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Our top tips for boat maintenance

We understand that buying a boat can take considerable time and significant money and therefore, once the sale is complete, this asset needs to be protected at all costs. To ensure the boat operates at peak performance, and doesn’t depreciate, owners must ensure they have a comprehensive boat maintenance programme in place. In this blog, the Val Wyatt team shares its top tips and advice on maintaining your boat.

Table of Contents

Do boats need an MOT
What regular maintenance should be done on a boat
— >>Cleaning tips for different types of boat materials
— >>Antifouling Your Boat
— >>Storing Your Boat
— >>Maintaining the engine on a boat
—>> Saltwater Boat Maintenance
How much is Boat Maintenance
Boat Maintenance Checklist

Do boats need an MOT?

Whilst cars are required to pass an MOT each year, with many drivers encouraged to have an annual service alongside any test, boats owners are not legally bound by similar rules when it comes to boat upkeep. However, to keep a new boat engine in warranty, an annual service is normally required.

If there is any equivalent to an MOT certificate for a boat, that would be a Boat Safety Certificate, as part of the Boat Safety Scheme – but this only covers some inland waterways across the UK and not applicable for coastal use.

This initiative, designed for boat engines and / or electrics, with or without outboards and fixed electrics – helps to “minimise the risk of boat fires, explosions, or pollution that could harm visitors to the inland waterways, the waterways’ workforce and any other users”. Certificates are valid for four years, not 12 months. More information about the Boat Safety Scheme can be found in our in-depth blog titled boat licences.

What regular maintenance should be done on a boat?

During the sales process, our friendly team are always on hand to answer important questions – from prospective customers considering their very first boat purchase, to existing customers looking to upgrade. One of the key questions we are asked by boat maintenance beginners is “how do I keep my boat in good condition?”

We are going to break down our advice into five primary sections:

  • Cleaning tips for different types of boat materials
  • Storing your boat
  • Engine maintenance
  • Saltwater boat maintenance
  • What to check every time you use your boat

Cleaning tips for different types of boat materials

Whether you primarily sail on a river, a lake or at sea, keeping the exterior of the vessel clean should be a key part of any regular boat maintenance programme. It is one of the most obvious and cost-effective methods for ensuring your boat remains in great condition.

Fibreglass: Many of the boats we sell are made of fibreglass which are protected from the elements by a gel coat finish. This offers fantastic protection over prolonged periods of time, however, this material will require maintenance, most notably when it takes on a chalky complexion. This can be removed by compound polishing, which we offer as part of our maintenance programme. This is normally done once a year, however, this can be extended to every other year depending on the hull – for instance, lighter hulls are more forgiving of less polishing. In addition, regularly cleaning the grime and dirt off the boat at regularly intervals with a hose, sponge and/or cloth. It is also important to frequently inspect the fibreglass for any damage. Look out for any cracks, scratches or chips, and investigate whether the damage is just to the gel coating (which can be repaired with a fresh application), or whether it penetrates the laminate. A professional is required for all gelcoat repairs.

Canvas and Vinyl: Most boats will feature canvas fabrics that cover cockpits and other parts of the vessel. Whilst a dirty and discoloured canvas will not negatively impact the performance of the boat, owners will want to keep these clean and crisp. Our team recommends keeping on top of the canvas cleaning, as the longer it is left, the harder it is to bring it back to its former glory. Soap, warm water and a brush should suffice. However, it is worth bearing in mind that cleaning can remove the waterproofing layer, so we recommend canopies are re-proofed periodically to prevent water seeping through. In addition, keep on top of maintenance of any fabric seating to avoid any build-up of mildew and mould. Soap, warm water and a soft cloth is ideal.  Feel free to use any suitable anti-bacterial sprays for added protection but avoid any bleach-based products.

Woodwork and Timber: Not many of the boats we have for sale are made of wood, but you can often find the material across other parts of the vessel, such as steps or decks. Whilst they will be made of hardwood, keep any surfaces in decent condition by cleaning at least once a season. You can use a non-scratch scouring pad on bare timber, but remember to go with the grain. Special protective coatings can also be purchased. Feel free to ask our experts for their recommendations. Older wooden boats require more maintenance to avoid rot. It is important to frequently inspect the paintwork, varnish and epoxy coatings. Remember to cover wooden boats to protect them from UV damage.

Antifouling your boat

Antifouling protects the bottom of your boat from marine growth, such as algae and barnacles. The coating is typically applied to the hull, as well as the rudder, avoiding anodes, speed and depth transducers and skin fittings and it should form a key part of any maintenance plan.

Recently, Richard Snowball, our Marina Manager, wrote a dedicated blog answering all key questions surrounding boat antifouling – from how often it needs to be done, to the antifouling costs, to talking through the different types of antifouling paint. We recommend you give this a read.

Storing your boat

Suitable storage is vital during the long, cold and wet winter months. Not only do you need to protect your vessel from the elements, such as wind, rain and ice, but you also need to ensure sufficient airflow to avoid mildew and mould.

There are three options when it comes to storing your boat. Firstly, you can opt for indoor storing – which offers the best protection; however, space is always at a premium, especially in the UK, and it will be the most expensive. You can also find dry-stack storage, which may be a little cheaper.

Outdoor storage is more plentiful and cost effective, also allowing sail boats to be stored with the masts up. A proper cover is beneficial as it can be used year after year. In addition, a dehumidifier also helps to prevent moisture and mould within the boat.

On the water: Many boat owners choose to keep their boats on the water during the off-season – but they will still need winterising. A boat’s engine and domestics (such as water systems) will need to be cleared down to avoid freezing and bursting.

Click here to learn more about Val Wyatt Marine’s boat storage solutions.

Maintaining the engine on a boat

Whilst you may choose to carry out the majority of the more straightforward boat maintenance tasks yourself, there are some where you may prefer to use a professional or a specialist. Engine maintenance may fall into this category.

All boat engines require an annual service, which should take place before it is stored for the winter period. Inboard engines can be serviced afloat, whilst outboards and outdrives need to be taken out of the water ahead of any service. A typical service should include changing the oil, plus both the oil and fuel filters. In addition, the plugs, impeller and fan belt will need replacing periodically, whilst the shaft seals should be checked, and the bilges should be cleaned.

We have written a dedicated blog on boat engine maintenance.

Saltwater boat maintenance

We are a Berkshire-based marina and so the majority of our customers are most interested in boating trips along the Thames, however, we do have some customers that prefer to sail offshore.

Salt quickens erosion and deterioration, so extra stringent maintenance procedures must be followed if you are sailing at sea. Firstly, make sure you use freshwater to regularly remove salt residue from the boat and protect the coatings. Also clean down surfaces, seating areas and components, as the salt can corrode if left for too long. Secondly, flush the engine with freshwater too – again to prevent corrosion.

How much is boat maintenance?

It is difficult to provide an exact cost of boat maintenance, as different vessels will require different tasks, products, and levels of expertise (for those requiring a professional). As a rule of thumb, we tell our customers to take their mooring fee and double it. This will likely cover the cost of boat ownership for the entire year, which includes a multi-year maintenance programme.

Boat maintenance checklist

We have put together a quick checklist of boat maintenance tasks you should carry out before sailing your vessel:

Each time you plan on using your boat, we recommend you:

  • Check the oil level
  • Check the weed filter
  • Examine the boat for any external damage
  • Check the steering movement
  • Check the bilge pump
  • Test any electronic devices onboard
  • Clean the deck
  • Ensure the fire extinguishing systems are in place
  • Carry out a safety check (lights, horns, etc.)

Tasks to be carried out at more regular intervals (between 20 and 50 hours of use):

  • Check all water levels, fuel lines and refill oil
  • Carry out a more thorough internal clean (especially if sailing offshore)
  • Examine the engine and check for proper RPM
  • Check fluid level of steering system
  • Clean the bilge pump

After approximately 100 hours of use (or annually), boat owners should have a professional look over the vessel and its engine. This will include:

  • Replacing all oil and fuel filters
  • Checking the bow and stern eyes for secure mounting
  • Replacing the water pump impeller
  • Checking and tightening all bolts

For more information on our boat maintenance services, visit our website or contact our team. You can do so by filling out this form, or calling 01189 403211.

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