The single biggest aspect of efficient boat maintenance is to have a mindset that makes looking after the craft a constant process, rather than one that’s saved up for a winter refit period. This means any problems can be caught early on before there’s a risk of expensive and time-consuming consequential damage.
With the right approach much can be done to minimise the costs of boat maintenance. Just follow our 10-step plan.
- Do small jobs yourself.
- Give any damage immediate attention.
- Take care of the engine.
- Keep the interior fresh.
- Carry out annual maintenance in early summer.
- Moor securely and safely.
- Minimise external woodwork and paint.
- Look after the batteries.
- Hide from the sun.
- Take care of sails and avoid chafe.
1. Do small jobs yourself
Labour costs on small jobs can be disproportionately expensive. It’s easy to see why – travel to the boat is the same for a two-hour task as for a whole day and the time lost in jobs such as quotations and invoicing change very little whether the final bill is for £150 or £1,500. Undertaking small tasks yourself can therefore save a significant amount of money, especially if this means they are attended to as soon as they crop up.
A few jobs you can easily do yourself include fitting a new propeller, changing your rudder bearings, painting or antifouling.
2. Give any damage immediate attention
The single biggest aspect of saving money on boat maintenance is to have a mindset that makes looking after the craft a constant process, rather than one that’s saved up for a winter refit period. This means any problems can be caught early on before there’s a risk of expensive and time-consuming consequential damage.
3. Take care of your boat's engine
Today’s engines are intrinsically reliable and long-lasting, providing they are well looked after. However, skimping on oil changes, replacing the fuel filter and other servicing essentials is not a route to a cheap boat. The motor’s life will be reduced and its reliability compromised. Similarly, make sure that sacrificial anodes, especially those on propeller shafts, saildrives and props are replaced when no more than one-third wasted – the components they protect are expensive. For more about looking after diesel engines see our Top 10 diesel engine tips for trouble-free power.
4. Keep the interior of your boat fresh
There’s nothing worse than a cabin that’s dank and mouldy, yet far too many boats are in exactly that condition. The knock-on effect is damaged upholstery, mouldy headlinings, wiring encrusted with verdigris and so on.
Good ventilation has traditionally been the key to banishing damp, especially for cheaper boats kept on swinging moorings. These spend enough time lying head to wind that it’s easy to arrange ventilation to provide a constant through draught from bow to stern. Boats on fore-and-aft or alongside moorings spend much less time head to wind, so effective ventilation is more difficult to set up. Nevertheless, a solar vent at each end of the boat, one sucking in fresh air, the other expelling it, will keep the interior fresh even in the most inclement weather.
A dehumidifier is a great option if you have access to shore power. These are fantastic at drying out a boat, but require it to be well sealed so that the unit is not permanently drying fresh air from the atmosphere. It’s also important to attend to leaky deck fittings, windows and hatches before they create bigger problems. Read Prevent damp on your boat: a guide to dehumidifiers.
5. Carry out annual boat maintenance in early summer
Slaving away on cold dark winter’s days in a freezing boatyard is a mug’s game. Wherever possible I aim to schedule boat maintenance for a week or two in April, May or June. You can usually work much faster, the weather’s less likely to hold you up, and it doesn’t get dark before the end of the working day. If in May or June you can often also get a good discount on standard rates for lifting ashore and storage, which also helps to save money. See Boat maintenance: how to look after your boat.
6. Moor your boat securely and safely
Too many owners underestimate the risk of their boats being damaged on their moorings, either because of inadequate fendering or broken warps. I like to have plenty of fenders of at least one size larger than the minimum recommended for the size of boat. The same applies for mooring lines and as well as over-sized warps, I like to duplicate each one, so that if it breaks, or the deck fitting pulls out in severe weather, the boat remains secure.
The loads in a line as it snatches in the steep chop created by gale-force wind against tide conditions can be spectacular, so don’t be tempted to use old sheets or halyards as mooring lines – it’s vital that they can stretch. It’s also important to guard against chafe – sliding a length of reinforced hose over the line where it passes through fairleads or other sharp edges usually gives ample protection. See The secret to fast and easy mooring: the midships spring.
7. Minimise external painted surfaces and woodwork
Those who are really keen to keep maintenance costs in check won’t paint the hull if possible. In most cases the gelcoat can be polished to a perfectly acceptable appearance in a few hours, while a professional repaint of a 36ft yacht with quality paint can easily exceed £6,000. Equally, external woodwork doesn’t last forever and demands regular attention. If you're intent on beautiful woodwork, see 8 ways to maintain flawless varnish coatings.
8. Look after your boat's batteries
A well looked after battery bank that is never discharged below 50 per cent of capacity can last three or four times as long as one that’s abused. As well as establishing effective power management disciplines, much can be done to reduce consumption, including changing to LED lighting (see http://uk.boats.com/how-to/using-led-lighting-on-your-boat/) and ensuring fridges are properly insulated (see http://uk.boats.com/how-to/efficient-refrigeration-a-how-to-guide/).
Batteries of boats kept in a marina with shore power can be kept fully charged using a decent three or four stage charger, however, this used to be a problem for boats on moorings with no shore power. That has completely changed thanks to the fall in the cost of solar power – low profile semi flexible panels now available for less than £2 per watt. Charging via a regulator, these will happily top up the batteries during the week, even if mounted on the coachroof under the boom. To get the maximum reliable service life from your batteries see 8 ways to make boat batteries last longer.
9. Hide from the sun
Never underestimate the potential for sun damage to everything from lifebuoys to spray hoods and other canvaswork. Any items that can be stowed out of the sun when the boat is not being used stay looking good for many more years than if they live permanently on deck.
10. Take care of sails and avoid chafe
If you've got a sailing boat, sun is not the only factor that will shorten the lifespan of your sails. Excessive flogging will quickly break the fabric down and weaken it. Equally, small areas of damage can grow quickly if not repaired at the first opportunity.
As far as the running rigging of sailing boats is concerned, halyards, reefing lines and genoa sheets are all subject to chafe, often at specific points. Dyneema chafe jacket, spliced over halyards to where they pass over sheaves, is extremely effective at reducing damage. In addition it’s also worth considering the traditional approach of ‘end for ending’ lines every few seasons so that the chafe falls at different points, thus doubling service life.