Guide to Proper Sailboat Maintenance

The key to staying on top of your boat maintenance is a good routine and schedule.  At no point is it really rocket science, so if you just know what to check, and at what interval, you should be able to prevent any day-ruining failures or inconveniences.  Below is a general guideline which should work just as well for an Opti as it would for a Farr 40. 

In order to be effective at maintaining your equipment, you should have some sort of annual calendar and log for your kit.  This will help you prioritize the upkeep and track wear and tear. The next page is a basic outline of a maintenance calendar – feel free to use this to begin a log and make a plan for your boat. 



The first thing you should do is have a look at your equipment.  No sense wasting time replacing a brand-new fitting if it does not need replacing.  Time to grab your log and record some notes from your inspection date. 

Let’s go big ticket items first, your hull, rig and structure.  Generally speaking, once a year, you should give your hull and boat structure a good look.  Keep your eyes peeled for cracks, bubbled paint or surfaces, soft spots, and deep scratches.  If you have any of those, consult a professional to be sure you don’t have a major issue. Check for leaks anywhere applicable.

Once you have had a good look at the hull, lets move to the mast.  Look for cracks, corrosion, bent areas, and looseness in the mast, standing rigging, and attachment points.  Anywhere there is a rivet, screw, t-ball, or any other fitting that is in the mast or key structure, be sure they fit perfectly and show no signs of cracking or corroding.  Check your halyard sheaves to make sure they run smooth and do not jump or play in the block or box. 

Next up is movable fittings.  Check your steering systems. Dinghies have this one easy, put your rudder and tiller in the boat and move it around.  Action should be smooth without wiggles. Check your tiller extension fittings for cracking and signs it may break soon. Bigger boats, check your steering cables and rudder bearings at least annually.

Last here but not least, check your hiking straps or lifeline fittings.  Lifelines are named that way for a reason and they need to be regularly inspected.  For hiking straps, no one likes looking around saying “Yay, I’m in 1st!” to then moments later be blowing bubbles with your feet in the air wondering what happened. 



If it looks good, there is a decent chance it works well too.  Cleaning is something that is never really anyone’s favorite part, but I can guarantee that if you have some good rituals and keep at them, it will be less work overall and your boat will look spectacular.  Salt, dirt, and corrosion are the three major ingredients we battle on a daily basis. Not only do they look gross, they are all around abrasive. A corroded turnbuckle looks terrible and I can almost guarantee it will not turn at all.  Keeping things clean is an important part in keeping them functional. 

For dirt, a small amount of biodegradable boat soap (not Dawn) and water will go a long way in keeping dirt off of the paint and out of your hardware.  Use a brush on flats and a rag, sponge, or cleaning glove for more complicated surfaces and bits. If you want to keep the spots off and get all fancy, follow your final rinse with a shammy (you can also use a rubber squeegee for large flat surfaces). 

Cleaning paint can be challenging if you let it go too long.  There is a difference between a polish and a wax and it is important that you use the correct product for your boat’s finish.  Simple cleaner waxes and sealer waxes used once a year will make your finish look better and last longer.

Stainless steel and other metal components will most likely need to be polished at least once a year.  Unmaintained metals will oxidize, pit, and weaken if they are not maintained. The addition of a sealer wax which is a quick final step will help keep that component in tip top shape longer as well. 



Hardware servicing depends on the equipment, manufacturer spec, use, and how well you store it.  Some winches can go a couple of years without needing a service. On the other hand, some racing spec winches with lots of use and a specific tune up may need to be serviced after number of uses.  An easy guideline that will keep you certain you know what is going on with your boat is: plan to inspect and service every moving part at least once a year.  If you do that, you will very rarely have a massive failure.  Consult with professionals and manufacturer manuals for the best service guidelines for your equipment.

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