8 Everyday Boat Maintenance Tips to Give You Total Peace of Mind

Sure, you winterized your boat.

And you also have an annual servicing and cleaning routine in the spring to dewinterize your boat.

After that, you may assume that all will be fine—that is, until something breaks, tears, blows or just stops working entirely.

The frequency of your boat care routine all depends on your boat and how you use it. Older boats need more time and attention, as do boats used for frequent trips or speedy, adrenaline-pumping excursions.

No matter your boat and how you treat it, you definitely want to follow these basic tips throughout the boating season to prevent incidents on the water later. You might even want to go through this list a time or two in the off season, especially if you’re leaving it in the water.

8 Everyday Boat Maintenance Tips to Give You Total Peace of Mind

These tips hold true for pontoons, deck boats and runabouts alike, but keep the particular needs of your boat in mind—you know your boat better than I do!

1. Keep a close eye on the engine

I’ve seen plenty of boaters break down due to engine failure, only to be towed back to the marina. Sometimes it could’ve prevented beforehand, sometimes not.

Regardless, routine inspection of your engine, be it outboard, sterndrive or inboard, is vital to trouble-free cruising.

Confused where to start?

Always begin with the basics. First, check the oil. Low oil levels—or no oil at all—mean problems sooner rather than later.

Give it a top-up whenever it’s looking low to keep your engine running stronger, longer.

At least once every 50-100 running hours, you’ll want to do the full oil change. And always refer to your manual for what type of oil to use and how frequently to change it.

Many outboards nowadays are built so you can check and change the oil quickly and easy. Once this is done, and with the engine’s cowling already off, it never hurts to:

  • Check for fuel or oil leaks. If something looks suspicious, contact your local boat repair shop or call the engine manufacturer for recommendations.
  • Lubricate all moving parts with an anti-corrosive.
  • Inspect all lines and hoses for wear.
  • Check clamps and fuel lines for corrosion.

Additionally, your outboard should be well-secured to the transom. Constant use during the season can potentially loosen hardware and misalign the outboard. Check that all bolts are secure, and tighten things up as needed.

2. Flush the engine after each outing

Yes, we’re still stuck on the engine business. That’s because this is perhaps the most important part of your boat to look after.

Whether you run in salt or fresh water, flushing your engine with fresh water should be done after every outing.

Flushing the engine means preventing the salt crystals and deposits from damaging internal components (in saltwater applications) and getting rid of muck, sand or other crud (after running in fresh water).

Most modern outboards feature built-in freshwater flushing systems and the process is very simple. Just be sure to consult with your operating manual for the proper procedure.

Shoreline Marine Motor Flusher Dual Flow
  • Works on most outboards and inboards I/O’s
  • Use to test run your motor before heading to the water
  • Connects to standard garden hose
  • Requires no tools for installation or removal
Attwood 9372-2 Universal Motor Flusher, Flushes Engine Cooling System, Round with Plastic Body, Attach to Garden Hose
  • Quickly and easily flushes engine’s cooling system
  • Flushes away materials such as salt, sand, silt, and alkali
  • Prevents clogging and corrosion
  • Self-adjusting clamping yoke fits on most domestic or imported inboard/outboards and outboards
  • Attach garden hose and the molded cups deliver fresh water to flush cooling system through the side intakes on lower unit

If you don’t have a flushing system on your outboard, it’s time to get old school with motor flushers like those offered by Shoreline Marine (see right, click here to check price on Amazon) or Attwood (check price on Amazon). These are usually referred to as earmuffs.

To use, attach the system to a garden hose, cover the water intakes with the earmuffs and turn on the water. Be sure there’s enough flowing water for the outboard to run before turning it over. Let it run at least five minutes to ensure sufficient flushing.

3. Honor thy prop

Without your prop, your boat isn’t going anywhere.

A testament to this is a situation I found myself in while fishing a few years ago. After a morning of being successful, I decided to call it a day. I pulled the anchor, started the engine and pushed the throttle. Nothing happened. All I heard was a high-pitched whizzing sound.

Confused, I turned the engine off, lifted the leg and was shocked to see there was no prop on the drive. Instead, looking further down, it was 15 feet below the water’s surface, directly off the stern. I then dropped anchor and went for a swim to get it. After my morning dip, I got the attention of a nearby angler and he happily towed me into the marina.

So, take it from me, before any outing, ensure the prop nut and cotter pin are secured to the manufacturer’s specifications. I was lucky that I was in shallower water. Otherwise, it would have been a very costly mistake.

Other prop maintenance includes:

  • Checking for dings, nicks or bent blades. A bent blade or even a ding can hinder your performance. Remember, hitting rocks, the bottom or other hard objects can damage the prop shaft or other internal components.
  • Inspecting the prop shaft and hub for fishing lines or debris. (This is also a good time to ensure the water intake is clean).
Quicksilver / Mercury 2-4-C Marine Lubricant / Grease w/ Teflon 8oz
  • Recommended for greasing propeller shaft splines on all outboards and sterndrives
  • When applied annually, ensures that the prop can be removed when needed
  • Extremely water resistant
  • Won't break down when mixed with water
  • Part #s 92-802859Q 1, 802859A 1

4. Dedicate one area to “dry storage”

Having a dedicated dry storage area is highly underrated. Everyone with a boat should be on top of this.

I know, it’s hard to keep things dry on a boat, but it’s worth the effort.

A dry storage area keeps all essentials organized and throwing lifejackets, water toys, clothing or other gear in these spaces make for convenient, quick clean-ups. Yet, wet gear means water, and water can turn into an ugly mess, especially when it’s left for long periods.

  • Dedicate a dry storage compartment for certain gear. Anything prone to water retention, mold and mildew should live here.
  • Dry out your lifejackets, water toys, towels, and clothing before putting them in a storage compartment. Shake them dry, towel them off or let them hang to dry for a while before stowing them.

5. Be a clean machine

Clutter, dirt, mold and mildew can accumulate very easily.

While it often takes some time at first, the more I do it, the less I have to really clean—and the less often I have to spend an entire day of my life getting things neat and tidy.

But what deserves special attention with this common chore?

Here are some words of wisdom from a clean-freak like me:

  • If you’re cleaning storage compartments or livewells, use a good biodegradable solution (check price on Amazon here). Many livewells are self-draining, but only drains that are flush to the bottom get rid of the majority of the water. Sponge up any excess.
  • For dry storage areas, use an outdoor vacuum to clean up dirt or other debris.
  • For gunnel storage, ensure everything is stored without protruding gear or lines.
Star Brite 089732PW Star Brite Sea Safe Boat Wash, 32 oz
  • Biodegradable formula
  • Removes dirt, stains, grease, road grime, oil and salt deposits
  • Cleans the entire boat; safe for use on fiberglass, vinyl, metal, glass, plastic, rubber and painted surfaces
  • Concentrated, economical formula
  • Will not remove wax or polish

6. Mind the flooring

Many cockpit floors are self-draining, making them extra handy for cleaning (among other things). If you have marine-grade, snap-in carpeting, remove it! Water, dirt, food crumbs—you name it—will find its way underneath.

For best results, shake the carpet, vacuum debris, pressure wash and then let it hang it to dry. Click here for more tips on boat carpet cleaning.

Scrubbing the foredeck is one of the most important tasks of boat maintenance. It gets rid of stains and dirt in a few simple steps. It also adds longevity and value to your boat when done properly. Companies such as Meguiar’s, Shurhold and Starbrite are all popular brands with a range of effective cleaning products.

7. Clean and repair upholstery as needed

Sand, mud, even mucky water accumulates constantly on upholstery. Plus, the longer it sits, the more cleaning and scrubbing is required.

So, maintaining your upholstery is something you want to stay on top of.

McGuiar’s, 3M and 303—to name a few tried-and-true products—are all great solutions to ensure a clean and dirt-free boat.

3M 09023 Marine Vinyl Cleaner, Conditioner, & Protector, 8.45 fl oz
  • Gives vinyl a protective treatment
  • Cleans vinyl to keep it looking new
  • Restores natural sheen
  • Formulated for tough marine conditions
  • Easy to apply formula for use on vinyl and leather
303 (30206) Spot Cleaner Trigger Sprayer, 32 Fl. oz.
  • Advanced action to remove the toughest stains
  • Safe for all water-safe materials
  • Effortless results every time

Cording and stitching in the upholstery collect copious amounts of crud as well and requires attention. These are also vulnerable areas for wear and tear—especially tears as the threading may come loose after a season or two of use.

To fix rips in seats along the cord and stitching, simply sew along the dotted line. All that’s required is outdoor thread, a curved needle and some patience.

To start, insert the needle and thread through the existing hole (or near it) and simply sew along the cording and upholstery until it’s tight. It may take a few times to get in the groove, but it will work.

For tears and rips in more open areas of a seat or along the gunnel, there are many repair kits on the market such as Permatex Vinyl/Leather Repair Adhesive (check price on Amazon) to prevent the tear or hole from getting worse.

Permatex 80902 Vinyl and Leather Repair Kit, Single Unit
  • Permanent repair for holes, tears, burns, cracks and gouges
  • Use to make repairs on soft surface dashboards, vinyl tops, upholstery, car seats, marine upholstery and more
  • Easy-to-follow illustrated instructions
  • Contains: heat transfer tool, 7 colors of repair compound, clear vinyl adhesive and filler, grain pattern paper, plastic spatula, and instruction sheet with color matching chart
  • Suggested Applications: Vinyl and leather upholstery, infant car seats, chairs, stools, and luggage

8. Create your own boat maintenance checklist

A checklist for routine boat maintenance can go on and on and on.

However, I find it’s important to conduct a simple walk-through when I first board, checking to see that everything is in working order.

This includes:

  • All the running lights are working—if not, replace them.
  • All rails are secure—if they aren’t, fix them.
  • The fenders are good shape.
  • Lines aren’t frayed or worn.
  • The Bimini top isn’t torn, and all associated hardware isn’t broken.

You know what gear, equipment and features your boat has, you know what’s important to you and you know what needs attention. Who could know a boat better than its owner?

Create your own daily maintenance checklist that you follow every single time you step on board. Don’t neglect the little quirks and details!

Keep an eye on every inch of your boat, and you’ll never be taken by surprise on the water.

Doing detailed, regular maintenance on your boat like this ensures longevity and value.

It also means you’re practicing many elements of boating safety and precaution—not only for you and your guests, but for other boaters on the water as well.