Sunday, 23 October 2016

Annual Boat Maintenance

For boat owners with boats in the water, annual maintenance time is one of great nervous tension. That’s because the ocean and sun are the most hostile environment to anything man made, particularly boats. And the issue is: money, lots of money. Those of us who have such boats, stand around at the gym and laugh at one another’s horror stories. “I got a bill fer $5,000.” And the response is “Ha,ha, ha, that’s noth’n, I got ‘un fer $7,500.” And so on to the highest bill in the past year: $22,000, fortunately not mine.

Annual maintenance is at the least: haul boat, power wash hull, paint with antifouling and change zincs. Only several hundred bucks, but there is more. Do come down and look at your bottom before the power washing at your mechanic, Gartside in my case, at Oak Bay Marina. Take a look at how small an amount of growth can make getting out of the hole take a whole lot longer and running at higher rpms, meaning more fuel consumed, for the same planing speed. 

I have my leg (yes, the dreaded in-board, out-board configuration on my boat) painted with silver so it looks nice (and I put a tarp over the transom all year to slow down growth). This means it has no anti-fouling and requires several cleanings in the year, me hanging over the transom, face to the water, trying to get as much growth and barnacles off. The barnacles are the real problem, as they cause cavitation in due course, and if you leave them too long, you won’t be getting out of the hole because the barnacles cause cavitation and the prop turns in a void that opens up inside the water.

If you leave it much too long, the zincs disappear and the saltwater begins eating the leg itself, once causing us $1,600 in electroplating of the leg, when we were just in new from Alberta and didn’t know how death creeps up on all things das boat as fast as it possibly can. 

If your prop hasn’t had cupping put on each blade’s leading edge, do have the prop sent to Sidney for the service - $100. Getting out of the hole becomes easier and a couple hundred lower rpm on the plane, so lower fuel consumption. And you should carry a back up prop - $200 – in case you hit something, for example, the dead head that was under water when I came off the four-foot wave, but had risen enough to hit my hull in the trough, and then my leg, rendering the prop into Swiss cheese that had to be changed in the same four foot waves, hanging over the transom, trying not to lose the cotter pin and its housing on the nut holding the prop on. I have done this a dozen times over my boat career. Do have one leg firmly around something on the boat so you don’t just fly out of the boat and die, the water being that cold.

Now, in my current hauling, the first thing I and Jack noticed was a small bit of plastic tarp stuck in the joint between prop and leg housing. Trying to get my heart beat back to normal, I was much relieved to find out, once the prop was off, that the tarp piece, had not managed (hard to believe) to break the seals that keep the ocean out of the leg. Once, I was not so lucky and got to spend $2,500 to have the unit salvaged, cleaned and all the internal parts replaced.

Do also clean the transducer for your depth sounder/GPS several times in the year, as it is not painted either. In the summer, growth can grow an inch a week so you can end up with a transducer that doesn’t work well in no time flat. The cleaning also gives you time to check the angle on the transducer, something that can change, depending on the shear caused during planning. I set mine a bit forward, so the bottom and fish are read a bit before I get to them, rather than after I have passed by. Saves canon balls, too.

And do remember that zincs can be almost useless with only a little pitting, so don’t ever not change them. And where possible, buy the more expensive ones with more meat. For example, my Volvo leg zinc is always the max. The small problem with this is increased boat electrical potential around your boat, and thus extending out to close by fishing gear. Put more line out or switch downrigger cable from stainless steel to cloth and the problem is solved.

Change the zincs on your trim tabs, too, and for those afflicted with an in-board configuration, add the pencil zinc to the heat exchanger on the fresh water cooling side of the leg coupling to the engine. To the heat exchanger, you can add a bus heater that makes fishing in the winter like sitting in your car, so there is an upside to this, though they need replacing now and then - $300, parts only. And do note that you have two fuel filters, one on the engine and one in the system between the fuel tanks and the engine, the latter mostly for water that condenses over time in your tanks. And don’t forget which direction the spigot on the tank switcher needs to go to change tanks or run them down equally. 

I forgot once and paid $300 servicing to find out that only my doltage brain was the problem.
As for anti-fouling, use the best possible paint, near $100 per gallon, choke choke, that can last two years (or almost that long, resulting in more growth than usual every second year) with power washing each year. It kills everything, so don’t go sucking on your hull.

And then, of course, are the two or three other things that need doing and the careless, simple suggestion of giving the inboard engine a look over. Simple things can go completely awry, so be non-committal, suggesting your engine is hunky dory. The drawled response was: “And what about yer risers?” All inboard guys know this one about the death-causing problems of saltwater and sun. 

Exhaust manifolds on the engine are on the raw water (a word that means death to engines) side, drawing and pumping cooled water out the leg. And they last five years only. And the parts are more than $500, and that’s not adding the swearing at the engine time required to get the frigging nuts off the manifolds to change the suckers, add another $1000, including time for disassembling and reassembling hull components that are strategically placed in places so you won’t be able to get the ‘risers’ off.

My least defensive response was: “Well, fellers, you can check the service records… and see where we’re at, eh.” At this point I was chewing philosophically on a fox tail shoot between my front teeth and squint’n into the high noon sun.

The downside of inboard systems, well, one downside, is that they have two water pumps, one on either side, fresh and raw. And I once had, on a day I was five miles south of Trial, in a brewing storm, when both my water pumps packed it in simultaneously and a near death experience that ended with me steaming around the break water for home smoke and flames coming out of the stern and forty gallons of fuel about to blow. But that’s another story, for the amusement of other boat owners.

More of the annual horror, er, maintenance story, next week.

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