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Buyers' Guide to Outboard Boats

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Preventative Maintenance

The Devil is in the little Details

Taking the time to check over your boat occasionally is the best way to save on costly repairs and reduce "depreciation" or loss of value. Most major problems that I encounter in doing surveys are the result of a condition that could have been prevented, had the boat owner been aware of what was happening. In other cases there are some very simple and cost effective steps you can take to preserve value and keep your boat looking good longer. Things that in the long run will improve resale value.

-Anchor Windlasses
- Rusted Water Heaters
- Deck Leaks
- Upholstery Wear
- Instrument Panels

Anchor Windlasses  

I encounter large numbers of windlasses that don't work. The most common reason is because water leaked onto the drive motor or electrical controls. A common reason this occurs is that the boat builder did not install the winch properly. There may be a rope locker hatch nearby that leaks water onto the unit.

Yet another reason stems from people applying too much strain on the windlass. When this happens, it breaks the bedding seal under the winch base and then water starts leaking onto the motor. You need to periodically check the windlass motor and controls. If you see rust developing on the motor, that means you've got a leak and if you don't do something about it soon, you'll be facing an expensive replacement.

When you have a stuck anchor, don't try to free it with the windlass. Instead, tie off the anchor rode and go forward under power to free it.

If you have electrical control boxes that are getting wet from a leaking hatch, try using covering them with some plastic sheet to keep the water off. Keep in mind that winches have very high amperage draws and that corroded wire connections can develop high resistance that can start a fire, so keep all terminal connections clean.

Rusted Water Heaters 

Rusted water heaters are another common problem. Water heaters most often get rusty and damaged for one of two reasons. (1) they often don't have a drain hose attached to the pressure relief valve which will discharge water occasionally and cause the base of the heater to rust. This water will be picked up by the fiberglass insulation in the heater and often work its way up to the controls. Make sure that the relief valve has a drain hose that carries the discharge safely into the bilge. (2) Water heater sits on a deck that gets flooded with water. Same thing happens as #1 above. To prevent this, obtain a couple of small blocks of Starboard plastic and mount the heater up on shims so that if the deck gets wet, the bottom of the heater doesn't.

Deck Leaks  

With the popularity of express style cruisers these days, cockpit deck leaks are a major source of damage to engine room components. In some cases, the leaking is so severe that engine damage occurs. I recently ran into a case where a deck leak was putting water directly into the air intake of a $35,000 diesel engine. From the rust on the engine, it was obvious what was happening, and equally obvious that the boat owner simply wasn't paying attention.

Go down into your engine compartment occasionally with a flashlight. Just sit there for a few minutes looking around. Anytime you see corrosion of metals and water stains, that is telling you that there are leaks. I constantly find leaks on boats going into things like battery chargers, pumps, motors, alternators and all sorts of electrical apparatus. If allowed to continue, this is going to result in serious damage and probably breakdowns at sea.

While there is no one common source of leaks, it often results from the use of a high pressure hose when washing down. Most hatch covers cannot withstand a blast from hose nozzle. The water will be blasted over the hatch gutter. Therefore, never use a hose nozzle when washing the cockpit deck.

Another common source of big leaks is clogged hatch gutter drains. These things can clog up very easily, and when they do, very large amounts of water will enter the engine room that can cause a lot of damage. What often happens is that the overflow gets into the insulation on the underside of the deck. Then it exits the insulation at some other location, thereby fooling you as to the source of the leak. I often see water dripping from above on a hot sunny day, which tips me off right away as to what is happening.

You should inspect and clean hatch gutters virtually every time you go aboard. It only takes a minute or so to do this. Clogged drains can be quickly freed by using water pressure from a hose. and is almost guaranteed to save you thousands of dollars if you're attentive to this little detail.

Upholstery Wear  

I find it mind boggling the number of boats I go aboard that have thousands of dollars worth of rather delicate upholstery sitting out in the sun and rain. Many people seem to have the  mistaken notion that this stuff is weather proof. Well, you just look at that stuff when it's a couple years old and you'll see that it isn't. On the other hand, once in  a while I run across a boat that has 10 year old upholstery that is in great condition.

Why? Because the owner took care of it, thereby saving himself thousands of dollars worth of replacements, or resulting in getting a much better price on resale because his cockpit doesn't resemble a 1972 Cadillac convertible that has been left out in the rain for 10 years. That may be a silly pun, but I see a lot of boats that accurately fit that description.

There are a few very simple things you can do. First, remove all loose cockpit cushions and stand them on edge in a protected location - in the cabin or under the top. If they do get wet, standing them on edge will keep them from absorbing water. Keep in mind that most people do not want to put up cockpit covers, so they leave this stuff sitting out. A much easier way to deal with non removable cushions is to have covers made for them, as small covers are a lot easier to deal with than large ones. Also, for that seating that gets a lot of wear and tear (like on exposed corners), such as large helm bench seats, have  custom fit canvass covers made for them. This will cut down on excessive wear and keep them looking good longer.

Note: If you get covers made for aft cockpit or bridge seats, be sure to have them  made to fit the shape of the seat. The difference in cost  between a fitted cover and a draped cover is very little. That way, you'll still be able to sit on the seat without removing the covers, and you'll find yourself taking them off and putting them on a lot less. The seats won't get dirty when you're forced to step on them, or use them for tables, and will stay nice looking a lot longer.

Instrument Panels  

Not long ago I saw a neat idea that prompted me to wonder "why didn't I think of that?" It was a snap on instrument panel cover with eisenglas windows in it so you could see the instruments, etc. Like a soft keypad, you could even work the rocker switches under the eisenglas.

This is a great idea for keeping salt spray off of instrument panels. So great, in fact, that the panel on this 10 year old boat looked like new.

Many boats have plastic materials on the instrument panels that are very sensitive to sun light. Plastic simulated wood grains and so on. And many people never bother to cover them, even when covers are supplied with the boat. Or the panel may have a plexiglas cover that allows water to run underneath it, resulting in corroded gauges, wiring and connections because the leaks go right through the panel. It's your money and you don't need me to tell you what you should.

Posted September 18, 2000


David Pascoe - Biography

David Pascoe is a second generation marine surveyor in his family who began his surveying career at age 16 as an apprentice in 1965 as the era of wooden boats was drawing to a close.

Certified by the National Association of Marine Surveyors in 1972, he has conducted over 5,000 pre purchase surveys in addition to having conducted hundreds of boating accident investigations, including fires, sinkings, hull failures and machinery failure analysis.

Over forty years of knowledge and experience are brought to bear in following books. David Pascoe is the author of:

In addition to readers in the United States, boaters and boat industry professionals worldwide from nearly 80 countries have purchased David Pascoe's books, since introduction of his first book in 2001.

In 2012, David Pascoe has retired from marine surveying business at age 65.

On November 23rd, 2018, David Pascoe has passed away at age 71.

Biography - Long version

Bilge Water Blues

How to get rid of that last inch of water

Leaking Stuffing Boxes

How to Prevent $15,000 Worth of Damage for $5 and 30 Minutes of Your Time

Preventative Maintenance

Anchor Windlasses, Rusted Water Heaters, Deck Leaks, Upholstery Wear, Instrument Panels

Washing Down

The essentials of after-use clean up
One of the Easiest Aspects of Boat Maintenance Pays High Dividends When Done Right After Every Use.

Maintenance, Troubleshooting and Repairs

More Related Articles by David Pascoe at www.yachtsurvey.com

Browse Chapters with Excerpt at DavidPascoe.com