Tracker Safety Series
Chapter 7 – Proper Boat Storage and Maintenance
While a boat is designed to be at home in the elements, it’s up to the owner to keep her in good shape. The more boaters can do to protect their investment, the longer boats will stay in showroom condition.
Boats that are maintained properly look better, run better, and retain more of their value.
Prolonged exposure to sun and rain is a sure way to age a boat before its time.
Even if a boat is kept under the cover of a boathouse or shed, exposure to the sun, water, and critters can still take a toll.
A well-fitted boat cover offers good protection if a boat must be stored outdoors.
The best way to store your boat is an enclosed building or a garage with the added protection of a boat cover.
Many owners leave their boats for extended periods at the dock, ready to go. If this is the way you use your boat, try to arrange for a lift that keeps the hull completely out of the water.
Leaving Your Boat in the Water. Avoid leaving the boat unattended and uncovered in the water for extended periods. While an automatic bilge pump will keep the boat afloat for a time, eventually the battery will run down. The automatic bilge pump feature is a convenience, not a failsafe device.
Leaving a boat in the water unattended and uncovered for extended periods could result in the bilge pump running down the battery.
Fouled Hull. Marine growth can also accumulate on the hull after several weeks in the water. This will require heavy scrubbing to remove. Large amounts of marine growth on the running surface can significantly affect the performance of any boat. Anti-fouling paint can help protect the hull from growth, but it’s expensive and needs to be maintained and reapplied when it loses its effectiveness. In some locations, that could be annually.
Leaving a boat in the water can result in marine growth that will affect the performance and appearance of a boat.
Galvanic Corrosion. Corrosion of metal can result from very small current flow between different types of metals in the boat, and can eventually weaken the metal and cause leaks.
Aluminum boats stored in water, particularly salt water, may be subject to galvanic corrosion as well marine growth.
Antifouling paint can be applied to aluminum to help slow the potential problem of galvanic corrosion as well as block marine growth. Marine service professionals will know the best solutions for a given geographic area.
Boaters should always tilt the motor out of the water when a boat is left in the water for extended periods, as it helps slow galvanic corrosion.
Boatbuilders and engine manufacturers use sacrificial anodes at critical points. These anodes are designed to corrode so surrounding metal doesn’t, and they need to be replaced occasionally.
Fortunately anodes are relatively inexpensive and easy to replace. Inspect them and replace as needed.
Stray-current corrosion can result from damaged wiring in the bilge, a problem specific to aluminum boats. Check wiring regularly for broken insulation.
Where practical, replace any wires showing frayed or split insulation. Otherwise, reinsulate the wires and keep them dry.
Even though many trailers are galvanized and designed to get wet, they should all be rinsed with fresh water after they are immersed in salt or brackish water to avoid rust and corrosion.
Dunking the trailer in a nearby fresh water boat ramp is another practical technique to rinse off the trailer, but be sure to pay attention to local regulations regarding aquatic organisms.
Winter Storage. Extreme, heavy snow can cause physical damage to a boat’s decks or trailer, and ice freezing in the plumbing of the livewell could expand and damage the parts. Freezing weather can also cause problems for engines stored outdoors.
During winter, avoid allowing accumulations of snow and ice on the boat or boat cover.
Store outboards upright so that all water drains from the cooling passages. Remember to tilt them up when it’s time to move the boat.
Boat Fixtures. Even though your boat is thoroughly checked before it leaves the factory, trailering and running the boat will eventually cause a few screws, nuts, bolts and hardware to work loose. Be proactive in your maintenance. Check all metal parts regularly to make sure they’re secure.
Regularly check screws and bolts for tightness. Vibrations from trailering and operating can cause them to loosen over time.
Care and Upkeep of the Interior and Exterior
Taking care of a boat requires regular maintenance, including treating fabrics and upholstery, vacuuming up dirt, crumbs, and debris, treating stains in timely fashion, and waxing and polishing surfaces to hold off the toll of the elements.
The upholstery of a boat will keep looking new longer if the owner treats it with a UV-resistant vinyl spray at least once a month.
Vacuum up sand and grit that might ruin the finish, carpet, or upholstery.
Liquids such as fish blood that could stain upholstery and carpets should be wiped with cold water immediately.
For other spills, use carpet or upholstery cleaner, wiping away residue with a clean towel.
Use a UV-resistant cleaning wax on exterior finishes regularly, to reduce chalking and prevent further fading.
Walking Surfaces. To prevent slips, avoid using wax, oil, or other potentially slippery substances on any surface of the boat or trailer where someone may need to step.
If the boat gets put up for the off-season and goes unused for months, it can be smart to remove the batteries and maintain them at home. Also, add fuel stabilizer to the tank and top up the fuel level to reduce condensation.
When storing the boat for the off-season, remove the batteries and keep them at home in your garage. Recharge them monthly to keep them in top shape.
Long-term storage can also allow fuel in your tank to deteriorate. It’s a good idea to add a fuel stabilizer to the tank, then top it off with fuel so there’s minimal room for condensation over the extended storage period.
Questions. Have questions about other aspects of boat ownership or operation? Ask a dealer for help, and keep the owner’s manual handy. We’ve covered a lot in this boat safety series. But after an owner has been operating a boat for a while, everything presented in this series will become second nature. It’s easy to be a safe, competent operator, and with just a bit of care, that new boat will provide the family with incomparable quality time together.
This boat safety series is a general guideline for safe, courteous operation of your boat. State and local regualtions vary considerably. Always check for the regulations that apply to where you are boating. Power boating is great family fun. However, it creates a certain amount of risk for property and equipment damage, injury, or even fatalities. Please take your responsibillies seriously.
This series is not intended to replace the owner’s manual for technical and operational information. Don’t forget to have fun!