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Winter Maintenance, Part I

Posted by Katie on January 7, 2013 at 1:55 PM

It is sad to say that the boating season is almost over. With the exception of those still fishing, most of you are in the process of laying your boat up for the winter. For the next 4 months or so, your boat is out of commission. That does not mean, however, that you have to abandon it. This is the perfect opportunity to invest time in your boat, cleaning, catching up on required maintenance, and performing a thorough inspection of the entire boat and every piece of equipment on board. There are real benefits to taking a critical eye to your boat once a year. Potential problems can be addressed, increasing the longevity of the boat, improving its performance and fuel economy, and also preventing failures from occurring when you want to use the boat. Your boat will be safer, more reliable, and ultimately more enjoyable in the coming season.


I have found that most boat owners are very good at maintaining their boat. They follow the guidelines in their engine and generator owners manuals, and they often ask their technicians to look over everything and recommend things that need attention. This is good, but only things that are noticed get fixed. Other than that, repairs are made when problems arise, leaving the boat down, unable to be used, or worse, leaving the owners stranded if a failure occurs while it is in use. A comprehensive annual inspection is the best way to avoid problems from occurring in the coming season. Besides the obvious benefits of finding problems before they become failures, it gives you as the owner a chance to really familiarize yourself with your boat and all of it's systems.


Engines and Generators

• Take a look at your maintenance schedule and maintenance logs. Are there maintenance items due that have been overlooked? Pay attention to those things that will be due soon. Take care of those things that will leave your boat out of commission for longer periods of time, like cleaning the cooling system components and servicing after coolers, or replacing risers and exhaust manifolds.

• Take the time to clean rust and corrosion. Not only will this prevent premature failures, but it will save you money when repairs are needed. Rusted bolts break, corroded components are difficult to remove, adding many hours in labor to even the simplest of jobs.

• Inspect all hoses and hose clamps. Look not only for cracks in hoses but also for those that are hard and brittle. Try to tighten all hose clamps and replace those that show sign of rust and corrosion.

• Inspect stuffing boxes and the associated hoses and clamps. Remember that these in particular tend to sit in water, and when they fail they can put your boat at risk of sinking.

• Check for leaks. While you cannot run your engine or generator if they are winterized, you can look for signs of leaks. Leaks often times leave tattle trails, or trails running down the engine. If the bilge under the engine is dirty, clean it. It is very difficult to notice a leak that is dripping into a dirty bilge. Drips are easy to spot if the area under the engine is clean and free of water, oil, coolant, etc. White oil sorbs placed under the engine can make spotting drips early on even easier.

• Inspect all electrical connections. Pay attention to ground cables in particular. Corroded connections cause voltage drop, putting increased strain on all electrical components.


Air Conditioners

• Check all hoses and hose clamps. Make sure that they are not hard or brittle and that there are no cracks. See that all hose clamps are clean and tight.

• Look for standing water in the drip pans. If the unit is holding water, find out why. Make sure that condensate drains are free from clogs, and that they are draining to a sump box or to an area of the bilge that is accessible to a bilge pump. Remember that there may be condensate drains on both the condensing unit and the air handler on split systems.

• Clean the air filter. Many systems have two filters- one behind the return grill, and another on the evaporator itself. Poor air flow reduces the performance of the air conditioner dramatically. Make sure that there is a clear path for air to move from the return grill to the air handler. Do not store belongings in such a way as to prevent air from flowing to the blower.


Heads and Holding Tanks

• Check the operation of all the pumps associated with the heads. Most have a water pump and a macerator that both must operate to deliver waste to the holding tank. Inspect all of the hoses, both sea water and black water hoses. Sea water hoses run from a thru-hull to a strainer, then from the strainer to a pump, then from the pump to the head. Black water hoses run from the head to the holding tank, possibly with y-valves in the middle. Replace any that show signs of age or damage. As the black water hoses age, or if poor quality hoses are used, gasses are able to permeate the hoses, leaving an odor in the boat. If that is the case in your boat, think about replacing all of the waste hoses throughout the boat.

• Inspect all y-valves. Make sure they open and close easily. Leave them in position to direct waste to the holding tank, not to an overboard discharge if your boat is so equipped, and secure them in that position either with a pad lock or a wire tie. Make sure the thru-hulls for any overboard discharge is closed when ever it is not being used.

• Replace the filters on the holding tank ventilation system. Some tanks just have a vent hose that runs from the tank to a thru-hull while others have an inline filter in this hose. If your tank does not have a filter and there is an odor outside the boat every time you flush, consider adding an inline vent filter.


All Water Systems

• Inspect all water pumps for signs of leaks and repair them as needed.

• Check all electrical connections to ensure they are tight and free of corrosion.

• Inspect all water lines or hoses for cracks and leaks, and make sure all hose clamps are tight.

• Check the water heater. Never turn it on while empty as the heating element will burn up. Many water heaters rust internally or collect debris from the rest of the system, leaving the hot water full of contaminants.

• Remove the screens from all the sinks and clean them, as they are often full of debris. By removing and cleaning them periodically you will maintain good water flow throughout the system.

• Check all sink, shower, and wash down valves. Replace those that are hard to open, will not shut all the way, or leak water past the valve when closed.


Electrical Systems, both AC and DC

• Inspect all batteries. Check the water level and add distilled water as needed. Check all connections on the batteries. If they are dirty, remove all the cables and clean the terminals and the cable ends. Make sure they are all tight, and make sure that at the very least the positive terminal is covered.

• All battery grounds should be tied together. Make sure that they all are- don't forget engine starting batteries, generator batteries, house batteries, and any dedicated batteries like those for a windlass or thruster motors.

• Inspect all connections at all battery switches, buss bars, and circuit breakers. Make sure that you disconnect shore power from the boat before inspecting any AC breakers and buss bars. Check to see that all connections are clean and tight and that none of the wires look like they have been burnt.

• Check battery charger connections also. Make sure that the charger is working. If it is a 3 stage charger, make sure that it goes though all of the 3 stages. Look for any signs of excessive heat.


Check out Part II, to be published on January 22, 2013!

Categories: Article, Tools of the Trade

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Reply AlanThomas
2:03 AM on December 27, 2018 
Nice article.I have found that most boat owners are very good at maintaining their boat. They follow the guidelines in their engine and generator owners manuals, and they often ask their technicians to look over everything and recommend things that need attention. Visit to get more related ideas and articles.
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