If you’re already a boat owner, it’s likely you’ve figured out that keeping your pride and joy in tip-top operating condition requires occasional maintenance—both mechanically and aesthetically. The end goal with maintenance is to have a boat that not only looks good, but also has systems that run reliably and at peak performance. Maintenance also prolongs the life of your boat and its systems and helps to prevent expensive repairs down the road.
Still, lots of boat owners run into some confusion when it comes to figuring out when these tasks should be performed. Add in geographic areas where there’s little change in temperature and weather each season, and it causes even more befuddlement. With that in mind, we’ve prepared a basic guide to boat maintenance that rolls with the seasons, keeping you on top of the tasks that keep your boat beautiful and running at its best.
For boaters in most places, spring heralds the time to unpack boats, remove covers, and commission all of the systems in anticipation of that first run of the season. While that may all sound as easy as plugging in an electrical cord, spring commissioning should be done carefully, and in an order that doesn’t introduce the possibility of a system failure. “Like what,” you ask? You’d be surprised how many folks forget to put the drain plug back in their boat the first time they launch it after winter lay-up.
- Remove the cover(s) that protected your boat during the off-season.
- Give your boat a good scrub, from top to bottom, to remove wintertime dirt and grit that can damage your boat’s finishes.
- Now is the time to add a fresh coat of wax, especially to any areas that you were unable to cover and protect over the winter.
- Make sure you flush freshwater systems of any antifreeze with clean, fresh water. Fill your water tank and then open all the freshwater outlets in your boat systematically, one at a time, and flush the system until perfectly clear water comes through.
- Make sure you open seacocks and through-hull fittings before running inboard engines. Otherwise you can burn up impellers or cause engine damage—or both. Likewise, ensure there’s cooling water flowing from your outboard(s) the first time you run them.
- Carefully commission sanitation systems, making sure you position Y-valves and seacocks in their legal positions (e.g. to the holding tank, not overboard).
- Ensure bilge pumps are in good working order before you launch by adding water to the bilge with a hose or five-gallon bucket. If the pump removes the water, you’re generally good to go.
- Lots of folks apply new antifouling paint as part of their spring commissioning ritual. It’s also a good time to check zincs, examine propellers, and look over other underwater gear.
- PUT IN THE DRAIN PLUG.
To avoid unpleasant surprises, give the following features and videos a look. You’ll be glad you did when you get ready to head out for that first trip of the season.
- 12-Step Pre-Season Prep
- Spring Commissioning for Your Boat
- Top Five Spring Outfitting Mistakes
- Five Stupid Ways to Ruin Your First Run of the Season
- 10 Stupid Spring Commissioning Mistakes
- Get Your Boat Ready for the Season
- Easy Cleaning: A Lazy Man’s Guide to Spring Cleaning
- Spring Shake-Down Cruise: 10 Problems To Look For
- Spring Outboard Commissioning
- Five Ways to Avoid Engine Trouble This Season
- How to Do a Seasonal Trailer Inspection
- How to Make Spring Boat Chores Fun: Five Tips
- Basic Troubleshooting When Your Outboard Won’t Start
Summer, at least for most boaters, is a time when you’ll want to be using your boat as much as possible—not maintaining it, or getting involved in major projects. Still, big jobs that involve paint, fiberglass, gelcoat, or other structural work require warm temperatures. So summer can be the right time to do bottom painting or hull work, especially if you’re planning on hiring the work out. Boatyards and boatshops that are backed up in the spring are often looking for work during the doldrums of summer and that means you may be able to save some bucks with discounted rates.
Otherwise, beyond basic engine maintenance (like checking the oil and filters and performing changes at the manufacturer recommended periods) summer is a season of maintaining the cleaning and polishing you’ve done during all the other season. Some of the basics:
- Make sure you wash down your boat after every use. This will help brightwork, gelcoat and paint finishes last longer.
- Rinse and flush your sanitation system with clean water from the dock a few times each season (it helps prevent odors from building up).
- Scrub your bilges now and again. Performing little jobs like this as a matter of routine a piece at a time will help ensure you won’t have a huge mess on your hands come winter, when it’s time to put your boat away.
Be sure to check out these maintenance articles and videos, which relate to simple but important maintenance tasks you should perform every time you use your boat.
- Boat Care and Maintenance: How to Keep your Outboard Engine Looking Like New
- 10 Tips to Keep Gel Coat Gleaming
- How to Flush an Outboard Motor
For most boaters, autumn is a time when boating activity starts to wind down and folks begin to prepare their boats for the long cold winter, especially if they live in areas where freezing temperatures approach. Obviously, the main goal of winterization is to prevent freeze damage in engines and their components, as well as in water and waste systems. It’s also an important time to guard your boat from the icy elements, which can ruin the glossy shine on your hull, damage brightwork, and more. That being said, here are some essentials to take note of, when things start to turn cold and it’s time to put your boat to bed.
- Arrange to have boat hauled, or put it on a trailer if you plan on storing it out of the water. Make special preparations (see below) if your boat is to be kept in the water over the winter.
- Winterize all mechanical systems such as plumbing, sanitation, and engine(s).
- Clean, remove, and stow canvas and Eisenglass panels at home.
- Remove tackle and gear from boat if it’s better suited for indoor storage.
- Clean the decks and topsides, and cover your boat or have a pro shrink-wrap it.
- Consider removing batteries from the boat—if feasible—and storing them at home on a trickle charger to keep them topped off all winter. Check electrolyte levels if you have lead-acid batteries.
- Change engine oil and filters, lower unit oil, and primary fuel filters as needed.
- Fill fuel tanks at least 90-percent full and stabilize with an appropriate fuel additive.
- Perform an end-of-season trailer check, if you’re a trailer boater.
The following articles and features will help cover the details, when it comes to tucking your boat away safely for the season.
- How to Winterize a Boat: Prepping for Hibernation
- In-The-Water Winter Boat Storage: Yes, You Can
- Winter Storage Tips for Outboard Motors
- Boating Tips: Avoid this Outboard Winterizing Blunder
- Basic Boat Battery Check-Up and Maintenance
- Ethanol and Water in Fuel
- How to Change the Lower Unit Oil on a Boat
Lots of boaters who winterize and stow their boats away for the winter think that there’s nothing that can be done to their boats during the cold months, but that’s not entirely true. Winter actually is a great time to take advantage of the fact that your vessel is decommissioned by tackling projects that might otherwise render it unusable during the boating season—you know, when you’d rather be fishing or relaxing. Here are some things boaters in seasonal climes can do to be productive in the maintenance scheme of things during winter.
- Consider winter projects that involve upgrading mechanical elements, such as plumbing and electrical systems. Winter is a great time to install new electronics, replace old, smelly sanitation hose, or replace that nasty old bilge pump you’ve been meaning to work on for ages.
- Have routine scheduled maintenance performed on your engines now, when marine mechanics are typically slow, versus in the spring when they’re booked solid.
- Whittle down your “fix it” list by repairing or upgrading pesky items that you’ve long procrastinated mending.
- Brightwork and trim that can be removed and taken home is a great target for winter spruce-up projects.
- Limit work that requires the use of caulk, sealants, or other compounds that require warmer temperatures to cure.
Southern boaters might consider using the winter months—especially those times when wind and rain keep most folks off the water—to do maintenance that northern boaters can’t do until spring.
- If you keep your boat in the water, this is a great time to do any haul-out maintenance that’s needed, such as bottom painting and maintaining running gear and underwater appendages.
- The cooler weather often provides the perfect opportunity to prep and touch up brightwork on wood trim, handrails, etc. that would otherwise be difficult to apply in hot weather.
- More pleasant temperatures also make work that requires a lot of elbow grease much more tolerable. It’s a great time to schedule tasks such as polishing and waxing decks and topsides, cleaning and polishing metalwork, and detailing bilges, fish boxes, and other stowage areas.
Still looking for things to do? Here’s a list of potential projects and maintenance regimens to keep you busy during the winter.
- Five Great Winter Boat Projects
- Varnishing Art
- Teak Trimming Tips
- Top Tips for Teak
- Final Finish: Make Your Gel Coat Gleam
There’s absolutely no reason that maintaining your boat should be a stressful, anxiety-inducing problem. In fact, the better and more carefully you maintain your boat during the season, the less likely you are to be surprised by unexpected and costly repairs. So when procrastination tugs at your shirt sleeve at any time in the season, remember that your hard work will pay off in the long run.