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Anxious as we are to get back out on the water again, we still have to check under the hood, so to speak, before we get our boats up and running. Beyond the obvious chore of starting our engines (change the oil! again; even if you changed it when you tucked the engine to bed last fall), this includes looking inside lockers and bilges (and refrigerators!) to make sure we aren't sprouting a crop of mildew or sporting a spring leak.

Give the boat's interior a once-over with a sponge and a bleach-and-water solution to kill any mold or mildew that might have wintered over or taken hold once the weather warmed up-especially if our boats were in the dark or otherwise under wraps all winter. Those spores just need a few hot muggy days to take hold and spread unless you nip them in the bud.

While you have your head in those lockers, make sure you check any exposed wiring for corrosion where it connects to terminals. It's easy enough to wipe that off and keep the contacts clean. Flip your switches to be sure your batteries are working as well as all your gear: radio, depthsounder, windlass. . . .

Once you've given your decks a good washdown, apply a coat of wax to keep them bright and easy to clean for the rest of the summer. You may have to apply wax a few more times before winter comes around again, but getting a good coat on now, while the boat's on the hard-or at least not in motion--never hurts. Moreover, most of these coatings can be applied in the marginally cool weather of early spring, before anyone really wants to get out on the water. The more chores you can do wearing a sweatshirt, the sooner you'll be enjoying your boat in a T-shirt.

Stay as green as possible if you're cleaning your boat while it's afloat. There are plenty of environmentally sensitive but powerful cleaning agents on the shelves at your local boating supply store. Or fall back on baking soda and vinegar, or good old-fashioned Borax if your scrub water is rinsing down through the scuppers. Household cleansers like SoftScrub with bleach are great for cleaning the teak.

Finally, beware of critters. Check your boat for likely nesting spots: birds, bees, ducks especially. While you might be happy to host the next generation of whatevers, you may not be so happy to clean up after them, or worse, bring down the wrath of their parents when you first shake out a sail cover or unclog a cabin vent. Our winged friends have plenty of other options beyond setting up housekeeping on your boat. Cut an old pair of ladies' nylons into tubular pieces and pull them over open ventilators to keep bees and wasps out of your cabin. Check the deck for telltale signs of twigs and grass in the cockpit or along the deck, and look for the source-doubtless a nest under construction inside your sail cover or tucked under your anchor.

And remember: Spring maintenance is so much more fun than the winter zip-up, because when it's done, we're on the water again! Kinda makes it all worthwhile.

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