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Routine Boat Maintenance

Maintenance & Repair > Routine Boat Maintenance


What's your boating routine like? Are you the type that just hooks up the truck and is off to the lake. Do you just board the boat at the slip, fire it up and head out without a thought for preventive maintenance and safety checks? Well, if so, SHAME ON YOU, it's time to mend your ways.

Quick Routines

The absolute best way to keep from becoming stranded on the water is to take care of your boat. I'm NOT talking fanatical, slavish devotion for hours each week. I'm talking about a simple fixed routine that won't take you more than 10-15 minutes each time you launch and each time you recover your boat.

Get your significant other or whole family involved. My wife and I have a routine whereby we double-check the same things and we do it in roughly the same order every time, from the boat cover to the transom plug and trailer wiring harness. I tell you, she gets to half the items before I'm even there!

As I'm fond of telling people, the best means of extending engine life and helping to protect yourself while on the water is to pay close attention to boat/engine maintenance. This starts with an inspection of systems and components before and after each time you use your boat.

I'm sure your owner's manual or the appropriate Seloc manual has a comprehensive maintenance intervals chart to which you should refer on a regular basis throughout the season. However, there is a simplified list of items that should be checked every time you take her out. Some of these inspections or tasks are performed before the boat is launched, some only after it is retrieved and the rest, both times.

Fuel and Oil Levels

For starters, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS check the fuel and oil levels. Do NOT launch a boat without properly topped-off fuel and oil tanks (or without the proper crankcase oil level on 4-stroke motors). It is not worth the risk of getting stranded or of damage to the motor.

Likewise, upon retrieval, check the oil and fuel levels while it is still fresh in your mind. This is a good way to track fuel consumption (one indication of engine performance). For 2-stroke motors, compare the fuel consumption to the oil consumption (a dramatic change in proportional use may be an early sign of trouble). For 4-stroke motors, oil consumption should be minimal (though usually notable during break-in), however all 4-stroke engines allow a small portion of oil to burn. Watch for sudden increases in the amount of oil burned and investigate further if found.

Check for signs of fuel or oil leakage. Probably as important as making sure enough fuel and oil is onboard, is the need to make sure that no dangerous conditions might arise due to leaks. Thoroughly check all hoses, fittings and tanks for signs of leakage. Oil leaks may cause the boat to become stranded, or worse, could destroy the motor if undetected for a significant amount of time. Fuel leaks can cause a fire hazard, or worse, an explosive condition. This check is not only about properly maintaining your boat and motor, but about helping to protect your life.

CAUTION: On fuel injected motors (ESPECIALLY HPDI outboards) fuel is pumped at high pressure through various lines under the motor cowl or in the engine bilge. The smallest leak will allow for fuel to spray in a fine, atomized and highly combustible stream from the damaged hose/fitting. It is critical that you remove the cowling or open the engine bay and turn the key to the ON position (to energize the fuel pump and begin building system pressure) for a quick check before starting the motor (to ensure that no leaks are present). And, all of you inboard/stern drive guys already know this, but RUN THE BLOWER before starting the motor!

Hull and Engine Cases

Inspect the boat hull and engine cases for signs of corrosion or damage. Don't launch a damaged boat or motor. And don't surprise yourself dockside or at the launch ramp by discovering damage that went unnoticed last time the boat was retrieved. Repair any hull or case damage now.

Battery Connections

Check the battery connections to make sure they are clean and tight. A loose or corroded connection will cause charging problems (damaging the system or preventing charging). There's only one thing worse than a dead battery dockside and that's a dead battery in the middle of a bay, river, lake or worse, the ocean. Whenever possible, make a quick visual check of battery electrolyte levels (keeping an eye on the level will give some warning of overcharging problems). This is especially true if the engine is operated at high speeds for extended periods of time.

Propeller

Check the propeller (impeller on jet drives) and gearcase. Make sure the propeller shows no signs of damage. A broken or bent propeller may allow the engine to over-rev and it will certainly waste fuel.

Gearcase

The gearcase should be checked for signs of leakage before and after each use. Check the gearcase oil for signs of contamination if any leakage is noted. Also, visually check behind the propeller for signs of entangled rope or fishing lines that could cut through the lower gearcase propeller shaft seal. This is a common cause of gearcase lubricant leakage, and eventually, water contamination that can lead to gearcase failure. Even if no gearcase leakage is noted when the boat is first retrieved, check again next time before launching. A nicked seal might not seep fluid right away when still swollen from heat immediately after use, but might begin seeping over the next day, week or month as it sat, cooled and dried out.

Fasteners

Check all accessible fasteners for tightness. Make sure all easily accessible fasteners appear to be tight. This is especially true for the propeller nut, any anode retaining bolts, all steering or throttle linkage fasteners and the engine clamps or mounting bolts. Don't risk loosing control or becoming stranded due to loose fasteners. Perform these checks before heading out, and immediately after you return (so you'll know if anything needs to be serviced before you want to launch again.)

Controls

Check operation of all controls including the throttle/shifter, steering and emergency stop/start switch and/or safety lanyard. Before launching, make sure that all linkage and steering components operate properly and move smoothly through their range of motion. All electrical switches (such as power trim/tilt) and especially the emergency stop system(s) must be in proper working order. While underway, watch for signs that a system is not working or has become damaged. With the steering, shifter or throttle, keep a watchful eye out for a change in resistance or the start of jerky/notchy movement.

Water Pump

Check the water pump intake grate and water indicator. The water pump intake grate should be clean and undamaged before setting out. Remember that a damaged grate will allow debris into the system that could destroy the impeller or clog cooling passages. Once underway, make sure the cooling indicator stream is visible at all times (outboards) or the coolant temperature gauge (inboards/stern drives) remains in the proper range. Make periodic checks, including one final check before the motor is shut down each time.

HERE'S A TIP: Keep in mind that the cooling system can use attention, even if used in fresh waters. Sand, silt or other deposits can help clog passages, chemicals or pollutants can speed corrosion. It's a good idea to flush your motor after every use, regardless of where you use it.

Cooling System Flush

If used in salt, brackish or polluted waters thoroughly rinse the engine (and hull), then flush the cooling system. I've got a routine whereby my wife sprays and wipes down the hull, then hands me the hose so I can hook up the flushing adapter. Just like our launch routine, our clean-up and inspection routine after recovery takes no more than 10-15 minutes (or about one cold beer!).

Anodes

Visually inspect all anodes after each use for signs of wear, damage or to make sure they just plain didn't fall off (especially if you weren't careful about checking all the accessible fasteners the last time you launched).

Transom Drain Plugs

AND, FOR PETE'S SAKE, make sure the plug is in! I shouldn't have to say it, but unfortunately I do. If you've been boating for any length of time, you've seen or heard of someone whose backed a trailer down a launch ramp, forgetting to check the transom drain plug before submerging (literally!) the boat.

I'll let you in on a little secret. A couple of years ago my wife and I were launching a Sea-Doo Jet Ski for a day of fun down at the Jersey Shore. I backed the Jeep up and both of our eyes went wide at the same moment. We BOTH could hear the bubbling as water started rushing in where there transom plug should have been. Luckily, she hadn't even walked over to it to undue the bow strap. I made sure she was standing back out of the way, and just pulled the Jeep right back up the ramp, where I sheepishly hid my embarrassed look while my wife quickly installed the plug (that is, as soon as all the water drained).

So don't make the same mistake, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS make sure the transom plug is installed and tight before a launch.

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