proper mixture, with the needed inhibitors and proper PH. If you are unsure what to do, consult your dealer.

Heat exchanger-cooled/raw water-cooled system. Most heat exchanger-cooled engines have a rubber type impeller pump for seawater. This pump should be inspected. Remove the cover and impeller and inspect the cover and impeller for wear. We prefer for customers to replace the impeller. When the impeller is removed, inspect the wear cam and back plate for wear and replace as needed. Most of these systems will include zinc anodes in the raw water system. Remove and replace these as needed. Be sure to inspect any reduction gear oil coolers and other auxiliary coolers in your system.

Engine pulleys. Pulleys for alternators, water pumps and other equipment need to be inspected for corrosion, and cleaned up. The belts should be inspected visually for cracks and other normal deterioration and replaced if necessary. Be sure to tension all belts as called out for by your maintenance manuals.

Engine mounts. Re-adjust all the mounts as needed during the alignment check after the vessel is launched and set the isolators according to the manufacturer directions. Whether the engine mounts are rigidly-mounted or resiliently-mounted, all the fasteners should be checked for tightness. If it’s resiliently-mounted, the rubber in those isolators should be visually inspected for breakdowns, swelling from having oil or diesel fuel on them and replaced as necessary. Also inspect any studs for being broken as they often are without any noticeable signs.

Air filters. Air filters should be inspected, and if they’re wet or dirty, should be replaced. When the air filter is removed, it’s a good idea to take a flashlight and look into the turbocharger. If you see anything other than a clean-bladed turbo compressor wheel, e.g., if it’s all dark and black and oily and greasy, then call your local service rep and have that inspected.

Reduction gearboxes. All the guidelines from the manufacturer should be followed. Oil should be changed at the beginning of the season. Many reduction gears have a filter or screen that should be checked, cleaned or replaced, depending on the type of transmission. Ensure the shift valves operate smoothly and are free, and inspect connections for electrical pressure and temperature sensors as needed.

Control systems. Visually inspect the throttle and gearshift control systems and make sure they’re operating smoothly and are tested before you leave the dock. If your boat has multiple stations, go to each one and make sure it’s functioning properly. For mechanical systems, consult the systems manual for lubrication requirements.

Before starting engine. Before attempting to start the engine with the starter motor, you should manually bar or crank the engine over because if your exhaust system or dry exhaust stack hasn’t been sealed up well for the winter, rain and snow can get in the cylinders. If you crank the engine with the starter motor, you can risk damaging the engine. Put a wrench on the crankshaft (some engines have a particular place to bar them over) and manually turn the engine over two revolutions. As long as you can turn it over two revolutions, you’ll know there is no water in the cylinders and you can now start the engine without any concern.

Tune-up requirements. Valve adjustments and injector servicing are important. It’s best to consult with the manufacturer’s specific recommendations and your local dealer, along with the records of what you’ve done in previous years. Some of those items don’t need to be done annually. A lot of that depends on how many operating hours per year you put on your engines. If you haven’t serviced your injectors in one or two years, you should discuss this with your servicing dealer. Many newer engines have more frequent requirements for injector change intervals. Seek advice, especially if there are any unusual operating conditions of the engine.

Gasoline-powered boats. There aren’t that many around anymore but if you have one of these, you’ll need to go through the ignition system of the vessel, making sure the ignition system is in good condition. Replace the spark plugs, points and condenser. Inspect the distributor cap and rotor and replace as needed. Consult your dealer and owner’s manual for any additional services required.

Do your own sea trial. When you start the engine for the first time, run the engine at the dock. Thoroughly check the engine. Inspect each pump for leaks as well as generally around the ending and reduction gear. Run the engine until it warms up, then shut it down and check all fluid levels before heading out for the sea trial. During sea trials, gradually run the engine RPM up and keep inspecting the instruments. Listen, look and feel for abnormal signs. Run up to full power and determine if the engine makes the expected wide-open throttle RPM and if the instruments indicate a normal operating engine.

The above information focuses only on the engine, reduction gear and support systems. Don’t forget to also address the balance of your vessel’s systems to ensure you have the best chance at a trouble-free season.


Phil Riise, owner of Seaview Boatyards of Seattle and Bellingham says the Bellingham facility, in particular, offers commercial fishermen the option of working on their own vessels or having the yard participate in the work at any level they require. Seaview Boatyards handles steel, aluminum, fiberglass and wood boats. “We have a tremendous amount of fishermen that come to us every spring, primarily the Seine fleet that stop on their way to southeast Alaska,” he reports.

Following are Riise’s absolute must-do seasonal tasks:

Get a fresh new coat of bottom paint. For wood Seiners, ensure you get a good bottom copper paint. Steel and aluminum boats typically go with a vinyl-type hard-based paint, and require high-quality epoxy coatings above and below the waterline to protect the steel and aluminum from the environment. Protect the bottom of your boat and always renew your copper paint on a seasonal basis.

Use aluminum anodes. They are a far superior product to zinc anodes, are mil spec, meet ISO standards, and will protect steel, aluminum, fiberglass and wood boats from electrolysis due to the specific aluminum alloy used in the anodes. They are also more cost-effective, and since they are cadmium-free, better for the environment. Anode protection can play a major role in the effectiveness of your catch, especially in the case of trollers.

Ensure your propulsion system is in good shape. Check that your shaft is true and the prop is balanced and is functioning at its maximum performance. If your prop has any fouling like barnacle growth, it will affect fuel efficiency. Check the stern cutlass bearings because if anything in this system goes out during your fishing season, you are in big trouble. Anything that’s out of balance can cause vibration throughout the boat and will negatively affect your catching ability.

Service engine, gen set, hydraulic and fuel systems. A routine service and maintenance plan is critical. Lube, oil and filters for these systems should all be changed religiously. Also make sure you have the proper systems in place to keep your diesel fuel clean.

Maintain your sea chests. Sea chests and underwater valve systems should be inspected, serviced, greased and maintained regularly. Check your rudder bearings and the area where the bearings pass through the hull to make sure the packing at the shaft propulsion and the rudder packing glands are in good shape. Riise recommends using Gore-Tex packing because it’s as close to being a dripless seal as possible, yet it holds up better than any other packing material out there. If you want to keep your bilges as dry as possible, use this product.

Plan ahead. When it comes to booking your drydock, Riise suggests, “When you need to go north, planning is better than reacting. Figure out what you can do yourself and who you want to hire that you trust to work on your boat. Your asset is out there to do one thing; catch fish and make you money, so determine what you’re really good at and decide on the yard you want based on the yard’s expertise.”

Keep a log. Finally, he encourages vessel owners to keep a log on what worked and what didn’t work during the season, prioritize the list, and before putting the boat away for the winter, look at some of the things that make economic sense to do at that time. “More planning at the end of the fishing season better prepares you for the next season coming up.”


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