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Going by the Book

This old-school system for managing maintenance tasks still holds up today.

When I ran a charter boat, it was necessary to leave the slip if I expected to be paid. Knowing this made me sweat the details when it came to maintenance. If my boat could not run because of a mechanical issue, then I was stuck at the dock until it was corrected. And when your life is dictated by the weather, weekends and holidays, sitting at the dock is never a good thing.

The owner of the pleasure boat docked next to me marched to a different beat. He only did maintenance when something broke. Such was the case one morning when he called over to me just as my charter party arrived. His boat had a severe leak, and the bilge pump was running constantly.

I jumped aboard, peered into the lazarette and quickly discovered his problem. The bilge pump hose had a hole in it, and water was flowing back into the bilge instead of going overboard. The hose clamps on the pump and the thru-hull fitting were orange with rust. Everything looked old.

Obviously, my neighbor was not one to spend much time in the bilge. While he was impressed with the quick fix of a new hose, I suggested that he consider the age and condition of all the hoses and clamps in his boat before venturing offshore again.

To avoid those kinds of problems myself, I designed a maintenance program that I still follow today. Rather than waiting for things to break, I use my free time for chores that I record in a little black book, along with notes about what is due for further maintenance. I also write down all the new equipment and parts that I install, from engine zincs to filters to hoses to batteries.

I initially broke down my maintenance chores into segments on a Monday-through-Friday schedule. The day after a charter, for example, was for engine room detailing. I’d check all the fluids in the diesels and generator. A visual inspection of the fuel and raw-water strainers would follow, and I’d drain or clean them if needed. While looking over the engines, I would put my hands over the various hoses and feel for salt, which could indicate a loose clamp, a leaking stuffing box, or a leaky or worn-out hose.

Wearing an old white T-shirt was a useful tool for discovering hard-to-find oil leaks as I scrutinized ancillary equipment, along with the batteries and cables, the freshwater system, bilge pumps and high-water alarms. If the day before had been rough out on the water, I would also move around the engine room with a wrench and screwdriver to make sure no fittings were loose.

My next available day would be devoted to topside inspection and maintenance. Although I would always wash the boat after an ocean trip, that wash was usually a quick once-over to remove the day’s collection of salt and dockside grime. Once a week, my boat’s exterior would receive a thorough soaping, rinse and chamois dry from the flybridge to the waterline. That’s the best way for a close inspection of every foot of LOA for scratches, dings or other imperfections that would be added to my black book for follow-up attention. If I saw water sheeting off the windows, it was time for a Rain-X treatment. Non--beading fiberglass surfaces told me the boat needed a wax. Clear vinyl enclosures needed to have zippers and snaps free of salt.

Another day of exterior assignments could include compounding, polishing and waxing the fiberglass. Aluminum, stainless steel and chrome could also be on this day’s worksheet. Checking the tightness of each piece of hardware would be time well spent.

Boats outfitted with varnished trim often need a three-step process of sanding, spot priming bare or worn spots, and top coating. Brightwork has a way of looking fine from the dock, but close-up, it tells the truth about how well or badly you have been treating it, especially if the trim has numerous joints or is pierced with stanchions and other fittings or hardware. 

Along with these exterior exercises, there’s the need to maintain the boat’s cabin. Interior woodwork, vinyl and man-made surfaces collect grime from engine exhaust, cooking and more. Tight confines also absorb countless scents that can reek if they’re neglected for too long. A short-term dockside fix for funk is to open hatches and the salon door to let the breeze move fresh air around the interior. And move your soaking-wet boat shoes to the engine room so they can dry there instead of adding odors in the cabin.

The main point of my system and black book is that I address maintenance at a regular pace without dreading what comes next. Everything is orderly as I get ready to untie my lines and leave the dock, no matter what’s happening in the slip next door.