OceanCat's maintenance tips

Owning a boat is one thing, but maintaining it is another. It can be a big job and yes, can get expensive. Owning a boat myself, I can feel the pain, but in most cases the cost side of things generally comes down to me. I have found over the years that when I get slack or say “she’ll be right”, it generally won’t be right! Let’s have a look at keeping things right with a general maintenance plan. Depending on your use, it may vary, but the following should be at the very least, the minimum to keep your pride and joy looking neat and staying reliable.

For most of us, we have 3 main components in our boat package: the boat, the motor and the trailer. Each of these parts plays an important role in how you to enjoy your free time so let’s look at what needs to be done for each component. Personally, I think a routine or a 12 month plan works best as you can spread the costs over the year rather than getting a major bill all at once. The major costs each year will be: motor servicing, trailer servicing and any general repairs or replacing of parts, etc. Let’s look at each component separately and walk through the best plans to keep things shipshape and working on your boat.

Washing Down

When a boat is built and delivered to the new owner, of course, it’s all shiny and sparkling. Over time the elements and particularly the sun’s UV rays can affect the finish if not maintained. In the boat again, there are a few components that need to be cared for in different ways, so let’s break them down. The materials in your boat in most cases are UV treated and have very good weather lasting qualities but without any care the life span will decrease if you don’t use the right products to maintain.

First thing I do after a day on the water is park, the rig in its designated spot, unhitch from the vehicle and wind up on jockey wheel so the nose of the boat is facing skywards allowing any excess water to run out from the bung in the back of the boat and trailer. When washing the boat I always start from the top. Hose down the canopy, hard top and any accessories that might be in the area, eg, aerials, GPS receivers etc, etc.

Once you have fully hosed that area down I then give the cockpit the same treatment. Here, I will start at the front and work my way to the back of the boat. I then get my hot, soapy (please check on your soap, some can be quite harsh) water and big sponge out. Again, starting at the top, I sponge over everything to ensure that the soap and hot water remove any salt deposits. Somedays you may not get much water up in this area but salt spray certainly will get there, so just because it never got wet, it doesn’t mean it won’t need a quick wash down. I sponge over everything, canopy and all roof mounted accessories, then rinse off.

I then move to the cockpit and transom area. The upholstery and gunnels get a hose down and then sponge with hot soapy water. Remove everything from the side pockets hose and sponge. By this stage all of the soapy material is on the floor so a quick scrub and hose to the back of boat is all that is needed. Around the dash area a little more care is needed. Here I will lightly sponge over everything and hose down using as little water as possible. Once all of that is done I then hose everything down again to remove any last remnants of soap and salt. Using the hose, work it all to the well of the boat exiting through the bung. While I am here I always give the batteries and deck wash pumps, etc, a bit of fresh water to remove any salt. Inside is done.

The outside is much easier - a quick hose down and repeat with hot water and suds. Now the boat is washed I then flush the motor with fresh water. While the engine is running and flushing, I will start to dry the boat. Again I start at the top and work my way down. Drying the boat makes you go over everything again and sometimes things can be missed so this little bit of extra attention helps keep things right. If water is left on the boat it can cause issues with water staining or can hold salt so can also lead to corrosion and surface rust on deck hardware. If I find any new marks I will polish them out in between half yearly polishes.

That’s the wash down process. Nothing hard there, but I can’t stress enough that salt gets everywhere. I find using hot water works better than just using cold alone. It makes the washing process much quicker and easier and gets better results. If your boat has faded or gone chalky then that is a whole new story - there are different products and applications to bring that back.

Maintaining Boat

Washing down the boat after use is a given. The longevity and reliability of the vessel all comes back to you so let’s look at maintaining each component to minimize the yearly spend and issues when the boat is in use.

Upholstery

Every 3 months I give the upholstery some extra attention. There are many products available to protect and clean the upholstery and you will find them very easy to apply. Again, I start at the top and spray the product all over the canopy top and then wipe over using a nice soft cloth. I give the top a good coat and will often do it twice if it looks a little dry from the sun. This leaves a nice protecting filament over the material and keeps the lustre in the colour and helps to stop fading. It also helps maintain the stitching that holds the material together. I then move to all internal areas that have upholstery: seating, side coamings, etc, everything gets a coat and a good wipe over. You will find most of these products also remove any small stains or grime so it keeps everything looking fresh and new. Try a few different products to find one that you like to use, but I do find that using marine specific products work better and leave less oily residue. Doing this routine will keep the material nice and supple which stops cracking from the UV rays and the salt environment.

Boat

Fittings and fixtures also need maintaining so I polish them at least twice a year. Again, I look for good quality products. I find them much easier to use and longer lasting. Metal components when polished, will make your cleaning clothes go black with grime so once you have polished and removed any left over residue, get a clean cloth and wipe over the same areas again, leaving the metal all clean and gleaming. I always do my metals first because, as mentioned, you will have black clothes and hands so you tend to leave finger prints where they shouldn’t be so the next stage will clean up after the metal polish.

Different boat building materials can have different maintenance requirements but I find that if the boat is in the weather it at least needs two coats of polish a year. There is no right or wrong here, the more you protect the paint or gelcoat the longer it will keep its lustre and good looks. Again, materials have improved with UV treatment but you cannot rely on this alone as time will be your worst enemy and you will hamper your resale value down the track. I use the best quality polishes. I find they are easier to use and leave a nice finish and surface area to clean in between my polishing schedule. When you are spending time around the boat, polishing, you tend to take more notice of things so it is a good time to check over the hull and look for deeper scratches, stress fractures, chips etc. If you find any new marks or structural problems pending on the severity, work them into the schedule to be fixed before they cause other issues.

Electronics

Due to the salt environment, electrical fittings and wiring can, over time, break down, causing corrosion around joins or cracked wires, etc. I don’t go looking for issues here but when I am polishing the boat I will visually check over all areas where electric fittings or wires are positioned. If I see something that doesn’t look right I will fix it straight away. Depending on your skills and available time, if you aren’t confident, then book in to your local dealer or repair centre and get them to fix it. Electrical problems when on the water can be a real issue and very hard to fix when out there, so it is extremely important to keep an eye on this. There is marine grade wiring available and if used, it will reduce problems in this area, but still must be checked and maintained. Batteries must also be checked regularly. A battery isolation switch is a must in any boat fitted with a battery system. When the boat is not in use, the isolation switch can be turned to off stop any unwanted current leaking out thus ensuring you have a battery to start with. If the boat hasn’t been used in some time I do recommend that you put the battery on an external charge to make sure you have full capacity when on the water. Check your terminals and make sure they are nice and clean. If possible, use a terminal spray to help maintain.

Motor

The more you use your engine the better I think they last. All engines have recommended service times but most users work off the hours and not the time. For some out there who aren’t in the fortunate position of being able to use their boat regularly, they don’t put hours onto the engine, and so, don’t worry about servicing until the hours have built up. This is a very bad practice and will at some stage bite you when you least expect it. Engines have many moving parts and when in use can get very hot so the engine oil is designed to keep things running and lubricated. When an engine is sitting idle, moving parts can seize, causing bigger issues. Most engines are serviced at every hundred hours or every 12 months as a general rule. I use my boat all year round but the majority of hours are done around game fishing season so I tend to service my motor around the late October early November ready for the majority of my hours from then on. It is much wiser to schedule your service earlier than the season starts to get in before the rush. Over the years I have run a few dealerships and there is always a Summer rush. I talked many of my customers in to servicing earlier which allowed my technicians to spend quality time on their boats rather than rushing, knowing the work load they had. Many dealerships chase work in the winter time and will offer specials, so if you can adjust your schedule, you may even save a few dollars.

Depending on your experience, I don’t recommend doing to much to your engines. If you get them serviced as per the manufacturers specs then you will find that you will get from season to season with no issues, unless you are doing more than the service hours. If you are doing more than the 100 hours, of course you will have to look at extra servicing to cover yourself, in most cases a simple oil and filter change will be all that is needed. However, if you happen to have fishing line wrapped at some stage around the prop or gearbox then I would suggest taking the prop off to examine. What you are looking for is any strands or lengths of fishing line or even worse, braid. To hold the oil in the gearbox, we need oil seals, and fishing line and braid cause havoc with them, so it is imperative that any traces of line are removed, otherwise the seals could tear, which will let water into your gearbox - an expensive fix!

You can still maintain the outside appearance. I polish my engine when I polish the boat so it gets 2 coats a year. When washing the engine down, make sure that you use plenty of fresh water around the steering connections and tilt areas. A lot of salt can build up here and, over time, can and will cause issues. Flushing the engine after use in the salt is critical. Running fresh water through, removes any salt deposits internally in the engine. If you can do this when the engine is hot or warm is the best, but if you allow the engine to get cool just run it for awhile longer on the hose so it gets warm. Heat helps break down the salt in fresh water which again should leave the engine internally sound and ready for its next use. Once I have flushed and dried the engine I will at least once a month take the cowling off just to have a look and make sure no water has entered leaving salt deposits. If there are signs of salt, I will then degrease the engine and then coat with Yamashield which leaves an oily filament over everything protecting it from salt and water penetration.

Steering

We use different steering systems in boats but the main two in trailer boats are the mechanical steering and hydraulic steering. Both work fine but as you go bigger in boat or engine size. It is worth paying the extra to get hydraulic steering. Maintenance is different on both. Mechanical steering is a little limited on how you can maintain it - the best way is constant use. Using it moves the steering worm therefore preventing it from seizing up. You can apply some small amounts of grease to the motor rod end and let it work into the steering line but it isn’t really that successful. You generally find that once the mechanical steering seizes up it is time to replace the cable. Here you will find the steering is very tight and difficult to turn the engine. If this is the case, replace the cable or go to hydraulic steering. Hydraulic steering does, at times, still need attention. If you find your steering is “notchy” or not turning as quickly as you are turning the whee,l then you may be low on fluid. If this is the case, look further into the problem. Sometimes the fittings can leak or you could have other issues in the line which allows air to enter the system and thus lose pressure to drive or turn the engine. If you find signs of fluid on the fittings or along the line of that section, it must be fixed. Once fixed, you must bleed the air from the lines whilst topping the fluids. There is a technique to this and special tools required so if you aren’t comfortable, I would suggest getting it done by the professionals or, at least do some homework before pulling things apart.

Trailer

The last blog post I did went into a lot of detail around trailers so I won’t go into full detail here. The main thing is to wash down the trailer after every use. Make sure you use plenty of fresh water to wash all components and pay special attention to the disc and brake areas. Bearing maintenance is one of the biggest issues and can really make a good day turn bad. I remember the last time I had an issue. Working in the industry I had the privilege of being able to borrow and use different boats, but with that came the issues of using something that wasn’t familiar. This one day we had a massive day on the water chasing Marlin on the Shelf. Hit the water at 4am and left at 6pm - so a few hours well spent. With the boat on the trailer we proceeded home. As we were traveling I noticed a wheel take off into the bush in front of us. I remember looking at my mate and saying that’s weird where did that come from and then looked in the side mirror to see a massive trail of sparks as my hub was now cutting tracks in the road. Things like this can happen at any time but you won’t always be somewhere where it can be fixed easily so with constant checking and maintenance, hopefully I have saved you the pain of being stuck on the side of the road. Another thing is the winch rope or strap. I didn’t touch on this in the last blog which I am sorry for as this is another area that can let you down when you least expect it. Keep an eye on these things, watch for fraying or tears in your straps. If you notice something I would suggest that you replace it. When winching the boat onto the trailer if these break, things can turn nasty.

In General

In general, everything in and on your boat needs attention.

Washing: every time after use. If you haven’t used the boat in a couple of months then wash to remove any settled dirt and dust

Upholstery: wash every time but clean and protect every 3 months minimum (if left in the sun and elements every month)

Fixtures and fittings (stainless and aluminium): clean and polish at least every 6 months

Gelcoat or high gloss finish paint: polish at least every 6 months or at the very least 12 months

Engine: flush after every trip. Check every month internally for salt or issues, service at least every 12 months depending on hours of usage. Remember service every 100 hours or 12 months which ever is first.

Trailer: check bearings at least every 3 months and before long trips; check and maintain rollers and winch strap as needed. Replace rusted split pins on your multi rollers or any other roller system.

Electrical Wiring: check when doing general maintenance, if you see something that doesn’t look right, get it checked!

Conclusion

Wow, that went for a bit longer than expected so thank you if you hung in there. The thing is there is a lot of information and things to know when owning a boat. Experience is the best way to learn but you will find that most boating people will help when asked. Most of us at one stage or another have had problems. We understand when it happens and will help where possible, but you can’t always rely on that. You must learn and understand as much as you can, so you can help yourself in most or all situations. The best way to learn is to get your hands dirty and not be afraid to look at things. Remember the more you do and understand will only make your boating time more enjoyable and, in the long run, save you money and embarrassing moments on the water. Good luck and enjoy working on your boat!