You have been told over and over that pre-season maintenance and service will ensure a trouble-free boating season. But will it really? A safe and happy boating season is a combination of preparation and prevention. It's so easy to hit the water as often as possible during the boating season and not want to spend time in the bilges or engine compartment. That's what spring commissioning is for. But a regular maintenance and service program during the season will go a long way to make the time we spend on the water truly enjoyable and safe. A little time on a regular basis will keep the breakdowns, failed equipment and need for towing to a minimum rather than a spoiled weekend while fishing or spending time with family and friends.A routine pre-departure check should be a habit with everyone. Before leaving the dock, other than getting a weather update, take a few minutes and go through the boat's systems. Thoroughly check the engine compartment for water and fuel leaks. Look for oil dripping from lines or under the engine. Check all fluid levels including oil, water and transmission and steering fluids. Most importantly, do you have enough fuel for at least the day or to get you to a fuel dock? Check underwater seacocks to be sure they operate freely and that all hoses are secured with adequate clamps. Check to be sure all sea water strainers are clean and no clogs are present. Are the batteries fully charged for both running equipment and starting the engine, and are the batteries topped off with water if wet cells? You'll also want to be sure your electronics and navigation lights are working properly and your charts are all up to date. Is all safety equipment on board, current and in good working order? These are just a few items to check and make corrections to anything that might affect the safety and operation of the boat. (See our pre-departure check list.)
Your engines and generators are the most expensive and most used pieces of equipment on the boat. Even if your preference is for sail, the engine gets you in and out of the slip and back home quickly should the weather turn nasty. Check all of your manuals for all mechanical equipment on board and follow the recommended service schedules. A proper oil and filter change was probably done during the Spring or Winter commissioning, but if you like to use the boat a lot, chances are another service will be needed during the season. Base the need to change them on your engine hour maintenance schedule rather than the time of year. Keeping the oil and filters clean will go a long way to prolonging the life of any engine. Add engine coolant as needed and never let the coolant levels fall too low. Keep a close eye on fuel filters. Change them frequently if there is any possibility that you may have taken on dirty fuel or that water may have mixed with the fuel, especially if your fuel tanks have not been cleaned for a long time. A minimum of 100 hours between filter changes is a good rule of thumb, but sooner is better than later if in doubt. For gasoline engines, a midseason tune-up will save money on fuel and keep things running just the way you want them to. If your primary boat or your dinghy has an outboard, change the oil in the lower unit at about mid-season or based on the engines hours according to the engine manual. Check and adjust any engine belts. Be careful not to over tighten, and if you are not sure what the tension should be, check with a local mechanic or your engine manufacturer.
The head is an area that we would like to just have work well and not ever deal with, but the last thing you need is to have it fail in the middle of the day with a boat load of folks on board. Be sure the holding tank is pumped frequently and all valves and pumps are lubricated and working. Look for obvious leaks around hoses and the pumping mechanism. Correct these leaks immediately since they will only get worse and are an indicator of more potentially serious problems. Be sure everyone aboard understands to do's and don'ts of a marine toilet.
Don't neglect the boats exterior during the season and it will pay off with big dividends in the long run. Give the boat a thorough wash down after every use, especially in salt water, and use a soap formulated for boats to prolong the wax that was applied in the spring and to protect painted surfaces. Dish soap and other types will strip off wax and can damage painted surfaces if used for prolong periods. An additional coat of wax midseason is also a good idea if the boat is used frequently. Any exterior teak should get a maintenance coat of varnish or teal oil to keep it protected from UV or water damage. Windows and hatches should be cleaned and protected with a coating designed for glass or plastic depending on the material. Look for abrasions or scratches in the hull or gelcoat and repair them as soon as possible. If you happen to be snorkeling near your favorite beach, take a few minutes and have a look at the hull underwater. Change zincs if necessary and give the hull a scrub to remove any growth or barnacles. Check both rudders and props for damage or lines that might have become entangled. If the prop is damaged, have it removed and repaired. If you don't have dive equipment or if snorkeling won't get the job done, hire a professional diver to take care of any needed bottom maintenance. A clean bottom is much more fuel efficient and with the cost of fuel today, every savings helps.
Other general maintenance should include checking steering cables or hydraulic connections, all fuel tanks are secure, engine room blowers are operational and the bilges are clean and free of oil and debris. It's difficult to list everything for every type of boat in this short article, so a wise Captain will develop his own maintenance schedule and keep a record of what was done when. We keep a Maintenance Log of every item, both major and minor, that gets done on the boat. It's easy to go back and see what you have done and what will need to be done before the next outing. I know how hard it is to take time away from enjoying the boat and getting down in the bilge for a cleaning or an oil change instead of spending the day on your favorite waterway. But the payoff is much larger than the inconvenience and in the end will truly ensure a happy boating season. Proper maintenance will extend the life of your boat and equipment, save you money in the long run, make the boating season a safe and enjoyable time and shorten the work list for your winter de-commissioning. Enjoy the summer!
Chuck's Pre-Departure Check List
- Float Plan Filed
- Weather Forecast
- Engine Oil
- Generator Oil
- Engine Coolant
- Generator Coolant
- Steering Fluids
- Battery Water
- Battery Condition House Banks
- Battery Condition Start Battery
- Transmission Fluid
- Engine Hours
- Fuel Level
- Water Tank Level
- Holding Tank Level
- Bilge Dry
- Bilge Pumps
- Navigation Lights
- Sound Producing Device (Horn)
- Vessel Registration/Documentation
- Proper PFD's and Safety Equipment
- Current Charts
- First Aid Kit / Needed Medications
- Sun Screen
- Crew and Passenger Safety Briefing
- Head Working
- Steering / Throttle / Shifter
Each Skipper will have their own items specific to their needs and type of boat. The important thing is to build your list and USE IT.