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From the Sierra Experts

Spring Boat Maintenance Guide

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With spring just around the corner, basic boat maintenance should be top of mind as you prepare for summer adventures on the water. Today’s boats are complex machines with computerized engines, electronic controls, power-assisted hydraulic steering, and state of the art navigation systems. But, even with advances in technology, basic seasonal maintenance is still a crucial step in avoiding common problems such as a ruptured cooling hose, an electrical short, a clogged fuel filter, or a broken water pump impeller.

These are a few basic spring maintenance tips for your boat from our Sierra experts.

Inspect your fuel systems

Fuel contaminated with water or other impurities can lead to fuel system trouble or catastrophic engine damage. Replacing your fuel water separator before the season begins helps to ensure that your fuel system is operating at peak performance.

If the boat doesn’t have one, install a water separating fuel filter with a clear plastic bowl that allows visual inspection and easy draining of accumulated water. For boats that will be mainly used in saltwater, we highly recommend installing a stainless-steel fuel filter bracket. This will significantly prolong the life of the filter system and help reduce maintenance issues.

Be sure to visually inspect any in-line fuel filters, fuel lines, and fuel line connectors between the fuel tank and the engine. The filters should be clean and replaced each season. Make sure that fuel lines and connectors fit tightly - there shouldn’t be any signs of brittleness, abrasion, or excessive wear. If you notice any of these issues, replace the affected parts as soon as possible.

A healthy cooling system can help prevent engine damage

Proper function of a boat's cooling system is crucial to prevent engine damage and should always be on your boat maintenance checklist. Examine the external components of the cooling system, starting with the cooling hoses. The intake hoses for the coolant should be pliable and not rigid. There should be no visible signs of cracking or other damage. If any issues are detected, we recommend replacing the hoses.

Verify that stainless steel hose clamps are securely fastened, particularly for intakes and through-hull fittings located below the waterline, which should always be double-clamped for safety purposes. Examine the water pump and impeller for any signs of wear or damage - replace them as necessary. Be on the lookout for signs of corrosion on the engine block, which may indicate that gaskets and fittings are worn and require replacement.

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Add the electrical system to your boat maintenance checklist

The electrical power of a boat is akin to the lifeblood of its circulatory system, especially since many critical systems are driven by sophisticated electronics. Efficiency of the entire system, from the battery to every electronic component, can be hindered by poor connections and faulty wiring - resulting in power loss.

To ensure optimal performance, visually inspect the battery terminals for loose connections and corrosion - clean and tighten them as needed. Applying an anti-corrosion coating can provide additional protection. Replace frayed battery cable ends and terminals that show signs of corrosion. Additionally, ensure that the main circuit has adequate protection. Minimize unnecessary splices and connections to reduce opportunities for corrosion to occur.

Make sure to inspect all the connections at the circuit breaker panels and bus bars to ensure that they are securely connected. Finally, terminate all bare wire ends using high-quality marine solderless terminals and connectors.

Do you know the condition of your pumps & hoses?

Many boaters are unaware of the condition of their bilge pumps, livewell pumps, hoses, fittings, and other related equipment until it's too late to prevent a failure. To avoid this, inspect the bilge and bait pumps for any external cracks or damage, and ensure that the hose connections, clamps, and hoses themselves are in good condition. Test the operation of these pumps, as well as the automatic float switches.

Verify that the through hull fittings and sea strainers are free of debris and in good working condition. Even if everything appears to be in good condition, it may be worth upgrading if the factory pumps are not adequate for your vessel's needs.

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Don't forget trailer maintenance

Trailer maintenance is often overlooked which is unfortunate because getting the boat to the water is a crucial first step for many boaters. It's important to include trailer inspection and care as part of each spring tune-up. Repeated immersion in water, especially saltwater, can significantly damage the trailer's structural components, including the frame, trailer jack, bunks, and suspension. These components should be inspected for any corroded hardware or excessive wear that needs to be addressed.

Before the season, inspect the trailer brakes and adjust them every 3,000 miles. Failure of the brakes to operate correctly due to wear, rust, or maladjustment can lead to heat build-up and catastrophic failure. The number one maintenance issue for trailers used on saltwater is wheel bearings and seals, which should be removed, inspected, and repacked with quality marine wheel bearing grease whenever the boat is in for service.

Be prepared with a boat maintenance repair kit

Always carry an emergency repair kit on board every boat. Your kit should contain all the necessary items to perform basic electrical diagnosis and repairs on the water. This includes fuses, marine wire, connectors, terminals, heat shrink tubing, tools and testers, tie-wraps, and much more.

In addition to this kit, consider stocking other useful items such as a selection of cotter pins, stainless steel fasteners and hardware, lamps (for boat interior, exterior, and trailer), stainless steel hose clamps, fuel line, hose barbs, and more. A boat repair kit will help prepare you for many common problems that may arise while on the water.

It’s important for boaters to think outside the box when preparing their boats for the summer season. While typical engine and boat maintenance can be performed by your local mechanic, it is still important for boat owners to pay attention to all the little things that can play a big role in safely enjoying the water.   

When in doubt, consult your boat’s owner manual or visit your local Sierra dealer for additional repair and maintenance information.

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