Late winter and early spring is an excellent time to be checking your boat systems to minimize summer hassle. Let’s look at a few things you should do before your boat hits the water.
1. Check your sea cocks. Once in the water a sea cock is impossible to service. They are seldom used and can get “stuck” in the open position. Check each seacock and make sure it moves OK. If it doesn’t see if you can move it a little and then work it back and forth, until it goes all the way. Work in some lubricant to make it easier. If you need to close it because of a leak during the summer, it must be able to close.
2. Check out your engine for leaks and rust. Put a motor in a tiny cubicle, run salt water through it with lots of hose and electrical connections; and then look at it just a couple of times a year and what do you get? An engine that will let you down at some point. So, look at all the hose connections and see if there is evidence of leaking. If so, remove, clean, and reattach; or replace hose. Don’t forget the hot water heater. Tighten every hose clamp, you will be surprised at how many need tightening! Check the antifreeze level in the engine. Look at the electrical connections, especially the wiring harness plug. Pull that plug apart and look for corrosion. How about that fan belt? Nice and snug? Generally, look it all over with a critical eye.
3. Corrosion. Your boat is in a salt water environment. Put a pinch of salt on a piece of metal and let it sit for six months and see what happens; If it is an electrical circuit the corrosion causes resistance and the circuit does not work right. If it is a moving part, it starts to seize up. You will see lots of reference to corrosion below.
4. Batteries. They usually last about 5 years. They don’t go bad all at once, they slowly decline. When fully charged they should read about 12.6 volts. Look at the battery connections, make sure they are tight and corrosion free.
5. Winches. They have grease in them that hardens up over time. Turn each winch by hand. It should turn without resistance. It is not a big deal at all to pull a winch apart and grease them. The main bearings are these long roller bearings that can dry up. Work new winch grease into them. If they are bad, soak them in solvent to remove old, hard grease. I do my winches every two years.
6. Steering cable. marine steering cables stretch over time and need to be tightened up every few years. There is a steering quadrant that is bolted onto the rudder shaft. To tighten simply tighten up the nut on the eye bolt on the steering quadrant. Tightening that bolt is pretty easy; getting to it may be very awkward and that is why it is not done often enough.
7. Jib Furler. The rule of thumb is plastic bearings need no lubrication and stainless bearings do. Harken usually have plastic (Torolon) ball bearings that do not get lubricated. Furlex has stainless ball bearings that do need to be lubricated. Pro-furl has sealed bearings that need no maintenance, although they do wear out after 15 years and need replacing.
8. Turnbuckles. When was the last time you turned a turnbuckle on your boat. Left unattended for years out in the elements and they can seize. Get some anti-seize stuff and unscrew them one at a time working in the anti-seize compound. Be careful you don’t unscrew a shroud all the way and lose the mast!
9. Tune the rig. This is not hard, and you can do a decent job of it. There are lots of YouTube video’s on how to do it. Basically, you first do a “dock tuning” to get everything snug and straight. Then go sailing and tweak it a bit more. I check this every year as the rigging wire stretches.
10. Lights. Check the running lights, steaming light, anchor light, and interior lights. Corrosion can build up over the winter and cause them to stop working. Power up the electronics and see if it is all working. Corrosion at connections can cause issues.
11. Ropes. All that running rigging turning through all those blocks and you get wear and tear. Any frayed spots? Rope getting really stiff and hard on the hands? Dock lines have any bad spots?
12. Anchor line and markers. You should have your anchor line marked every 25 feet or so. This is sooo much easier to do when the boat is out of the water. Drop the anchor on the ground and stretch it out. Easy to measure and mark.
Now I am not saying do all of this every year, but keep up with it and you will spend more time sailing and less time dealing with boat issues during the season!
Meet the Author, Rob Lawnsby
Rob was the ASA Instructor of the Year in both 2011 and 2013. He has been sailing for 40 years and has accumulated a great wealth of knowledge. Today, Rob’s certified to teach several classes at NSS, including ASA 101, 103, 104, 105, 106, 114, 118, and 114 Mutihull, as well as Diesel, Boat Systems, & Marine Electrical.