Looking after your boat: especially for first time boat owners
Your boat needs a lot of TLC to maintain its value and performance. It is subjected to stresses and strains quite different from a car (how often do you bang your car into a wall or jump on to the roof?) and does need pampering. There are routines that are best done daily (when cruising/running the engine), monthly and annually. Below is a general list, which is by no means exhaustive and certainly not specific to your boat/engine, that can be used as a guideline to help you become familiar with the quirks of your own pride and joy. Some of the items may best be done by a professional. It is for you to decide on your level of competence.
If the boat is new to you the frequency of these checks should be upgraded significantly - daily checks done thrice daily, monthly done daily etc until you become familiar with the foibles of your boat - in fact do all the checks before your first cruise.
Morning/pre-cruise/pre-running checks - Engine oil level, engine coolant level, bilge levels.Evening/post cruising/post running checks - Tighten stern tube greaser to stop the drip (tighten until resistance is felt and then usually a half to one turn more), bilge levels, inspection tray beneath engine for any changes.
Monthly Checks - Daily checks plus:
ENGINE: Battery electrolyte levels, flexible hoses/pipes & wiring for rubbing/wear, fan belt worn/slack, exhaust leaks, diesel leaks from all pipework especially metal spill rails, engine mount nuts - if loose tighten the bottom nut upwards not the top nut downwards if the top nut is a Nyloc or if unsure get a professional in to check it out. Engine alignment to the shaft is critical and should not be tampered with unless you have expert knowledge.
CABIN: Look for water seepage from: water pump/shower pump/hoses for sink/shower/bath waste/washing machine/central heating connections/pump-out toilet fixings and pump-out pipes, check the CABIN bilge for water - suck out if necessary and find out where it has come from.
GAS: Check gas flames (especially fridge, water heater, boiler) are burning clean blue - if not call in a GAS SAFE registered engineer approved for LPG on Boats. INSPECT: Mooring ropes for chaffing, mooring pins/posts/rings for stability. Diesel drip-feed boilers (e.g. Kabola/Bubble) may need cleaning out, when in continuous use, every 6 - 8 weeks, can be more often with intermittent use. Diesel compact boilers (e.g. Eberspacher/Mikuni) need the glow plug cleaning regularly. Engine oil changes should be according to manufacturers instructions, oil filter changes at least every other oil change after using flushing additive.
Beginning of Season Checks:
ENGINE: Engine alignment, Stern tube packing, Fan Belts, Re-new fuel filters, Renew/clean air filter, Change gearbox oil, Check: weedhatch rubber seal, for debris round the prop, that prop nut/split pin secure, Tighten jubilee clips on hoses.
CABIN: Clean electrical contacts on bullet and blade fuses, Clean in-line filters in water pipes and shower pump, Set accumulator tank pressure to 7psi, Re-new drinking water filter cartridges, Service central heating system.
GAS: Service gas fridge & clean its flue, have a soundness test done on the gas system by a competent person.
End of Season Checks:
ENGINE: Check antifreeze concentration, clear heater plug holes, check heater plug performance, clean out any deck drains under deck boards/back deck hatch/front cockpit/cabin-edge handrails, lift weedhatch check rubber seal, check for debris round the prop, prop nut and split pin secure, fill up the diesel tank to reduce condensation build up.
CABIN: Check antifreeze concentration in central heating, flush toilet cassette or pump-out tank.
HEATING: Now is the time to service central heating units if the boat is to be used in the winter.
FLUES: Several deaths have occurred aboard boats due to obstruction caused by soot and tar etc in flue pipes resulting in the build up of burnt combustion gases inside the cabin. The fact that ventilation under the Boat Safety Scheme has become "advisory" may be lulling some people into a false sense of security. If your boat has less then the recommended amount of ventilation, make sure you open windows when appliances are working hard. Not covered by the safety scheme is the condition of the inside of the flue pipe - make sure you check it and clean it before every winter - regardless of the type of fuel you have been using.
Preparation for Winter: If the boat is not to be used in the winter, many owners 'winterize' the boat.
This normally means emptying the domestic water system to avoid problems with freezing pipes and leaving cupboard and fridge doors open to allow air to circulate. Drain at least half of the water tank (so the water level is below the canal level) by running the pump and then close the tank isolating tap. With the water pump switched off, open all the taps and drain off the pipes by disconnecting the pipe from the pump and either draining into bowl or sucking out with a wet & dry vac (if using a vac open one tap at a time but do not suck through the pump itself). With the pump pipework disconnected, switch the pump on for a moment to empty the pump chamber.
Got a gas instant water heater? Got a calorifier? Got a drinking water filter?- don't forget to drain those as well. Shower pumps can also be drained - but beware, the water will be smelly; remove hair from the pump and filter at the same time.
If your boat water tank has an inspection hatch, this is a good time to have a look-see and a cleanout or re-paint. When everything is drained, and cleaned, leave the taps open and connect up the pipework again so as to avoid problems in the Spring when you fill up before you remember to connect the pipes!
In addition, whenever the boat is left closed up:
Turn off gas appliances and main gas supply, turn off the battery master switch(es), tighten the stern tube greaser, if safe to do so leave a hopper window open to assist the ventilation.
Some boaters also switch off the water pump whenever they leave the boat for shopping or days out etc to avoid emptying the water tank or filling the boat should a problem develop. NB If you hear the water pump coming on regularly for no apparent reason, check for leaks in all the pipework and pump itself, check for taps left on and pump-out toilet's flush running, if not it may be the pump itself needs repair or replacing. Note: this is not an exhaustive list.