Three Big Boat Problems — and How to Avoid Them

Whether you know it or not, your boat is a crafty piece of work. That’s right, it’s constantly conspiring against you, whether it means leaving you without an engine 10 miles offshore or springing a leak and sinking to the bottom of your local lake. The good news is that you can prevent many of these events from ever happening, simply with good upkeep and maintenance.

While there are many other ways a boat can potentially get on your last nerve, here are a few common areas where a laissez-faire attitude can harsh your feel-good boating mojo.

This little technical skiff may look innocent enough, but even a simple boat like this has systems that can scheme to ruin any boating day. Maintenance is the key to staying out of trouble and avoiding aggravation. Photo by Gary Reich.

This little technical skiff may look innocent enough, but even a simple boat like this has systems that can scheme to ruin any boating day. Maintenance is the key to staying out of trouble and avoiding aggravation. Photo by Gary Reich.

Sinking to the Bottom

May as well get the elephant out of the room: Left to its own devices for too long, your boat will try to find a way to sink to the bottom. No, that doesn’t make much sense in the self-preservation mindset, but who said boats make sense? Luckily, simple preventative maintenance can keep this from happening.

Through-hulls, seacocks, and any other below-the-waterline fittings are culprits in many boat sinkings. Simply inspecting and maintaining them a few times a year can help prevent heartache… and a big insurance claim. Photo courtesy of Groco.

Through-hulls, seacocks, and any other below-the-waterline fittings are culprits in many boat sinkings. Simply inspecting and maintaining them a few times a year can help prevent heartache… and a big insurance claim. Photo courtesy of Groco.

The most obvious places that deserve your attention are where any piece of hardware breaches the hull below the waterline, such as where a through-hull, shaft log, or electronics transducer is installed. Make sure these fittings are in good shape by inspecting them at the beginning, middle, and end of each boating season, checking for sealant failures, cracks, or any other damage.

Any hose connected to a through-hull fitting is also a potential source for leaks, as are the hose clamps that hold them in place. Hoses and hose clamps should also be checked for cracking and other wear at the beginning, middle, and end of the boating season, and replaced as necessary.

Lastly, a fitting doesn’t have to be below the waterline to be a culprit. Fittings that are close to the waterline, such as bilge pump, air-conditioning, or scupper discharges, can often go below the waterline when a boat is weighed down or heeled over. Make sure such discharges have anti-siphon loops or appropriate check valves installed to prevent water from pressing its way into the boat.

Oh, and don’t forget the drain plug. This means you, trailerable boat owners.

Leaving You Stranded

If there’s one thing I remember from my childhood boating days, it’s the scene of grown men cursing the smoke-belching two-stroke outboards strapped to the back of their boats at our local launch ramp. Back then you really were grateful if your engine started, much less stay running.

Gasoline spiked with ethanol is to blame for many engine failures. Simply adding the appropriate amount of fuel stabilizer each time you fuel up can prevent this from happening. Photo by Gary Reich.

Gasoline spiked with ethanol is to blame for many engine failures. Simply adding the appropriate amount of fuel stabilizer each time you fuel up can prevent this from happening. Photo by Gary Reich.

Today we’ve been blessed with modern two- and four-stroke outboards, as well as reliable gasoline and diesel inboards that generally start when we want them to, and run without fail. But taking a “set-it-and forget-it” attitude with engine maintenance is a sure-fire way to taunt the towboat gods.

While you might think that scheduled service intervals are a ploy to keep your local marine engine shop owner’s kids in braces, good maintenance is crucial in keeping a modern engine as reliable it’s designed to be. That means not only major scheduled services, but also minor do-it-yourself chores, such as fluid, lube, and filter changes.

But the biggest enemy of any engine aboard today is ethanol, which can absorb vast quantities of water in your fuel tank, separate, and then create all sorts of havoc with your engine and fuel system. Make sure you add an appropriate marine fuel stabilizer every time you fill up.

Running Out of Juice

Ever turn the ignition switch only to be met with silence? Yeah, that’s frustrating. Have a trolling motor that fizzed out too soon on your last bass fishing trip? Definitely a major bummer. While today’s modern batteries are more forgiving than ever, they still require a little TLC to remain reliable over several boating seasons.

The absolute worst thing you can do to a battery—or battery bank—is to discharge it and then leave it discharged for a long period of time. And you might be doing that more often than you think. Short trips without enough engine running time to recharge the batteries can gradually deplete them more and more over the course of several trips. Make sure you plug in or attach the appropriate battery charger after each trip if this is the type of boating you do. And never leave batteries to sit all winter long without at least a trickle charge set to the proper voltage to keep them topped off.

There are all sorts of marine batteries, and each different type requires careful care. Learning which type you have on your boat is the first step to properly maintaining them. Photo courtesy of Optima Batteries.

There are all sorts of marine batteries, and each different type requires careful care. Learning which type you have on your boat is the first step to properly maintaining them. Photo courtesy of Optima Batteries.

The best thing you can do is to get up close and personal with your batteries, paying attention to how they’re charging and their charge states at rest. That way you can learn how to properly care for and feed them, as different battery types have various charging and maintenance requirements.

Also, while many batteries on recreational boats today are sealed (also known as maintenance-free), there are still quite a few boats out there equipped with lead-acid batteries that require occasional fluid checks and a top-off with distilled water.

I know what you’re thinking—there are many other things your boat can do to drive you crazy. And you’re right. In fact, fading gelcoat, peeling brightwork, and clogged up marine heads come to mind. But master these three common trouble areas and you’ll be well on your way to boating bliss.

 

Comments

  1. Lubricating before your first launch of the season is a great idea. Not only will it help you prevent future problems, but it will also help your fishing/boating trip run smoothly. I also like your comments about the easy way and the hard way to maintain your boat. It is always nice to know a more timely, efficient way to do things. Thanks for your tips.

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