9 Problems With Boats In Saltwater (And What You Can Do)

If you have a yacht, chances are, you have a tendency of aiming it at the closest body of water when the weather is right.

However, not all water is created equal.

Freshwater and saltwater, in particular, have different properties and the latter isn’t always boat friendly.

Here’s what you need to know about problems with boats in saltwater!

What are the effects of saltwater on a boat?

Most yachts and boats are used in freshwater and have a construction that is designed for inshore use. This means that they’re not built for the salty, ocean waters. This doesn’t mean that your boat will stop working if you drop it in saltwater.

However, corrosion (like boat cancer) occurs quickly and can be quite devastating.

Freshwater doesn’t pose many problems to boats, but saltwater can corrode metal up to 10 times faster. Not only that, boating on the ocean can be rough on your hull, especially if it is designed for inshore boating.

9 Most Common Problems With Boats In Saltwater 

The main way to keep your boat happy in saltwater is to be vigilant. You can avoid most problems by protecting your boat beforehand.

Here are nine of the most common problems and what you can do to avoid them:

1) Issues with anodes 

When you’re boating in freshwater, your boat is using magnesium anodes. When you change to saltwater boating, you’ll either need to swap your magnesium anodes for zinc or aluminum.

They should be replaced annually anyway, so make sure you get the right ones, depending on where you want to go.

If you are keeping your boat on a trailer they might last up to four years but generally, you need to change the anodes yearly to be on the safe side.

It’s really easy to change them for new ones. You simply locate them on the outboard motor and for saltwater, you should go for aluminum anodes.

2) Outboard motor problems

The easy way to take care of your outboards and to avoid corrosion is to flush the outboard with fresh water as soon as you get back to the dock.

Most outboards come with hose attachments, which makes the process easier.

On our outboard motor, we always do this as soon as we detach the motor. We bring it home with us and leave the boat at the marina.

This way we make sure nobody steals the engine and we have a good routine in order to get the saltwater off the moving parts.

3) Sterndrive or I/O.

Sterndrive engines are a little more of a hassle when it comes to transitioning to saltwater boating. Some come with hose attachments but for the most part, you’re going to have to pay special attention to all of the crevices where saltwater may sit.

Flush them in freshwater as well as you can, especially the risers, water pumps, and manifolds.

While saltwater engines come with cooling systems which will flush the salt water out, a manual flush or wash (with fresh water when you get back to the dock) is a good habit to develop.

4) Problems with the bottom paint

Antifouling paint is imperative when it comes to saltwater unless you have a boat lift.

Depending on what type of boating you are doing and how/where you are putting your boat in the water, the best solution to bottom paint might change.

Because of that, I suggest going to a bottom paint manufacturer to ask for their advice.

They will know exactly which type of paint is perfect for your boat and just remember to let them know that you are heading for saltwater.

Remember that salt is abrasive and harsh.

You won’t be getting the shine you had on your fiberglass and wood, as you did when you only boated in freshwater. The salt in the water will tear more on the paint and cause the boat to depreciate a little faster.

5) Electrical and hardware issues

Make sure that you get marine-grade quality hardware and electrical connections. When you’re inland, you can get away with using automotive-grade equipment but in the harsh saltwater, your equipment won’t last.

Try to keep the bilge as dry as possible.

The electrical connections to the bilge pump will corrode quickly if not taken care of. You might even need to reseal them.

6) Barnacles

Barnacles may become an issue if you are storing your boat in a saltwater harbor. To prevent algae and barnacle buildup (which can damage your hull and slow down your boat in the water), take advantage of the hull cleaning service that the harbor provides. Otherwise, you can get in the water yourself.

7) Avoid rust with lubrication

Lubrication isn’t just a good thing to have to make sure things are moving correctly. They also help protect against rust.

Some marine grease can be applied to your outboard steering, tilt, tube, engine trim mechanism, as well as the engine couple, and gimbal bearing (if you have a sterndrive boat).

Look for any moving parts made of metal: hinges, links, rollers, latches, etc.

If it is moving and it is metal, put some lube on it from protection and for smooth performance.

8) Problems with the trailer

Saltwater will do a number on your boat trailer if you’re not careful. Aluminum trailers are heartier with saltwater.

Make sure you pay attention to the electrical components (lights, brakes, etc.) which will come into contact with the water. Also, watch under fenders to make sure there isn’t any sitting water.

Drum brakes easily hold water so wash out any water pooling in those crevices. There are great drum brake flush kits to help extend the life of your brakes. If you can, swap to a disk brake system. They are easier to maintain and are easily accessible.

Some silicone grease will help protect the connectors from issues like corrosion. Just like your boat, make sure you also rinse off the trailer when you’ve pulled your boat out of the water. Check that the brake lights work before you leave the dock.

9) Vegetation issues to be aware of

The last problem you might run into (which is easily avoidable) is to check for vegetation. Saltwater harbors and oceans are home to many different types of algae and vegetation which can be dangerous in freshwater lakes and streams.

Some are invasive species.

Others bring bacteria which could upset the freshwater ecosystem.

Educate yourself on the vegetation in the area you are heading for. The easiest way to do this is to contact a local marina and ask the local boaters. They will know what to look for and if there are any specific issues you need to consider.

Can All Boats Go In Saltwater?

Not all boats are built for saltwater.

It might be hard on the materials and there are some issues to be aware of. You can read more in our article here on how each boat type reacts to saltwater.

How About Depreciation On Saltwater Boats?

We have written an extensive article about depreciation on boats.

After reading this article, you will know exactly what to expect when you are ready to sell your vessel after a while. Or if you are looking to buy a saltwater boat.

Can Aluminum Boats Go in Saltwater?

Unfortunately, aluminum can just dissolve away if put in saltwater, unless you maintain it and watch for other metals (in the water).

This happens via galvanic corrosion: when one metal is conductive (like in saltwater) and it connects to a metal which is not, the non-conductive material (the aluminum boat) begins to fall apart or lose atoms.

You can stop this by painting the vessel with a coating which provides electrical resistance and acts as a barrier in the water between the salt and aluminum.

Here are five more tips to help prevent this type of corrosion in aluminum:

  1. Try not to mix metals.
  2. Make sure your anodes are all securely fastened so there is definitely firm contact with the metal (to protect it).
    (This is easy to do and you just need to turn the wrench another inch if they are loose.)
  3. Repair scratches and paint chips as soon as possible. This will ensure that the saltwater does not reach into the wood or the aluminum below the painted parts.
  4. Don’t use an automotive battery charger when you’re on the boat.
  5. Keep all of your metal debris out of the bilge. They will wreak havoc on everything.


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