For most of us north of 30 degrees of latitude, it is the off season for boating. The boats have been tucked away for some time, and aside from making payments to the bank or insurance company, thoughts of her have been infrequent as we navigate the holiday season.

Now comes the dog days of winter. We reign in thoughts of spring to prevent an extended bout of spring fever. If you have big projects on the boat you may already be elbow deep, but most of the yards and buildings are quiet.

Many store outside and await a warmer days to check up on their boat. if you store inside – heated, you have a great opportunity to take advantage of paying the extra money to make for a safer and longer boating season.

I am often amazed inspecting boats for sale, how beautiful they can be above decks and nasty they can be below. It tells me a lot about the owner and about what condition the boat is in before the key ever gets turned. I could make this an article about the perils of neglect, but at the root of neglect is often a simple lack of familiarity or fear of what lies below…decks.

This is your chance to be your own inspector. More often than not, the boat owner was not aware of an issue I found during an inspection. Either they weren’t looking, or were unfamiliar with the systems on their boat.

It can be overwhelming going into your bilge and tracking all the systems and their components. But consider the savings in repairs and the value of knowing your boat’s systems in the event of an emergency. This off season, consider picking one system, or set of systems, and track the components. Dare I say, crack open the user manual (I say this as a frequent offender of not reviewing them myself), and read through the maintenance section, at least.

In succeeding posts, I’ll provide notes on systems and common deficiencies. It is important to note, if you see something which may be wrong, use professional resources. I frequently review boating websites and posts put up by well meaning boaters. Often they offer very bad and dangerous advice. Please budget a little money each year to have your professional ABYC certified boat technician review your findings and suggest or provide repairs. No one is saying you can’t DIY many projects, and you will find most technicians will offer good advice on how to do it right. Even if you have to pay them for an hour to advise you, it is cheaper than paying them for ten hours to make a repair.

Get to know your hull and underwater equipment.

  • Does your bottom paint need touching up or is it in need or removal and renewal?
  • Look fo,r and know the signs of blisters. Beware popping a blister. The liquid inside can be acidic and do eye damage.
  • Check your thru-hulls. All thru hulls should be secure and well sealed. Below water thru-hulls should be made of a marine grade metal or a polymer certified for underwater use (e.g. Marelon). Look for corrosion, cracks, or failing sealant on all thru hulls. The polymer / plastic thru hulls for above water only use get brittle with oxidation and UV damage. They will get dull and chalky as an indication of wear.
  • Look for any and all corrosion. Metal parts corrode, particularly in salt water. Depending on the cause of the corrosion, it can occur over days or years. Boats have sunk as a result of stray current corrosion in a matter of days, from rudder post or shaft corrosion.
  • Look for any damage or wear to underwater equipment. Are the propellers bent, chipped, dinged? Even small dings can wear on running gear creating excessive resistance or imbalance.
  • Rudders going through the hull (this excludes some external sailboat rudders) should be secure with little or no play fore and aft or side to side. Play indicates a leak point or possible steerage or linkage failure.
  • Outdrives should have very little play at the transom assembly if you lift up and down or side to side to side holding the lower unit. Note that you may be able to move the wheel and this does not represent “play.” Different manufacturers and units vary in the amount of acceptable play.
  • With regard to outdrives, review your service manual and service intervals. There is a lot to check and it can vary with different models, too many for me to note here. Enough that I stay busy with insurance claims resulting from neglect of outdrive systems. Insurance companies don’t pay for lack of maintenance.
  • Check for secure and serviceable anodes. Anodes protect underwater machinery from corrosion by serving as a sacrificial component. Like a lightning rod for corrosion. They should be no more than 50% wasted (used up), and should be secure to the hull or equipment. Make sure you are getting the right material for your application, be it salt water, brackish, or fresh water.
  • Collar anodes on a propeller shaft for inboard boats can serve the dual purpose of protecting your prop and rudder in the event the coupler fails. Space it forward of the skeg just less than the distance from the back of the shaft to the rudder.
  • Prevent propeller loss. A very common mistake for dual fastener prop installs is to put the thin (“jam” nut) aft of the larger nut. You will find that ABYC, SAE, and the USCG all recognize the physics involved in many cases of prop loss. The thin nut goes forward. Beware, this is a common mistake among technicians as well. Its “old school” and proven ineffective in countless prop loss cases.
  • I’ll note it again. Crack open that owner’s manual. They will have specific checks for your make and model boat. If you see anything that concerns you, consult a professional technician.

Stay tuned, we’re climbing in the bilge next week.