Boat Repair and Maintenance

by Captain Bill Rountree

There are a few very important points that I felt were worth sharing regarding boat repair and maintenance. Most of these relate to the 2 years that I lived and cruised on my 40 foot sailboat, but they also apply to just about any type of boating you may do.

  1. Maintaining your boat is not the same as maintaining your car. I don’t do any of the maintenance on my car - but I do much of it on my boat because I feel that boaters need to know how to maintain their boat for a variety of reasons:
  • If you get stranded in your car help is usually much more readily available than when you are in your boat. Even if you operate your boat in protected inland waters you might be in the back of a cove or otherwise out of sight of potential help. But if you are cruising in a remote area – or one out of the United States, you really need to know how to fix problems on your boat yourself and have the tools and supplies to fix it.  I had problems with my diesel engine once in a small harbor in the Bahamas and after a day of working on it with no success I decided to go ashore and try to find a local mechanic to help me.  None existed. I was told what I would have to do is fly one in for about $1500 – just to look at it, repairing it would be extra. I spent 2 more days working on it and finally got it running.
  • If you get stranded in your car you can walk to find help - not the case in a boat. Have you ever tried paddling a large boat - not too easy.
  • Boats tend to not be as reliable as cars because they are not used as often and therefore are more prone to have a failure. The belts, hoses, electrical connections, valves etc, etc all deteriorate over time and through not being used. Every time I visit my boat I start the engine, turn on the water and run it through the various outlets, open and close the seacocks, run the air conditioner, operate the bilge pump – basically turn on and run all of the mechanical devices on my boat. This has been especially important when my boat was on the coast several (or many) hours away and therefore I could not use it often.
  1. Buy some good books on boat repair and maintenance. If you have a boat with an engine you should have at least one general book on boat repair. My favorite book which was always close at hand is 'Boat owner’s Mechanical & Electrical Manual' by Nigel Calder. If you have a larger boat you really should consider getting some other more specific books such as repair and maintenance manuals for your engine.
  1. The most important advice I can give is to always watch closely while your boat is being repaired. Any time my boat's mechanical or electrical system is being worked on I always make sure that I am there to watch and learn. I ask lots of questions and even help while the work is being done. It makes the repair job quicker (and therefore cheaper) and I learn how to repair it by myself next time if I need to. After the mechanic leaves I write down notes on what was done with diagrams showing the key areas that were repaired or accessed.


About the author: Bill Rountree is a lifelong boater, holds his US Coast Guard Masters license and a US Sailing instructor certification. He has owned motor yachts, sailing yachts, racing sailboats, rowing shells, kayaks, windsurfers and on and on. He spent two years living aboard and cruising on a forty foot sailboat and has over 10,000 blue water miles.