Maintenance Tips for Powerboats Whether you take your boat out once a day or three times a year, maintenance is an important component in making your journey smooth. From tuneups to trailers, barnacles to zincs, here are some tips for keeping your boat ready to enjoy throughout the whole season.  

Your Boat's Bottom Paint

What is it?    

Bottom paint is special boat paint designed to keep growth on your boat at a minimum. It comes in one of two styles: hard or ablative. Hard bottom paint is a smooth, epoxy surface with a high amount of anti-fouling chemicals in it. Ablative bottom paint is soft, and is designed to slough off with boat or current movement in order to constantly expose a new layer of antifouling chemicals. Boats that are trailered are almost all ablative, as hard bottom paint oxidizes after 24-72 hours of air exposure and loses its effectiveness.  

Benefits of Maintaining Bottom Paint 

Drag from fouling can lower your fuel efficiency and make the boat run unevenly.  Barnacles, tubeworms and seaweeds, if neglected long enough, can  clog propellers and intakes.    

How Often do I Take Care of It?

Ablative bottom paint needs to be repainted about once a year, as it wears very easily. Hard paint costs more, but can last multiple seasons. If you're using the boat a lot, you won't need a good bottom cleaning more than once a year.  The movement of the boat will prevent buildup.  For boats that sit a long time, It may need 2-3 good cleanings a year.   

Handy Tips

Ablative Paint is designed to slough very easily-- Never scrub it or you lose the effectiveness.  A soft rag should be all you need to clean, and most of the fouling, if you've kept up with repainting, will be at the water line.  Before you hire a diver, check with the local marinas.  States like Washington have banned using divers to clean hulls as it releases too many pesticides into the water. You may need to pull your boat out and wash it at a site with approved drainage.


What are They?  

Zincs, or zinc anodes, are pieces of metal that are placed adjacent to metal components in the engine and hull of a boat. They are designed to corrode easily, maintaining the integrity of the boat’s engine, propeller, and other exposed metal components. They come in two forms, hull zincs and pencil zincs.  Hull zincs come as flat, round discs that screw flush to metal components on your hull.  Pencil zincs exist everywhere seawater interacts in your engine, come in several sizes, and are around the diameter and size of half an unsharpened pencil.  

Benefits of Maintaining Zincs

Regular replacement of zincs is your best protection against having to replace the more expensive metal components of your engine and hull.  

How Often Do I Take Care of Them?

Check zincs quarterly until you get an idea of how long it takes to wear.  This will take longer if your boat is trailered, and they will wear more quickly if the boat is moored.  It’s a good idea to speak to others who moor near you to get an idea of how long their zincs last, and follow their lead for a replacement schedule.  Increased water temperature or electrical current in the water can accelerate zinc deterioration. Pencil zincs in the engine should be changed monthly.  

Handy Tips

Hull zincs should always be screwed in finger tight, and not by machine.  However, they also need to be screwed tight enough to any metal component to have full contact with the metal, or risk corrosion of the adjacent metal as well.  Divers can never do this as well as you can when you pull your boat out of the water, so if you’re planning to pull the boat out, try and do it when a scheduled zinc replacement is due.


What are They?

A staple of any engine maintenance, fluids keep everything in an engine and engine system well-lubricated, and in the case of hydraulic fluids, well-powered.   

Benefits of Maintaining Fluids

Keeping fluids clean and at the correct levels will make your engine or engines run as effortlessly as the environment makes possible.  Engine wear is quite often the result of dirty fluids running through important components.  

How Often Do I Take Care of It?

If you’re a daily boater, then check fluid levels once a month.  If you’re out less than monthly, it’s worth it to check fluids every time you go out if you go out.  Your engine manual will give you a good idea of when to change different fluids.  Engine oil should be changed, unless your manual says otherwise, every 100 engine hours, or at a minimum once a year.  This is best done in the fall before the boat is winterized.    

Handy Tips

Keeping a maintenance log can help find small leaks before they become big ones.  If you know how much your fluids are regularly replenished, and you find you are suddenly replacing more fluid, or at a smaller interval, you most likely have a leak.


What are They?

Unless you have a jet boat, propellers are what make you go.  

Benefits of Maintaining Propellers

Keeping propellers well-balanced can improve the efficiency of your engine, give you a smoother ride, and is especially important when running twin engines of any kind.  

How Often Do I Take Care of Them?

It’s good to have your propellers inspected every time your boat is serviced.  If you run over a log, a line, or anything else, an inspection should be your next step.  If your engines are running largely out of sync, or at vastly different rpms, then checking the balance of the propellers is an important step in determining the problem.  

Handy Tips

Choosing quality materials for propellers can go a long way in their durability.  Here is a list of different possibilities for propeller materials, in order of price and durability, and their pros and cons:  

Plastic & Composite Material Propellers:

These are only good materials for small horsepower, low speed engines, as they are not very durable and usually cannot be repaired.  However, they are an inexpensive option for dinghies and trolling motors.  

Aluminum Propellers:

Aluminum is very strong.  It has a tensile strength of up to 40,000 psi, and is by far the most popular material used for outboards and stern drive boat propellers. It is also inexpensive and is easily repaired.  It is more corrosive than other metals, however, and so propellers have a shorter lifespan.  

Stainless Steel Propellers:

Stainless steel is the strongest and most durable of materials used to make propellers. It  has a tensile strength of up to 80,000 lb. psi. Stainless Steel propellers are welded, and not cast in a mold like aluminum, and as a result, they can be made thinner for better efficiency. The metal lasts longer than aluminum in a saltwater environment, but the repair cost is also approximately double.  

Bronze Propellers:

Bronze is the typical choice for propellers that spend most of their time in saltwater.  Moored, inboard motor boats usually recommend this material due to both durability and strength constraints.  Bronze has a tensile strength of up to 65,000 lb. psi, is reasonably priced and repairable. Bronze propellers on aluminum fittings require zincs, as the combination of metals in saltwater cause corrosion.  

Nibral (Nickel, Aluminum, Bronze) Propellers:

Nibral is typically used for boats with high horsepower and a high rpm. Nibral has a tensile strength of up to 95,000 lb. psi, is repairable and very durable. It is more expensive than bronze by about 30%, however the extended life and durability in seas with a lot of flotsam and jetsam are often worth it for boat owners.

Sea Strainers

What are They?

Sea strainers are the sieves that keep particulates from entering your boat at the intakes.  

Benefits of Maintaining Sea Strainers

Sea strainers catch debris at the intake of the cooling or washdown system of your boat.  Though a mere inconvenience for washdown, clogged sea strainers can potentially limit your boat’s cooling system enough to overheat your engines.   

How Often Do I Take Care of Them?

The likeliness of clogged sea strainers depends on how much debris is in the water where you boat, and what time of year it is.  The more seaweed, algae, plankton, etc., you see in the water, the more likely it is your sea strainers need cleaning.  It’s a good idea to check them every time you’re changing your pencil zincs.  

Handy Tips

Keep an eye on your temperature gauge, and learn the normal running temperature of your boat.  If it begins to creep up, sea strainers should be one of the first things you check in your cooling system.    

Prevention is Key

Though it may be time consuming, good maintenance can help create a safe, drama-free trip for most boat owners.  As life pulls us in many different directions, keeping up with proper boat care can also ensure that a free moment on a beautiful afternoon can be spent on the water, instead of  stuck in the engine room or being towed behind a rescue vessel.