Boat Maintenance Tips
By Rod Evans
In a perfect world, taking your boat out on the lake or in the gulf would be the ideal remedy for a blazing hot summer day. But this past summer’s hot weather made just getting out on the water a matter of survival.
With the cooler weather upon us, perhaps you’re looking to make up for some lost time by heading to your nearest body of water. However, it’s a good idea to make sure your boat is equally as ready as you are.
“It’s a lot of work to get a boat up to standards, but it’s even more work if it breaks down in a strange location, like in the gulf,” said Dan Cantrell, the delivery captain for Marine Max in Seabrook.
Cantrell says if your boat has been inactive for a while, it’s advisable that either you or your mechanic perform some basic maintenance.
He says a good place to start is the sea strainers for the air conditioning and the main engine. Those should be checked and cleaned, with special attention paid to possible algae build up in the air conditioning system.
The impellers should be replaced after 100 hours of use. Cantrell says the devices will fail to pump enough water to cool the engine if they are worn.
Fuel filters are another important area that must be inspected before taking your boat out, and making sure you add a fuel stabilizer to your fuel tank is critical as well.
“Stabilizers are a necessity these days,” Cantrell says. “If the boat has been sitting for a month or more, the ethanol will separate and play havoc with the engine. Running your boat without stabilizers can lead to some pretty expensive repairs.” He recommends stabilizers sold by Star Brite or Sta-Bil.
According to Cantrell, who teaches boating safety and maintenance seminars at Marine Max, inspecting the condition of the steering connections is often overlooked. “You’ve got to check the turnbuckle and all of the steering mechanisms for rust and, if you have cable steering, make sure it is not locked up. Be sure to look for any hydraulic leaks and check for sufficient pressure.”
Cantrell says another oft forgotten maintenance concern is inspecting the shaft log and rudder post, especially making sure the packing gland is functioning properly.
On the safety front, Cantrell says boaters should inspect the fire extinguishers annually, but also give a quick look at the gauge indicator periodically to check for signs of lost pressure or discharge. All flares should be changed annually and life jackets should be U.S. Coast Guard approved. Don’t leave the dock without a hand held VHF radio and GPS system loaded with fresh batteries.
“If you’ll be boating with kids, allow them to decorate their life jacket with reflective stickers because they make it easier to find them if they should go overboard. Also, attach a whistle to the jacket. It might be a little annoying at times, but will come in handy if you’re searching for them,” Cantrell says.
He says many boaters opt for having the Coast Guard Auxiliary give their boat an inspection for an added peace of mind. The agency will issue a sticker to be displayed on the boat indicating all safety checks have been performed.
One of the best things boaters can do, he says, is leave a “float plan” with family or friends that details where and when you’ll be boating, which could prove valuable should something happen on the water.
For Cantrell, perhaps the best habit to get into is doing a quick inspection of your boat at the dock. “If you haven’t run the boat in a while, start up the engine and let it get up to operating temperature. Check for any leaks by sight and smell. Check all of the engine fluid levels before you leave the dock.”
He also recommends becoming a member of organizations like Sea Tow or Boat U.S., which offer rescue assistance among other services.
“Making sure your boat is ready at the dock is the key,” Cantrell says. “There’s usually no one out there to help if you have trouble.”