Boat Maintenance Guide 2024

Boat maintenance may not be glamorous but by staying on top of this important point, you will increase the longevity of your yacht.

Proper boat maintenance is crucial for ensuring the longevity and performance of your vessel. Regular upkeep can prevent costly repairs, enhance safety, and improve your overall boating experience. From routine checks to seasonal tasks, our comprehensive Boat Maintenance Guide covers everything you need to know. Whether you’re a new boat owner or an experienced sailor, this guide offers valuable tips and insights to keep your boat in top condition. Don’t let neglect shorten your boat’s lifespan—explore our guide now and ensure your vessel is always ready for the next adventure! Read more in our detailed guide today.

Table of Contents
  1. Boat Maintenance FAQ 
    1. What percentage of accidents occur because of bad boat maintenance?  
    2. Who should perform annual maintenance on your boat?  
    3. How much is boat maintenance?  
    4. Are pontoon boats low maintenance?
    5. What is the first thing you should do when your boat is taking on water?  
  2. Boat Engine Maintenance
    1. What is recommended maintenance for an inboard boat?  
    2. What is the life expectancy of a boat engine?  
    3. Why does my boat motor sputter a full throttle?  
    4. Why should a boat’s gas tank never be completely filled?  
    5. How to ruin a boat engine?  
  3. Boat Hull Maintenance
    1. How do I know if my boat hull is bad?  
    2. What ruins a fiberglass boat? 
    3. What is the longest lasting boat hull material?  
    4. What is the most common boat damage?  
  4. Electrical System
    1. How to diagnose boat electrical problems?  
    2. Why is my boat not getting power?  
    3. What is the most common cause of boat breakdowns? 
    4. What causes voltage drop in boats? 
    5. How do you find a bad ground on a boat?  
  5. Boat Plumbing
    1. Why is water getting in my boat?  
    2. How does the water system work on my boat?  
  6. Boat Upholstery 
    1. What causes discoloration on boat seats?  
    2. What is the pink bacteria on my boat cushions?  
    3. Is it cheaper to reupholster boat seats or to buy new ones?  
  7. Saltwater Boat Maintenance
    1. How do I protect my boat from saltwater?  
    2. How long can a fiberglass boat stay in saltwater?  
    3. What type of boat is best for saltwater?  
    4. Should you leave your outboard up or down in saltwater?  
    5. Is saltwater harder on boats?  
  8. Boat Maintenance Checklist 
  9. YATCO Boating and Fishing Guides 
boat owner is working on boat hull, boat maintenance guide 2023

Boat Maintenance FAQ 

What percentage of accidents occur because of bad boat maintenance?  

It can be hard to pin down exactly what the percentage of accidents that occur are due to bad boat maintenance. If there is a capsize, your boat runs aground or you hit another boat, it could be due to engine failure or electronics failure (both falling under the category of maintenance), or it could be operator inattention (or a combination of both). 

On average, you may see around 10 – 15% of boat accidents stemming from machinery failure which could be a result of poor boat maintenance. 

Who should perform annual maintenance on your boat?  

When it comes to carrying out annual maintenance on your boat, you’ll have a couple of options.

  • You can either opt to do the work yourself or
  • take it to a professional and let them handle the dirty work.

Most boat owners will end up learning a lot about boat maintenance as things may fall apart on the water or on the fly and you end up teaching yourself how to fix any number of issues. 

A key point to consider here is the size of your boat. As boats usually pertain to vessels 78ft and under, you may be able to handle most of the repairs on your own boat for smaller vessels, but when you get into 50ft boats and above, you may prefer to leave some of the technical issues to the professionals. 

How much is boat maintenance?  

A general guide is to budget spending 10 – 20% of the purchased price of your boat on annual maintenance.

From oil and filter replacements to battery and electrical upkeep or upgrades, you’ll need to regularly check on these items at least once a year. More if you are planning on living onboard full-time or going to be spending an extended time cruising. 

This means if you purchase a used boat for $50,000 you should expect to pay roughly $5,000 – $10,000 per year for maintaining your boat. 

Are pontoon boats low maintenance?

Pontoon boats are generally lower maintenance than a power boat or a sailboat. Since it is not achieving high speeds, or has many moving parts like a sailboat, they are a great entry-level boat thanks to their low maintenance profile and the fact that they don’t quickly outgrow their owners. 

What is the first thing you should do when your boat is taking on water?  

If you notice your boat taking on water, immediately take the following action to safely recover: 

  1. Ensure every person onboard the boat is wearing their life jacket. 
  1. Bring the boat to a stop if you are still moving to stop any further water pressure. 
  1. Try and find the hole to see if you can stop the flow. 
  1. Where possible, plug or secure the hole to stop water entering the boat. 
  1. Bail out water. 
  1. Call the coast guard or signal to help if you are unable to stem the flow of water and the boat is sinking. 

While it may be hard to do so, try and remain calm and have everyone onboard doing their part to hopefully stop the flow of water onboard and return safely to the dock.

outboard boat engines, boat maintenance guide 2023

Boat Engine Maintenance

One of the best things you can do to extend the life of your inboard motor is to change the oil frequently. Learn how quickly you go through oil before needing a change and stick to this program. Other items to check include reviewing and replacing any belts or hoses for wear and tear and replacing them accordingly. While also staying on top of flushing the engine following any saltwater cruising. 

What is the life expectancy of a boat engine?  

Most boat engines will run on diesel and have a life span of roughly 5,000 hours. By creating (and sticking to) a regular maintenance program, you may be able to extend this even further; while equally, if you neglect the regular maintenance on your engine, you may get even less hours of use out of your engine. 

Why does my boat motor sputter a full throttle?  

If you know you have a full tank of gas, but the engine is coughing and sputtering, it’s time to examine what else could be causing this issue.

The most likely culprit is corroded or fouled parts like the spark plugs or even dirty gas and oil. Start with each of these items to determine what is causing your boat motor to sputter at full throttle and you’re likely to find the source of the problem. 

Why should a boat’s gas tank never be completely filled?  

Boat experts will agree to only fill your gas tank to around 90% full – you might be wondering why this is the case. This is to ensure the gas has room to expand once it’s under heat and to avoid any potential overflow into your boat. If you overfill the gas tank, there is no room for this expansion which can lead to leaks, or even worse, fire or explosions. 

How to ruin a boat engine?  

There are a few ways one can ruin a boat engine, such as: 

  • Dry starts 
  • Aggressive driving 
  • Over or under trimming the engine 
  • Ignoring maintenance indicators 
  • Irregular upkeep and replacement of parts 
  • Using cheap oil 
  • Installing the wrong filters 
boat with boat anchor

Boat Hull Maintenance

How do I know if my boat hull is bad?  

A few things can cause a boat hull to “go bad” but usually, most of these issues can be fixed, provided you take it to an experienced professional. 

  • Gelcoat cracks – Unfortunately this is a fairly common issue with hulls – especially on fiberglass boats. From minor cracks along stakes and chines to transverse cracks that run port to starboard (less common and unfortunately a much bigger issue), these can usually be resolved although some may be a lengthier (and pricier) fix than others. Since these cracks aren’t always cosmetic, it could be due to structural or transom issues. If you can fit your fingernail into a crack, it is no longer a costmetic issue, but a more serious one to be addressed. 
  • Flex – when on the water, can you feel the boat shuddering or flexing beneath you? This can be a sign of major structural damage that needs addressing ASAP. 
  • Soft spots – these are major red flags that need to be addressed as soon as possible as they usually denote water damage inside the core, or even a rotten wood coring and the stripping of fiberglass laminate.  

What ruins a fiberglass boat? 

One of the largest things to destroy a fiberglass boat is actually wear and tear caused by the water itself. If you are often cruising in choppy, wavy water, this constant slap on the hull can cause damage and vibration over time. Warping and delamination are the next most common damages to a fiberglass hull. 

What is the longest lasting boat hull material?  

Steel hull construction is usually the hardiest and longest lasting. You’ll often see explorer yachts and even ice-class expedition yachts built with a steel hull to withstand even the harshest water and weather conditions. These hulls can usually take impact with little to no damage to the hull structure. 

What is the most common boat damage?  

The most common boat damage seen is usually due to impact damage. This can be from hitting another boat or more commonly, running aground, hitting an object in the water, or even crashing into the dock. Depending on the size of your boat and the damage caused, impact damage could even result in a total loss of the vessel.

two men kneeing on the boat engine of an inflatable boat

Electrical System

How to diagnose boat electrical problems?  

Most boat electrical problems can be diagnosed by using a multimeter. Always ensure your AC power is switched off completely before running tests with your multimeter. If you are unfamiliar with how to use a multimeter, always consult with a professional or experienced friend before using one for the first time. 

Why is my boat not getting power?  

One of the biggest issues with boat power is due to a dead battery or old battery cables. If you are carrying out regular maintenance on your boat, you will be checking the battery and cables for any corrosion so be aware of these issues ahead of time. If these both seem fine, you will also want to make sure the engine is primed, the spark plugs are in good shape and there is nothing tangled around the propeller (ensure the engine is completely shut off before attempting to untangle anything from the engine blades).  

What is the most common cause of boat breakdowns? 

The most common cause of boat breakdowns is usually a very minor fix — a dead battery. If there are large gaps between when your boat gets used, this can increase the possibility of a dead battery so it’s always a good idea to check the battery before heading out for the day. Some people opt to carry a battery charger onboard (if there is space) so they can always charge the battery on the go if need be. 

What causes voltage drop in boats? 

While some voltage drops can be common, excessive voltage drops are when you lose more than three percent power. These can be caused by anything from corrosion and loose connections to incorrect wire gauges to handle the output. 

How do you find a bad ground on a boat?  

Bad ground on a boat can happen when switches or wiring become worn or come into contact with water. In order to test and find this bad ground, you’ll want to switch everything off, but keep the battery switched ON. With your multimeter set to DC, take a voltage reading to determine if there is a leak. If there is, depending if the leak is on the boat side or the battery side, you will need to rewire the battery or fix the issue in your boat’s electrical panel. Most leaks, however, should be noticeable to the naked eye and solved with a quick fix. 

Boat Plumbing

Why is water getting in my boat?  

If you keep getting water in your boat, you’ll want to address the cause. Have you just been cruising in rough seas, with a lot of waves breaking across the boat? Or was there heavy rain that your boat took on? Most of this water is bilge water – water that doesn’t drain out but remains in place and needs removal. However, if the water is not coming in from above, you could have a leak in your hull, mast, or windows somewhere. Determine where the water is entering the boat, and you can make a plan accordingly to remove or resolve the problem.  

How does the water system work on my boat?  

Water on a boat will use a complex system that you will need to learn about before spending extended time onboard. Here are a few key points about how (most) water systems work on boats: 

  • Freshwater tanks will be placed in the deepest part of your boat – this is where you will put fresh, potable water to drink. This water will be used by your sinks and the shower, with the water accessible through a pump in this tank to send water where it needs to go. 
  • Depending on the toilet onboard, you will either have a chemical toilet (which has everything needed as part of the toilet), or will use a seacock to allow water from the sea to come into the toilet. The seacock has a mesh filter to ensure nothing except water is drawn into the toilet via the pump.  
  • Used grey water is usually filtered back out into the water around you (the water from the sinks or shower) so it’s important to be mindful of what you are putting down the drains and to use soaps that are safe and biodegradable for the marine life around you. 
  • If you have a toilet onboard (and not a freestanding chemical toilet), this will be flushed into black water tanks onboard. You will need to have a pump out for water held in this tank to ensure you aren’t contaminating the water around you. Most jurisdictions will also allow you to flush the toilet directly into the water when you are located at a minimum of three nautical miles off the shoreline. 

Boat Upholstery 

What causes discoloration on boat seats?  

Most boat seats will become discolored from sitting out in the sun and heat, and saltwater damage. The most common cause of these stains however, is the dehydrochlorination process which is when vinyl cushions are left in the sun and heat and the glue reacts to this thermal pressure. 

What is the pink bacteria on my boat cushions?  

You may notice a pink bacteria on (usually) white boat cushions. What is this and where does it come from? The bacteria is known as streptoverticillium reticulum and causes no risk to yourself or those that come into contact with it. It is actually something that grows between the foam and the vinyl of cushions on your boat. It isn’t present in saltwater, and is usually the result of fresh water, warmth, food and oxygen. All of which are very common items that happen on a boat so it can be the bane of many owners. 

Is it cheaper to reupholster boat seats or to buy new ones?  

It will almost certainly be more cost-effective to reupholster your current boat seats than to purchase new ones. Using a trusted and reliable cushion protector will help you extend the life your cushions as well.


Saltwater Boat Maintenance

How do I protect my boat from saltwater?  

There’s no doubt that some of the most popular cruising grounds can be found in saltwater. As such, it’s important to take a few steps after each time spent on the water to make sure your boat doesn’t encounter saltwater damage: 

  • Always wash down your boat after returning from a saltwater cruise. Spray and scrub down your boat from bow to stern, paying special attention to metal items that can easily corrode from saltwater exposure. 
  • Flush your engine with fresh water to remove any lingering saltwater deposits in these crucial components. 
  • Regrease all of your washed down metal parts so they are protected once they head back out to sea. 
  • If you plan to keep your boat in saltwater, using saltwater friendly paint will help to extend the longevity of your paint job as it has special elements in it that help to act as a barrier between the harsh saltwater and your hull. 

How long can a fiberglass boat stay in saltwater?  

Depending on the size of your boat, and where you are located, you may not be removing it from the water after every use but opting to keep it in the water for months on end. For fiberglass boats, you don’t want to leave it in saltwater for longer than a few weeks at a time. The longer a boat stays in salt water, the greater the increase of barnacles to grow which can cause damage to your hull and paint job. 

What type of boat is best for saltwater?  

There are a number of boat styles you can use when cruising and fishing in saltwater. Some of our top recommendations are: 

Should you leave your outboard up or down in saltwater?  

You should always keep your outboard motor up when in saltwater (or any water really) to help avoid marine growth and corrosion on the metal components. 

Is saltwater harder on boats?  

It’s probably not a shock to learn that saltwater is much harder on a boat than fresh water. In fact, salt water can erode boat components up to 10 times faster than those kept in fresh water!

luxury sailboat

Boat Maintenance Checklist 

If you’re looking for a quick and easy reference guide on our top boat maintenance tips, you’ve come to the right place. If you do nothing else with your boat to maintain it, make sure you’re covering the following 15 tips to keep your boat running smoothly for years to come: 

  1. Keep it clean – Simply washing your boat regularly on the outside will help to remove any grime, corrosion, and buildup of particles or invasive species that are picked up on the water. Not only does this keep your boat looking good, but it can help stop wear and tear on items or the spreading of certain species from one body of water to the next. 
  1. Check the oil – Just like your car, keeping an eye on the oil in your boat engine can help make the difference between a fun and relaxing day at sea, and one where your engine dies simply because you ran out of oil. 
  1. Replace air filters – Try and get into the habit where when you check the oil, you also check your filters (as you would with your car). This can help you spot old and dirty filters ahead of time. 
  1. Charge your battery – Another common cause of power failure while onboard is due to the engine dying. Even better than testing before each trip is to keep a battery charger onboard so you can always offer a quick fix should something go wrong with it. 
  1. Check your gauges often – From your speed to fuel gauges, you’ll want to ensure they are all running smoothly so you don’t run into any issues while away from the dock. 
  1. Keep an eye on the engine – Other than simply checking the engine for wear and tear or issues with any hoses and bolts, a good idea is to get into the habit of flushing the engine after each use as well. 
  1. Inspect the propeller – Propellers go through a lot while at work on your boat. Aside from floating debris that can get tangled up in the propeller, they are also often knocked on rocks or other items while being lifted in and out of the water, so they get easily scuffed. Keeping an eye on these items can help you catch anything quickly and hopefully address it before it becomes a bigger issue. 
  1. Test those electricals – While it’s always a good idea to check all electrical items before you head out on the water, it’s also a good habit to get into where you have these items thoroughly checked by a professional once a year (or at the start/end of a season if in a climate that doesn’t allow year-round boating). 
  1. Check the hull – Without a working hull, you’ll be in big trouble onboard. The hull makes everything else possible and is often the item that can get beat up the most. From rough waters and waves, to hitting docks or even rocks and debris in the water, to getting covered in barnacles and sea particles, you’ll want to always be on the lookout for any new major cracks, dents or leaks on the hull, so you never get caught out while onboard and away from land. 
  1. Keep an eye on hoses – Hoses get pinched, squished and banged around a lot during their lifetime. As a result, you’ll want to thoroughly check them over for any signs of age, wear and tear or cracks and even holes. 
  1. Keep extra fuel onboard – In all the pre-trip checks, it can be easy to forget to make sure you have enough gas onboard for your day on the water. Where possible, always keep some extra fuel stored onboard and try and check both the gas tank and your spare jug are full before leaving the dock. 
  1. Check your water tanks and plumbing – As explained previously, these water tanks need refilling, and your black water tank will need to be pumped out so keep an eye on both to know when you are due. 
  1. Watch out for wear and tear on cushions – When not in use (especially when sitting idle for a while or sitting out in the sun), it’s a good idea to store cushions and check them at the end of each season to see how they are wearing. If you are cruising in saltwater, this is even more important as the added moisture in the air can make these items more prone to dampness and therefore lessen their life span. 
  1. Do an annual refit program – Regardless of the size of your boat, you should try and review your annual maintenance and “refit” items once a year. From new paint jobs to simply making sure all items are greased and ready for the season, it can save you plenty of headaches down the road. 
  1. Do a safety check – From life jackets, your First-Aid kit and fire extinguisher to your flare gun and running lights — always ensure all of these items are in good working order and immediately replace any missing items as soon as you notice something is missing or broken. 

Basic boat maintenance may seem unglamorous and tedious when all you want to do is get onboard, slip off the dock and enjoy a day of fun in the sun with your friends on the water. However, like all things, doing a little due diligence ahead of time can save you bigger problems (and money) down the road. For other YATCO Boating Guides, please refer to our Boating Right of Way Guide, Boat Insurance Guide, Boating in Florida Guide, and our Yacht vs. Boat Guide to learn more about making the most of your time on the water in a safe and responsible way.

YATCO Boating and Fishing Guides 

  • Types of Fish in Florida Guide: We’ve seen a number of fish that call Florida home and make this a bucket list fishing destination for many anglers in the world. If you’re wondering what fish are in season when or what types of fish can be found in a number of destinations across Florida, YATCO has a guide for that. For a complete run down on all the types of fish you can catch in Florida, check out YATCO’s guide. 
  • Sport Fishing Yacht Guide: Many recreational fishers will choose to use the best yacht for the job when it comes to fishing. And you can’t go wrong with a sportfishing yacht – specifically designed to hold all of your fishing gear, optimize space for maneuvering, and the power and stability to take you wherever the fish are. Explore YATCO’s Sportfishing Yacht Buying Guide
  • Flybridge Yacht Guide: Similar to the sport fishing yachts, flybridge yachts are also popular amongst anglers, thanks to their upper decks which offer the perfect height to explore the horizons and scan for fish activity. Learn more about flybridge yachts in our guide
  • Florida Deep Sea Fishing Florida: Deep sea fishing is a special type of fishing in which anglers head out to the depths of the ocean to pull out some really large game fish. You’ll want to look for water at least 100ft in depth, where you can discover fish like 1,000-pound marlin or hooking a big tuna! Learn more in YATCO’s Deep Sea Fishing Guide 2023. 
  • Boating in Florida Guide: Before you head out on the water for your next big catch of the day, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the rules of the water in Florida. Whether you are a resident, or someone looking to visit and do some fishing, you’ll want to be sure to heed the ways of the water. YATCO created a Boating in Florida Guide for this very reason
  • Boat Financing Guide: Maybe you want to make fishing more than just a charter once or twice a year, and instead invest in your own boat or yacht you can take out any time you want. And in a place like Florida, where the fishing season never ends, it’s the perfect place to buy your next yacht. Learn about Boat Financing in our Guide.
  • Boating the Right of Way Guide: Just as we need to learn the rules of the road when we head out in our car, it’s important to learn the rules of the water as well. Whether you are a seasoned sailor, or new to boating, YATCO created a Boating Right of Way Guide to better understand some of the rules and buoys or signage you may come across on the water
  • Boat Insurance Guide: While certain states (including Florida) and countries around the world may not make boat insurance compulsory or a legal requirement before heading out on the water, it’s still a prudent idea to secure boat insurance before slipping off the dock. Learn more about the importance of boat insurance with our guide

Click here to see the many topics under YATCO’s FAQ Guides. 

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