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Boat Maintenance Guide: How to Care for Your Pleasure Craft

September 29, 2021

Maintenance is an important part of owning a boat. Even though boats today are designed to be as low-maintenance as possible, there are still several things you need to do to keep your craft in good condition and prevent incidents on the water.

Not sure where to start? Read on for Drive a Boat Canada’s guide to boat maintenance. Note that there are many different types of boats and engines, so in addition to following these general guidelines, it’s always a good idea to check your owner’s manual for specific instructions about care and maintenance.

Exterior cleaning

It’s important to clean the exterior of your boat regularly. In addition to keeping your boat looking its best, regular cleaning helps prevent mildew and erosion. It protects the boat’s structure and prevents the spread of invasive species as you take your boat from one waterway to the next. Cleaning your boat can even help save fuel—a dirty hull increases fuel expenditure by as much as 30%!

The hull

It’s a good idea to wash your boat down after every one or two excursions. This will help keep buildup to a minimum and make periodic in-depth cleaning easier. Always use fresh water when hosing down your boat.

If your hull is made of fibreglass, it will usually have a gel coat finish that protects it from salt water, sun and the elements. Gel coats need to be waxed and polished a few times a year to remain in good condition. A gel coat with an oxidized, chalky appearance is a sign that it needs a wax!

Canvas and upholstery

Canvas is a general term for the types of fabrics commonly found on boats, from tops and covers to sails. Canvas and upholstered seating should be washed periodically with a light brush or sponge, mild soap and fresh water to prevent mildew. If mildew stains appear despite your best efforts, you can try to eliminate them with Oxy Clean diluted with water.

Vinyl is a fabric that is often used on boats because it is durable and easy to clean. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is often used to create clear window-like panels in canvas elements. Note that vinyl and PVC should never be washed with strong ammonia or bleach-based cleaning products.

Beginning of the boating season

It’s important to perform inspections, checks and maintenance at the beginning of each season to make sure your boat is ready for the water after a winter of disuse.

Here is a checklist of tasks to carry out before taking your boat out for the first time in the spring.

  • Change the oil
  • Check the fuel system: Inspect the fuel lines to make sure they aren’t brittle or cracked. Look for any stains around the fittings and stay alert for the smell of fuel.
  • Check the electrical system: Tighten the electrical connections, particularly battery cables, and test the battery with a voltage meter. Almost 10% of tows are the result of battery failure!
  • Maintain the bilge pumps: Check the bilge pumps for debris and foreign objects, and drain any accumulated water from rain or snowfall.
  • Inspect the boat safety equipment: Check the expiry dates on fire extinguishers and flares, replace batteries on alarms, etc.
  • Clean and wax: Give your boat a thorough cleaning and wax your gel coat.
  • Check your registration: Make sure it’s up to date!

Every time you go out

There are a few things you should do every time you go out to make sure your boat remains seaworthy.

Before every trip

Before every trip, check to make sure you have enough fuel, oil, and battery power. Make sure your bilge pump and water intake are free of debris, and check your hull for damage. Finally, inspect your propeller. Check for damage, debris and fishing lines, and make sure it’s well secured to prevent it from coming loose on the water.

After every trip

Regardless of where you’re boating, it’s important to flush your engine with fresh water after every trip. This prevents salt from corroding the internal components of the engine in saltwater, and eliminates sand, mud and debris in freshwater. Some boats have built-in flushing systems. For those that don’t, devices called flushers are available for purchase.

Periodic maintenance and checks

Some elements of your boat should be checked and maintained periodically throughout the season to make sure everything remains in good working order.

  • Check oil: Oil should be checked regularly and changed every 50-100 boating hours.
  • Inspect lines and hoses: Fuel lines and hoses should be checked for wear, corrosion and leaks. Electrical lines should be checked for damage as well.
  • Lubrication: Moving parts should be lubricated periodically with anti-corrosive. Fastenings such as zippers and snaps should be lubricated as well, and the prop shaft should be greased regularly.

End of boating season

At the end of the boating season, a certain amount of maintenance must be done to prepare your boat for winter storage.

End of season maintenance

  • Winterize mechanical systems: Drain your plumbing and other systems of water, and add antifreeze.
  • Remove canvas: Clean, remove and store canvas inside. PVC panels should be rolled up with butcher paper between the layers to prevent sticking.
  • Remove loose equipment: Remove and store loose equipment such as PFDs, fire extinguishers, flares etc.
  • Clean and wax the boat
  • Change oil and filters: Change the oil and replace the fuel and oil filters.
  • Fill fuel tanks: Fill fuel tanks to at least 90% and add stabilizing agents.

Winter storage

There are a few different options for storing your boat over the winter.

  • Outdoors: If you are storing your boat outdoors for the winter, it’s important to cover it in a way that keeps precipitation away but allows enough airflow to prevent mildew. You can use a tarp, but the ideal is to have the boat professionally shrink-wrapped.
  • Indoors: There are facilities available for those who prefer to store their boat indoors. You can rent a storage unit or obtain space in a dry-stack storage facility. Indoor storage is ideal for protecting your boat from the elements, but it can be expensive, and your boat may not be easily accessible over the winter.
  • On the water: Many marinas offer winter storage right on the water. Bubblers or de-icers are used to keep ice from forming near the boats.

Boat maintenance costs

Annual maintenance rarely costs more than 10% of the boat’s original price, and often much less, particularly early on in its lifespan. Of course, maintenance costs vary depending on the size and type of boat and how often it’s used.

Boat maintenance is well worth the effort!

Now that you know how to care for your pleasure craft, it should be easy to keep things shipshape! With proper maintenance, you can extend your boat’s lifespan and prevent unfortunate incidents like your battery dying on the water.

Don’t forget that in order to operate a boat on Canadian waters, you’ll need your Canada boating license, which you can obtain from Drive a Boat Canada when you pass the online boating exam!