Basic Boat Maintenance

Boat maintenance is  a difficult area that can be approached in one of two ways. Do it yourself, or find a decent therefore a horrendously expensive marine engineer.
Sometimes, maintaining items can cause problems. Sometimes what the eye doesn’t see is best left alone is the best philosophy.


Bilges are nasty. They are the bits that exist under the floor boards. Anything that gets spilled or wet on board, such as champagne, gin or wine, will eventually find itself making its way to the lowest part of the boat, where an electric pump will disgorge the offending liquids into the sea via a one way valve in the side. That is the theory. One of the most annoying aspects of boating is the inability to trace the source of accumulating liquids in the bilge.

Diagnosing the cause can take logic and skill… Have you struck a rock and is there a hole in the bottom? Fishes swimming in the saloon are a clue.
Have you overloaded the boat with crates of fine wines and she is sailing low in the water? If so, inflating the tender and transferring some of the offending crates may well be action enough to solve the problem. Drinking the wine will invariably be too little too late.

So this is the procedure to follow if you fail  to diagnose the problem:

  • Take to life raft and enjoy the Chateauneuf de pape 1928.
  • Put out the obligatory Mayday call.
  • Ask that the Lifesaving services take their time, a good vintage wine should not be rushed
  • A further suggestion that the rescue helicopter approaches carefully to avoid a sediment raising in the rotor downwash will ensure your wine stays perfect.


Yotties sneer at engines. The comment at the club bar that yours is a 12 cylinder, 84 valve, twin cam, 2000 horse power  diesel  engine, powered by bio-green recycled McDonald chip oil, will invariably receive a look of disdain from the moustachioed Terry Thomas lookalike perched next to you at the bar.

Sarcastic remarks such as: ‘Drake never needed an engine”, “Nelson beat the Frogs without an engine”, they were real sailors they were” and “mines a triple Bombay Sapphire”, will wing it in your direction. In one sense he is right….when they stop unexpectedly they can be expensive, and a right pain. Motoring across the path of a rapidly approaching super tanker off Southampton Water when all goes silent is a a scary experience in its own right.
There are several options, only one correct.

  • Put out your fenders
  • Inflate the tender, attach the outboard, and call Sea Start on the mobile.
  • Cover your ears with your hands and sing laa laaaa laaaaaa laaaaaaa at the top of your voice

The solution is plain. Place your hands over your ears and sing VERY loudly. This will drown out the 1000 decibel horn the tanker is now blowing frantically  and will protect you from hearing your expensive, and precious boat smash to smithereens when 100,000 tonnes hits it.
So it  is worth spending time and money on engine maintenance.

Engine Vitals

Firstly locate where the engine is, not always as straight forward as it sounds. Normally buried under abandoned deck chairs, oily rags and discarded antifreeze containers in a dark and dank hole in the floor. Always make sure that you have enough fuel on board. Years of experience has shown that fuel is vital for the reliable running of engines. Finally oil. All engines require oil. With these basics in mind, there should never be problems with the engine.


For those not familiar with the term “sacrificial anodes” they are large lumps of zinc designed to fizz away to bugger all. No young lambs being slaughtered on a high alter in sight. The truth is  the  only thing  sacrificed is your bank account.
Why pay £80 for 5 lumps of metal I hear you ask especially if you happy for them to dissolve into thin air, Well salt water is corrosive. It loves nothing more than to try and eat your expensive underwater engine bits. The idea is that salt water attacks the anodes instead of destroying your more prized prop, trim tabs, engine legs and shafts. Therefore are high on any maintenance list.

Light Bulbs

Often over looked, one of the most basic items that will need maintaining are light bulbs.Its a fiddly job as boat bulbs tend to be finger-nail sized, with two lethal prongs at the base.
The dangers in the changing them are many. Firstly, on finding that a bulb has failed, the question is, are there many more providing enough light that the changing of the failed bulb can be delayed. They are usually located in hard to reach places that require half the boat dismantling to get to them.  An attempt will require hacking through the bulb cover to reach the failed bulb. I found that a screwdriver and hammer sometimes helps but is rarely successful. After 3 destroyed bulb covers, and holes in the ceiling lining, I twisted the cover, which unscrewed with ease.
Once you have removed a 5 or a 10 watt bulb, do not  be tempted to replace it with a 20-watt bulb.
Not unless you have maintained the smoke alarm and fire extinguisher

Love me Tender………..

Tenders are a necessary part of boating. Occasionally you will find yourself mooring  either on a buoy, a floating pontoon or anchoring in some isolated creek. In each of these instances failure to carry or tow a tender means enforced isolation.

During the busy summer months many marinas operate a water taxi service which can be irregular and expensive.  They are skippered by manic gap year students, wearing designer yachting gear and mirror sunglasses. Driven in the manner of a Parisian taxi driver high on E’s in a very battered boat with more dents than a stock car.

Therefore, tenders are a necessity.

Types of Tenders

Using the tender  with appropriate powerful outboard  requires much greater skill than the handling of the mothership itself. There are several types of dinghy available. All have the ability to provide  an adrenaline rush in excess of a bungee jump.

The simple humble type:- entirely manual and lacking in maintenance needs.  Normally propelled by oars and not an engine. Not popular amongst MOBO’s or the more affluent yottie, but it is unlikely to inadvertently break  the bank  or the harbour speed limit. Quite often made of wood or rigid plastic. Usually found tied up in the dingy park, full of water with a plastic container as a bailer. Owned by Yotties moored mid river.

The most common type:- The Inflatable. These tenders are stored inflated or deflated onboard, or towed behind. During the height of the summer, marinas are full of crew breaking into a  sweat inflating these up with a manual foot pump.

The  Macho dinghy:- Found attached by steel davits on the back of  huge MOBO’s  They rarely take to the water as its too much hassle to winch them on or off.  They boast a proper steering wheel and  the occupants sit astride a central console in the manner of a motor bike.

Guide to launching and engine starting.

Inflate the dinghy using the time honoured method, the foot pump. Get the crew to hold the dinghy aloft whilst you attach a line to the front. You gently kick the base of the dinghy launching it over the side, and walk to the back of the boat where you tie it on.

So far so good.

Dinghy engines are basic, and very heavy. It is suggested  that a typical 4 horse power outboard engine can be carried and fitted onto the back end of the dinghy with minimal effort.

Yeah right, if you happen to be a Bulgarian weight lifter on steroids.

Remember to put in the rigid floor before handing the engine to your crew member. If you don’t, the tender takes the on the attitude of a clam shell trapping said crew member. The crew will attempt to attach the engine without dropping it in or capsizing the tender.

Once the dinghy engine is attached, the engine can be started. This can be a source of amusement.

This involves standing unsteadily in the tender, perspiring and repeatedly pulling  on the starter cord. In the unlikely event that the fuel is switched on, the petrol tank vented, the choke correctly set, and the throttle set to idle, it is possible, just possible,  the engine will start.

Unless of course you own a Macho tender (see above). In which case you will casually throw a leg across your saddle, turn the ignition key, rev up the horses and ride off into the sunset.