If you own a boat, everybody’s got a tip for you at the ready. Some of them might actually be helpful. Well, we’ve culled some of the best tips you’ll hear and read, ones that work. Whether you run a 15-foot skiff or a 50-foot battlewagon, we’ve got tips to help you be a better boater. We’re listing 52 of them here, one for every week of the year. So read on, keep calm, and carry on.
Instead of bleach, which can discolor some materials, spray on white vinegar – acetic acid – as a way to kill onboard mildew. It works best if cut with two parts vinegar to one part water.
Save money and make your own boat soap by adding a cup of powdered laundry detergent to a gallon of fresh water. The powdered soap can also be applied to a wet deck for tougher grime.
To reduce odors from a head’s holding tank, pump it out and then fill it with a 50-50 mixture of household bleach and water. Let it stand. Then empty it again. Pump out at every opportunity.
Got paint splatter on the gelcoat? Try spraying on a little oven cleaner to remove it. This tip also works to remove painted-on boat names — so use it if you buy a used boat and want to rename it.
Add a dollop of grease to the end of a screwdriver to temporarily hold a screw onto it to get it into hard-to-reach places.
For removing tricky oil flyers that don’t seem to budge form the strap wrench, try placing a piece of sandpaper between the strap and the filter to get a better grip.
The Coast Guard requires boaters to carry a Type IV throwable PFD on board. It’s best to carry a ring buoy with 50 feet of rope attached.
Use only A-rated fuel hoses inside an engine compartment.
Put grommets or padding in all bulkhead holes used to run wiring.
When buying electrical wiring for your boat, look for brands labeled BC-5W2 to ensure it’s marine quality.
In the event of an onboard fire, point a fire extinguisher’s hose at the base of the fire, not at the top of the flames, for the best effectiveness.
Sea Tow offers automated VHF radio checks for free in many coastal areas. Before you head offshore, get the full story at seatow.com/boating-safety/automated-radio-checks.
Caught offshore in a storm? Sometimes it’s better to wait it out than to try and run a tricky inlet in dangerous conditions. Assess the sea state in the inlet to determine whether it’s better to let the storm pass first.
If caught offshore in a head or following sea, you can make the ride more comfortable by tacking back and forth to make quartering sea conditions.
Boats have a kill switch on the ignition for a reason. Use it.
When approaching a dock, make sure crew members know not to help unless instructed by you. Sticking arms or legs out to fend the boat could result in bruised or broken limbs.
Keep a manual bilge pump on board, along with a bucket, to help bail the boat if you have a breached hull or if the bilge pump fails.
The Coast Guard Auxiliary has a free vessel safety check program. Find one in your area to make sure your boat is up to snuff. Go to boatingmag.com/uscg-i-want-a-vsc.
For boats with gasoline engines housed in compartments, always run the blower for five minutes before turning the ignition key, to clear any potential gasoline fumes.
To prevent sinking in case of a through-hull breach, match a wooden bung to the diameter of each through-hull below the waterline to plug it in an emergency.
When using an orbital buffer, make sure to move it along the boat in the same direction it rotates — typically clockwise — to prevent kickback.
The night before painting your boat’s bottom, flip the can of paint upside down to get the solids into the solution.
Drilling a hole into fiberglass? Place masking tape over the area to be drilled to prevent chipping.
Apply a little lanolin oil into shackle threads to prevent seizing.
Test the smoothness of your propeller’s blades by gently running a cotton ball along the blade edges. If cotton catches, you should recondition the prop.
Regularly clean the contacts of navigation lights with a pencil eraser to keep them free from corrosion.
A week before you pull your boat for winter storage, put some fuel stabilizer into the tank so that it runs through the engine as you use it. Try Star brite’s Star Tron marine fuel treatment.
An engine’s water pump impeller should be changed every three years, at a minimum, to prevent failure.
Ordinary household cleaners can damage electronics’ screens. Try a marine-specific cleaner such as Purosol’s Sport/Marine cleaner ($9.95 for 1-ounce bottle; purosol.com).
Check the zincs frequently. If a zinc has lost more than half of its size, replace it with a new anode certified to Military Specification A18001K.
After cleaning the battery terminals, coat them with a thin layer of petroleum jelly to prevent corrosion.
Put a twist in trailer tie-down straps to keep the wind from rattling them and chafing your boat.
Use a socket wrench or nut driver to tighten hose clamps, because a screwdriver is more likely to slip in tight boating confines.
Haven’t used your boat in a while? Check the oil. Know that boat engines that don’t fire up very often are prone to oil leaks as gaskets and seals dry out.
T-clamps provide more even holding pressure for hoses than screw clamps, spring clamps or the ubiquitous stainless-steel band clamps.
Need to pre-mix oil into gas? Here’s the magic number. For a 50:1 ratio, add 2.5 ounces of oil to every gallon of gas. This is a common ratio for two-stroke engines.
Place a resealable zippered plastic bag around a side-mounted oil filter when changing out to a new element in order to avoid spillage.
You should back up all the stored waypoints in a chart plotter by storing them on an external memory card. Most plotters accept the same memory cards as those used in digital cameras.
When planning an offshore cruise or fishing trip, remember the rule of thirds for fuel consumption. Allot one third to get out and another third to get back, and keep a third of the tank in reserve.
Cooler sliding around the deck? Lay a damp towel underneath it to hold it in place.
Adding chain to an anchor rode will increase its holding power: Aim to add a length of chain equal to half the length of your boat.
Mark the anchor rode with colored tape at various depth intervals — such as red at 25 feet, green at 50 and blue at 100 — so your crew can easily tell how much scope to let out.
When stowing gear and supplies, be sure to distribute the weight evenly around the boat to affect the ride as little as possible.
When reading a nautical chart, it’s helpful to know that a nautical mile is equal to approximately 1.15 statute miles or one minute of latitude. By using dividers one can “walk off” miles taken from the lines of latitude.
NOAA nautical charts can be downloaded for free in PDF form at nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/pdfcharts.
Docking? Note that boats with propellers aft of the transom (outboards and sterndrives) have a wider turning radius than boats with propellers forward of the transom (inboards and pod drives).
Dangers such as rocks in less than 66 feet of water are shown on an electronic (ECDIS) chart with a circle of black “danger dots” and are colored light blue and show a sounding depth inside the circle.
Make sure the tires on your tow vehicle are designed to handle wet off-road conditions for the ramps. Look for an open tread pattern with open shoulder blocks and traction ridges.
An engine’s flip-lock support bracket is not designed to support the engine’s weight during long-distance highway towing. Invest in a load bearing device such as Attwood Marine’s Swivl-Eze 4000 Transom Saver ($59.95; basspro.com).
Make sure you carry a jack that can support the weight of your trailer and fully loaded boat should you need to change a trailer tire on the go. (Also, be sure to carry a spare trailer tire.)
You put a cover on your boat but what about your ball hitch? Yep, it’s prone to wear and tear too. Protect your ball hitch from rust or weather damage with a snappy ball hitch cover like Fastway’s tethered ball cover ($5.95; fastwaytrailer.com).