It’s easy to think of maintenance as being something that happens in the spring, but a decent summer’s day is much better for many tasks. The longer days and better weather means that you’re liable to get a lot more done, while the work will also feel much more pleasant than when fighting cold or rain earlier in the year.
Here are some examples of tasks that are ideal for a fine, but calm summer’s day. If combined with some other tinkering, and maybe a tasty picnic lunch while watching the rest of the world go by, this can often be a recipe for a much more rewarding day on the water than motoring around in a flat calm.
Summer is by far the best time for this – as the warm temperatures and long daylight hours will give it maximum chance to dry before any overnight dew. As a result you’re likely to be able to build up more coats than during the spring, and as there’s less need to rush you’ll probably achieve a better finish as well.
Read more about varnishing here: 8 ways to maintain flawless varnish coatings.
2. Running rigging
By mid summer you will be familiar with all the boat’s deck systems and running rigging – so this is by far the best time to think about any modifications that will reduce friction or make sail handling easier. This is also a good opportunity to check for any possible upcoming problems that might become apparent on a longer summer cruise.
While most running rigging has a long life, especially on cruising yachts, it can easily be damaged by chafe. It’s therefore worth keeping a constant eye open for new problems, especially where halyards pass over sheaves. Similarly, examine splices in the ends of halyards and other lines on a regular basis to check whether there are any signs of movement that could indicate the splice is starting to fail. Read more about running rigging in our feature Yachting ropes explained.
3. Deck gear
A few hours spent ensuring sheaves are running freely, winches are properly serviced and that the windlass works will always pay dividends at a later date. As ever, it’s always worth consulting the manufacturer’s manual for each item of equipment, as service procedures can vary widely for many ostensibly similar items.
For instance, some headsail furling gear has self-lubricating bearings, while other models have stainless steel ball bearings that require periodic re-greasing. Don’t worry if you don’t possess all the relevant manuals for your boat – most manufacturers have them available for free on their websites, including those for products that are no longer in production. Read more about winch servicing here.
4. Spars and standing rigging
There are two aspects to ensuring the integrity of a boat’s standing rigging. Firstly the tuning must be correct so that the spar is correctly supported. If this aspect is wrong – and there are many cruising yachts with woefully slack cap shrouds –the rig stands a reduced chance of remaining intact.
Secondly, it’s important to be sure that each of the many components is in good order. While a visual check won’t tell you everything, as there may be hairline cracks that foster corrosion, this is a good place to start.
You can read more about rig checks in our feature Understanding your rig: basic rig checks and common problems, and tuning rigs here.
5. Safety equipment
If your summer cruise will involve longer passages than your normal sailing, this is a good time to check that all the safety kit is in good order. Common problems include defunct lifebuoy lights, lifejackets with inflation cylinders that are not fully screwed in place and aged fire extinguishers.
Also check that the liferaft has been serviced up to date and that lifejackets have also been serviced within the last 12 months and are equipped with sprayhoods, lights and crotch straps. In addition, flares, EPIRBs and the contents of first aid kits need to be replaced at regular intervals. Note that it’s all too easy to overlook these important tasks. Read 14 tips to make sure your safety gear is in order.
While you’re on board it’s also worth checking out the boat’s batteries and charging systems. A summer cruise can be much more demanding than weekends that are spent with easy access to shorepower for charging. It’s therefore worth checking that both the service and engine start banks are holding a good charge and are adequate for your needs.
Find out more about making your batteries last longer here: 8 ways to make boat batteries last longer.
7. Electrics and electronics
While many electrical items are used on a regular basis, others may only be used extensively when travelling longer distances in the summer. Items that fall into this category include navigation lights, autopilots and electric windlasses. A day of tinkering on board is therefore a perfect time to check that everything functions correctly.
Engine failure is still the number one reason for lifeboat call outs, even to sailing yachts, so it’s worth doing all you can to be sure the motor is in good order. In addition to servicing as per the manufacturer’s recommendations, daily checks are also important. While these might seem onerous at times, if done thoroughly they can identify developing problems before they result in a breakdown.
Even if only sailing locally, it’s important to carry basic spares including a water pump impeller, drive belts and fuel filters, together with the tools need to fit them. In many cases these items are all that’s needed to fix the overwhelming majority of common reason for marine engines to breakdown. If you’re cruising more extended distances, then it’s worth at least doubling up on the inventory of spares.
See boats.com for more information on looking after marine diesel engines.
9. Emergency steering
Given that most emergency tillers spend their lives languishing in the bottom of a locker, this is a great time to dig it out and check that all the components are on board and fit together correctly.
A mid season check on the sail inventory will often pay dividends. Examine them carefully to check for any potential damage and chafed stitching – the latter is a common problem that’s easily fixed if caught in time, but can create major hassle if left until the sail blows apart. On laminate sails also look for evidence of the Mylar film starting to break down. This is a sign that the sail is beginning to reach the end of its life, with the structural fibres no longer properly supported and likely to be weakened.
For a full guide to maintenance, see Boat maintenance: how to look after your boat, our other fitting out and maintenance features 15 best boat fitting out tips and Top 10 boat laying-up and winterisation tips are also worth a read.