Home PRACTICAL Boat Maintenance Tips to Help Keep You Afloat
Boat Maintenance Tips to Help Keep You Afloat

Boat Maintenance Tips to Help Keep You Afloat

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  • … with some regular checks and ongoing TLC, not only will you ensure a pleasurable time out on the water, you’ll keep your kit in tip-top condition.
  • The biggest cause of problems inside any boat is the cold, damp environment that we operate in.
  • Invest in a decent cover that keeps rain and moisture out but still allows air to flow through it.

A few hours of basic care and maintenance every so often can help keep your boat operating safely and without issues. RYA powerboat trainer Graham Stones shares a few of his key maintenance tips to keep things ticking over …

You don’t need to be a professional to carry out most simple tasks that will help make your days afloat more pleasurable. These tasks can play a big part in making your boat a nice place to be and even help maintain resale values.

A badly maintained trailer could put paid to an enjoyable day afloat before you even get to the slipway. Consider getting your trailer serviced regularly by a professional as you would with your outboard engine or car.

Check the condition of brakes and bearings regularly. Flush them through thoroughly with fresh water after each dunking. Fitting a flushing kit makes this a lot easier. If there is a grease nipple on the wheel hub, pump some fresh grease in there regularly.

Check that all the rollers roll freely and aren’t damaged, which can lead to damage to the hull or difficulty launching and recovering. Replace any rollers that don’t roll and swinging arms that don’t swing.

Give the tow hitch a bit of attention occasionally. A bit of grease inside the hitch reduces noise and vibration when towing. A liberal spray with WD-40 will keep the hitch lock mechanisms operating easily.

Similar care can help keep your winch operating efficiently. Lubricate the moving parts and keep an eye on the condition of the winch strap and hook. Replace at the first sign of any wear and tear or UV damage, as there’s nothing more embarrassing than a boat that’s rolled off its trailer halfway down a slipway due to a failed £15 winch strap. Don’t forget the secondary means of attachment for the boat to the trailer and trailer to the car. Again, cheap to replace, expensive if it fails.   


Hull

Keep your bottom clean and shiny. We all like better performance and less fuel consumption, but a good clean and polish allows you to become intimate with your hull and spot any small signs of damage before they become bigger problems.

Try to repair any knocks or damage to gelcoat above or below the waterline as soon as possible to prevent water ingress into the fibreglass laminate and core, beneath which can lead to more serious structural problems. Gelcoat repair products that come in tubes with a hardener are good for this as they are easy to mix and go off quickly. Small enough to fit in any tool kit or locker on board, it doesn’t matter if it’s not pretty or a good colour match for a temporary repair, but it could prevent a much bigger fix being necessary if water gets in where it shouldn’t. It could just be a quick repair, so you can carry on enjoying the day’s boating and then fix properly the following week or at the end of the season. 


Tubes

The tubes on your RIB are an expensive part of the boat. They can be kept in good condition with a simple bit of care every so often. There are many good cleaning and aftercare products available now that will get even the dirtiest and saddest-looking tubes looking like new. The cleaning products are simple to use – spray the product on, leave for a short time, clean with a kitchen scourer to remove surface dirt and nastiness around joints and handles and other fittings, and hose off with clean water to finish. This can remove all sorts of mould, oxidation, stains and growth that get in the nooks and crannies, leaving your RIB looking 10 years newer than it is. You’ll be amazed what a couple of hours can do to improve the appearance of your pride and joy.


Engine

Like a modern car, there is not much in terms of major servicing or repairs that can be done on a modern 4-stroke outboard or diesel inboard without a laptop to plug in running some expensive software. You’re best advised to leave the major servicing and repairs to the experts rather than risk further problems later down the line. However, there are some basic tasks that we can undertake as amateurs that will get us more familiar with our equipment and perhaps allow us to spot potential issues before they develop further. Next time your engine is being serviced, ask the mechanic if you can watch and ask questions.

Get yourself familiar with and use the grease nipples for the steering and tilt mechanisms regularly, using marine-grade grease.

Check and top up the fluid in hydraulic steering systems if it is getting low or the steering feels ‘clicky’ when turning or soft when at full lock. It should be smooth through the turn and the wheel should stop turning at full lock. Air in the system isn’t good and may need bleeding – again a simple job with a filling kit, which is cheap to buy or easy to manufacture yourself.

If you have cable steering, keep the helm end of the cable well lubricated inside the console, and the same with the steering arm at the other end. Check that it has not been bent by mooring lines or towlines caught round it. The cable can be withdrawn from the engine steering tube using a big adjustable spanner, and any dried grease can be removed easily with WD-40 and a rag, and then new grease applied to keep things operating smoothly.

Check the condition of your prop. Remove any sharp bits of damage with a file. Significant damage can be repaired by a prop specialist at relatively modest rates. If you operate in waters with lots of fishermen, check your prop shaft for signs of fishing line. This can get wound in behind the prop into the gearbox shaft seal, allowing seawater into the gearbox oil, which emulsifies and loses all its lubricating properties. Five minutes spent removing the prop for a quick check can save a fortune having your gearbox internals rebuilt. Replace the thrust washers etc. in the order you remove them from the shaft, and don’t forget a bit of grease on the prop shaft and a new split pin when putting it all back together.

If you leave your boat for long periods, give consideration to your fuel system to reduce problems next time you are out. Try to leave tanks full to reduce air in them and any likelihood of moisture from condensation. Use a fuel treatment to help prevent diesel bug or stabilise petrol, which suffers from evaporation of its different chemical components over time when sat in a tank and can affect performance as the ethanol and octane levels change. Vented tanks suffer more problems than sealed tanks as they allow more evaporation.

Check that the kill cord switch functions correctly each time you go afloat and replace any worn, overstretched or UV-damaged kill cord lanyards with an original manufacturer’s kill cord from a local engine parts dealer – or they are also now available from the RYA online shop.


Interior and equipment

The biggest cause of problems inside any boat is the cold, damp environment that we operate in. This can lead to everything from bad smells and mould to corrosion of vital electrical equipment. Try to get fresh air through the inside of cabins and lockers as often as possible. Invest in a decent cover that keeps rain and moisture out but still allows air to flow through it. Where possible, leave hatches, lockers, seat pods etc. open to allow things to dry out inside. Lift seat cushions and jockey seat bases to allow air to circulate round them and water to drain out, which doesn’t happen if they are left flat. Give everything a liberal flushing with fresh water every so often to remove any salt, which attracts moisture and stops things drying out completely. Clean and lubricate any zips on covers and upholstery etc. to get rid of any salt and keep them moving freely.

If you have a cabin and power available nearby, leave a small dehumidifier and tube heater running with any other cabin and locker doors open to keep the inside living space dry and smelling fresh next time you step on board. Drain the dehumidifier into a sink or other outlet for continued use. The small amount of power consumed will make the cabin a much nicer place to be and help retain resale value later down the line.

Over the winter, try to transfer as many things as possible from lockers etc. to somewhere dry at home – in the garage or attic, perhaps – to give you the chance to wash them and dry them properly ready for next season.

Don’t scrimp on cheap electrical fittings, which may be fine at home or in an automotive environment, but will let you down in a damp, salty boat. Use sealed marine connectors and decent tinned cable rather than cheap crimped connectors and basic copper wire.

So, with some regular checks and ongoing TLC, not only will you ensure a pleasurable time out on the water, you’ll keep your kit in tip-top condition.

Want to know more about engine maintenance? The RYA’s Diesel Engine course is a one-day beginner’s course aimed at helping you prevent and solve diesel engine failure. You can find out more at www.rya.org.uk/go/courses.

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