Boat maintenance: DIY or call in the experts?

Adventure 4 min read

For many boat owners, maintaining their vessels is a fun and rewarding hobby. Scrubbing the railings, polishing the deck, and changing the oil can all be surprisingly satisfying projects. But, while most of us are ready, willing, and able to keep our boats in prime cruising condition, there are a few aspects of upkeep that are probably best left to the experts.

The amount of time and skill level a boat owner has will vary from person to person, but we’ve rounded up a general guideline of when you should DIY and when you should call in a pro.

Do it yourself boat maintenance

Wash the exterior

This one’s a no-brainer. Giving your boat a good rinse is (virtually) foolproof. And, depending on the size of your boat, you can usually finish in less than an hour.

Clean the interior

Keeping the interior of your boat clean and tidy is a pretty straightforward task. Wiping down surfaces, stowing equipment, and sweeping the floors is a piece of cake for a seasoned boater like you!

Maintain the bilges

It never hurts to take a peek at whatever’s going on below deck. Make it a habit to check the bilges at least once a month (and before you leave the dock) to make sure there’s no standing water down below. While you’re at it, flip on the bilge pumps to make sure everything’s in working order. If you come across standing water, you may want to pick up a bilge cleaning solution at your local boating store. Drop the cleaner in the bilge, run the pump, and you’re good to go!

Run the engines and check the fluids

You’ll generally want to run your engines for at least a half an hour every month. As a rule of thumb, plan to change the engine oils, engine oil filters, and fuel filters once a year or every 100 hours of engine runtime. And of course, be sure to check the fluids before you fire up the engine.

Maintain the water tanks and waste tanks

You’ll probably want to pump out those waste tanks once a month, depending on how often you use the boat. It’s as easy as taking a quick cruise to the dock, hooking up a hose, and flipping a switch! But, if this makes you squeamish you can hire a pumping service to come to you.

Once a year, plan on flushing the water and holding tanks with a cleaner to keep everything smelling fresh and clean!

Change batteries

Batteries typically last around seven years, so you won’t have to worry about them very often. But, once you’ve noticed that your batteries are no longer holding a full charge, it’s time to replace them. Just be sure to turn off power before swapping new ones in.

Wash and waterproof canvas

About once a year, plan on giving your bimini top a thorough interior and exterior clean with water and light soap. You can use a sponge to scrub off any stubborn dirt or seagull droppings. Once dry, apply canvas waterproof liquid (easily found at a local boating supply store) using a paint roller or spray bottle.

Annual waxing, polishing, sanding, and varnishing

Roll up your sleeves and show your boat a little extra love with an annual waxing, polishing, sanding, and varnishing (as applicable). A job like this will usually take about a day, and your boat will feel like new once you’re done. Well worth the effort.

If you have a larger boat, it may be worth it to hire an expert for this project, as waxing a big boat can easily turn into a two-day job! 

Boat repairs to leave to the experts

Do a deep dive

When it comes to installing new zincs or keeping the hull barnacle-free, it’s best to bring in the experts. A professional diver can scrub the hull and swap out old zincs quickly and efficiently. Unless you can breathe underwater. Then feel free to do this yourself!

Perform a top-to-bottom system inspection

Keeping your boat in mint condition calls for regular maintenance and inspections. It never hurts to hire an expert to take a close look at batteries, shaft logs, through-holes, rust abatement, etc. about once a year. Having a trained set of eyes evaluate your boat will give you peace of mind and help you avoid larger maintenance issues down the road.

Anything that requires a haul-out

Whether it’s time to repaint your hull (usually every two to three years), replace an impeller (generally every three to four years), or install a new lip seal (typically every three to five years), just remember that anything that requires hauling your boat out of the water is best left to the experts.

Electronics installations and integrations

While installing a stereo might be something you can do on your own, leave the GPS, radar, satellite communications, and depth finders to the pros. These systems are complicated and can be interdependent—in other words, it’s easy to get your wires crossed if you don’t know what you’re doing.

A/C and heater maintenance

Heating and cooling systems can be complicated, so it’s probably a good idea to have an expert take a look at yours every two years or so. They’ll ensure that the raw water strainer is clean, there are no blockages in the system, and that overall, everything is in good working order.

Replacing hoses

Raw water and toilet hoses can be a pain to remove and install, so hiring an expert will likely save you time and stress. If you notice that your toilet hoses smell or see cracks in the raw water hoses that feed the engine, it’s probably time to call a professional.

Boat ownership certainly isn’t for lazy people. Putting in the effort to maintain your boat can be truly rewarding, but sometimes it’s OK to call in an expert. They can save you time, money, and frustration.

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