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Boat Preventive Maintenance

If you've ever been out in the middle of the water when the engine on your boat quits working, you're familiar with that sinking feeling that has nothing to do with your boat taking on water. If you find out later that the problem could have been prevented with proper maintenance, you feel even worse.

Another thing to remember is that in the last few years, 8% of the boats in reported accidents and 4% of all fatalities involved equipment- or maintenance-related factors. In addition, 34% of boating citations were issued because of equipment-related violations. Use the table below to help prevent a disaster, and to maintain the health and longevity of your engine, your boat, and all the equipment on board.

The best place to start with preventive maintenance is to read the recommendations in the manual that came with your boat. If you can't find your manual, then follow the recommendations in this table that apply to your boat.

Preventive Maintenance Before You Leave


Batteries Are the batteries charged adequately?
Are the fluid levels correct?
Are the terminal connections tight and free from corrosion?
Circuit Breakers Are the circuit breakers or fuses working properly?
Navigation Lights Do all navigation lights work properly?
Do you have replacement lights onboard?
Electronic Devices Does the horn work?
Do the VHF marine radio and GPS work?
Engine Cut-off Devices If installed, are the kill switch or self-circling switch and lanyard work properly?

Mechanical Systems

Motor Are the oil levels correct?
Is the engine cooling system working correctly?
Are the shafts and props clean and working properly?
Fuel System Is the fuel tank rusted or contaminated?
Are there any leaks in the tank, hose, or fittings?
Do you have a spare fuel filter? Do you change the filter at regular intervals as suggested by the motor manufacturer?
Do you have enough fuel in the tank and/or know where you can refuel?
Bilge Pumps Do the pump and float switch work properly?
Do you have a manual backup?

Emergency and Safety Equipment

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) Do any of the PFDs have weak or torn seams, straps, or buckles?
Do you have the required number of PFDs onboard?
If you have an inflatable PFD, are the cylinders and caps intact, charged, and secure? Are all status indicators green? Do you have a spare re-arming kit onboard?
Fire Extinguisher Do you have the required number of Type B-I or B-II fire extinguishers onboard?
Is the pressure gauge or indicator in the correct position?


Are any tripping hazards or sharp edges exposed?

Through Hulls

Are the through-hull plugs near the fittings or attached in case of an emergency?


Is the rode going to be long enough?
Is the rode free of knots?
Is the rode securely fastened to the anchor and the boat?
Have you inspected the attaching hardware?
If the rode is chain, did you inspect it for rust and other corrosion damage?
Is the bitter end of the anchor rode attached to a permanent structure?


Are the lines tied securely?
Do the lines show signs of breakage or wear?


Is the registration current?
Do the tires need more air?
Are the safety chains secure and crossed under the hitch?
Are the required lights working?
Have the trailer wheel bearings been greased regularly?

Preventive Maintenance After You Return

Electronic Devices Turn off all electronic devices.
Fuel System Disconnect the fuel tank, or shut off the fuel lines.
Motor Flush the engine with clean water.
Turn off the key.
Batteries Turn off the battery switch.
This should not turn off the automatic bilge pump.
Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) Rinse off with clean water.
Dry thoroughly.
Store out of the sun.
Hull Wash and rinse with clean water.
Cover with plastic or canvas.


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