One of the best ways to reduce the high cost of boat ownership is to perform much of the routine maintenance work yourself. Having looked at over 5,000 used boats during my career, it's clear to me that the reason why so many boats suffer from poor maintenance is that the builder gave no consideration to the ease of maintenance. Often times, just doing the simplest of chores is a difficult proposition.
- Stern Drive Boats' Engines
- Oil Filters
- Fuel Filters
- Steering system
- Exhaust system
- Air conditioning
- Sea cocks
- Bilge Pumps and Float Switches
Not only does poor accessibility to those aspects that require frequent maintenance make it very difficult for owners to do the work, it drives up the cost for those that normally pay others. You get a $300 bill for an oil change and you start thinking about extending the period between changes. The same goes for air conditioning service or anything else for that matter.
When sizing up that prospective new or used boat purchase, here are a few things to specifically be on the lookout for.
Are you going to have to take apart furniture, move 300 lb. convertible sofas, pull up nailed down carpeting just to check the fluid levels? If so, you're facing a major maintenance problem. Engines should be easily accessible with no more than a lifting of a hatch. Carpet should not be nailed down, but left loose so that it can be pulled back.
Stern Drive Boats' Engines
Many stern drive boats have engines jammed so close together that pulling spark plugs is a near impossibility. So is changing starter motors and many other components. Engines that are jammed into tiny compartments drive up the cost of labor hours and turn self service into self immolation.
Where are the oil filters, and can they be easily reached? If not, is there a relocation adaptor available? Can the oil pan drain plugs be reached in order to install an electric pump out system? Many times it can't, so that the installation will be difficult and costly.
Are you going to have to crawl on your belly and repeat the army boot camp experience to service or change batteries? These cantankerous things need to be located front and center, not stuffed back in some dark corner that can't be reached without injury.
Fuel filters may require frequent changing, so it's particularly important that these be located in a spot with easy access.
Generators are often the most troublesome in terms of accessibility. A complete lack of adequate space makes this an inevitability. But when combined with engines that are hard to reach, it's a double whammy.
This, too, should be easily accessible. How are you going to maintain the rudder stuffing boxes if you can't reach them?
All elements of the exhaust system should at least be visible. If there are mufflers hidden behind fuel tanks under a non removable deck, you'd better hope that you don't own that boat when that part of the exhaust system requires repair or replacement, and the deck has to be cut up to do it.
More and more we find A/C units buried in places that can't be reached. There is really no excuse for this sort of thing, and you'll end up paying more because of it. A/C units in boats frequently break down.
Ever try to change hose clamps on a sea cock situated UNDER an engine? There's no reason why a builder shouldn't have taken the time to locate them in a convenient place, it's just a lack of consideration.
Bilge Pumps and Float Switches
The same goes for bilge pumps and float switches which are an item that requires frequent cleaning when bilges get greasy. How are you going to do that when it's located under the engine?
The smaller the boat, the more pronounced these problems become as builders sacrifice machinery space for interior space. Most boats more or less have a few difficult servicing issues. But it pays to be on the alert for boats that have too many of these problems. If that is the case, then the cost of ownership is likely to be a bit more than you anticipated.
If you are a do-it-yourselfer, then ease of service should be one of your primary criteria to help keep the pleasure in pleasure boating.