Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Boat Maintenance ... A check list to getting you started on your maintenance schedule.

Big or small, basic or customised, every boat needs to be maintained. Fortunately, routine maintenance and small repairs aren't that tough. In the long run, a little elbow grease will definitely pay off.

Our Dreamtime sitting at the dock minus two masts and all rigging.
It was ten years since the last full re-rigging so new bling was required.
In trying to live a more frugal life, We are  getting better at handling projects that we used to pay professionals to do. Being a cruiser also means we need to know a little bit more than the average boater. We travel longer distances and at times are hundreds of miles from the local mechanic. Arm yourself with good maintenance books and reliable service providers that you can call if things do get a little difficult in remote places. We have had to make calls and have been very grateful to the experts on the other end on the Satphone.

You can potentially save a lot of money on labour for a qualified mechanic by buying parts and tools yourself and going the DIY route. After all, your labour is free – as long as you have the time to put in. Just like cars, boats need to have their oil changed. The frequency will vary by model but a good rule of thumb is to change the oil every 100 hours of operation or once a year. The first time we had a service done on Our Dreamtime, Rob asked the attending mechanic if he could watch over his shoulder and learn some basics. Not only was the mechanic obliging but he was enthusiastic in showing us the basic maintenance routine that should be completed by us.

Probably for the cost reason alone, more than a third of the cruisers we have met admitted they wait as long as possible before getting their engine serviced to save money. 

It’s possible; thanks to the internet, and "how to" marine engine books, there are a heap of regular service procedures that you can easily do yourself with literally no prior education about how your boat engine works. If you are still going to use a professional for certain jobs. You can always source all required spare parts prior to them arriving this will save you time and money.

Following is our  basic checklist that we have complied, we should say it's a work in progress as there is always something being added. But it's a start and it may also help you, please remember it is only a guide as all boats are different.

Basic Checks you can do:

Engine Basics:

  • Check oil levels and change the oil if needed
  • Check coolant levels and top up when required
  • Check and change oil filters
  • Test start battery
  • Check for corrosion in and around saltwater inlets
  • Check raw water impeller replace after the recommend hours. This maybe a professionals job depending on location and tools required.

Fuel System:

  • Inspect the fuel system for leaks or damage and be sure to pay special attention to fuel hoses and connections.
  • Evidence of a damaged fuel hose includes softness, brittleness or cracking.
  • Replace components when necessary and verify all fittings and clamps are properly secured.
  • Ensure the engine, exhaust and ventilation systems are all functioning properly.
  • Check and change fuel filters regularly
  • Maintain full fuel tanks to ensure of no condensation build up

Electric System:

  • Inspect all electrical connections for clean, tight, corrosion free connections. Corroded connections can be dangerous
  • Remove corroded terminals and use a wire brush to clean them, along with all cable ends.
  • Keep your batteries cycling/charged by using shore power, solar panels or wind generator. 
  • Replace corroded fuses
  • Electrical systems should be regularly inspected by a qualified technician.

Belts, Cables & Hoses:

  • Check belts, cables and hoses because they can become brittle and may crack during long periods of non use.
  • Belts should fit tightly around pulleys to prevent slipping.
  • A worn belt may leave a black residue near the pulley and will fit loosely.
  • Cracks or swells on the outer jacket of throttle, shift and steering control cables may be of internal corrosion and immanent failure

Don't forget the rest of the boat. 

It is a good idea to go through your owners manual (if you have one, Our Dreamtime came with a 4 hour handover takeover) and write up a maintenance log. The easiest way to do this we found is in a diary. You can then also use the diary to write up any work that was done, giving you an immediate reference to age of work.

Propellers & Hulls:

  • Inspect propellers for dings, pitting, cracks and distortion.
  • Damaged propellers can cause unwanted vibration and damage to your drive shaft.
  • Make sure the propeller is secured properly, and replace anodes when needed.
  • When inspecting the hull, look for blisters, distortions and cracks. Be sure to clean the hull, deck, and topsides using an environmentally safe cleaning solution.
  • Depending on your anti-foul haul the boat yearly. Clean and repainted as required.

Safety Gear:

  • Check your life jackets to ensure they are in good condition, ensure the gas chambers are still in working order. Some types of PFDs are equipped with inflation devices; check to be sure cartridges are secure and charged. 
  • Be sure all onboard fire extinguishers are the correct class for your vessel, and are fully charged and stowed in the proper place. Do you have one accessible from the cockpit, galley, engine room and your crew know how to work them?
  • For any enclosed or semi-enclosed area, ensure you have at least one properly installed and working carbon monoxide detector
  • Consider an EPIRB for situations of distress to ensure you can be found.
  • Take advantage of any safety inspections offered by the Coastguard and VMR
  • Check flares are in date.
  • Life rafts need to be professionally serviced, check for expiry dates.
  • Keep an up to date first aid kit ensuring contents is changed on use by dates (see our first aid kit blog for more info)
  • Radio checks should be completed before leave port on every occasion.
Would you trust a 30 year old life-raft?

Ground Tackle:

  • Anchors secured check shackles for corrosion. 
  • Anchor, chain and rode condition, end for end so wear is even for length.
  • Tackle properly secured.
  • Thimble on rode/chain and safety wired shackles.
  • Chafing gear at chocks for extended stays or storm conditions.
  • Anchor stowed for heavy weather conditions but with quick accessibility.

Deck Gear:

  • Lifelines or rails in good condition.
  • Stanchions or pulpit securely mounted.
  • Hardware tight and sealed at deck.
  • Grab rails secure and free of corrosion or snags that may catch your hands or tear sails
  • Non-skid surfaces free from accumulated dirt or excess wear.

Bilge Pumps:

  • Check pump(s) adequately remove water in emergency
  • Check manual backup
  • bilges clean and free to circulate (clear limber holes)
  • check bilges frequently and do not rely on automatic pumps


  • Strainers, intakes and exhaust or discharge fittings are free from restrictions such as barnacles, marine growth or debris.
  • Inspect sea valves for smooth operation.
  • Handles are attached to valves for quick closure.
  • Hoses are in good condition and free from cracking.
  • Double hose-clamps below the waterline.
  • Anti-siphon valve fitted to marine toilet.
  • Through-hull plugs are near fittings or attached to hose in case of emergency.

Corrosion Prevention:

  • Through-hulls, props, shafts, bearings, rudder fittings, and exposed fastenings free of destructive corrosion.
  • Zincs are adequate to provide protection.
  • Through-hulls are properly bonded.
  • Inspect the steering cables, engine control linkage and cables, engine mounts and gear case for corrosion.
  • Check these items are properly lubricated or painted to prevent undue corrosion.

Gas Systems:

To ensure the safety of gas installations on your boat, you should have the LPG system checked regularly by a licensed gas fitter. You can also carry out the following safety checks yourself:

  • If you smell gas, check the exposed connections with soapy water. Soap bubbles will show any gas leak at the connection point.
  • Always keep LPG cylinders upright and secured in their place. LPG cylinders should never be laid down even when empty.
  • Always store LPG cylinders, fittings and other components in the dedicated gas cylinder compartment.
  • Regularly check LPG cylinder connections and hoses for signs of deterioration and leaks and replace them when necessary.
  • Check for cylinder corrosion regularly.
  • Remember the importance of ventilation for gas appliances. Ensure that there are enough flues and vents where gas appliances operate.
  • Ensure that your mono-hull boat's gas detection systems are re-calibrated at regular intervals.
  • Only use LPG cylinders that are within the 10 year test period. Check testing labels to find out the time of last test – these are printed on the collar of the cylinder.
  • Ensure that the cylinder surface coating is suitable for where it is used. Painted cylinder surfaces may not be suitable if the cylinder is to be exposed to harsh weather or a salt laden environment.


  • Clean and grease all bearings, stem, gear spindles and collets on an annual basis.


  • Remove sail
  • Remove the line (noting the direction on spool).
  • Flush the bearings with soap and fresh water.
  • Clean the foils with soap and fresh water.
  • Run a scrap of luff tape up foil groove to clean.
  • Unit for any signs of chafe, wear, or damage.
  • Screws - loose or missing? These should be secured with Loctite® adhesive, so don't turn the screw as you will release the bond. Merely check to make sure they are secure.
  • Foils - make sure they haven't dropped into the drum assembly; check that the torque tube clamp is tight.
  • Wire - look for signs of wear, unraveling, or loosening.
  • Locknuts on leg kit - see if they're still there and haven't come loose.
  • Lower toggles - check for signs of wear, cracks, and corrosion.
  • Cotter pin at lower toggle - make sure it's securely splayed.

Sail Maintenance:

  • When leaving the boat for a long period, remove sails 
  • If leaving the boat for a shorter period in stable weather, ease the jib halyard, main halyard, and outhaul to prevent permanent luff and foot stretching. 
  • Releasing batten tension also reduces distortion at the batten ends.
  • Limit exposure to the sun. 
  • Rinse your sails with fresh water and dry thoroughly before storing, to prevent mildew and colour bleeding in spinnakers. 
  • Rinse fittings in fresh water to help prevent corrosion and spray with WD40.
  • Store dry sails in a well-ventilated location. 
  • Avoid folding sails on the same fold lines so that small creases don’t become permanent.
  • Remove mildew stains, oil/grease stains and rust stains, Check with your sailmaker his recommendations for cleaning your sails. 
  • Patch minor tears as soon as possible.
  • Spray luff tapes on both genoas and mainsails as they slide up the track, using a Mclube-style lubricant. 
  • Check battens for splintering. Splintered battens should be replaced, or at least taped, so the splinters don’t harm the sail.
  • Check luff slides and other hardware to make sure they are still securely attached to the sail.
  • Check seam stitching to make sure it is still intact. UV can quickly damage certain threads. 
  • Inspect head, tack, clew and reef attachments. Inspect webbing & hardware for chafe and UV damage. Inspect hand stitching.
  • Inspect luff tapes and luff attachments.
  • Inspect for chafe at external hardware contact points at spreaders, shrouds, stanchions etc.
  • Inspect leech line, foot line and attachment system.
  • Inspect sail for UV damage and proper furling side (if applicable).
  • Inspect batten pocket ends, attachments and fit (if applicable).
  • Inspect sail body for condition of cloth, seams, sail numbers, draft stripes and windows. Check, Replace or add telltales 
  • Inspect miscellaneous gear: Spinnaker Snuffer line and hoop, mainsail external flaking system, headsail vertical battens, UV covers, etc.
  • Inspect, rinse sail bag draw string, zippers, web straps, and label properly, lubricate zippers.
  • Remove all lines wash in clean fresh water and use fabric softener to help repel salt water.
  • End for end all lines.
  • Check for chafing, repair any minor chafe with whipping. 

Water Tanks:

In order to insure safe and clean drinking water on board, your boat’s freshwater system needs to be sanitised if it hasn’t been used for some time.
  • drain all of the water out of the storage tank.
  • Measure 1 teaspoon of household bleach per 5 litres (of the tank capacity).
  • Pour it inside the tank and immediately add fresh water to the tank until it’s full.
  • Turn on the water pump and let the bleach water run through all taps for two minutes.
  • let the bleach water sit in the tank for 24 hours. 
  • When the tank is sterilised, drain the water tank by opening all taps.
  • Fill the water tank with fresh water and drain all water again. 
  • Repeat this procedure until the water no longer contains an odour of bleach.

Dinghy Maintenance: 

  • wash down with fresh water and deal to any scuffs with “Jiff”
  • Keep the boat covered when not in use. 
  • Suntan creams and oils like coconut plasticise the fabric and make it go sticky, 
  • Wipe off fuel spills immediately.
  • Use a water based “sunscreen for inflatables” like “Protectant 303” on a regular basis.  A new concept is to have the boat sprayed with a UV protective clear varnish specially designed to protect vinyl signage from sun damage.  experience with the flexi-sides of large trucks and existing inflatables done in 2003.
  • Heat encourages the plasticiser in the fabric to migrate to the surface where it can cause stickiness and even loss of adhesion of the seam bonds. So keep your boat as cool as possible
Check out our dinghy refurbishment project:

Outboard Motor Maintenance:

  • While flushing the motor, check the water pump to make sure it has good water flow. 
  • After flushing the engine, disconnect the fuel line (if applicable).
  • Be sure to turn off the key and, if you have a battery switch, turn it off
  • Take the engine cowling off and check for fuel or water leaks.
  • Wipe down and spray all accessible mechanical components and moving parts with an anti-corrosive.
  • Place the cowling back onto its fittings. 
  • Replace spark plugs and plug wires as needed. 
  • Check regularly for water in the fuel.
  • Check the fuel line fittings.
  • Replace the water pump impeller every two years (annually if it is used in saltwater). 
  • Make sure that you only use fresh fuel.

If you need a “how to” guide for common maintenance and repair tasks, there are numerous books or internet sites here are a few of our go to’s

This service schedule is a guide only. Some  repairs and maintenance need to be done properly. A trained mechanics or service personnel will need to complete certain tasks anyway, even though you can do most things yourself. Things like major repairs are best done by a professional.


  1. Well done and Thank you. Safe and a happy holiday to you

    1. Thanks. Glad you enjoyed the read. Hope you have a great holiday season too. Cheers!


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