A Handy Guide to Engine and Boat Maintenance

Oct 11, 2023 | 9 minute read
Reading Time: 9 minutes

When you’re in the business of running fishing trips, your boat is like a second home to you. As such, taking good care of it is a necessity, not an afterthought. Keeping up with your boat and engine maintenance affects every aspect of your business, from efficiency on the water to customer satisfaction. 

A man cleaning the hull of the boat

Whether you’re just starting your charter business or you’ve been at it for a while, we’ve got some maintenance tips to help you secure your boat’s long-term “health.” We’ll cover everything you need to know, from daily check-ups to end-of-the-season winterization. Let’s get to it!

Boat Maintenance Tips

When it comes to boat maintenance, there should be no shortcuts. Just like brushing your teeth, a boat maintenance routine could prevent unexpected costs and lost time on the water. Here’s a checklist of things you can do to make sure your boat is always running smoothly, no matter the type of boat you have.

Daily Boat Maintenance

These are simple check-ups that you can do every day, to ensure everything is in order. These rules apply both for freshwater and saltwater, so wherever you’re fishing, we’ve got you covered. 

✓ Cleaning

Two men washing a boat on land

Wash your boat with fresh water at the end of every day (especially if you’re operating in saltwater). Make sure to get to all the nooks and crevices to prevent mildew or corrosion. Every week, have a thorough clean-up of the entire inside of the boat, including seats and rod holders. Clean your bilge with a mold cleaner to avoid unpleasant smells. You can use the same cleaner wherever you find potential problems with mildew somewhere on the boat. 

✓ Pop the hood

A half-opened hood of an engine boat

Another thing to check every day is if everything’s in order on the inside of your boat. You’re looking for any water that might have ended up around the battery or the engine, or debris that’s caught up in there. If you’re operating in saltwater and you find some around your engine, dry it all out, wipe it down with a damp cloth, then use some anti-corrosion component to prevent any further complications.

✓ Check and/or change your oil

A close-up of a man working on his boat engine

Checking your oil levels should definitely be a part of your daily routine. It’s recommended to change the oil every 100 hours of running trips, and that can go by fast. After every outing, check your oil by inspecting the dipstick, cleaning it, putting it back in, and taking it out again for an accurate reading. If it’s time to change your oil, you can do it yourself or hire a professional instead.

✓ Make sure the bilge pump is in order

A close up of a bilge pump on a boat

The bilge pump is another place where things can get stuck, which mostly means that the pump stops working completely. Make sure you check your bilge at the end of every day and remove debris if you find any. Also, double-check that your float switch is working normally. Unusual noises can be a tell-tale sign that something’s stuck in the bilge pump, so keep an ear out.

Seasonal Boat Maintenance

✓ Take good care of different materials

Seats on a boat being washed with soap and brush

Canvas, wood, fiberglass, and upholstery all require a different kind of treatment in order to stay in good condition. Some of them – like upholstery – should be checked on daily to make sure there aren’t any tears or cracks that could cause them to deteriorate quickly. Clean the materials with a soft brush and non-abrasive marine-grade cleaner. Keep checking for potential damage that might have happened while you were busy helping your clients get that fish.

✓ Waxing/polishing your hull

A close-up of a boat hull being waxed

Polishing and waxing can take up a lot of time, but the benefits are worth it. If your fishing season lasts a few months, doing a polish and wax while you’re winterizing your boat is enough. However, if you’re out all year, you should do it once every four months or so. Polishing will help you clean and smooth out any small nicks, breaks, and scrapes you might have. Waxing will protect your boat from dirt and the sun – not to mention your vessel will look as good as new, which is always a plus with the customers.

✓ Spare equipment

A man in his garage, looking through the boat spare parts, with the boat behind him

Even when you do your best when it comes to boat maintenance, emergencies can happen while you’re on the water. Having an emergency kit could be a lifesaver. Basic spare equipment should include spare oil, fuel filters, a battery jumper box with cables, spark plugs, transmission fluid, and fuses. Of course, you can mix and match because you know best the potential weak spots on your boat. We’d recommend you start with the basics and work your way up.

✓ Winterizing your boat

A winterized boat outside, covered with a tarp

If you run charters seasonally, then you know just how important it is to winterize your boat properly. Once your pet is out of the water, it’s recommended to do an oil change and stabilize the fuel. Flush all the water from your engine and lubricate all the fittings. Fully charge your battery and check on it every few weeks. Finally, make sure to clean your boat thoroughly and treat it to a polish and wax. Cover it with a tarp or store it indoors, where it will be safe from the elements, and wait to see another season.

Boat Engine Maintenance Tips

An infographic of boat engine showcasing all its most important parts

Let’s move on to some useful suggestions on boat engine maintenance. There will be some differences between how you ensure the upkeep of inboard and outboard boat engines, but these tips are basics you can use for both.

✓ Flush the engine daily

A man working on a lower gearcase of a boat engine

This is the “bread and butter” of your boat and engine maintenance. Just like with the rest of your boat, keeping your engine clean is essential. Dirt, grime, or water can all cause a lot of harm to it, so it’s important to keep it clean at all times. Saltwater in particular is the enemy because it can cause corrosion. Flush the engine with freshwater to clear it all out – five minutes of flushing a day will make all the difference.

✓ On fuel quality

A man pouring fuel into his boat engine

One of the key components that could make or break your engine is the quality of fuel you feed it. Fuel that’s high in ethanol is not going to be a friend to your engine, because it can cause corrosion. Another problem is the water that can get into the engine and wreak havoc on it. If possible, choose a type of fuel that has less than 10% ethanol to keep your engine safe and your boat running without a glitch. Use fuel stabilizing additives for extra protection.

✓ Check for water in the fuel 

A fuel filter being cleaned with a cloth

While we’re on the subject of fuel, let’s talk about how you can check for water in it – and in your engine. This is where your fuel filters come into play. Pour the fuel from the filter into a clear glass, then check if there’s any milky residue at the bottom. If there isn’t, your fuel and engine are good to go. If there’s white sludge in the glass, then you should contact your mechanic as soon as possible. This is also why it’s important to change your fuel filters every year, so that you can catch this kind of problem early on.

✓ How’s your battery?  

A close-up of an instrument panel on a boat

The lifespan of a boat engine’s battery is usually five years, but that can vary depending on maintenance. That’s why you should regularly take a look at your battery – to see if it’s charged and if there’s any physical damage to it. You can use a multimeter to check the charge. Having a maintenance charger helps you keep the battery fully charged. Remember that the battery should always be filled with distilled water. Your battery cables shouldn’t have any corrosion on them, and the wing nuts should be tight. While you’re there, check the state of your battery fuses.

✓ Change spark plugs regularly

A close-up of a used spark plug in a man's hand

There’s no overstating the importance of spark plugs. Keep an eye on them because they’re what make sure you can easily start the engine. Replacing them every 100 hours or so will allow your engine to function normally while changing them every 300 hours is a must. You want the color on the nose of your spark plug to be either gray or brown because that shows that everything is working properly. If the sparks are wet, dark, or even white, something is off and you should consult with a mechanic. You’ll want to put a bit of anti-seize compound on the new plugs so that you can take them off easily next time. 

✓ Taking care of the lower gearcase

A close-up of a lower gearcase on a boat engine

The lower gearcase of your engine is in charge of making your boat move through the water and, as such, it’s very important to keep it in good shape. The good news is you can do most of it alone. Be sure to visually check the gearcase from time to time to spot any problems early on. Change the gearcase lube every 100 working hours. The same goes for your sacrificial anodes (zinc for saltwater, magnesium for freshwater), which take on corrosion so that your engine doesn’t. If you’re fishing all year, then checking your impeller and changing it yearly might be a good idea.

✓ Don’t forget about the propeller

A close-up of a clean propeller out of the water

Dirt and debris can get stuck in the most unbelievable places, and you best believe your propeller is one of them. And then there’s the fishing line, which has a pesky habit of getting wrapped around the propeller shaft. This can damage the propeller, and even slow your boat in the long run. After you’re done with the cleaning, grease the propeller shaft with marine grease to keep it running without a glitch. From time to time, examine your prop to see if it’s spinning freely and if there are any indents on it. It’s a good idea to take it off a few times during the season to clean it and remove any stuck fishing line or dirt. Your boat will thank you for it.

✓ Examine cables, wires, hoses, etc.

A close-up of a boat engine's cables, ties, hoses, and connections

Every part of the engine has a very important role, but connections between them make sure that everything actually works. Fuel lines, fuel primer bulbs, and hoses shouldn’t have any cracks, while hose clamps, battery cables, and electrical connections shouldn’t have any corrosion on them. Another good practice is to lubricate the three zerk fittings on a regular basis.

Boat and Engine Maintenance Always Pays Off!

A man dismounting the engine from his boat

How well you stay on top of your daily and seasonal boat maintenance determines your efficiency on the water in every way. You want your vessel not only to look good but also to be a smooth ride that won’t harm your fishing efforts. That’s why it’s essential to constantly keep an eye on things, and fix them as soon as you see something out of the ordinary. If you’d like some first-hand tips, our captains have a lot to say on the subject.

You don’t want to wait for things to get complicated or your engine to die in the middle of nowhere. Not taking maintenance seriously will cost you more money, more stress, and more time which you could spend putting your customers on fish. Having a good boat maintenance routine means that the risks are much smaller and the reward much greater.

What are your tips on boat and engine maintenance? Is there a tip that should be on the list? Do you have a story about maintenance you’d like to share? Feel free to comment below.

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Andriana has been in love with nature since before she could walk, and she lives to explore the great outdoors whenever she has the chance. Be it traveling to far-off lands, hiking, or mountain climbing, Andriana loves discovering new places and writing about them. The first time she went fishing with her dad she insisted on returning all the catch into the water. Dad was not pleased. Her curiosity about fishing only grew from there, and she’s been writing and learning about it for years. Andriana’s favorite fish to catch is Mahi Mahi.

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