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Tips for easy boat maintenance

Tips & Tricks

Savvy Boaters Reveal How They Make Boat Care Easier.

Most boaters are conscientious enough to perform the familiar annual maintenance chores involving things like zincs, bottom panting, tune-ups, and the like. But over the years, savvy owners also pick up their own tips and tricks that can make it a lot easier to keep their vessel shipshape. Below you’ll see some of mine as well as those from knowledgeable boat-owner friends, family, and colleagues that can help you keep your boat running right and looking good with minimal effort.

  1. Lighten Up Boat owners love to talk about their boat’s performance, everything from the props they’re running to the hull design. But one of the most overlooked factors that can negatively impact a boat’s performance is load. Over the course of several seasons, boaters typically bring stuff onboard for one reason or another, but then it never leaves. So every spring I take time to inventory what’s aboard and empty whatever I don’t need. And once I’ve done that, I usually discover that I have a lot more room to bring aboard stuff that really is important, including fishing tackle, tools, and fresh spare parts. You’d be surprised how removing weight from your boat helps with her overall speed, seakindliness, and fuel efficiency.
  2. No-Mess Oil Change Don’t have an oil-change system? No worries. The job doesn’t have to leave a gooey mess in your engine room. Just wrap a large plastic bag around each filter before you remove them. (If your vessel has very large filters, place a small garbage bag in a five-gallon bucket and set it under each one.) There’s no mess, and it’s easy to dispose of the oil and filters properly.
  3. Bright Idea Whether you’ve paid a pro to make your vessel’s wood shine like a diamond or put in the sweat equity yourself, keeping it looking great all season takes time and effort. For those occasional dings and scratches, our own Capt. Bill Pike suggests emptying a nail polish bottle (don’t tell the wife) and filling it with varnish. Next, wrap a piece of 220-grit sandpaper around it, secure it with a rubber band, and you have an instant brightwork repair kit.
  4. Clean Inside Depending on the location of your boat, you probably end up washing and waxing her two or three times a season. But you need to pay just as much attention to the areas of your boat that aren’t so visible.

    Fortunately, cleaning your bilges needs to be done only about once a season, says boat owner and broker Scott Shane. Shane suggests that when you first launch your boat for the year you pour some Tide detergent and fresh water into the bilge before taking her out for that inaugural spin. After giving the vessel a good wring-out, break out a wet-dry shop vacuum and pick up the dirty water. Your bilges will not only be clean but your boat will be minus that telltale odor.
  5. Get Organized Face it, if you use your boat, stuff is bound to move and screws will inevitably come loose and eventually fall out. That’s why most knowledgeable owners carry spares onboard. I do just that, but I used to toss them into the nearest drawer, figuring I’ll remember where they are when I need them. I almost never do. Fortunately I’ve found a better way. Being an angler, I have lots of compartment-filled tackle organizers that I use to store spare swivels, hooks, lures, and such. I just stopped by my local tackle shop and bought one more of these organizers and loaded it up with an assortment of spare screws. It’s been a real headache-saver.
  6. Soft Lines Stiff docklines can be a pain to handle, much less to wrap around a cleat and tie off. But there’s an easy way to bring them back from their rigor mortis stage. After washing the lines in mild detergent and rinsing them thoroughly with fresh water, I soak the lines in fabric softener overnight. You’d be amazed at how they come back to life. If your lines are too big for a five-gallon bucket, try using a cooler.
  7. Lined Up For the savvy do-it-yourselfer, here’s a shaft-alignment tool my dad came up with that you can easily make for less than $100. You’ll need an aluminum tube about one foot long and about the diameter of your boat’s propshafts. (The diameter of the one illustrated here is 1 3/8" and came from a backyard umbrella stand.) Next, have a machinist make two round compression fit (aluminum) ends for the tube with a centered hole in each one. (You can glue them into the tube, too.) Have the same machinist use a metal lathe to shape a head section (with a centered hole) from a piece of bar-stock aluminum that can slide over the tube snuggly. (The cost for the machine work is about $45.) You’ll have to add four threaded setscrews, which you can pick up at Home Depot, at the top of the head at three, six, nine, and twelve o’clock. These will secure a $36 Radio Shack laser pen on centerline.

    Once you’ve got the completed assembly, place the contraption in your boat’s strut, and with a piece of tape, secure the laser pen’s “on” switch. Adjust the tube until the light travels all the way up through the shaft log and transmission coupling. If the laser beam is weak, make minor adjustments to the tube’s position inside the head until the beam shoots strongly for the entire distance. When the laser beam hits the center of the coupling, you’re ready to install the shaft.
  8. Over the Top Overfilling your boat’s marine gear fluid can be just as detrimental to your machinery as under filling it. If you add too much transmission fluid, use a turkey baster or other squeeze bulb to extract some and get the level where you want it.
  9. Super Scrubber My dad has a round-bottom Downeast-style boat, and he found a way to clean her hull bottom without having to don a mask and fins. He took one of my old hockey sticks and through-bolted a deck brush to it at the blade. The resulting tool can reach most anywhere from the waterline to the keel. All it takes is elbow grease. Fortunately, the natural buoyancy of the hockey stick helps keep the brush up against the boat’s hull. This setup also works well for cleaning in and around the seawater intakes.
  10. Instant Winterization If you have a diesel-powered boat with crash pumps and are doing your own winterization, there’s an easy way to protect your motors and get that engine-saving Nontox into your powerplants. At the crash valves, plumb in a three-way valve, like my friend Capt. Chris Squeri did on his Viking 35. Attach a hose into the valve and put the other end into a bucket of Nontox, turn on the water, open the valve, and run the motors.

    Now my boat is used all winter long, but because of the cold climate, I have to winterize my boat after each trip. Unfortunately there’s no running water at my marina so I run a small, 120-volt, low-volume pump connected to a garden hose, one end in a bottle of Nontox, the other gets threaded onto each of my outboards. (It’s important to use a small pump so you don’t blow out the engine’s impeller.) With a flip of a switch on the pump, the Nontox flushes the motors.

    After the motors are done, the genset gets the same treatment. For this application, my brother Chip drilled a hole in the top of the strainer cap and added a hose barb. To flush, I shut the through-hull, open the fitting, and attach a hose. With the other end of the hose in the Nontox, I start the genset and it pulls the liquid through everything from the strainer back. For my two outboards and genset, I use about three gallons of Nontox per trip.

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This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.