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Winter Boat Maintenance

As much as I’d like to be one of those guys that looks forward to spending a few hours tinkering around on their boat after work, it’s just not the case. The truth is that I rank boat maintenance right next to laundry on my list of things that I’d rather not be doing.

This aversion to boat work coupled with the fact that my boat partner Matt and I don’t always treat our boat all that well (“drive it like you stole it” pretty much sums up our maintenance philosophy) led to several hefty repair bills the first couple of years we owned the boat.

Eventually we got tired of having things break unexpectedly and realized that the only way to keep things from breaking was to start taking better care of the boat. For the first few months we did a good job of keeping track of our engine hours and getting it serviced in a timely manner. We also kept things greased and checked for wear and tear on all of the boat’s systems. But eventually we became lax and before we knew it the entire boat had problems.

logo column socalA pinhole leak in our fuel line, for example, caused the line to lose pressure and we’d have to pump the fuel bulb every time we wanted to start the boat, which is not something that should happen on a three-year-old boat. But rather than fix the leaky hose, we just kept fishing for another year and each time we had to open the hatch and pump the fuel bulb one of us would say, “We really need to get this fixed…”

Last year, Matt and I came to grips with the fact that we are unable, or maybe just unwilling, to do the work necessary to properly maintain our boat. So I called my friend Jimmy Decker, who works at So Cal Ocean Sports a boat dealer and repair shop located in Seal Beach, California. He told me to bring the boat over, so I dropped it off the next day and explained that I wanted him to go through it from stem to stern and find anything that’s broken, about to break or looks neglected and in need of maintenance.

Later that day, I got a call from Jimmy saying that his mechanic had gone through the boat and he gave me a list of necessary repairs, areas where maintenance was lacking and finally some parts that would need replacement in the next few months to prevent a potential breakdown. So Cal Ocean Sports charges around $100 for this inspection and it was money well spent because it took the guess work out of what I need to do to keep my boat running. This “boat wellness plan” has worked very well for us over the last couple of years and while we’ve been spending a little more money on regular maintenance, we are saving on big repair bills and lost fishing time (which is impossible to put a price on).

It pays to have a good relationship with a reputable local repair shop. Regardless of where you go it’s important that you get to know your boat mechanic before you have a breakdown.

Boat wiring “Let’s say a new customer calls with a repair request and we’ve never seen their boat,” Decker says. “We have no idea how much work it’s going to be until we tear into it, so we have to schedule that work for when we have a big chunk of time available — and if we’re busy that might be a while. But if someone whose boat we’ve been maintaining calls and says their motor isn’t peeing, we’ll know that it’s probably just that old impeller in their water pump, which doesn’t take much time to fix, so we can get them in and out quickly.”

If you’re one of those people who enjoys tinkering around on your boat, Decker has some suggestions on things you can do to keep your boat running smoothly. “Every motor needs to be serviced every 100 hours and that should include oil change, oil filter change, fuel filter change, fuel water separator check (change if needed), spark plug check (change if needed), grease all of the zerk fittings and wipe the motor to remove any salt build up. I use a silicone spray on the motor, so if there’s any salt intrusion it just wipes right off.”

Boat serviceEven if you don’t put 100 hours on your motor, Decker recommends performing this service at least once a year.

“The worst thing you can do to your motor is to let it sit without running,” Decker says. “All kinds of bad things are happening while it’s sitting, the fuel is going bad in your tank, the rubber in your impeller is getting stiff, connectors are corroding and any salt that remains in your cooling system is eating away at the metal.”

“If your boat is going to sit for more than a couple of months, you absolutely need to put a fuel stabilizer in your tank or your gas is going to go bad which can be a big problem, especially if you have a carbureted motor. Another thing you need to do is run the motor at least once every couple of months. Just hook it up to your hose and let it run for 20 minutes. That will let it warm up enough for the thermostat to open up, which will flush any old salt out of your cooling system and it will keep your water pump impeller from getting stiff from sitting.”

Boat EngineAnother important thing to do at least once a year is to go through all of your boat’s electrical systems. “You need to go through and look at every connection to check for corrosion or wiring that is cracking. If you find one, cut it off and put on a new connector or replace the section of wiring that is cracked,” Decker says. “None of the connectors or bus bars on your boat should look green or corroded, so if they are you need to change them. Once they are clean, putting some dielectric grease on all of the exposed wire connections will protect them from corroding in the future. The last thing you’ll want to do is disconnect all of your batteries and clean the posts and clamps thoroughly and then cover them with dielectric grease.”

Decker had one final piece of advice about getting your boat repaired: “If you take your boat into a repair shop, don’t be afraid of sounding dumb by telling the mechanic, ‘The boat isn’t working and I don’t know why.’ That works a lot better than someone having their boat break, looking at the internet and then guessing what’s wrong with it. Then they bring their boat in and tell us that they want a particular repair made, which is usually not the right one, and after we make the requested repair they get mad because the boat still isn’t working right. The best thing to do is just bring it in, describe the problem you’re having and then let the mechanic figure out what’s wrong with it.”

Erik Landesfeind
Erik Landesfeind is BD's Southern California Editor and has over 30 years of experience saltwater fishing for a range of species in both California an...