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Boatyard Survival Checklist

A haul out for routine maintenance can reveal other problems that need addressing.

While heading to the boatyard recently with a friend whose passagemaker needed a long list of work, I was reminded of what can go wrong without warning. We undid the starboard bow and spring lines, and I noticed an old ratty nylon line tied to the forward piling in an empty slip. I hung it on a nail to dry as I recalled once having my propeller, at another boatyard, churn up a piece of abandoned old line that stalled the engine (luckily, while I was close to the haul-out well).

Boatyard trips are a necessary part of ownership to keep your vessel safe and sound, as well as to protect the value of your investment. Losing access to your boat for days or weeks, while running up a sizable bill, is never fun. However, you can reduce the amount of blood, sweat and tears if you plan the trip with detailed descriptions of what you expect to accomplish.

This type of planning often means shopping for cleaners, waxes, new rags, parts and other supplies, as well as providing covers and carpet runners for added protection. Consider emptying the refrigerator or freezer if they are loaded, or verify that the boat will be plugged into shore power. You also should personally inspect the boat during its stay, or at least contact the yard to ensure that work is moving forward.

Whether you are going only for routine maintenance or adding mechanical tasks, fiberglass work and electronics updates, you can never overcommunicate your needs. You will not know, until the boat comes out of the water, what the job will include and how long it may take, but you can be specific from the start about what you need done. And then, plan on jobs taking longer than expected, especially as boatyards continue to recover from supply-chain shortages.

Overcommunicating up-front can also help to minimize change orders that you need to request later. A simple example is when you start out with power washing the bottom to prepare for a fresh coat or two of paint, but discover alligator scales that mean the old paint needs be removed.

This means an order to recoat the substrate with a few coats of epoxy, followed by antifoulant coats of bottom paint. In essence, what should have taken a day and a half now spans the better part of two weeks. In many areas, blasting the bottom requires building a tent around the boat to collect all the debris and residue. This project usually prohibits other workers from going aboard, delaying other work. And so, things spiral.

Some boatyards, for insurance and environmental reasons, will not allow owners to do any work below the waterline. So, you’re back to needing serious communication with the service writer or boatyard owner. I always recommend writing out a list of what you want done, and how much time you want to devote to these
processes. Then, break this list down into groups of chores.

One group is mandatory items (painting, zinc replacements, propeller and running gear work) that can only be done while the boat is out of the water. Another group is equipment updates, engine service and accessory items such as refrigeration, air conditioning and other internal work. I like to further categorize these items with a repair, rebuild or replace slot to make my budget clear.

Communication will also save time in diagnosing problems. I know an owner whose boat developed a noticeable vibration at some rpm settings. He claimed that the problem began after he ran aground in a sandy bottom at a slow speed. The prop shop put the wheel back into shape, but the vibration continued.

Dissatisfied, he left that boatyard in a huff and tried another yard, where the manager explained that the propeller is an integral part of the boat’s running gear, which also includes the prop, strut, shaft and cutlass bearing, with these components enjoined to the
coupler at the transmission, engine and mounts. The boat owner then admitted he was on plane when the prop collided with
the sandbar. The damage to the propeller was just the beginning of the trauma the boat had endured. The new yard discovered that the worn-out bearing was pinching the shaft against the strut, and the engine needed a complete realignment.

Once these factors were addressed, the vibration was gone. The moral of the story is that the more candid you are with the yard, the better your chances are of leaving satisfied—perhaps not with the cost, but, in this case, there would have been no need for a second haul out, at least.

No matter how often you haul out, get in the habit of logging the condition and seaworthiness of your boat throughout the year. Note any malfunctions with the systems. Then, at the yard, you will have a good idea of what needs to be done.

Be vigilant, and your boat will always be ready to handle whatever mission you plan. This is why I made sure to have a knife at the ready when my friend and I returned from the boatyard. I whacked off that old line as we backed into the slip, saving us a new item on the repairs list.  

This article was originally published in the November/December 2022 issue.