There’s a reason why we describe well-organized people as “running a tight ship.” When it comes to fishing guides, this literally comes down to seeing boat maintenance as one of the most important things you can do for your business.
Now, this may sound obvious, but keeping your vessel in top shape takes more than hauling it to the mechanic twice a year. Thankfully, a lot of what makes a boat shine comes to what you can do yourself. We spoke to some experts to find out precisely what it takes to keep your money-maker afloat.
The To-Do List
Captains Lou, Rudy, and Ray hail from different parts of the US, but they all share one thing – an impressive track record of happy customers. The three guides agreed to share some of their top boat maintenance tips, so let’s see what they had to say!
Captain Lou Serio runs Gianna Helena Charters out of Montauk, NY. Every summer, thousands of well-off tourists pour into this part of Long Island, looking to catch the big one. As you’d expect, these anglers expect nothing short of excellence on their charters. And yes, that includes a good, tidy boat.
Thankfully, that’s an area Lou, a former boat detailer, excels at.
Do you have a boat maintenance checklist for the start and the end of the season?
Lou: “Maintenance is a year round thing. At the end of the season it’s very important to do the same maintenance as one would do during the season.” he says.
“After my boat is hauled, I power wash the hull to remove dirt and barnacles. Before the boat is covered, the hull and topside get a coat of wax and the metal gets polished. It’s very important to winterize a clean boat to remove the stains.”
As a fishing guide with over 30 years of experience, Lou believes in taking care of certain things yourself.
Which maintenance hacks do you think every captain should know how to do on their own?
Lou: “Captains should know how to wax and detail their boat. This job is usually delegated to a mate. However, by detailing their own boat, a captain will see every inch of the vessel, inside and out. This way, he may find issues that need to be addressed.”
Montauk’s fishing season has a clear start and finish, but down in the Sunshine State, the reel never stops. As one of Palm Beach County’s most prolific guides, Captain Rudy Neumann, puts it: “In Florida, we fish all year.”
A never-ending stream of anglers is great news, but it also means that Rudy’s boat needs to be in mint condition all the time. That’s why the Florida captain has a maintenance checklist of his own.
“I recommend that the lower unit oil and impellers are changed every year. Depending on the type of engines, you should change other items like the oil and filter, spark plugs, etc.”
On top of that, Rudy is careful about his daily maintenance, too:
“Every time I go out I turn on both of my bilge pumps to make sure they are still working, including the float switches. When I return from a trip, I make sure all sea cocks are closed prior to leaving the boat. he says.
“If you have onboard battery chargers, check to make sure they are on when you plug in the shore power cord. Don’t assume because you plugged it in that it is working. Check the lights on the charger and on your inside panel to make sure it’s charging properly.”
Better Safe than Sorry!
Captains can sometimes get away with neglecting the odd cosmetic imperfection, but there are some things that you can’t afford to postpone. That’s why every guide worth their salt says that prevention is better than the cure.
Why is preventive maintenance important?
Rudy: “Performing simple tasks will save you time and money over having to wait for a mechanic to come fix your boat.” For Rudy, that means regularly checking the boat’s electronics.
“There are so many different items that are wired in, either to a block or to the battery itself. For example, the wires and connectors get corroded over time. Each captain should know how to diagnose the problem and be able to splice new connectors and replace cable ends.”
But it’s not just electronics. Maintaining engine fluids is a huge part of keeping repairs at bay, especially if you’re running a larger boat.
Captain Ray Vasilas runs his 37’ Strike Walkaround on dual FPT 480 HP engines. This beautiful vessel allows him to take customers to San Diego’s angling hotspots in an impressive amount of time. But while the boat’s speed provides extra fishing time for his guests, Ray needs to be on point when maintaining his powerhouse.
Ray: “I think it’s important for every captain to be diligent on checking the oil and coolant levels and replace the engine zincs to prevent unnecessary wear of the boat’s engines.”
That’s a huge deal, especially if you’re running 12-hour trips on a regular basis. Just like Rudy, Ray is adamant about doing things on time.
“It’s important to fix something as soon as it breaks. It can be infinitely harder to diagnose an issue if there are multiple issues going on at once.”
No Stone Unturned
Even when you’re taking good care of your boat, there’s a chance that something can slip through the cracks. We asked Lou, Rudy, and Ray about these less obvious issues.
What’s the easiest thing to overlook when trying to maintain a boat?
Ray: “The easiest thing to overlook on a boat is what you don’t see. Keeping a salt-free and clean engine and bilge area is essential.”
A clean engine bay is something Rudy’s pretty clear on, as well:
Rudy: “It’s easy to overlook your battery terminals and ends. Corrosion on the terminal ends will interfere with the starting of the engines and the onboard electronics. Avoid this by having a fully-charged battery with the cables free of any corrosion.”
Up on the deck, things can be just as easy to overlook:
Lou: “The metal on a boat often gets forgotten, but it’s actually very important to keep it polished. If the metal becomes neglected, it will dull and form pits.” Maintaining the metal will also give the boat an esthetic kick: “Cleaning rod holders, window trips, and cleats will keep the boat looking new.”
And that’s not all.
“The smell of the boat is another thing. Areas like the bilge and anchor locker can grow mildew which can cause a foul odor.” You don’t want that on your boat, especially if you’re running family fishing trips.
“Clean these areas with a mold and mildew cleaner and make sure to regularly open and air them out.”
Got a spare?
Timely maintenance should take care of most boat troubles you can encounter. Still, things can fail, which is why having backup items can be a life-saver.
What are some replacement items you always carry onboard?
Rudy: “I always carry spare water and fuel separators. I also have heat shrink tubing to help me repair things like broken wires, bilge pumps, or the live well.”
But what about batteries? They always come with a warranty, but let’s face it, a piece of paper is no good when you’re out in open water.
That’s why Rudy always carries a battery jumper box and jumper cables. “It’s important to have a good battery jumper box with high output. This will help if the batteries become weak and you can’t start the boat when out at sea.” Sounds like something you definitely want to make room for!
Getting stranded isn’t always caused by a malfunction. The weather can change your boat’s course in a big way, especially If you’re fishing 50+ miles away from shore. That’s why Ray’s Wild Goose always carries spare fuel. In fact, you could say that all engine fluids deserve a backup when you’re this far from land.
Ray: “I always carry spare fuel, engine and transmission oil and steering fluid, as well as oil and fuel filters. I also carry spare fuses as well as hose clamps and tools needed to make emergency fixes.”
Well Worth the Effort
Successful captains see boat maintenance as a top priority, and with good reason. Seriously, who likes having their trip canceled due to a malfunction? Whether it’s keeping the hull intact or making sure the engine and electronics are working properly, timely upkeep will save you a ton of time and money.
On top of all that, a tidy, well-oiled machine won’t just get you to the fishing spots and back. It will also go a long way in earning happy customers.
So there you have it. We want to say a huge thanks to Captains Lou, Rudy, and Ray for sharing their knowledge. If you have any boat maintenance tips you’d like to share, drop us a line in the comments!