Spring Commissioning Your Nordic Tug

It is the Best Time to Ensure a Trouble-Free Cruising Season

By Bill Parlatore of Seattle Yachts

The following are general guidelines to assist you in getting your Nordic Tug ready for another season of cruising in the Pacific Northwest. Thanks to the experienced team at Northwest Marine Center (NWMC), we have compiled some helpful steps to get your boat ready.

NWMC is the authorized Nordic Tugs repair and parts center in the Northwest. If you do not want to do these tasks yourself, or live out of the area, they can easily perform spring commissioning for you.

NWMC offers a one-hour labor discount for spring engine service, worth $110.

The Boat is Out of the Water

Inspect the hull, look for gouges and hull damage, and check the condition of zincs and bottom paint.

Replace as necessary the zincs on the transom, skeg plate, rudder, and both bow and stern thrusters. Check thruster blades for broken tips and barnacles.

Inspect the main propeller for any dings, and any unusual wear on the shaft and cutless bearing and rudder. If you are uncertain about this inspection, have the yard look.

All seacocks should be lubricated while the boat is out of the water. With all seacocks closed, liberally coat the exposed valve surface with a calcium-based lubricant, such as Lubriplate, with a stiff brush. Calcium-based products are much better for this application below the waterline than lithium-based grease products. Then exercise all seacocks, fully open and closed to make sure they are well lubricated and operate easily. Keep them closed until launch.

The Boat is In the Water

Reconnect (or reinstall) the start, thruster, and house batteries. Check that they are full and fully charged.

Main Engine and Generator (instructions apply to both)

Check oil and coolant levels. NWMC normally changes the oil and fuel filter during fall winterizing. They do not change the raw water impeller until the spring so that it does not develop a set over the winter months. If you normally change this impeller annually, now is the time to do it.

Check fan belt tension to be in spec.

Before opening raw water seacock, remove and clean the sea strainer basket, and reinstall. This is easiest to do when there is no water in the strainer.

Slowly open the raw water seacock and purge air from the strainer by opening the top and let the air out. Close and tighten when the water fills the strainer.

With the seacock open, start the main engine. (Some Nordic Tugs have a separate, electric solenoid switch on the panel in addition to the start button.)

Once the engine starts, check the water flow and oil pressure, and inspect the sea water strainer for water movement and that there are no leaks from the strainer.

On some engines, there is a valve on the discharge side of the oil cooler to allow sea water to cool the shaft seal assembly. The valve is closed when winterized and should be opened again during spring commissioning. The shaft seal also needs to be “burped” to remove air to allow sea water to cool the shaft log.

The procedure is the same for starting the generator, although certain Centek mufflers make it difficult to see the water discharge. One can inspect the clear plastic strainer of the seacock to check that water is moving through the system.

Allow the generator to run until it is at normal operating temperature and oil pressure.

FFresh Water Systems

Make sure the freshwater tank shut off valve is closed, as it may be left open after the tank was drained during winterization.

Reinstall the water pump strainer basket and look for any signs of damage or cracks. Replace the basket, as necessary.

Fill the freshwater tank to half full. Then open the water tank shut off valve and turn on the breaker for the water pump. Start flushing out the glycol antifreeze by turning on both sides of each faucet and run until the colored antifreeze runs clear. This will take time to flush the antifreeze out of the water lines.

When the freshwater system was winterized, care was taken to keep antifreeze out of the hot water tank, so the glycol solution bypassed the hot water heater, which is now empty.

Once the freshwater lines and faucets are thoroughly flushed, close the hot water heater drain on the bottom of the tank, as well as the relief valve at the top of the tank. Reverse the bypass plumbing so that fresh water now enters the hot water heater.

Turn on the breaker for the water pump and open the hot water side of each faucet, one at a time, to purge air in the hot water circuit. When water comes out of the faucets without bubbles, it is then time to fill the water tank. Do not turn on the hot water heater until all hot water taps flow as normal without air sputtering out or bubbles.

Seawater Washdown

It is best to purge the air in the seawater washdown valve (you likely have one in the bow and one in the stern) by installing your washdown hose before you turn on the sea water breaker. Once air is out of the system, shut off the breaker and proceed to the next location.

Sanitation System

Open the sea cock if it is not a fresh water toilet.

Air Conditioning System(s)

Most Nordic Tugs have two or three systems that each must be de-winterized during spring commissioning. Just as you did for the main engine and generator, clean and reinstall the strainer basket, keeping the seacock closed. Slowly open the seacock and fill the strainer with water, allowing air to purge out of a loosely opened top. Close and tighten the strainer lid.

Even when the strainer is full, there is residual air in the system that must be purged to get the A/C pump to operate normally. The simplest way to do this is to slightly loosen the perimeter screws of the plastic pump housing, which allows air to escape and water to fill the space in the pump. No hoses need to be removed.

Turn on the air conditioning units and make sure water flows out the port and starboard side of your tug.

You are good to go.

Steps to Ensure a Season Without Gremlins

In addition to the above regular spring commissioning, why not spend an hour or so going over every hose clamp and terminal or wire connections you can find, and make sure all are tight and secure. This is good to do every six months and is especially important at the start of the season. It is not necessary to touch terminals behind the breaker panel.

Inspect connections on pumps, battery terminals, ground wires, starter motor, alternator wiring, and windlass and thruster connections, to name some of the most important. It is common to discover that a faulty piece of gear is nothing more than someone bumped against a wire bundle, or hit with a shoulder in the engine space and a connection came off or loosened.

Perform Your Own Sea Trial

Get underway and run the boat for the sole purpose of checking all systems, lights, electronics, galley, and comfort systems. Does the freshwater pump under the galley sink still work, or has a loose clamp caused an air leak? Do the windshield wipers work? How about the horn and navigation lights? There are lots of things to check on a cruising boat like a Nordic Tug. For whatever reason, some things just stop working from sitting idle for a few months.

Pay particular attention to the engine and generator. This sea trial should include bringing the engine up to full throttle for at least five minutes. It will not damage your engine. And if anything is on the verge of breaking, falling off, leaking, or disintegrating, let it happen now. Near home.

While running at full power, carefully examine all gauges and note temperatures. If the new filter elements begin to clog, this is when you want to know about it, and the same is true for any pumps or recently serviced fittings. If an O-ring on your fuel filters did not seat properly when you changed the filter element during winterization, the air leak will cause a problem now. If you had prop work done over the winter, check to see if you can reach maximum rpm, indicating proper pitch. If a service tech adjusted the engine valves last fall, did he get them all right to spec? Funny noises should be listened to.

If the engine does not appear to reach full throttle, according to your tachometer, be aware this gauge may be at fault, especially if it is an older mechanical tachometer, which are prone to inaccuracies. These can later be checked against readings in the yard from a handheld tachometer.

When you return from the sea trial, go back in the engine space. Are there any odd smells? Can you see any pools of oil, diesel, or water? Does everything seem in order? Did all the hoses stay on?

The value of the spring sea trial is a confidence-building exercise that can identify problems, and every prudent Nordic Tug owner should perform this annual spring event.

It makes for a much more enjoyable season of carefree cruising.

Again, Northwest Marine Center is ready to assist you in getting your Nordic Tug ready for a fun season of cruising. If you need professional expertise in your spring commissioning, give them a call to discuss your needs.