Boat Maintenance- How to care for your boat

The Peace of Mind Approach

Boat maintenance doesn’t have to be all time-consuming, but a well-planned programme is always the best approach for retaining your boat’s value and ensuring reliability.   

It’s best not to simply wait for niggles to appear, this is likely to result in unexpected repair bills, with boat maintenance preservation is key.

Whatever the vessel, it’s worthwhile employing a continuous process to keep an eye on anything that may need attention, particularly engines, systems, fittings, chafe in ropes, sail damage, and so on.  

Adopt a ‘peace of mind’ approach, look for the first sign of any problem and then monitor wear over time, knowing you are keeping an eye on things will help free you of worry and anxiety and ensure you know the condition of your boat well when things do start to go wrong.

Protect your investment and minimise expenditure by staying on top of your boat maintenance.

The old saying that ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ is just as appropriate for today’s yachts and motorboats as when the ships sailed across the oceans carrying the world’s trade. Pay particular attention to the mechanical and electrical systems and anything that may allow water to penetrate into the structure of the vessel, such as leaky deck fittings.

Keep the boat clean. As well as making it more inviting for yourself and guests, this will help to keep damp and mould away – both inside and outside. 

Seasonal Considerations

For most owners there are also seasonal aspects to maintenance. Winter is often considered to be  ‘maintenance season’, where the whole boat is checked over and the bottom re antifouled to reduce growth of marine organisms during the summer.  

If done correctly, the laying up process will highlight most of the tasks that need to be completed by the start of the following season. Although most boats are kept afloat, and often fully in commission, through the winter it’s still good practice to identify and list any potential problems at the end of the main boating season.

If contractors such as marine engineers or sailmakers need to be engaged to fix any of these it’s much better to instruct them in October or November, rather than in April, when they are likely to already be at full stretch. 

A planned maintenance schedule will produce better results than an ad-hoc approach.

Engine Care

Diesel inboard engines require an annual service including changing oil, oil filter and fuel filters. Ideally this should be carried out before the winter lay up and the engine winterised at the same time. Daily checks include drive belt tension and condition, an examination of all wiring and pipe work to check for loose connections and chafe, and sump oil level and coolant level in the heat exchanger of fresh-water cooled units.

Ignoring engine maintenance stores up problems for later.

Protecting your boat from corrosion is essential. Sacrificial anodes should be replaced when they are approximately one-third degraded (which in practice often means annually). It is advisable to examine the outer edges of the propeller blades for damage. Surface pitting, accompanied by a pink-toned discolouration, is a sign of electrolytic action and should be investigated further. Also, check the cutless bearing in the P bracket for wear – it should be snug fit around the shaft. 

Damage to metal through-hull fittings is often caused by the process of electrolysis. A white powder inside the hull around the fitting is a sign of dezincification, requiring replacement of the fitting. In any case, check all seacocks operate freely, and grease them before launching. Also, check log and depth-sounder transducers for damage. Bilge pumps (and heads pumps) need periodic servicing. This may not be necessary annually if they are only used occasionally, but should certainly be carried out every other year.

Fibreglass Maintenance

A regular polish and wax will help to keep fibreglass looking like new and is especially important for deep colours, which have a tendancy to fade relatively quickly. Large areas on badly faded topsides are best dealt with using an electric polisher.

A periodic check of fibreglass mouldings for scratches, chips, stress cracks and other gel coat damage is important. Any cracks should be investigated to see how deep they penetrate, using a sharp chisel to open the crack into a v shape – if it does not extend beyond the gelcoat, a cosmetic repair of the gel is all that is required. However, if damage extends into the laminate below then a professional repair will be needed.

When doing regular tasks – like stripping, repainting and antifouling, you have an ideal opportunity to check for problems.

Care for your Timber 

Teak decks on fibreglass or metal boats have a certain lifespan and replacement can be expensive – any signs of loose caulking, split planks or leaky deck fittings should be attended to straight away to prevent water from getting under the deck. Much of the damage to such decks is the result of scrubbing with a stiff brush, which can wear up to 1mm per year from the timber. A soft brush, used gently across the grain when washing decks will avoid this wear, with the timber gradually acquiring a natural silvery appearance.

Wooden boats are at risk of damage caused by failure of the paint, varnish or epoxy coatings and the ravages of freshwater and frost. Salt water, on the other hand, is a mild preservative, so most problems are found where rainwater is allowed to settle, with any damage in the protective coatings enabling rot to take hold.

Poor ventilation is the other key threat to wooden structures. Dinghy covers should be made of a breathable material and yachts need a good air flow through the accommodation areas and locker spaces, unless they are equipped with a marine specification dehumidifier. This should be a priority on any boat, to prevent it becoming stale, damp and mouldy. The difference with a fibreglass vessel is simply that the structure won’t deteriorate, although soft furnishings and anything stored on board will certainly suffer if the interior is left to become damp.  

Safety First
Always look after your safety kit – it’s vital you have the appropriate gear on board – and is an on-going part of boat maintenance. Flexible gas pipes tend to last around 5 years, but if they show any signs of perishing, or if braided outer cores are starting to fray, they should be replaced immediately by a qualified marine fitter. All safety gear should be given a thorough check and service each year with lifejackets examined more frequently for chafe or damage to the stitching, and to confirm that the inflation bottle is firmly screwed in place. 

Sails and Rigging

Examine sails for damage to stitching, as well as nicks, chafe and tears in the fabric – when sailing the smallest damage will show clearly against the sun. Focus carefully on high load zones, batten pockets and the leech of headsails. 

Check the rig at least once a season. A full rig check is a sensible precaution at least once a year. A visual check won’t tell you everything – hairline flaws invisible to the naked eye can cause stainless steel to fail – but it’s a great place to start. Check all terminals and fittings for visual condition and security, paying particular attention to spreader roots and rigging attachment points. At the masthead check the halyard sheaves run smoothly and lubricate them sparingly. Also, check that spreader ends and other items that may damage sails are smooth and well protected with tape.  

We’re here to help!

Still feeling a bit stumped quite where to begin, we know time is tight, and fitting everything in around your yacht isn’t always possible. That’s why we provide a range of Yacht Care Services for owners, for those of you with yachts or motorboats moored on River Hamble.

We also provide a variety of ‘one-off’ services ( with no contract required), including wash n go services, storm checks and winter maintenance services to enhance your yacht care.