January 19, 2024
Boat ownership these days has become a very costly endeavor. From cost to buy, to the cost to own, store and maintain- it seems like every time you turn around, the boat is asking for more money. Once you get over the hump of actually paying to take ownership of a boat- the maintenance costs associated with ownership can become pretty overwhelming. Never let cost prevent you from completing necessary upkeep. Consider the fact that neglecting to perform certain repairs and service might actually cost you your life at some point.
On the brighter side, many of these simple jobs are easy enough to perform by yourself with even the most basic mechanical ability. Here’s a list of routine checkup items that will make your boating experience better while not costing you much more than a little sweat equity.
This might be one of the most common items to fail on a boat (and usually at the worst time.) A bilge pump is one piece of equipment that has to function 100 percent of the time when you need it. Arguably, the most common source of trouble you’ll see with a pump is one running non-stop until it burns itself out while nobody is aware of the pump ever running dry. Typically, a float switch gets gummed up with some type of slime or debris and becomes stuck in the raised position which activates the pump. In a dry bilge, if you’re unable to see water exiting a through-hull exhaust or hear the pump, you might never notice it running. Next, you take some water onboard and try pumping it out to no avail. This is never a good thing to happen to you on the water.
To prevent this, you should periodically inspect all pumps and float switches to be sure they’re clean as a whistle and not surrounded with dirt, dust and bits of fishing line or scales. Keep debris or anything that would lodge beneath the float switch cleaned out of the bilge at all times.
Although not a life-or-death item, a dirty bilge can develop a foul odor over time. This is especially true if your fish boxes drain into the bilge. Even for a boat that comes out of the water with a drain plug pulled to dry out the space below deck. There are lots of nooks and crannies in the bilge for foul water to become trapped and start the bilge odor cycle.
To avoid this unpleasant aroma, at the same time you are inspecting your pumps and float switches, take a few minutes to seal off the bilge and disable the pumps temporarily. Next, you can add some detergent and deodorizer to the bilge and power wash it into a foamy lather throughout every space you can reach with a hose. Allow it to soak for a while before turning your pumps back on and pumping out the soapy water. Doing this small task periodically will both keep your bilge neutral smelling and force hidden debris that might later get stuck in your float switches out into the open where you can remove it.
A situation you never want to find yourself in is where you are taking on raw water through a split hose or broken clamp and you’re unable to stop the flow of water past a through-hull valve. This is more common than you might imagine. What happens is the fitting itself is made of durable cast bronze but the lever that opens and closes the gate is built with cheap corrosive metal that always rusts and falls apart when you try to rotate the valve closed.
To avoid this potentially life-threatening mishap, routinely inspect these fittings and keep them clean and lubricated. Even better, install one with a more durable handle made of stainless steel or a similar non-corrosive material that won’t fall apart over time. This way when you need to stop incoming water right now, it’s as simple as shutting off the tap.
If you do even a casual amount of boating, eventually you’re going to run into some bad gas or fuel. Whether it’s ethanol-related debris, dirt from an old fuel tank at the pumps or even water squirting into your fuel vent- one way or another, you’ll experience this.
An easy way to stay ahead of this problem is to stay aware of your fuel quality status by keeping fresh water separators installed. The best scenario is to add a water separator with a clear bowl on the bottom that allows you to periodically drain some fuel out of the bottom of the filter to inspect. Water is heavier than gas and will sit at the bottom of the filter making it easy to see if you have water intrusion in your tank. When you locate water in the fuel you can be more diligent about draining it regularly until it clears out. If it persists you may need to call in a pro to polish your system but either way you stay ahead of a potential failure at the wrong time.
Another quick step you can take while checking filters is to inspect fuel primer bulbs for dry rot or any cracks that might introduce air into the fuel line. A split bulb can prevent your fuel pump from holding a prime and result in a breakdown. These bulbs are inexpensive and can be changed easily with a screwdriver or even a dime if you’re in a pinch.
Raw Water Strainers
If you run a livewell system or raw water washdown you might have sea strainer filters built in-line to catch debris before it gets sucked through a pump and damaging it. These filters often get neglected because of the inconvenient location where they’re typically installed. Keeping them rinsed out and free of debris will not only prolong the life of your pumps but will also increase the efficiency level that each pump will provide.
The importance of staying ahead of corrosion on all of your electrical circuitry can’t be overstated. The electrical system on your boat is responsible for both items of convenience as well as other accessories that can save your life. From your batteries to the terminal end of each wire, the entire system is under constant attack from the effects of salt water and corrosion.
While you might not be able to reach all of it- the most common point of failure is at a connection point, connector hardware, bus bar or battery terminal. By regularly inspecting these points and cleaning them as well as generously applying a coat of some type of corrosion inhibitor such as CRC, you’ll prevent a future failure before it becomes an issue.
While this doesn’t exactly qualify as “maintenance” it will add to the efficiency of your boating experience and save you a few bucks at the gas pump if you’re lucky. As we use our boats more and more frequently, people tend to accumulate a ton of “stuff” on the boat. An item left behind that you aren’t using daily can become nothing more than clutter and unnecessary weight to carry around.
You might be surprised how much this weight can add up and how carrying extra unneeded cargo around can affect your fuel performance. Take a minute periodically to go through your boat and inventory each stored item to determine if you really need to be carrying it around all of the time. Not only will this improve your fuel performance, it will also make life easier when you’re searching for that lost shaker of salt.
Regular cleaning and waxing is one thing that seems to get away from us while you’re busy enjoying your boat to fish or dive. Beyond the basic soap and rinse at the end of the day, few people devote a great deal of time to polishing and waxing. Gelcoat or paint will fade over time and it tends to sneak up on you. The most common thing professional detailers hear when somebody calls them for an estimate is “it’s not that bad” when in reality, if it wasn’t that bad that phone call wouldn’t be happening.
Paying a professional is a very costly proposition when you need the whole boat waxed. If you can’t afford to shell out the big bucks a couple of times a year, you can stay ahead of the finish going south on you easily enough. Like the old joke- how do you eat a whole elephant? (One bite at a time.) To make life easier, choose a small spot to wax every time you clean the boat. Work your way around the entire boat at an easy pace and it’s not as overwhelming. Nobody likes diving into a whole weekend project of waxing a boat but if you take the job on in small doses, you’ll always stay ahead of the finish looking dull or oxidized.
Keeping up with projects such as these will not only preserve the quality of your boating experience, it will also familiarize you with systems that you should know about anyway. Being the person who can find a problem and fix it in a pinch will also give you peace of mind when a situation arises and everyone else is nervously staring at you looking for you to save the day. Not only this, it will ultimately save you a ton of money down the road and might help you avoid a situation that cuts your Saturday fishing trip short and sends you back to the dock early.