Essential Boat Maintenance Tips
Boat maintenance and service is important to ensure your vessel is in good working order and, you should inspect the key features of the vessel each time before you leave home or the ramp, mooring or wharf.
The major causes of breakdown at sea are engine failure, fuel shortage or contamination, mechanical failure and battery failure.
On entering the vessel, and before operating any switches or engines, check for petrol and/or LPG odors and fix any faults before you go out.
The most important part of owning a boat is taking care of it. You’ve probably spent a great deal of money on your watercraft, so you’ll want to make sure it is always running properly.
That means knowing what to do to maintain its “health” – so to speak.
One of the keys to boat maintenance is also one of the simplest- wash your boat regularly. Not only does routine cleaning facilitate a more pleasant and organized environment, but it also goes a long way towards counteracting the long-term effects of environmental wear and tear.
Routine waxing and use of anti-fouling paint can also help protect your boat from the elements. You may also want to consider using environmentally-safe products for your boat maintenance needs!
One of the most common ways a boat can start to show scratches and damage is not only from when it’s in use – but from when it’s being docked. Make sure lines are securely fastened in place, neatly coiled, and do not show signs of breakage or wear.
Depending on the type of battery your boat uses, check to ensure that it is properly charged and that it has the correct fluid levels. Also be sure to keep your battery clean, as dampness and dirt can also drain your battery.
Check out the Marine Battery Guide on how to select, install, maintain and troubleshoot your boat’s batteries.
Proper boat maintenance means being actively involved in, and attuned to, all aspects of your vessel. This means keeping an eye out for everything from loose fittings to fraying ropes to any other areas of your boat that may need special attention or replacement. Many times, damages incurred to a boat could easily have been prevented by following a preventative boat maintenance routine.
Another crucial aspect of boat maintenance is ensuring that your bilge pump is functioning properly. There’s much that can cause more irreparable damage to a boat that having it sink. In the event that you need to use your pump, you’ll also want to make sure that your battery system contains enough power to support running the pump for a prolonged period of time.
Many boating failures occur as a result of corroded electrical systems, so keeping electrical components dry should be a regular part of your boat maintenance routine. Electrical fittings can be protected with a water-repellent, non-conductive grease or corrosion inhibitor.
Making an investment in a boat cover can help keep your boat clean and free of a variety of contaminants that aren’t just related to dirt or water- falling leaves and bird droppings can also cause a lot of damage if left unchecked. A boat cover can also prevent UV rays from breaking down hoses or fading carpets and upholstery.
Responsible boat maintenance means taking the time to familiarize yourself with all aspects of boat care. Consult your owner’s manual for in-depth guidelines. While it’s always important to take the time to learn how to do things yourself, also don’t be afraid to seek the help of a professional when needed.
Checking the Motor
Motor care is probably one of the most important parts of effective boat maintenance. Follow best practices for both inboard and outboard motor care.
Manufacturers usually recommend a service by a specialized workshop at least once a year- even if the motor is hardly used. This ensures vital internal parts such as the water pump are checked. If your motor is used regularly, you should change your gear-box oil every three months.
- Replace your pull cord if it is fraying
- Check all the wiring
- Clean spark-plugs, check gaps and replace if required
- Check compression
- Lubricate all moving parts
- Check and re-fill gear case oil
- Clean cooling system passages
- Check propeller and nut – sand or file any small cracks
- Check and replace the sacrificial anode if required.
Be sure to flush your engine after every outing, and check everything from your fuel tanks to clamps on your fuel line for rust, damage or corrosion. Also be sure to check your oil both for correct levels as well as proper filtration and cleanliness. And keep an eye on your engine’s cooling system to make sure it’s functioning correctly.
Boat Maintenance After Every Trip
After every outing, flush out the engine. This doesn’t just apply to salt water adventures, but to fresh water outings as well.
Buy a set of “rabbit ears”: two flexible rubber seals connected with a metal clamp. Slip the apparatus onto the lower unit where the water is picked up and attach a garden hose.
Start up the engine and let the water pump do the rest. Practice safe boating and remember to stay clear of the prop and make sure no one tries to shift the motor into gear.
While you’re flushing the motor, check the water pump to make sure it has good water flow. Carefully put your finger through the stream of water. It may be warm, but it shouldn’t be hot. If the output is not strong, you may have some debris stuck in the outflow tube. Immediately shut down the engine to prevent overheating and damage.
Insert a small piece of wire into the flow tube and work it back and forth. Start the engine again and check the output. If that doesn’t solve the problem, you may need a new water pump.
After flushing the engine, disconnect the fuel line and allow the engine to burn all the fuel in the carburetor.
Once you’ve finished the flushing and run the engine out of fuel, be sure to turn off the key and, if you have a battery switch, turn it off.
Take the engine cowling off and check for fuel or water leaks. If you find leaks, consult your safe boating mechanic.
Wipe everything down and spray with an anti-corrosive like WD 40 or Quick-lube. Be sure to lubricate all the moving parts such as the shift and throttle cables, carburetor valves, etc.
Replace the cowling and wipe it down. Keep a canvas or plastic cover on the engine between trips.
Always use fresh fuel. At the end of the season, boat motor maintenance should include draining your tanks and taking the fuel to the proper recycling authority.
Regular Boat Maintenance
Periodically check the fuel line for cracks and worn spots.
Make sure the fuel primer bulb is not cracked and is pliable
Make sure the fuel-line fittings seat properly and don’t leak.
Check the clamps on the fuel line for rust or corrosion.
Check the fuel tanks for damage and corrosion.
Check the tank vent to make sure it aspirates properly.
Check regularly for water in the fuel.
Check the fire extinguisher is in good condition.
Good maintenance also includes making sure that your boat is taken care of in cold weather. If you live in a predominantly warm climate, you will probably not have to take these steps, but remember that even in the warmest of places, it can still get cold occasionally.
The best place for your boat to be during the winter is out of the water, under cover, in a climate-controlled boat storage area. This, however, can be expensive.
If don’t have this option perhaps you should consider shrink-wrapping your boat. This, too, is a little expensive but provides a very protective cover. Short of these two items, make sure that your boat is well covered with a tarp or some other sturdy cover.
Your first step in winterizing should be to make a checklist of all items that need to be accomplished. Check the owner’s manual of your boat and motor(s) for manufacturer’s recommendations on winterization. If you are a new boat owner, perhaps you should employ the assistance of a friend with experience in winterizing or hire a professional to do the job.
You should run the inboard engine to warm it up and change the oil while it is warm. This tends to allow impurities to be drained away with the oil. You should also change the oil filter(s). Flush the engine(s) with fresh water.
You should circulate antifreeze through the manifold by using a pickup hose from the water pump to a bucket of antifreeze. Start the engine and allow the antifreeze to circulate until water starts to exit the exhaust.
This process will vary slightly depending on whether you have a “Raw Water” cooling system or an “Enclosed Fresh Water” cooling system. While you’re in the engine room you should also change the fluid in your transmission.
Remove spark plugs and use “fogging oil” to spray into each cylinder. Wipe down the engine with a shop towel sprayed with a little fogging oil or WD-40.
You should thoroughly inspect the stern drive and remove any plant life or barnacles from the lower unit. Drain the gear case and check for excessive moisture in the oil. This could indicate leaking seals and should be repaired.
Clean the lower unit with soap and water. If your stern drive has a rubber boot, check it for cracks or pinholes. Grease all fittings and check fluid levels in hydraulic steering or lift pumps. Check with your owner’s manual for additional recommendations by the manufacturer.
For the outboard engine Flush engine with fresh water using flush muffs or similar device attached to the raw water pickup. Let all water drain from the engine. Wash engine down with soap and water and rinse thoroughly.
Disconnect fuel hose and run engine until it stops. It is important to follow a step by step process to make sure that all fuel is drained from the carburetor to prevent build-up of deposits from evaporated fuel. Use fogging oil in the cylinders to lubricate the cylinder walls and pistons.
Apply water resistant grease to propeller shaft and threads. Change the gear oil in the lower unit. Lightly lubricate the exterior of the engine or polish with a good wax.
Fill your fuel tank(s) to avoid a build up of condensation over the winter months. Add a fuel stabilizer by following the instructions on the product. Change the fuel filter(s) and water separator(s).
Make sure the bilges are clean and dry. Use soap, hot water and a stiff brush to clean up any oil spills. Once the bilges are clean, spray with a moisture displacing lubricant and add a little antifreeze to prevent any water from freezing.
Completely drain the fresh water tank and hot water heater. Isolate the hot water heater by disconnecting the in and out lines and connect them together. Pump non-toxic antifreeze into the system and turn on all the facets including the shower and any wash-down areas until you see the antifreeze coming out. Also put non-toxic antifreeze in the water heater.
Once you have taken care of the system you should remove any valuables, electronics, lines, PFD, fire extinguishers, flares, fenders, etc. Over the winter these items can be cleaned, checked and replaced as necessary. Open all drawers and lockers and clean thoroughly.
Turn cushions up on edge so that air is able to circulate around them or, better yet, bring them home to a climate controlled area. Open and clean the refrigerator and freezer. To keep your boat dry and mildew-free you might want to install a dehumidifier or use some of the commercially available odor and moisture absorber products such as “No Damp,“ “Damp Away” or “Sportsman’s Mate.”
If you will be storing your boat out of the water as is generally recommended, take time to Pressure wash hull, clean barnacles off props and shafts, rudders, struts and trim tabs. Clean all thru-hulls and strainers. Open sea cocks to allow any water to drain.
Check the hull for blisters and if you find any that should be attended to you might want to open them to drain over the winter. While you’re at it, why not give the hull a good wax job? It is probably best to take the batteries out of the boat and take them home and either put them on a trickle charger or charge them every 30-60 days.
If you find you have no choice but to store your boat in the water, you still need to take precautions. Close all sea cocks and check rudder shafts and stuffing boxes for leaks and tighten or repack as necessary.
Check your battery to make sure it is fully charged, clean terminals, and add water if necessary and make sure your charging system is working. Check bilge pumps to ensure they are working and that float switches properly activate the pumps and that they are not hindered by debris.. If there is more bilge water than usual, find and rectify the fault. When pumping bilges be aware of the environment. Polluting the waterways is an offence.
Make sure either to check your boat periodically or have the marina check it and report to you. If in an area where the water you are docked or moored in actually freezes, you should have a de-icing device or bubbling system around your boat.
Boats break down when you least want them to. Even if you’ve taken exemplary care of your boat, sometimes things do happen. You may find it necessary to make some emergency repairs on the water, so know what you’re doing.
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