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Boating Maintenance Items That are Commonly Ignored

Maintenance on you boat is important.  We all know that.  Sometimes, we don’t know all of the items that we need to take care of though.  Even a non-boater can tell you that you need to change the oil, but do they know about impellers or outdrives?  Here are some important maintenance items that are commonly ignored on boats, what they do and why you should pay attention to them.


What they do:  They are responsible for drawing water into the engine’s cooling system to keep the engine operating within proper temperature range.  Depending on your boat’s propulsion system, they can be located in the outdrive, on the front of the engine or in a separate housing. 

Maintenance:  They should be replaced every two years.  If you use your boat extensively, you may need to replace them every year.  Don’t forget that if your boat has a generator, it will have an impeller also.

What happens if you ignore them:  Engine overheating due to lack of water flow.  Fins from impellers left in too long can break off causing cooling passages to get clogged.

Missing Impeller pieces can clog your cooling system.

Bottom Paint

What it does:  Protect your boat’s bottom from build-up of marine life and slime which can reduce performance and fuel economy.  Also prevents water intrusion.

Maintenance:  If your boat has a fiberglass hull, you can go for a while without bottom paint, even if your boat stays in the water.  How long depends on the build quality and what type of water your boat is in.  Fresh water is always friendlier to your boat than salt water is.  Either way, at some point, you will need to get the bottom painted.  If your bottom is already painted, eventually, it will need to be redone. 

What happens if you ignore it:  If you ignore your boat’s bottom, eventually it will blister and water will begin to seep into the hull.  Over time, this will lead to a significant increase in the vessel’s weight and could end up in structural failure.

Ignoring your bottom paint can lead to serious blistering issues.

Transmission/Outdrive Fluid

What it does:  Lubricates the transmission or outdrive and provides necessary hydraulic capabilities.

Maintenance:  Change once a year.  More often if you use your vessel extensively

What happens if you ignore it:  Premature transmission or outdrive wear or failure.

Fuel Filter/Water Separator

What it does:  Removes water and impurities from your fuel supply (especially important for diesel engines)

Maintenance:  Change once per year.  More often if you use your boat extensively.

What happens if you ignore it:  Engine running roughly or stalling due to water in the fuel or fuel blockage due to impurities.   


What it does:  If you don’t know this, sell your boat now.

Maintenance:  If you have an outdrive or outboard, remove and inspect once per year and grease the splines.  For V-drives and straight drives, inspect once per year.

What happens if you ignore it:  Operating a vessel with even minor prop damage can cause the prop to be out of balance and over time can actually lead to transmission or lower unit problems.  Even if not damaged, some props can actually lose their shape over time which will affect the performance of the vessel.  If you have had the same prop for several years, it is a good idea to remove it and have it scanned and repaired to keep it in the proper shape. 

Continued use of a damaged prop can lead to other issues.

Flushing the Engine

What it does:  If your boat does not have a closed cooling system, this allows you to remove salt water from the cooling system.

Maintenance:  After boating in salt water, use the built in connection or a pair of “rabbit ears” to run fresh water through the engine’s cooling system.

What happens if you ignore it:  Rust, and lots of it.  Allowing salt water to remain in the engine will cause premature failure of exhaust manifolds, thermostat housing, impeller housing and even the engine itself.  

A set of rabbit ears can be used to flush your boat's engine.

Obviously, there are many other maintenance items that you need to be aware of with your boat, but for some reason these are the ones that many people seem to ignore.  Maybe it is because they are related to systems that you don’t always see when using your boat.  These recommendations are also for the typical recreational vessel.  Commercial vessels and long distance cruisers tend to be used much more than most recreational vessels and therefore require different maintenance schedules.

Remember:  Take care of your boat and it will take care of you.

Happy Boating

Captain Frank
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