We are currently home in Auckland, NZ and expect to return to Envoy to do some cruising mid-May. Envoy's new owners will join us during part of this time for a joint cruise.
There all types of boaties and about as many different approaches to the subject of boat care and maintenance. At one extreme plenty of derelict-looking boats can be seen on moorings, apparently never used with growth dangling below their hulls, while at the other extreme some owners can be seen on their anchored boats lovingly cleaning their pride and joy all day long.
Boating is about enjoyment – cruising to great anchorages, swimming, diving, fishing, children playing on the beach, BBQs with family and friends etc and as such it's well to consider that care and maintenance should focus more on the technical than the cosmetic aspects - minor marks and imperfections show that adventures and fun have been had, they add character and are part of a boat's life story. This is not to say that gelcoat and stainless steel shouldn't be cared for and we've learned long ago that regularly washing accumulated salt off our topsides and stainless steel pays huge dividends. We also get our topsides gelcoat professionally polished annually.
It can be challenging to monitor all of the checks and subsequent maintenance required aboard modern vessels with the growing complexity of the equipment they carry, especially as we all tend to focus on the immediate problems needing our attention rather than those in the future. So how can we keep track of the myriad of routine maintenance issues?
Our own approach is to be pragmatic and practical but not pedantic and we try to strike a balance between preventative maintenance and “if it ain't broke don't fix it”.
Maintenance normally falls into one of three categories:
# something that you notice needs doing – eg you see a frayed vee belt
# something based on hours of use – eg replacing engine oil and filter after 200 hours
# something based on elapsed time – eg replacing your oil and filter annually regardless of elapsed hours
The simplest way to manage this process is to go through the maintenance sections of your equipment manuals and make one list of what needs to be done at various time intervals, for example daily, weekly, monthly, 3-monthly, annually etc, plus another list showing the equipment to be maintained and its maintenance requirements every 100 hours, 200 hours, 500 hours etc.
When planning your maintenance consider that it's often best to group similar maintenance items together. For example when replacing the oil and filters on the engine(s), consider doing the generator at the same time, particularly if you're paying a mechanic to do this - if your oil is supposed to be changed at 200 hours it doesn't really matter if it turns out to be 180 or 220 hours.
Some owners like to do as much as possible themselves while others like to mostly use contractors.
If using contractors try to be aboard your vessel while they're working. It may lead to better results and at the least you will often learn useful information. Always check what has been done including a sea trial if anything more than minor work has been done on vital equipment.
It's a good idea for any boat to have an Operation Manual. This can range in size from a few pages for a smaller boat to probably around a hundred pages for a larger complex one. Not only does this simplify the operation of your boat but it's a valuable asset when it's time to sell. This Manual should document where equipment is located - particularly for safety-critical items like isolating switches and seacocks, how systems work - for example how to change from one fuel or fresh water tank to another and maintenance procedures - how to change oil, oil filters, fuel filters etc.
Another useful document is a list of spare parts carried aboard and their location, so they can be found quickly in an emergency like a vee belt breaking on your main engine while under way. Keep this updated so that used parts are replaced as soon as possible. Parts are expensive and should always be well packaged for their protection and stored in cool, dry conditions.
Aboard Envoy we like to keep things simple and rely on a few handwritten documents. Rather than jotting things down on various pieces of paper that get lost we use a Daybook to write down information relating to the boat's operation. For example if we're thinking about replacing an item of equipment and want to do some research about it we note the pertinent facts in the Daybook. We also keep a separate Logbook to record details of the voyage, for example where we've been been, what we've done and people we've met.
Another important document for us is our To Do List and my unlikely-to-be-achieved life's ambition is to have nothing on this list (I've yet to meet a boat owner who says there's nothing that needs doing on their boat).
Finally to maximize your technical security and independence it’s essential to carry aboard a comprehensive toolkit, manuals for all installed equipment, and an extensive range of chandlery items. Then even if you can't fix something yourself this may enable a fellow boatie to assist you.