Boat Maintenance Checklist For Beginners (30 Important Steps)

Boat maintenance is crucial to keeping your boat in good working order.

One problem for new boat owners is not knowing how to maintain their new purchase.

This guide will help you take care of your boat to extend the lifespan of the boat. It will also help to ensure that you do not encounter any issues out on the water.

Boat types

If you winterize your boat, you will want to make sure you run through this checklist every new boating season.

The Engine (7 Things To Check)

Perhaps the most crucial part of your boat is the engine. Engine failure out on the water can be dangerous and hard to deal with. It is much better to prepare your engine on land when necessary repairs are easier, and parts will be accessible.

I myself have been on a boat that was not properly serviced before departure, and we stalled out in the water without the ability to get back on our own.

This can be scary and is completely preventable with proper care and attention.

Here are all the things that need to be done or checked with your engines:

  1. Replace engine fluids and filters at least annually, no matter the condition.
  2. Inspect all cooling system hoses and clamps.  Make sure to replace when necessary.
  3. Inspect the fuel system. Check all fuel hoses. Look for leaks or damage. Replace anything that is not in top condition. Damage can include softness, brittleness, or cracks.
  4. Ensure exhaust and ventilation systems are working properly.
  5. Inspect the raw water pump; the rubber impeller should be replaced annually.
  6. Inspect all engine cables, hoses, and everything else connected to the engine.
  7. Inspect and clean off your spark plugs (on gas engines.) Make sure to replace when necessary.

Electrical Parts (6 Things To Check)

Almost just as important as the engine is the electrical system parts. The electrical system can be difficult to maintain after you have already set off.

You will also want to make sure you do not wear down the battery by leaving the lights, radio, or other electrical on for too long without the engine running. Just like it would in your car, this can cause the battery to die.

If your battery dies while you are out on the water, it can be challenging to find someone to help you jump it.

For the electrical system, you will want to check the following:

  1. Inspect the battery condition and the battery cable connection to the engine. Make sure there are no signs of corrosion. Clean or replace if necessary.
  2. Check battery switches. These can wear out. Replace if necessary.
  3. Inspect the breaker, fuses, and other components for corrosion. Replace if needed.
  4. Check all lights. These can be necessary at night, and you can even get in trouble without properly functioning lights at night.
  5. Check all other electrical devices used on the boat, especially any bilge pumps. Replace if needed.
  6. Make sure you have the proper jumper cables for possible emergencies.

Steering system and Thru-hulls (5 Things To Check)

Like the other parts of the boat, you will want to make sure that the steering system is functioning properly while still on land (or at the dock.)  Any thru-hull fittings should be checked and maintained.

If you launch your boat and then find out that you have no steering, it cannot be easy to remedy the situation while you are out on the water.   A failing through-hull component can sink a boat quickly.

Steering and thru-hull things to check include:

  1. Check the hydraulic steering systems, including an inspection of the fluid level. Check the hoses and connections for leaking. Replace as needed.
  2. Check the condition of the steering cables. Replace any frayed cables.
  3. Make sure the steering system is functioning properly, grease if needed.
  4. Check the condition of the rudder or outboard bearings.
  5. Inspect all through-hull fittings and valves.  The fittings must be secure, the valves must operate, and the hoses and clamps must be in good condition.

Motor, Propeller & Hull (7 Things To Check)

You need to make sure you inspect all your major boat operating components. All boat systems take a beating while on the water, and most people close the season down with the plan to “replace that next year.”

If that describes you, you will want to make sure that you don’t forget and actually replace it before you go back out.

This includes the motor, propeller, and hull of your boat. If these are not in top condition, it can cause issues later, hopefully not when you are out on the water.

Boat component maintenance includes:

  1. Inspect propellers. Make sure they are not dinged, cracked, bent, or otherwise damaged.
  2. Make sure the propeller is secured properly. Replace bearings when needed.
  3. Make sure the hull doesn’t have any cracks, blisters, or distortions. Clean the hull before you set out for the season.
  4. Apply any anti-fouling paint as required before you launch.
  5. Make sure you replace any pumps, switches, or other components that aren’t working before you launch.
  6. Make sure your anchor is in good condition as well as it’s “rode” (the rope or chain attached).
  7. Inspect all other areas for cracks, especially where things are attached or welded.

Safety Equipment (5 Things To Check)

You might not think of safety equipment as part of your boat itself or needing maintenance, but they are just as important as boat maintenance.

It is the law that all your safety equipment be present and in good working condition. If it is not, you could incur fines or other consequences.

The safety equipment checks should be as follows:

  1. Ensure all life jackets are in the proper condition and that there is one for every person on board. This is the law.
  2. Make sure your fire extinguisher(s) is the proper one for your boat and that it is stored and charged.
  3. Make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector for all enclosed spaces that your vessel might have.
  4. Make sure you have a basic first aid kit on board that is properly stocked.
  5. Ensure that you have a properly working emergency signal kit that includes a flare gun.

Additional Maintenance That Could be Needed

Every boat is different. This means that boat maintenance is different depending on what type of boat you own.

Below are some possible maintenance items you might have that are not true of all vessels.

Some possible maintenance needed could be:

  • If you have a sailboat, make sure your lines, sails, and all additional equipment is in proper working order. Check for tears, frays, or other structural damage to your equipment.
  • If your boat has any wood, no matter the amount, make sure you treat it and clean it. Even wood trim needs to be taken care of. This will help maintain the wood and keep your boat looking like new.
  • Vacuum any carpet and wipe down all seating and surface areas.

Maintenance Steps to do Regularly

It is essential to keep your boat in good condition that you keep up on all maintenance needed.

Some maintenance will need to be done more than once a season. This will make sure that you have less to do when it comes time to winterize or store your boat.

This also will help to make sure your boat stays nice throughout the entire boating season.

Some Regular Maintenance Includes:

  1. Wash your boat regularly.
    • This is even more important if you go boating in saltwater.
      If you are boating in saltwater, you should wash your boat with fresh water every outing. Saltwater can corrode your boat’s metal and can damage your fiberglass if left on too long. You also want to clean and wash the interior regularly to maintain good condition.
  2. Keep up on hull maintenance, including any necessary paint or growth repellent.
    • Algae and other growth can damage your hull.
  3. Change your oil. Just like a car, you need to change your oil regularly.
    • This is easy and can be done at home with the proper tools.
    • If you don’t have to change it, you also want to make sure that there is still the proper oil amount in your engine.
  4. Make sure you check your propeller regularly. This part of the boat is the most likely to experience damage due to possible impact.
    • Shallow water, rocks, trees, and other objects can damage your propeller, and you might not even know.
    • A damaged propeller can damage other parts of the propulsion system.
    • Even small damage can cause excessive fuel use, steering or other performance issues, or further damage.
    • Regularly applied waterproof grease or another product is also a good idea, so the propeller doesn’t corrode and perform poorly.
  5. Make sure you have the proper level of gas in your boat.
    • This might seem like a no-brainer, but it can be easily overlooked.
  6. Make sure you check the number of life jackets per person every time you go out.
    • It is always required to have one for everyone.

10 Extra Maintenance Tips When Winterizing Your Boat:

If you do not live somewhere warm all year long, you will most likely have to winterize your boat.

This will prevent damage to your boat during the cold winter months.

During the winter, your boat should be out of the water in a storage area.

Ideally, your boat should be stored in a climate-controlled building, but this is not always a possibility.

If you can’t afford a climate-controlled storage area, you can use shrink-wrapping on your boat. This can help with protection but can also be costly.

No matter what you can afford, your boat should be properly covered and stored.

The best thing to do before you start winterizing is to check your manual. Most manuals will come with recommendations for winterizing your particular model.

The steps for winterizing your boat are as follows:

  1. Change the oil. It Is best if the engine is slightly warm to allow it to drain better. While doing this, you should also change the oil filter.
  2. Flush the engine with non-toxic antifreeze.
  3. Change your transmission fluid.
  4. Winterizing your fuel varies depending on your vessel. Some manuals suggest filling the tank and adding a stabilizer, and some advise adding a stabilizer to what is already there.
  5. Thoroughly clean your interior so no dirt or grime sits on your interior that could cause stains or other deterioration.
  6. Make sure your hull and all other aspects do not have barnacles, algae, or other growth. It is recommended to pressure wash and wax the hull.
  7. Check the hull for any cracks, blisters, or breakage. If you see anything, it should be taken care of immediately.
  8. Remove any possible food or other perishables from the boat before covering.
  9. It may also be beneficial to remove any sensitive technology if you are not storing your boat in a temperature-controlled facility. Overly cold or hot temperatures can decrease the lifespan of your electronics.
  10. Properly cover and store your boat in a shelter.

The proper winterization and storage of your boat can extend its lifespan, preserve its condition, and keep it running smoother for longer.

What Else Do I Need To Know About Maintenance?

It is important to keep up on your boat maintenance. A boat is a large investment, and you want to make sure that you protect that investment.

While this guide is important and covers what you need to know, you should also check your boat’s manual for the manufacturer’s suggestions.

They may have more specialized or specific instructions for your particular boat.

It is also beneficial to check the owner’s manuals for all the equipment you purchase for your boat. This can include warranties or care instructions that will help you maintain your purchases’ integrity and life.

The major thing to keep in mind is that you need to maintain constant vigilance and upkeep. Something as simple as not regularly washing your hull, keeping up on your propeller, or any other oversights can cause problems to your boat later.

Cleaning is also important. If you ever decide to sell your boat, you will better off the nicer your boat looks. With proper cleaning, waxing, shining, and upkeep, you will be sure to get more money than you would if it looks deteriorated, torn up, or damaged.

Owning a boat is an investment of time, money, and hard work. Most boat owners know this going in and do not want to try and restore or fix up a boat that has not been properly cared for in the past.

As someone who has previously purchased a boat, I can tell you that as a potential shopper, if I see the outside is not maintained, I worry for the engine’s integrity.

Boat maintenance is an investment that is worth making!

Maintenance Costs You Should Expect

There are a lot of costs associated with boat ownership that goes beyond the purchase price.

These costs include maintenance, gas, safety equipment, storage, and winterizing costs.

Maintenance costs average around 10% of the purchase price per year. This includes cleaning, waxing, painting, new filters, and other regular replacements.

The cost could go up for every non-regular object that needs to be replaced.  On boats kept in water, there are anti-fouling paint and dockage fees.

Maintenance costs can vary highly depending on the type of the boat, the boat’s age, and the boat’s condition.

We have written an extensive guide with prices on boat detailing. It’s a great resource to check out if you feel like you should leave the professionals’ job.

Sailboats will accrue more costs because you will need to maintain the sails, lines, and related items regularly.

Gas And Fuel

Gas is a fairly regular expense that is necessary for the enjoyment of your boat.

You will also need to plan for where you buy your gas. As a long-time boater, I can tell you that what you would pay at a marina is much higher than at a gas station.

If you don’t plan on driving to buy your gas and instead choose to go to a marina, make sure you are prepared for the upcharge you will get for the convenience.

Safety Equipment

Replacing, recharging, or the initial purchase of safety equipment can also add up.

Life jackets can be as low as $30, or they can be over $100. If you need one for every person on board, this can quickly add up.

Life jackets will most likely not need replacing every year, but they will eventually need to be replaced. The integrity of a life jacket should not be compromised, or it may not work when needed.

It is also likely that you will need to replace them if you have children who are growing. Lifejackets need to be compatible with the weight of the wearer.

Storage & Docking

Storing or docking your boat can also come with a cost.

Popular marinas often charge high fees to keep a boat there. This can vary greatly depending on location and marina.

It would be best if you also thought about winter storage costs.

If you don’t have storage yourself, you will most likely have to rent something.

This can vary as well depending on whether you opt to rent climate-controlled storage or outside storage and how you cover your boat, such as shrink-wrapping.

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