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Six Boating Myths That You Should Know (Written by Captain Frank Taylor)

Myth:  You shouldn’t overuse your boat because the engines don’t last as long as car and truck engines do.
The more you use your boat, the better as long as proper maintenance is done.

Truth:  This is one of the biggest myths in boating.  For some reason people believe that a gas powered boat engine should not last more than 1000 hours or so when this could not be further from the truth.  For the sake of this argument, we are talking about the typical recreational boat, not a performance boat with high output turbocharged or supercharged engines.  It is quite common for gasoline boat engines to last several thousands of hours if they are cared for properly. 

While boat engines are subject to more stress than the typical car engine, they are also built to deal with that stress.  Regular maintenance of your boat’s mechanical systems is just as important as the maintenance that you do on your car.  Often, the problem is that there are many boaters who show up at the dock every weekend for fun and sun only for their boat to become an afterthought once Monday morning rolls around.  Their pride and joy sits in a slip or on a trailer and is not thought of again until the next weekend when it’s time for fun again.  Maintenance takes a back seat and is often ignored.  If you do this long enough, eventually, you are going to have some problems. 

I actually had a dock neighbor show up at his boat on a holiday weekend after not seeing his boat for about 9 months.  He had several friends with him, each one with a cooler or float in tow.  They boarded the boat ready for a wonderful day on the water only to find that they could not get the engine started.  He was visibly upset, cursing the boat and muttering expletives.  I often wonder how many times this happens each summer.  Lack of maintenance not only leads to experiences such as this but it also negatively affects the life of your engine.

Things like oil changes, transmission fluid changes, fuel filters, fresh fuel, and tune ups are all important when it comes to ensuring that your engine runs well and has a long life.  Even if you did not use your boat much in a given season, change the oil anyway.  Engine oil that sits in an engine block for a long period of time does break down.  If you are putting your boat away for the season, don’t forget the fuel stabilizer.  It will help prevent varnish and fuel breakdown which will make things much easier when it is time to go boating again. 

Finally, remember that the worst thing you can do to a boat is not use it.  Every time you use your boat, it lubricates the mechanical systems, removes moisture and prevents fuel in the tanks from aging.  Not using it allows moisture to creep in which over a period of time can damage the engine, break down lubricants and contaminate the fuel.  Plus, think of it this way.  You didn’t buy the boat to not use it.

Myth:  Boats are expensive to maintain.
Many boat maintenance items are easy enough to do yourself.

Truth:  Again, we are talking about recreational boats and not high performance boats.  Yes, boats do need TLC but again, not any more than your car does.  While the cost of some maintenance items on a boat (such as an oil change) may be more than performing the same maintenance on your Chevy Tahoe, it does not have to be.  The reason for this price difference is often the same as why on oil change on a BMW 7 Series costs more than it does on your Honda Accord.  In either case, you should be using a quality oil of the proper grade and a quality oil filter but unless you are doing it yourself, you will still pay more simply because it is a BMW.  Boat owners are often subject to the same situation.  The consensus seems to be that if you own a boat, you obviously are able to pay a higher price.  Changing the oil in your boat is not that difficult.  In fact, it is often easier than changing the oil in your car.  Learn to do it and you don’t have to pay the higher price simply because it is a boat.  The same rule applies to many of the other maintenance items for your boat. 

Myth:  My boat came equipped with headlights
Many boaters confuse docking lights for headlights.

Truth:  Some boats come with what appears to be headlights on the bow.  In addition to the red and green navigation lights, there are a pair of clear lights that when turned on, can illuminate the area in front of the boat quite well.  Those are not headlights!  They are docking lights.  They are meant to be used to illuminate the area forward of the bow only when approaching docks, piers or attempting to load your boat on a trailer at night. 

All too often, I see boats travelling across the open water at night with their docking lights on, the operator apparently using them to light their path across the water.  If you have done this in the past, please realize that you are most likely blinding the operators of other vessels on the water and probably provoking a few expletives and raised fists as well.  The only lights that should be on at night while underway are your navigation lights.  Doing otherwise negatively impacts your night vision and the night vision of other boaters which can lead to a dangerous situation.  The same rule also applies to spotlights.  They should only be used for short periods of time to obtain position information and then turned off.

Myth:  I don’t need an anchor
An anchor is not just a convenience item but a safety item.

Truth:  Yes you do.  Unless you have a canoe or a kayak, you need an anchor (and even some canoers and kayakers have anchors).  There are a lot of boaters that claim they do not need an anchor because they simply go from dock to dock or trailer to dock, etc.  They never stop anywhere on the water where they would need to drop anchor.  My response to that would be, “What would you do if you had no choice but to stop?”  Sometimes, unexpected events occur when you are on the water.  Engine trouble, running out of fuel or any other unexpected event could leave you floating on the water with no propulsion.  The ability to drop anchor and stay in one location while you troubleshoot your situation or wait for help can make dealing with such a situation a lot safer.  This is especially important if you boat in areas where there are currents that can quickly sweep you away if you lose propulsion.

Don’t forget that you do need to practice anchoring so you do know how to do it if and when that time comes.  Don’t let a time of crisis be the first time that you ever drop your anchor.

Myth:  Sailboats are cheaper to own than powerboats
Sailboats don't use much fuel but there are other costs.

Truth:  This may be true short term but not necessarily in the long term.  Most people view sailboats as a cheaper way to boat because they don’t use fuel like powerboats do.  Yes, most sailboats over 16 feet do have an engine but it is usually relatively small compared to powerboats of similar size and is only used to get in and out of the marina with the rest of the time out on the water being powered by the wind.  A lot of sailors brag about only having to fill their tank once a season.  So, if a sailor is not throwing hundreds or thousands of dollars into the fuel tank every season, how can he or she possibly incur the same costs as a powerboat owner?  Well, if you own a sailboat, you probably already know the answer.

While they don’t use much fuel, sailboats do periodically have to have their rigging redone and they also periodically need the sails to be replaced.  How often depends on how they are used and cared for but rigging is typically replaced every 10 to 12 years and sails may need to be replaced more often than that.  The cost of rigging and sails depends on the boat and setup.  When you consider that replacement of the rigging for a 30 foot sailboat could be as much as six to eight thousand dollars and the cost of new sails (mainsail and jib) could be four to six thousand dollars, all of a sudden, they don’t seem as thrifty.  Sailboats with three or more sails or other unique features can cost even more.  While power boaters are constantly shelling out money each weekend 75 to 100 bucks at a time, sailors don’t have to lay out the funds as often but when they do, the amounts are much larger.

Of course, both types of boats have their own types of maintenance that must be done periodically and the ultimate costs will be determined by how often and how they are used. 

Myth:  Ethanol fuel is bad for your boat’s engine.
Fuel with up to 10 percent ethanol is okay for your boat.

Truth:  Your boats engine can burn fuel with an ethanol content up to 10 percent with no problem at all.  However, there are a few things to consider. 

First, ethanol absorbs water.  If you leave your boat sitting for long periods of time, moisture can get into the fuel tank via condensation.  Over a long period of time, this can lead to phase separation where the water and ethanol separate from the rest of the fuel thus causing some potentially serious fuel problems.  If you plan on storing your boat for a long period of time (such as over the winter season), consider putting non-ethanol fuel in before putting it away but at a minimum use a fuel stabilizer that will help prevent fuel breakdown during storage.
Use a fuel stabilizer when storing your boat for periods in excess of 30 days.

Secondly, check the construction of your boat’s fuel tanks.  Some older boats (prior to the 1980’s) were constructed with fiberglass fuel tanks. Ethanol can break down fiberglass resin, causing it to contaminate the fuel and gunk up your engine.  If your boat has fiberglass fuel tanks, do not use ethanol fuel in your boat.  If your boat has plastic or aluminum fuel tanks, then ethanol fuel is fine.


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