Boat Maintenance – What Have You Missed?

There’s plenty to take care of on a boat, but these boat maintenance chores often get overlooked.

Sure, you know all about flushing an outboard motor, making a fiberglass boat shine like a perfect 10, and keeping up with boat battery maintenance.

But there are a lot of pieces-parts to a fishing boat, and there are very few boat owners who haven’t discovered – too late – that there was something they’d failed to properly maintain. So the next time you look at Mom’s Mink, ask yourself if you’ve spent any time on:

  • Outboard Steering Systems
  • Canvass
  • Wiring Connections
  • Zincs
  • Towers and Pipework
  • MFD/Control Screens
  • Trailer Hubs
boat tips
Part of getting in on insane action like this is having your boat in tip-top condition at all times. That means making sure you don’t miss any of these maintenance chores.

Steering System – Most people pay little mind to their boat’s steering system, at least not until it gets nearly impossible to maneuver the boat or it locks up completely. That’s too bad because a little maintenance will go a long way. The most consistently missed item? Hitting the Zerk fittings on the engine’s pivot tubes, steering linkages, and steering tubes. Just which of these and where they’re located varies by the engine, but if you haven’t done it, be sure to arm yourself with a grease gun, look for those fittings, and give ‘em a squirt of fresh grease. Note: if you’ve been running for years in saltwater without doing this, you may need to replace the Zerks because if they aren’t used with some regularity they can corrode to the point of no return.

boat care
This top hasn’t been cleaned nor treated with water-proofed for years, and it’s easy to see where mildew has become a problem and the top now leaks.

Canvass – Yes, marine canvass does require regular maintenance. First, it needs to be cleaned with soapy water from time to time, to dislodge dirt and grime. Otherwise, mildew will likely become a problem. Second, with time canvass loses its ability to shed water without leaking. You can rejuvenate it, though, by giving it a waterproofing treatment. There are plenty of products on the market which can be sprayed or brushed on (we’ve used 303 Fabric Guard, which is recommended by Sunbrella), but they all have one common feature: they need to be applied (usually in two coats) to clean, dry canvass with sufficient time to cure before rain or dew become an issue.

boat tips
Heatshrink all connections and spray exposed terminals with a corrosion inhibitor.

Wiring Connections – When’s the last time you visually inspected that rat’s nest of wires under the helm? The connections behind your switch panel? The condition of each and every in-line fuse? All these spots are ripe for corrosion, and all will cause you problems that can shut down a fishing trip in a heartbeat. Anywhere you find corrosion should be cleaned and sealed, and fuses in poor condition should be replaced.

boat maintenance
On many outboards, the lateral trim tab is actually also a zinc. And if it’s partially eaten away, it won’t counter prop torque correctly.

Zincs – Here’s another uber-important item that most boaters simply ignore. All it takes is a quick glance, and you’ll know if that zinc needs replacement or not, right? Hold on a sec – many boats have zincs in places few people ever bother to look. Depending on the type of rig you have, you may need to check zincs on trim tabs, behind the prop nut, under anti-ventilation plates, and/or in heat exchangers.

boat tower care
Take care of those pipes, and they’ll shine for years to come. Don’t, and pitting and corrosion are in your future.

Towers and Pipework – When it comes to pipework most people give it a rinse and call the maintenance complete. Not smart. A wax job with a dedicated metal wax every few months will go a long way in preventing pitting and corrosion. On top of that, through-bolts and nuts securing the hardware should be regularly checked for tightness. If anything’s loosened up and you start running through rough seas, serious damage can occur. Also, peek at the welds and look for cracks, which are a lot easier to fix than full-on breaks or tears in the aluminum.

boat care
Keeping your MFD’s clean is an important part of making them last and fully functional.

MFD/Control Screens – Now that many of us can control virtually anything and everything via a touch screen at the helm, it’s important to make sure that the screen keeps working properly. And in this regard, regular and proper cleaning is imperative. You can use either a spritz of water and a microfiber cloth, or a dedicated screen spray cleaner and a microfiber cloth. Paper towels are specifically verboten, due to potential abrasion damage. Use very gentle pressure, of course, and don’t wipe it down when completely dry because that can also result in abrasion damage. Most manufacturers also say you should never use Windex or similar glass cleaners on an LCD because in some cases they can eat away the coatings manufacturers put on them.

trailer bearings
Bad bearings have ended many a fishing trip – and are often the result of a lack of maintenance.

Trailer Bearings – Okay, so trailer hubs aren’t exactly part of your boat. But they certainly are critical when it comes to putting your boat in the water, and plenty of fishing trips have been ruined by bearings gone bad. Bearings should be greased and inspected at least once a season; check out Tips for Maintaining Your Boat Trailer, to learn more.

We’ll be the first to admit that this run-down of maintenance items we often miss barely scratches the surface when it comes to all the different chores a boater has to deal with. So check out our Boat Maintenance pages, to get an all-encompassing look.

Get more great boat reviews, boating information and tips from Lenny Rudow on BD.

Lenny Rudow …has been a writer and editor in the marine field for over two decades, and has authored seven books. He is currently the Angler in Chief at Rudow's FishTalk Magazine, is Electronics and Fishing Editor for BoatUS Magazine, and is a contributing editor to several other publications. His...