Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Protect your boat by performing these maintenance tasks.

You’ve pulled the tarp, painted the bottom and checked the expiration date on the flares. We just know you remembered the garboard drain plug. Before you splash the boat, you’ll give it a good once-over to make sure all systems are go. Preventive maintenance is the best insurance — and a key to boating enjoyment.

There are a gajillion things that could go wrong aboard a boat. A small runabout or trailered fishing boat may have 10 separate DC electrical circuits, pumps for the bilge, head and washdown, dozens of fittings, and many hundreds of fasteners like nuts, bolts, screws and clamps. Aboard a large cruiser or sportfisherman, the systems are exponentially larger, and in fact more complex than those of a house, what with dual-voltage electrical systems and at least two sources of fresh water. Barring the rare superboater who’s a certified mechanic, fiberglass technician and American Boat and Yacht Council-rated electrician rolled into one, most of us can’t find or fix everything.

You may not have a lot of technical expertise, and you may not even be very handy. But if you’re lacking a shed full of tools and diagnostic equipment, here are 27 simple checks even novice boaters can perform. And for you old salts, we think this serves as a good reminder.

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance TipsBoating Magazine

1. Shafted
Shafts should be centered in their bearings. Check the stuffing box as well as at the struts. Remember that a minor misalignment at the bearings is multiplied by the length of the shaft.

2. Zinc
Again Replace sacrificial anodes if they have lost half their weight — not just size. A full-size anode that looks like Swiss cheese has got to go. Don't paint them, and make sure they are fastened tight.

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance TipsBoating Magazine

Seal the Deal
All gasketed surfaces are suspect. Eyeball your engine's mating surfaces for signs of drips, salt stains, weepage and ridges of crud. Exhaust risers and head gaskets are especially important.

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance TipsBoating Magazine

Fish and Chips
Check for loose, flaking anti-fouling paint and scrape it off before applying a new coat.

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance TipsBoating Magazine

Stain Pain
Even stainless fasteners corrode in a wet, oxygen-starved environment. It's called crevice corrosion. If you see streaks of rust emanating from fasteners or fittings, remove, replace and rebed with sealant. And find the cause of the wet core.

Top Boat Maintenance Tips
Top Boat Maintenance TipsBoating Magazine

Ding-a-Ling
Your prop turns thousands of rpm. Even small dings damage gears and hurt performance. You might (carefully) apply two opposing pairs of wrenches to straighten a bent blade or file off burrs along the edges. Or send the wheel out for reconditioning.

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance TipsBoating Magazine

Ding-Dong
Look for dings or chips in gelcoat — especially along leading edges like the stem, keel and chines. Repair using epoxy filler.

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance TipsBoating Magazine

Vot Haf Ve Here?
Inspection bowls for filters and sea strainers can turn cloudy, making them useless. You need to see at a glance what's going on. Clean them with soap and water. If clarity doesn't return, order replacements.

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance TipsBoating Magazine

Eclipse
To ensure the engine room is sealing out water and spray, climb inside on a sunny day and close the hatch. You should see no light sneaking in around the perimeter. If you do, repair or replace the gaskets and latch.

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance TipsBoating Magazine

Beeee-ooooh!
Fogged, crazed and scratched plastic windshields and clear curtains hinder visibility, and thus safety. A fine compound can often restore clarity. Canvas shops replace clear sections, retaining an existing top.

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance TipsBoating Magazine

1. Mounting Problems
Make sure there is enough thread above and below the nuts on engine-mount studs to allow for future adjustment. Vibration and settling can cause misalignment.

2. More Mounts
Motor-mount studs should be centered between the mount base's fasteners. Mounts should not be cocked or leaning to one side. Perform these checks in the water, where the boat is best supported, for accuracy.

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance TipsBoating Magazine

Spring Bulbs
A primer bulb should remain firm when the engine is running and drawing fuel. If it doesn't, and after checking for leaks in the fuel line, replace it — and buy extras for spares.

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance TipsBoating Magazine

Rock and No Roll
With your trailer jacked up, grab the tires top and bottom or side to side and alternately push and pull. If they rock or wobble, service the hub and bearings.

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance TipsBoating Magazine

Zap!
Batteries must withstand a force of 90 pounds, or twice their weight, without moving more than one inch in any direction, according to the American Boat and Yacht Council. Eschew strap hold-downs in favor of those using threaded rods and locknuts.

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance TipsBoating Magazine

Hosed
Squeeze hoses. Those that are soft and mushy (as well as cracked, checked, discolored or shedding) can collapse under suction, starving the engine of cooling water, failing and flooding the boat, causing fuel leaks and more.

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance TipsBoating Magazine

Warm as...
An outboard's telltale stream shouldn't be hot. Check the water pump and thermostats.

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance TipsRinker Boats

Grab Rails
When I was a bartender at a dive, I always wore a clip-on tie. But grab rails should not come off in a "patron's" hand. ABYC specifies grab rails withstand 400 pounds of force. Hang from them as a test.

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance TipsBoating Magazine

Turn for the Worst
Lift a rudder to determine end play. Rock it port to starboard to determine side play. Excessive movement presages sinking.

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance TipsBoating Magazine

Svelte Belt
If a belt deflects too much under hand pressure between pulleys, either it needs replacement or the equipment needs to be repositioned and retightened, or both.

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance TipsBoating Magazine

Cough, Please
A stethoscope, or even a length of hose stuck to your ear and moved methodically around the engine, can help you isolate the source of a noise indicating a potential problem.

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance TipsStingray Boats

What a Grind
While out for a run, listen carefully for a grinding or whining noise from a sterndrive while trimming up and while turning. This indicates a gimbal bearing needs replacement.

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance TipsBoating Magazine

Sing to Me
A high-pitch chirp often indicates a bad bearing. Listen to rotational accessories like alternators, pulleys and shaft-driven pumps. Rebuilding or replacing is easier than getting towed in.

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance TipsBoating Magazine

Nitty-Gritty
Jack up your trailer and spin the wheels. Hear grinding? Check the bearings and brakes.

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance TipsBoating Magazine

Huh?
Sound signaling is important, especially in restricted visibility. Toot your horn. Often, a weak horn can be revitalized by applying spray lube to its diaphragm. Carry an air horn for insurance.

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance Tips

Top Boat Maintenance TipsBoating Magazine

Perusal by Removal
Got an engine noise that's driving you crazy? Narrow down the culprit by removing the belts from accessories like alternators one by one. When the noise stops, you've found the offending part.