Whether we like it or not, boat maintenance is essential for boat owners to keep their boats functioning properly. Here are some tips from our experts to make life easier

It may not be anyone’s favourite thing to spend their time doing, but boat maintenance is crucial for any boat owner, to ensure their boat is ready to sail safely and efficiently.

Boat maintenance takes many forms, from the major modifications you may wish to make in the off season, to small repairs on-the-go that keep your boat running smoothly.

Although we all have to act in a reactionary fashion to an extent – things do sometimes go wrong which need fixing the moment the problem rears its head – it is best to get ahead of problems and ensure the whole boat is in the best possible shape before setting off on a trip or launching for the season.

This sort of preemptive boat maintenance can seem like an ever expanding list of things which need doing, but out panel of experts are here to list some of the coming problems that can crop up onboard to give you the best chance of getting ahead of potential boat issues.

Check your tiller steering – Ben Sutcliffe-Davies

Make sure your emergency tiller is sound. Credit: Ben Sutcliffe-Davies

Make sure your emergency tiller is sound. Credit: Ben Sutcliffe-Davies

Does your yacht have emergency tiller steering? When was the last time you checked it?

It is important to make sure everything still fits together and works correctly.

A yacht I recently surveyed had wheel steering, and the steel tube for emergency steering had completely corroded away.

Fitting shaft anodes securely – Vyv Cox

This typical anode is well fitted but too far forward to offer maximum protection to the propeller. Credit: Vyv Cox

This typical anode is well fitted but too far forward to offer maximum protection to the propeller. Credit: Vyv Cox

Shaft anodes are by far the best way to prevent galvanic corrosion between the typical manganese bronze propeller (actually a modified brass) and stainless steel shaft, probably the most common combination.

Shaft anodes will also help to prevent unwanted corrosion between the brass or bronze blades and hubs of folding or feathering propellers and the stainless pins that connect these together.

Shaft anodes are simple things, basically a short tube with rounded ends, cut in half lengthways so they can be fitted, then bolted back together onto the shaft.

Ideally anodes should be fitted close to the P-bracket but not so close that it prevents water flow through the cutless bearing. A 25mm gap is about right.

Many owners find that having fitted one at the beginning of the season, after a couple of months it has loosened so much that it rattles against the P-bracket or falls off when the bolts become completely detached. I sometimes read that applying Loctite to the bolts will prevent this, but the real answer is to fit the anode correctly.

Firstly, abrade the shaft lightly to ensure a good electrical contact. Corrosion protection relies on the transfer of electrons and this will not happen if the shaft is fouled before the anode is fitted.

Next, put the anode onto the shaft and tighten the bolts, ensuring that the spaces between the halves are equal on both sides. Now comes the critical part.

Take a hammer in each hand, at least 1lb in weight each but preferably two. Strike the two halves of the anode simultaneously with the two hammers, knocking them together.

It will now be possible to tighten the bolts some more. Keep repeating the process until the bolts can no longer be turned. Your anode is now fixed until you decide to remove it.

Out of sight but not out of mind – Dag Pike

Check gas lines onboard a boat by bending them in a tight curve to check for any cracking. Credit: Dag Pike

Check gas lines onboard a boat by bending them in a tight curve to check for any cracking. Credit: Dag Pike

Cooking by gas is still popular on yachts and any installation using gas cylinders needs careful management.

As gas is heavier than air, leaks will sink into the bilges rather than disappear into the air, so it is vital you install a gas leak detector or gas sniffer onboard.

However, it is best to stop leaks in the first place.

The gas cylinder should be in a locker that is sealed off from the rest of the boat so that any leak can only escape out into the air or through an overboard drain, which should be regularly checked to ensure it remains clear.

The cylinder needs to be well secured in the locker and no other gear should be stowed with it. When you come to inspect the gas system, it will probably be a mixture of fixed and flexible pipes.

Check the flexible pipes by bending them in quite a tight curve to see if there are any cracks. Replace the hose if there is any cracking.

Check all the connections to ensure they are tight and use a mixture of washing-up liquid and water to brush over the connections to ensure that there are no leaks.

Check your pop rivets – Ben Sutcliffe-Davies

Make sure rivets are secure. Credit: Ben Sutcliffe-Davies

Make sure rivets are secure. Credit: Ben Sutcliffe-Davies

When the mast is down it’s easy to check the pop rivets used to secure fittings or a joint.

Salt crystals get underneath rivets, especially if they are becoming loose, which can cause corrosion.

Make sure you use the right type of rivets and they are secure.

Avoid dissimilar metals touching each other; there are insulators available to help.

Check your steering cables & carry spares – Rachael Sprot

An emergency tiller will get you to shelter, where you can replace cables. Credit: Graham Snook/Yachting Monthly

An emergency tiller will get you to shelter, where you can replace cables. Credit: Graham Snook/Yachting Monthly

Steering cables are often forgotten about.

Although most boats are equipped with an emergency tiller, you really don’t want to travel far like this.

Think of your emergency tiller as a way to get you to shelter where you can set about replacing broken steering cables before going into harbour.

Check the condition of the cables and order spares before leaving.

Clean out your bilge – Graham Walker

Regularly flushing out your bilge will make sure it stays in good working condition. Credit: Graham Walker

Regularly flushing out your bilge will make sure it stays in good working condition. Credit: Graham Walker

Have you ever noticed how much debris finds its way down into the bilge of the boat?

The bilge on our Ovni is normally totally dry so we have no need to regularly pump it out.

On one occasion we had been living aboard for about a year when we decided to flush the bilge through with fresh water. We were amazed to see how much general debris found its way to the suction head and mesh screen filter.

There was enough general gunk jamming the head that it would have compromised the bilge pump if we had needed it in anger.

We now have a routine of flushing the bilge through with fresh water every few months to clear out any debris, which also has the benefit of ensuring a regular test of the bilge pumps.

Record your engine data – Rachael Sprot

Log your settings daily to hep you gauge the state of your engine

Log your settings daily to hep you gauge the state of your engine

Some engine problems, like inefficient cooling due to a worn-out raw water pump, develop gradually over time and can go unnoticed until they become critical. The solution?

Make a note of the normal operating temperatures and pressures from your engine every day in the log book.

Once the engine is warmed up, note down the RPM, temperature, oil pressure and charging voltage; it is amazing how consistent these are until things go wrong.

Locating spares on board – Julian and Patricia Morgan

Using clear boxes makes it easier to find spares onboard. Credit: Patricia and Julian Morgan

Using clear boxes makes it easier to find spares onboard. Credit: Patricia and Julian Morgan

Long distance cruising necessitates a high level of self-sufficiency.

A large part of this is having the necessary spares to make repairs and replace broken equipment. The problem is finding the part you need when you need it.

This problem is compounded by often having to store spares in highly inaccessible regions of the boat, like in the bilge under the bed in the guest cabin.

Our solution is to catalogue all of our spares in detail in a spreadsheet describing the item (with linked photos in some cases) and where it is stored on the boat. We label our spares containers with their storage location so they go back in the right place.

We tend not to label the boxes with their contents but rather mark a box as say Sundry Spares Box 14, with the contents of that box listed in our spreadsheet.

We keep laminated printouts of the spreadsheet in our chart table in case of IT issues.

Check the propeller is seized off – Ben Sutcliffe-Davies

Ensure your propeller is properly seized off before launching. Credit: Theo Stocker

Ensure your propeller is properly seized off before launching. Credit: Theo Stocker

Before launching, make sure the propeller is correctly seized off.

It’s amazing how often at survey that I find propellers not fully seized.

Make sure the anode is right for the water you are keeping the boat in predominantly, and that the bonding is working by using a multimeter set to ohms and a resistance of less than 0.2.

Check your hatch handles – Will Bruton

Handles stuck to hatches with glue are susceptible to failure over time, as the crew is degraded by the sun. Credit: Will Bruton

Handles stuck to hatches with glue are susceptible to failure over time, as the crew is degraded by the sun. Credit: Will Bruton

On a recent yacht delivery we had a nasty surprise. We were beating to windward in a stiff breeze at night and didn’t notice that a handle on the forward-facing hatch had failed, resulting in a lot of water inside the forward cabin.

The Lewmar handle was glued on to the hatch and over time, the glue had gradually degraded in the sun.

Lewmar no longer makes this catch and the retrofit replacement has a screw through to a keeper plate on the outside of the hatch, making it much more secure.

But our experience is a timely reminder to check all hatch handles to make sure they are firmly in place before setting off.

If the handle falls off, a home-made blanking plate would make a temporary fix. Credit: Will Bruton

If the handle falls off, a home-made blanking plate would make a temporary fix. Credit: Will Bruton

All the boat’s hatches had been tested by spraying freshwater over the seals; clearly a poor simulation of a big wave rushing over the topside of the boat.

It is also a good idea to protect deck fittings from damaging UV; fabric covers for hatches will dramatically increase their life. Carrying home-made blanking plates for failed hatches and portholes is good seamanship.

Consider what you could use that you already have on board to block a failed hatch from the outside quickly and easily.

Check your air filters – Harry Dekkers

Check your air filters for a healthy engine. Credit: Harry Dekkers

Check your air filters for a healthy engine. Credit: Harry Dekkers

My Nicholson 35 came with a 1974 Mercedes OM636 diesel engine, which runs well.

However, the air filter was almost black, caused by particles of dirt and parts from the V-belt, which was poorly aligned.

Diesel engines need a huge amount of air for combustion so regularly checking filters is a good habit to develop. I also replaced some of the engine systems such as the water filter and the exhaust.

I took the opportunity to add a water separator to the fuel filter and re-route the cooling water hoses, reducing the total length of freshwater hose by nearly 1m.

Carry a spare gas regulator – Graham Walker

Carrying a spare gas regulator could make the difference between continuing your voyage or having to turn back. Credit: Graham Walker

Carrying a spare gas regulator could make the difference between continuing your voyage or having to turn back. Credit: Graham Walker

We had just left the Galapagos heading for the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia. We had three weeks at sea ahead of us and were making excellent progress.

After our first night at sea we tried to light the stove to make the tea. No joy.

On investigation we discovered that the gas bottle, that had been completely full the day before, was now empty. The cause was a failed regulator that had developed a leak.

On Barracuda we carry a spare gas regulator exactly matching the one in service, so it was half an hour of work to replace it, test the joints and then have the gas system back in service in time for breakfast.

We were also carrying extra supplies of gas so the loss was not an issue.

Without having the spare regulator we would have been heading back to the Galapagos Islands to try and find a replacement during COVID.

Instead we were able to enjoy one of the best sails of our lives.

Check your coupling – Theo Stocker

Make sure the bolts on your propeller shaft coupling are long enough. Credit: Theo Stocker

Make sure the bolts on your propeller shaft coupling are long enough. Credit: Theo Stocker

Our standard engine check includes oil levels, fuel filter, alternator belt and water strainer. It doesn’t include our shaft coupling, but it will now.

Having put a reconditioned engine in our Sadler 29 last spring, everything was running beautifully, until we suddenly lost propulsion.

The engine was still running, but the boat went nowhere. We quickly identified the problem.

There was a clear inch between the faces of the propeller shaft coupling, where there should be none.

The bolts in the shaft coupling had vibrated loose and the shaft slid aft. Luckily no damage was done, but it could have been serious.

On closer inspection, the bolts were slightly too short, and the nylon ring of the unlock nuts hadn’t fully engaged with the thread.

It now has longer bolts, new nylocks, and a drop of Loctite for good measure.


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