How Well Do You Know Your Boat?


A while back, a boat owner asked me to have a look at this oil leak that was seeping from the interior of his cabin onto his aft deck, so I did. It was actually puzzling to me because there was no apparent mechanical device in that area that needed oil to operate but the oil was clearly present both inside the cabin and on the outside deck. On the inside of the cabin directly in front of the leak was a built-in couch that needed to be disassembled to inspect underneath and behind to try and locate the leak.

As I was removing some of the couch I noticed a zippered pouch tucked way back almost out of sight that resembled a hand gun case and after inventing a new yoga position to reach way back in and retrieve it I did indeed find a sizable 45 magnum hand gun, but no oil leak!

By now the oil leak was really perplexing me and I succumbed to calling a mechanic friend who found the leak. The window on the aft deck above the oil leak had a hydraulic lift that raised and lowered the window and its oil cylinder (which was neatly hidden in the wall) had sprung a leak. The real interesting part of this story and part of the point in telling it was when I called the boat owner to inform him about the oil leak he never even knew the window went up or down or even where the switch was.  He also had no idea there was a weapon on board.  The previous owner eleven years prior forgot to take it with him when he sold the boat.

I hear these stories all the time. Just a few weeks ago a boat owner who had run aground and bent his propellers enough so they needed to be removed and repaired found a second set in a compartment he never knew he had. It turns out the ones on the boat where incorrectly pitched and the “found” set were the correct pair to begin with, and the boat runs faster and more economically than before.

The point you ask, how well do you know your boat?  Remember back when you bought that fancy first aid kit when you first bought the boat. Do you remember where it is now and have you peered inside and checked expiration dates. Nothing worse than getting a cut or a hook in the hand or finger just to find your first aid kit is a big mess of moldy goodies.

How about life jackets? Many of us buy those nifty four packs that come in the white zippered case and we store them somewhere that doesn’t interfere with storage. Do you pull them out and look them over from time to time or do they stay tucked away? Over time that compartment has gotten wet a time or two and today you get pulled over for a basic safety check by Law Enforcement and they ask you to pull out your PFD’s (Personal Floatation Device)  and you cringe when the officer opens the bag to find  moldy nasty life jackets that the straps have rotted off from moisture. Get your wallet out because that comes with a hefty fine and you have to replace them all over again. But wait…….they want to see your safety flares and fire extinguishers too. Let’s hope those are not expired! That is also a violation that comes with a fine.

I am mentioning safety items because last year a very nice family I know lost their father in a swimming accident and nobody knew where the life ring was.  In fact there were two within easy reach but neither had life lines attached.  Again a few weeks ago, a crew member sliced his hand on the sharp edge of a hose clamp and, without a first aid kit on the boat, had to use paper towels and duct tape ‘till they got back to the dock.

Don’t limit yourself to understanding the basics just because you have full or part time crew to help with maintenance. Get to know how all the systems work and where some of the key components associated with your systems are located, and their spare parts. Something as small as a spare running light will ruin an evening cruise with friends and family if you can’t provide a spare bulb and install it while law enforcement is floating off your bow. You are more likely to be escorted back to the dock with a ticket and a load of grumpy passengers.

So, the next time you visit your boat take a look around, pull up some hatches and flash a light on your plumbing and around the engine room. Take a long look at your wiring and look for things out of place. Check the hoses on your engine including the hose clamps. Anything rusty should really be looked at. I can write another page or two about the stuff on your boat you need to be familiar with but you get the point! Just ask yourself; how well do I know my boat?