Owning a boat is one of the best ways to enjoy the great outdoors. But, without proper boat maintenance, it’s easy for your beautiful boat to slip into disrepair. You must take the necessary time to care for your craft to keep it looking and performing in top shape.
As a boat owner for over two decades, I’ve done my fair share of boat maintenance tasks on crafts ranging from dinghies to sport fishers, and I’ve picked up some tricks along the way.
Today, we’re going to cover all the basic and advanced maintenance that you can easily do to ensure your boat performs at its best next season, including:
Without further adieu, let’s dive in and cover the boat maintenance basics you’ll want to master.
Boat Maintenance Basics
From your boat’s hull to its canvas and upholstery, engine, and electrical systems, there are several areas you’ll need to maintain to keep your boat looking and performing its best.
The first and probably the largest area you’ll need to address is your boat’s hull, beginning with the gel coat.
The gel coat is the durable finish applied to the boat’s hull. Cosmetically, the gel coat helps your boat look its best, and more importantly, it protects the delicate fiberglass hull from being damaged by the sun or sea. Without regular maintenance, your gel coat will become cloudy and unsightly, and eventually, it will degrade to the point it no longer protects the fiberglass below.
Regular gel coat maintenance also prevents you from spending countless hours and lots of hard work restoring the gel coat to its original luster.
Before dropping your boat for the season, wash your boat and apply gel coat wax either by hand with a microfiber cloth and a healthy dose of elbow grease or use a grinder or sander outfitted with a polishing wheel to apply the wax. Repeat this same process at the end of the season before storing your boat.
If your gel coat is cloudy and dingy, use a gel coat polish before you wax. The polish contains specialized ingredients to cut through the oxidation and restore your gel coat to its former glory. Once it’s polished, you can apply wax to increase the shine of your gel coat while protecting it against UV rays, salt, and the environment.
Canvas is a catch-all term for the heavyweight fabrics found in bimini tops, sun shades, covers, and other boat parts. To keep this material looking and performing its best, it should be spot cleaned as necessary.
Begin by removing the canvas material from the boat and laying it out on the ground. Using a snap puller to remove the heavy-duty snaps on the canvas will help prevent tears or damage.
A soft bristle brush, mild soap, and water are all you need to clean canvas. It’s wise to begin with especially dirty areas to remove stains, bird droppings, and other spots that need some extra TLC. Once you’ve addressed those spots, you can scrub the entire canvas with soap and water and then rinse the canvas off with plenty of fresh water before allowing it to dry.
If your canvas is older and loses some waterproof properties, it can be sprayed with 303 or Star Brite to restore it to its original condition.
It’s near impossible to work with marine canvas in cold weather. You’ll want the temperature to hit 65 degrees before re-installing your boat’s canvas, as this will make it easier to stretch and help you avoid tears.
Upholstery, Vinyl, & Brightwork
Any boat made within the last forty years is usually outfitted with plenty of comfortable seating and leaning rails. Vinyl is the most common material for boat upholstery because it’s durable and attractive.
At the beginning of each season, apply a vinyl protectant to help the material repel stains and prevent cracking and tearing. Spot clean vinyl as necessary with a soft brush, mild soap, and warm water. At the end of each season, use a specialized vinyl cleaner and conditioner to ensure your vinyl looks its best for the following season.
You’ll want to clean and condition the wood on classic boats with teak trim on rails, railings, decking, and steps. Wood trim is almost always made from teak, a dense tropical hardwood popular for marine applications. Use a mild cleaner and conditioner designed for teak, and always scrub the wood across the grain, never with the grain, when cleaning.
In the coastal area where I live, it’s easy to find engine and boat maintenance near me. Still, even more landlocked areas typically have several mechanics who can perform recommended maintenance for an inboard boat, or an outboard.
Engine maintenance is expensive, but you can save money and prolong the life of your engine by performing the basics yourself.
Inspect your spark plugs at the beginning of each season and change them if necessary. Inspect all hoses, belts, and engine clamps to ensure they’re in good condition. If you see cracked, torn, or worn belts or hoses, replace them immediately. If your engine clamps or mounts show signs of rust, you want to replace those, too.
Before each trip, ensure you have adequate fuel in the tank and that the fuel vent is open. Inspect engine mount clamps, ensure they’re tight, and clear any debris from the water intake. Finally, inspect the propeller and remove any debris or old fishing line. At the end of each trip, flush the engine to eliminate any sand or debris that may have accumulated.
Boat Trailer Maintenance
If you trailer your boat to and from local boat ramps after each trip, some simple maintenance will save you future headaches.
Before heading out for the season’s first trip, check your trailer’s tire pressure and add air if necessary. You’ll also want to check the brake fluid reservoir and ensure there’s adequate fluid. If not, top it off. Inspect brake pads or shoes, ensure they’re in good working condition, and lubricate your trailer coupling.
After each trip, thoroughly rinse the wheels, brakes, and other components entering the water when you drop your boat.
If you’re using your boat in saltwater, some additional considerations exist to keep your boat and engine performing well.
If your boat has an aluminum anode, you’ll want to replace it with one made from zinc, as it degrades much more slowly in saltwater than aluminum. A coat of antifouling paint on the boat’s underside is also critical, as it will inhibit algae growth, barnacles, and slime under your boat.
Flushing your engine is also exceptionally important when using your boat in saltwater environments, and you’ll want to do so after each use if you’re pulling your boat from the water.
Storing Your Boat
Depending on whether you store your boat on your property or pay for off-season storage, there are a few things you’ll want to do when pulling your boat for the season.
Begin by changing your engine oil and adding a fuel stabilizer to the residual fuel in your gas tank. Run the engine out of fuel. Next, drain and flush your cooling system to prevent it from freezing during the off-season. Use a fogging oil spray and liberally cover the internal components of your engine to protect them against cylinder chafing during the winter. Lastly, disconnect the battery, drain and replace your gear oil and lubricate the engine’s grease fittings.
Once you’ve handled these maintenance steps, all that’s left to do is clean the boat, apply wax to the gel coat, and shrink-wrap the boat to protect it for the winter. You can easily shrink-wrap it yourself using a roll of shrink wrap and a heat gun. Otherwise, any boat storage yard provides this service for a reasonable fee.
Boat Maintenance Cost
Annual boat maintenance costs can vary significantly not only based on who should perform the annual upkeep, but also due to a variety of other factors like size, boat type, and age, with larger, specific types, and older boats generally costing more. How and where the boat is used also impacts costs, as heavy or harsh usage can lead to more frequent, costly services.
You can perform nearly all the necessary maintenance yourself for little more than the cost of materials and supplies, provided you have the time and energy for the job.
Should you leave all your boat care needs to the pros, you’ll pay around 10% of your boat’s retail price for boat maintenance services and storage each year.
Boat Maintenance Checklist
Keep these checklists handy, as they’ll make it easy to identify the critical areas to focus on when maintaining your vessel, in addition to the recommendations provided by your boat or engine manufacturer.
- Check the hull for damage
- Check engine oil and top off as necessary
- Inspect the propeller for debris or damage
- Ensure the battery is adequately charged
- Ensure the telltale is pumping out water
- Check steering
- Check engine temperature and oil pressure are within the expected range
- Check electrical and fire extinguishing systems
- Ensure the bilge pump functions properly
- Check cowl air intakes for blockages
Every 20 Hours
- Check the engine mounting bolts are not loose
- Add gasoline stabilizer to the fuel tank
- Ensure the engine reaches the proper RPM
- Condition vinyl and interiors
Every 50 Hours
- Clean the bilge pump
- Inspect the steering system for leaks and top up the steering fluid
- Inspect fuel lines and replace them if degraded
- Replace the fuel water separation filter
- Wax deck and hull
- Check and tighten every nut and bolt you can reach
- Refill power trim and tilt fluid
- Flush live wells with a 1:1 mixture of water and vinegar
- Inspect and repair engine mounts if necessary
- Replace all filters
- Lubricate every grease point
- Inspect rub rail and repair damage as necessary
- Touch up paint or repaint as necessary
- Wax and polish the deck and hull
- Have the engine and electrical systems inspected by your mechanic as part of the annual boat maintenance checklist
Final Words On Boat Maintenance
Few things are as exhilarating as a day spent at the helm of your boat, and proper boat maintenance is the key to a vessel that performs at its best every time you’re on the water.
If you find any of the activities described in this Boat Maintenance Guide to be out of your comfort zone, or perhaps you simply lack the necessary time and energy, Boat Planet provides an easy way to find a skilled boat mechanic in your area.
What yearly maintenance does a boat need?
Yearly boat maintenance includes engine checks and maintenance, fuel system inspections, hull cleaning, battery tests, safety gear checks, and propeller and hull inspections.
How much does it cost to maintain a boat?
Average boat maintenance costs can vary widely based on the boat’s size, type, age, and usage. You could perform nearly all the necessary maintenance yourself for little more than the cost of materials and supplies. If you use professionals to maintain your boat, expect to pay around 10% of your boat’s retail price, each year. Regular preventative maintenance can help avoid costly repairs in the future.
How often should you run your boat engine?
A boat engine should ideally be run at least every 2-3 weeks to keep it in good working order and prevent potential issues like corrosion and battery discharge.
Why should a boat’s gas tank never be completely filled?
A boat’s gas tank should never be completely filled to allow for fuel expansion. This helps to avoid spills and potential damage to the boat or environment.