Updated January 1, 1 . AmFam Team
Your boat is your pride and joy, so you want it looking good and running at peak performance. For that to happen, you’ll have to set aside a little time for important upkeep. That doesn't mean work outweighs play, but the maintenance you do will make you feel proud of your boat, and confident your fun days on the open water will continue.
Boats are meant to sparkle in the sun and should invite guests to kick off their sandals and relax. That's why regular boat maintenance includes brightwork. This simply means cleaning and shining up all the surfaces of your boat, inside and out, making white surfaces bright, chrome shine and all the surfaces gleam.
Regular washing. Dirt and algae can build up on your boat, so a regular cleaning with a boat soap and water will make it easier when it's time for waxing and polishing. In fact, if you're boating in salt water, rinse after every trip. Using a long-handled brush and spray wand is a great help. Here's an easy and fun way to avoid buildup: grab a soft cloth and jump in the water on a hot day and wipe around the water line.
Wax and polish. Fiberglass boats have a tough, glossy finish called gelcoat that protects the fiberglass. To seal it and repel water, dirt and UV rays, regular waxing is recommended. Polish is different — it removes oxidation from gelcoat and makes it shine. You'll want to maintain a twice-a-season regimen that includes both. Some products do double-duty, so shop around.
Canvas and clear PVC. Dirt, salt and debris can build up on canvas tops, sail covers or pockets. To clean them and maintain their UV and waterproofing protection, use a soft brush, mild soap and lots of fresh water. Do a thorough job a couple times a season, and then whenever it gets dirt or debris on it (we're looking at you, birds!) Be careful with those clear plastic windows on your boat. Instead of using an ammonia-based product like Windex that breaks down plastic and cause yellowing, find a spray polish specially made for cleaning clear PVC and your panels will remain clear. In the winter, fold your canvas, roll PVC panels with a layer of plain paper, and store inside to add years to their life.
Vinyl. Do a deep cleaning of all your vinyl twice each season, then do light cleaning about once a month. Bleaches and hard chemicals can damage your vinyl, so use purpose-made vinyl cleaner followed by an application of vinyl protectant. There are also mildew removers available at your local marine supply shop. When you're not using your boat, keep vinyl covered or stowed.
This simply can't be overstated - regular checks and once or twice-a-season maintenance will keep your boat in good working order and be ready for fun every spring.
Oil change. Four-stroke outboards, inboards and stern drive boats need regular oil changes, so figure on doing it every 100 hours or at least once a year. Always use a marine grade oil, and check your owner's manual for the best way to drain and replace your oil.
Check the prop. Even the slightest dent in your prop can affect your boat’s performance. If you have an outboard or stern drive boat, give your prop a look before every launch. Look for cracks, dings or distortion, and take your prop to the boat shop if it's severe. Remove the prop several times during the season for a more thorough check to ensure things like fishing line haven't wrapped around it. Before you put your prop back on, make sure you have a good amount of waterproof grease on the propeller shaft.
Fuel system. Before you launch for the season, look over the entire fuel system for leaks or damage, paying special attention to fuel hoses, connections and tank surfaces. Replace brittle, soft or cracked hoses, any other damaged components, and verify all fittings and clamps are secured.
Belts, cables and hoses. When you pull your boat out in the spring, check belts and cables for wear, and make sure you replace any hoses that may have become brittle over the winter.
Electrical. When you see corrosion on your electrical, you need to do some cleaning to prevent larger issues. Remove corroded terminals and use a wire brush to clean them. Clean up cable ends as well. Charge your battery and have it tested to ensure it holds a charge.
Fluid levels. Maintaining your engine will prevent costly repairs down the road. Regularly check all fluid levels including engine oil, power steering, power trim reservoirs and coolant.
When it’s time to store your boat, shrink wrapping effectively seals out dirt, debris, rain, snow and small animals that can cause damage. To avoid condensation and mold, thoroughly dry out your boat before shrink wrapping, keep air flowing by adding vents and leaving locker, cabin doors and bilge covers open, and try chemical dehumidifiers, which use calcium chloride to absorb moisture and then direct it to holding containers.
Create your winterizing checklist and give your boat — and yourself — a leg up next spring.
Having a boat can make your entire summer feel like vacation, so consider your daily and annual maintenance a labor of love. The better care you give your boat, the longer you'll be able to enjoy it.