Your Complete, Voyaging Season Boat Maintenance Checklist

For months you’ve been feeling the tease of the water’s mist, hearing the seagulls and wishing they were albatross. You’ve been waiting for the day you haul in the line, stow anchor, and set out. You’ve been patient, and voyaging season is finally here!

But first…you’ve got to clean your boat.

A boat maintenance checklist properly upheld during the voyaging season will both make ocean vacations more efficient & enjoyable, and make the storing (and eventual removal from storage) easier on you and your girl. No one wants to start the trip they’ve been planning for months (years!) already too salty.

If you’re like most boat owners, nothing will make you question the necessity of the size of your craft quite like a good, old-fashioned spring cleaning. It’s inevitable. But it doesn’t have to be inevitably awful!

What better way to lighten the pre-launch load than by keeping your efforts organized with a boat care checklist? Read on to see how to build your complete voyaging season boat care and maintenance checklist!

If You Just Want to Get on With it Already

Before we get too deep into the thick of things, feel free to scroll to the bottom to view our sample list and skip past the reading so you can start your own boat maintenance checklist right now! (but know you’ll miss out on all of the helpful links spread throughout, mwahaha)

How Do I Start a Boat Maintenance Checklist?

If you only ever eat on square plates and routinely have nightmares about waking up in January without having winterized your boat, you may not find the following breakdowns too helpful. But if you’re a novice boater or are like most people and your heart still pumps blood instead of saltwater, you’ve probably heard someone say something like:

“Maintaining your boat is just like maintaining your car!”

While we can all appreciate that both boats and cars have engines and seats, that’s about as far as the comparison goes. Regular maintenance on a daily driver doesn’t look the same as boat care and maintenance. But there are some valuable lessons from car care that translate to the world of boat maintenance, namely zoning.

Identify the zones on your boat that need to be maintained on a daily, weekly, monthly, and annual basis. A zone breakdown may look something like this:

  1. Engine
  2. Deck & Hull
  3. Electrical Systems
  4. Propeller/Sails
  5. Living Spaces

Bear in mind that your vessel will have specific needs that are distinct from even other boats of her type. For example, a sailboat will require a maintenance plan for her mast, halyards, boom, and sails that a houseboat would not, and a larger sailboat may also have an HVAC, plumbing system, and various accessories that a smaller sailboat would not.

Pro Tip: In short, know your boat!

Common Boat Care and Maintenance Mistakes

We all know experience is the best teacher, but let this be the one time that knowledge is as poignant as experience. When you’re creating a boat maintenance checklist for actively maneuvering the high seas, it’s vital – VITAL – that you avoid a few common boat care mistakes that frequently cause both boaters and their floating families heartache.

Add these to your list right now!

  1. Make sure your drain plugs are maintained correctly! Since we’re being honest, just about everyone will take off in a boat without a drain plug at some point in their lives. In addition to users simply forgetting to reinstall them, drain plugs can become brittle, chipped, dry rotted, or warped when out of the water, and can spring leaks or develop weaknesses when submerged.
  2. Bring extra line for your extra line! Do you want to be realizing you have no extra anchor line before or after it frays on an invisible coral shelf? If you have a sailboat, bring enough extra rigging to re-rig your mainsail (and if you have room, any additional sails).
  3. Know your limits! We all (we all do this, right?) fantasize about being embedded waist-deep in the innards of our boats with oily arms and dripping sweat as the sun sets on a day of tinkering with our ships. (Just me? Ok, cool.) But there is no amount of testosterone or estrogen that can pay the hefty repair bill on something we refused to acknowledge we didn’t know how to fix. Outsource when necessary, but also don’t be afraid to be the dude who lingers awkwardly to get a look at the way your mechanic installs or fixes something.

Pro Tip: Identify 5-10 things that will cripple you at sea and replace worn items or purchase spares wherever possible. How is your drive system? If your propeller is getting old, it might be time for a replacement. You can shop these aluminum propellers to replace old machinery or even to keep on board in the event of a catastrophic failure.

Boat Maintenance Checklist. Now What?

This is going to sound trite but bear with us here.

EXECUTE THE CHECKLIST.

Of course I’ll do the checklist, you say. Why else would I make it? you say. What I mean by “do the checklist” is not only to apply this beautiful list of boat maintenance and repair points you’ve meticulously accumulated but to audit the list and ensure it contains everything you need!

Be it known that 100 NM out to sea is NOT where you want to realize that “restock toilet paper” didn’t make the list. Perform your checklist and then walk around your boat. Likely you’ll find that you’ve forgotten something trivial on land that would cause you a lot of grief at sea.

Pro Tip: When in doubt, restock! We know, we know. Easier said than done. There are plenty of ways to get creative with storage on your boat, just search the web!

Boat Care and Maintenance isn’t Only Fixing Things

We’ve discussed how important it is for us to know the ins and outs of our boats intimately when creating a boat maintenance checklist, as well as the importance of being aware of what materials you’ll need in plentiful supply.

But it’s also important to know about safety items that may not be immediately identifiable as necessary but can quite literally save your life in an emergency. Scan these items and see what you might want to add to your boat maintenance checklist, bearing in mind that some of these items require their own regular maintenance.

  • Water Condenser – these inflatable devices use the evaporation of water to desalinate and condense fresh, drinkable water for 1-3 people, and considering their compact size and relatively high output have saved countless lives over the years
  • Emergency Dry Box Kit – gadgets are of no use to anyone if they’ve been ruined by water, doubly so if they’re at the bottom of the ocean, so include a phone, sound maker, flare/laser, power block & cords, up to date nautical maps, a compact first aid kit, and whatever else you believe would assist you through a survival scenario.
  • Emergency Position Indicating Radiobeacon (EPIRB) – this compact device will transmit a signal to rescue personnel with your position; it’s easy to perceive as gratuitous…until you need it
  • Marine Radio – waterproof and rugged, a handheld marine emergency radio will allow you not only to transmit a signal to your rescuers but will allow you to communicate with them directly about any injuries or needs you may have

Pro Tip: Find a boating resource website that you rely upon and trust like the National Weather Service NOAA and become very familiar with it. Sometimes you only have minutes to search for what you need on a dying phone battery or touchy cell reception.

Sample List to Use or Build Upon

If you’re one of the 99% of humans that benefits from having a place to start when forming new ideas, here is a jumping-off point for your boating maintenance checklist.

  • Clean all external surfaces
  • Wax external surfaces
  • Lubricate external mechanics
  • Lubricate internal mechanics
  • Clean deck
  • Check and maintain fuel system
  • Check and maintain electrical systems
  • Check belts, cables, hoses
  • Check for crustaceans/invasive species
  • Replace propeller
  • Check all fluid levels
  • Repair and replace PFDs
  • Print or acquire up-to-date nautical maps
  • Check weather report
  • Ensure all emergency materials readily available
  • Ensure any first aid materials within the expiration date
  • Ensure flares/lasers are within expiry/have batteries
  • Restock paper products 
    • Toilet paper
    • Paper towels
    • Napkins
    • Cleaning towels
  • Restock cleaning products
  • Ensure sufficient clean water supply
  • Ensure all vessel paperwork is included and up to date

Pro Tip: Having a separate list for your emergency materials will help ensure you provide this specific area with the extra care it deserves. This list is a helpful starting point.

It’s Time to Launch

Grab the bubbly! You’re here! You’ve done it!

You’ve identified your boat’s unique care needs, avoided common boat owner mistakes, ensured your checklist was accurate and comprehensive, and decided upon vital lifesaving technologies.

If you’ve identified things on your boat that need replacing, replace them! If things are worn or you have space, store spares. Do it now!

And once you’ve done all that?

Set off, point toward the horizon, and enjoy your ocean vacation!!

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