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Get Up and Stretch

Addressing a maintenance checklist during the heart of the boating season will help to ensure trouble-free cruising.

During a recent cruise on Georgian Bay, in the Canadian part of Lake Huron, I was intent on exploring the clear blue waters surrounding the Thirty Thousand Islands. My plans took a detour when a cruising friend’s generator went down. I climbed into his engine room to begin troubleshooting, and found the problem: The raw-water strainer was clogged with weeds and the remains of a small walleye that had managed to wedge itself into the stainless-steel basket.

I emptied the basket, relit the genset and had it running perfectly. Fortunately, the sensor on the generator had worked properly and shut down the overheating engine before any damage could occur, but I suggested that my friend check the thru-hull fitting for the generator at his next haul out.

While enjoying my cruise the next few days, I thought about how important a midseason maintenance checklist is to avoid these types of scenarios. I follow an easy, but thorough program to keep my boat in top shape, both mechanically and cosmetically. Here’s a look at how I approach this task.

As I did aboard my friend’s boat, I spend time in the engine room, cleaning all the raw-water strainers for the engine, genset, air conditioning and raw-water washdown systems. I make sure the thru-hull sea valves open and close easily, and assess the condition of the hoses and clamps.

On my home waters, I spend a fair amount of time running at night. Although I check my navigation lights each spring, I pull apart each lamp midsummer to inspect the socket, bulb and contact points. I also polish the inside and outside of each lens with a plastic cleaner. If your boat’s running lights are hazy or foggy, clean globes will help. Plastic polish also will do wonders cleaning the crust and rust that builds up inside the raw-water strainer’s plastic cylinder, providing easier viewing.

Clear vinyl enclosures are a necessity where I do my boating, and this equipment appreciates regular washing with soapy water and rinsing to remove salt, film and grime. Several products will protect the clear vinyl from dirt and sunlight, but they must be used regularly to do the best job. I like to use Novus 1 for cleaning, followed by Collinite No. 845 Insulator Wax or Collinite No. 925 Fiberglass Boat Wax. The wax leaves a thin, protective coating that causes spray and rain to bead and roll off, providing superlative visibility in virtually any weather. Reapplying occasionally during the season grants longer-lasting results. Zippers also appreciate a rubdown with candle wax or Tef-Gel lubricant for smooth travel.

Next, I walk around the boat with a pair of Phillips and slotted screwdrivers, looking for fasteners that need tightening. I always find some.

On a day when the forecast is sunny with a light breeze, I air out all of the boat’s personal flotation devices. I check the straps and webbing for mildew, and replace any devices that are questionable. It may be human nature to squeeze out a season with worn PFDs, but savvy skippers know better. This is also a good time to open the ports and hatches, and invite the fresh breeze aboard to help remove moisture from cushions, carpeting and the anchor rode locker.

Periodic waxing will protect the gelcoat, stainless-steel and chrome fittings. The more often you do this chore, the less of a major headache it will become. Be alert for loose caulk or open seams, which allow water to wick its way inside the boat. If you put your boat away for the winter without addressing this issue, this moisture could freeze, expand and lead to costly repairs.

If your teak is in good shape, then a light cleaning followed by a couple of coats of sealer will last until the end of the season. Otherwise, apply some elbow grease and restore the wood completely. Likewise, be on the lookout for breaks or crazing on varnished surfaces, and attend to those problems before moisture gets beneath the finish and ruins it. A trick that works for chips or nicks in varnish is to seal the substrate with a dab of clear nail polish until you can repair the finish properly.

Hopefully, your engine is still banging out plenty of horsepower, but if you notice that you have lost some rpm and that the cruise speed is not what it was at spring launch, then a dirty bottom or replacing fuel filters may remedy the situation. Do not ignore a condition that will only worsen as time goes on.

In my area, I also see batteries as a major cause of late-season problems. Throughout the summer, boats getting plenty of use keep the batteries well-charged, thanks to output from the alternator. But when boat usage slows down, and the engines and systems are run irregularly, moisture makes engines harder to start. It also makes electrical equipment a tad temperamental.

I recall the early fall day that my generator friend left the dock after spending some time coaxing his engine to start with a weak battery. The battery was already 3 years old and having to perform yeoman duty to power the boat’s bilge pump because of a leaking stuffing box. My cellphone rang an hour later; my friend had broken down, and the battery would not turn over the starter for the engine. The stuffing box was letting water pour into the bilge, and the battery was a cycle or two away from croaking.

This is the kind of thing that happens when you fail to do regular maintenance. Midseason is a good time to get everything up to snuff, and to ensure a better end to the boating season.

This article was originally published in the October 2022 issue.