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Complete Boat Maintenance Checklist

December 20, 2023

Boat maintenance is crucial for optimal, safe performance. Whether you have a small boat or a larger vessel, regular checks can prevent mechanical issues and guarantee a smooth boating experience with minimal risk of surprise breakdowns and other problems.

Keep reading for tips on keeping your boat in working condition with this simple boat maintenance checklist. Or download the full checklist in printable PFD format: Drive-A-Boat-USA-Boat-Maintenance-Checklist


Preventive boat maintenance guidelines

Before we get into specifics, check out this basic guide to boat maintenance that will help keep your boat in good working condition year-round.

  1. Use marine parts that are approved by the boat manufacturer and suited to your specific model. It can be tempting, but never use car parts on your boat!
  2. Store your boat in a dry location away from direct sunlight. Depending where you live, this can be indoors (which is more expensive) or outdoors. The size and model of your boat, and your budget, will also determine your choice. If your boat is stored outdoors, cover the vessel to protect it from precipitation. Boat owners should consider professional shrink-wrapping. For winter storage, some marinas offer storage with bubblers or de-icers to prevent ice formation.
  3. Regularly check fittings that go through your hull, such as engine ventilation equipment. See below for more engine-specific maintenance tips.
  4. Always keep the decks and hull of your boat clean and waxed. This not only enhances fuel efficiency but also prevents leaks and extends the lifespan of your boat. Verify that your Hull Identification Number is clearly marked and visible according to USCG guidelines.

General boat maintenance guidelines

The above suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg. For thorough boat maintenance, year-round, take time to maintain the boat exterior, boat engine, and safety equipment on a regular basis. Remember that additional seasonal maintenance is also important. 

Checklist: Boat surfaces maintenance

  1. Regularly clean your boat’s exterior to prevent mildew, erosion, and the spread of invasive species. Wash your boat after each outing to minimize buildup. A clean hull can save up to 30% on fuel.
  2. Maintaining the hull is equally important. For fiberglass hulls, wax and polish a few times a year to maintain the gel coat.
  3. Canvas and upholstery should be periodically cleaned with mild soap and water to prevent mildew. Avoid using strong cleaning products on vinyl and PVC.
  4. Verify that your boat capacity plate is easy to see and clean, so you can easily confirm whether you have an appropriate number of passengers on board. 

Checklist: Boat engine maintenance

  1. Consult your boat engine owner’s manual to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for oil changes. You will likely need to change the engine oil at least once per season or every 50-100 boating hours.
  2. Look for corrosion (rust) and oxidation. Be vigilant and take action before these escalate into significant issues.
  3. Before every trip, check the fuel, oil, battery power, bilge pump, water intake, hull, and propeller. After every trip, flush the engine with fresh water to prevent corrosion. 
  4. Stick to the manufacturer’s guidelines for checking and servicing your transmission.
  5. Inspect fuel lines, hoses, and electrical lines for wear, corrosion, and leaks.
  6. Apply lubrication to moving parts and fastenings.

Checklist: Boat safety equipment maintenance

  1. Before every outing, check all lifejackets on board to confirm they are still in good working condition, including life jackets for children. These may not be a part of your boat, but it is your legal responsibility to wear one while on board, making them an essential element of boating safety equipment.
  2. Regularly check any elements of the boat that could be implicated in a rescue, such as navigation lights, visual distress signals (including flags) and radios to confirm they are in good working order. 
  3. Check all other safety equipment, including boat fire extinguishers and backfire flame arrestors, ladders and ropes, and throwable PFDs to confirm they are not expired and in good condition.

Checklist: Seasonal boat maintenance

  1. Beginning of the boating season: Change the oil, inspect the fuel system, and check the electrical system. Clean and maintain bilge pumps, inspect safety equipment, and clean and wax the boat. Ensure your registration and boat insurance are up to date.
  2. At the end of the boating season: Winterize mechanical systems by draining water and adding antifreeze. Remove and store canvas and loose equipment, and clean and wax the boat. Change oil and filters, fill fuel tanks, and use stabilizing agents to prepare the boat for storage.

Boat maintenance costs

Annual maintenance costs are typically around 10% of the boat’s original price, though this can vary based on size and usage. Regular maintenance efforts are well worth it, as they can extend your boat’s lifespan and prevent unexpected issues.

Get your boating license with Drive a Boat USA!

Maintaining your boat is an integral aspect of the boating experience. In fact, boat maintenance is key to minimizing the risk of breakdowns and keeping your boat running smoothly. Start a new boat maintenance schedule today! Inspect your boat surfaces, engine and safety equipment each time you go boating and at specific points during the year to stay safe out on the water.

Remember, you can learn about boat maintenance and much more by obtaining your state-approved boating license from Drive a Boat USA. Once you’ve passed our online boating exam, you’ll be certified and ready to go!