You've no doubt been told over and over that preseason maintenance and service will ensure a trouble-free boating season. What you probably don't hear as often is that regular maintenance and service during the season goes a long way toward making your time on the water truly pleasurable and safe. Stay on top of midseason details to keep yourself out of the bilges and engine compartment when you should be enjoying your cruise.
A routine predeparture check should be a habit with everyone. Before leaving the dock, take a few minutes to go through the boat's systems. Thoroughly check the engine compartment for water and fuel leaks. Look for oil dripping from lines or pooling under the engine. Most importantly, do you have enough fuel to get you to the next fuel dock if need be? Check underwater sea-cocks to be sure they operate freely, and make sure all hoses are secured with adequate clamps. Check to be sure all seawater strainers are clean and that no clogs are present. Are the batteries fully charged for both running equipment and starting the engine, and are the batteries topped off with water if they are wet cells. You'll also want to be sure your electronics and navigation lights are working properly and that your charts are up to date. See the predeparture checklist for a full tally of what to watch out for.
Your engines and generators are the most expensive and most-used pieces of equipment on the boat. Even if your preference is for sail, the engine gets you in and out of the slip and back home quickly should the weather turn nasty. Check your manuals for all mechanical equipment on board and follow the recommended service schedules. A proper oil and filter change was probably done during spring or winter commissioning, but if you like to use the boat a lot, chances are another service will be needed during the season. Keeping the oil and filters clean will go a long way toward prolonging the life of any engine. Add engine coolant as needed and never let the coolant levels fall too low. Keep a close eye on fuel filters. Change them frequently if there is any possibility that you may have taken on dirty fuel or that water may have mixed with the fuel, especially if your fuel tanks have not been cleaned for a long time. A minimum of 100 hours between filter changes is a good rule of thumb, but sooner is better than later if in doubt. For gasoline engines, a midseason tune-up will save money on fuel and keep things running just the way you want them to. If your primary boat or your dinghy has an outboard, and you use it frequently, check the engine manual to determine if you should change the oil in the lower unit midseason. Check and adjust any engine belts. Be careful not to over-tighten them. Check with a local mechanic or your engine manufacturer if you're not sure what the tension should be.
The head is an area that we would just like to work without dealing with it, but the last thing you need is to have it fail in the middle of an outing with a boat full of friends onboard. Be sure the holding tank is pumped frequently and that all valves and pumps are lubricated and functioning. Look for obvious leaks around hoses and the pumping mechanism. Correct these leaks immediately since they will only get worse and are an indicator of more potentially serious problems. Be sure everyone aboard understands how to operate a marine toilet.
Don't neglect the boat's exterior during the season. Give the boat a thorough wash down after every use, especially if you're in salt water, and use a soap formulated for boats to prolong the wax and protect painted surfaces. Dish soap and other types of soap can strip the wax and damage painted surfaces. Getting an additional coat of wax midseason is a good idea if the boat is used frequently. Any exterior teak should get a maintenance coat of varnish or teal oil to keep it protected from UV or water damage. Windows and hatches should be cleaned and protected with a coating designed for glass or plastic, depending on the material. Look for abrasions or scratches in the hull or gelcoat and repair them as soon as possible. If you happen to be snorkeling near your favorite beach, take a few minutes to look at the hull underwater. Change zincs if necessary and give the hull a scrub to remove any growth or barnacles. Check both rudders and props for damage or lines that might have become entangled. If the prop is damaged, have it removed and repaired. If you don't have dive equipment or if snorkeling won't get the job done, hire a professional diver to take care of any bottom maintenance. A clean bottom is much more fuel efficient, and with the cost of fuel today every saving helps.
Other general maintenance should include checking steering cables or hydraulic connections, and making sure that all fuel tanks are secure, engine-room blowers are operational, and bilges are clean. It's difficult to list everything for every type of boat in this short article, so wise captains will develop their own maintenance schedules and keep a record of what was done when. Spend some time on midseason maintenance and you'll see that the payoff is much larger than the inconvenience. Enjoy the summer!
Each skipper's specific list will be different, depending on the type of boat. The important thing is to build your list and USE IT.