Boat Ownership Costs: What to Expect

There’s a popular saying among boaters that there’s nothing more expensive than a free boat. Free or not, boat ownership costs are an important factor in deciding which boat is right for you, or if boat ownership is the right option. In the previous article on boat maintenance we took a look at some of the expenses a boat owner is likely to incur maintaining their boat. However, when calculating your expected boat ownership costs you need to factor in more than just your boat’s annual maintenance. This article will look at some of the common costs of boat ownership and give you an idea of what to expect.

B.O.A.T Costs: Rules of Thumb

Most boat owners are probably familiar with the acronym B.O.A.T or Break Out Another Thousand which is a polite way of saying boat ownership, especially if you don’t have a good handle on your boat’s maintenance and other requirements, can get expensive quickly. While every boat is different and your own capabilities as an owner factor in, a general rule of thumb is that you can expect to spend somewhere between $100 per foot of boat length and 10% of your boat’s purchase price per year.

For boat owners looking at new-ish boats in the 30 feet and under range I think the $100 per foot rule is a good starting point of what to expect when it comes to your boat’s ownership costs. This rule of thumb is applicable for boats in this size range that are kept on a trailer or in dry storage and accounts for maintenance, insurance, storage, and usage costs.

For larger boats kept in the water, our $100 per foot rule of thumb may seem like a bargain. I’ve had some professional captains tell me that the boat’s owners expect to spend close to 10% of the boat’s value per year. That figure also includes the captain’s salary, something most boat owners aren’t paying. However, keeping a boat in a slip and paying for the slip as well as regular hull cleaning as well as the associated additional maintenance of keeping a boat in the water all add significantly to the ownership costs.

Boat ownership costs

Boat Storage Costs

Since storage costs are one of the largest components of boat ownership, let’s take a look at what to expect when choosing how and where to store your boat. The most affordable option for many boat owners will be keeping your boat on a trailer. While the trailer itself will need maintenance, especially if it’s used regularly in salt water, that cost will still be lower than some of the other storage options since you’re likely to keep the boat at your own home and trailer it to and from the boat launch.

In a slightly higher price bracket comes dry storage or a mooring field. Both of these options will likely cost several hundred dollars per month for boat owners. A dry storage marina can be a good option for boat owners who aren’t comfortable trailering their boat, or don’t have a place to keep it. The convenience of calling ahead and having the marina prep and launch your boat for you is hard to beat however it does come at a price. For boats that can’t be kept in dry storage, sailboats for instance, a mooring field where you pay for a buoy and often access to their ferry service to and from your boat, can be an affordable option.

A full service marina where your boat is in a slip, or lift, is the most expensive option. While it’s hard to beat the convenience of stepping on your boat, turning the key, and being out on the water, it comes at a cost. Slips are usually priced on your boat’s length and prices can vary quite a bit by area but $1000 per month is not an unreasonable amount to expect for a slip in a big city for a 40 foot boat. If your boat requires a slip and you’re looking for a more affordable option, check out local classifieds for home owners on the water that are renting their dock or lift to boaters.

Boats kept in a slip add to ownership costs.
For many boaters, slip fees represent a significant fraction of their boat’s ownership costs.

Boat Insurance and Registration

In many localities insurance is a requirement for boat ownership. Even if it isn’t required where you live or for your specific boat, it’s a good idea to have some amount of insurance on your boat. Here in South Florida, the price of insurance for powerboats is greatly inflated from national averages by the prevalence of boat theft. However, having been a victim of boat theft myself, having insurance that helped us restore the boat when it was eventually recovered, was definitely worth it.

In addition to your boat’s insurance policy you should also consider becoming a member of SeaTow or Tow Boat US or a local towing consortium. In addition to towing should you need it these services can help with dead batteries, lack of fuel, and a variety of other issues should your boat need it while you’re out on the water. Many also offer roadside towing plans should you need it while trailering. With packages under $200 a year choosing one of these towing options makes a lot of sense for boat owners and is a relatively affordable form of insurance for things that can happen while you’re on the water.

Your vessel registration whether through your state or the Coast Guard is also a cost to factor in, as is registration for your trailer if applicable. There may also be other recurring annual or monthly registration fees to factor in like fees to use certain lakes, or fees to use a local boat launch.

Usage Costs

While the list of costs can seem never-ending when it comes to boat ownership, one set of costs at least directly relates to enjoying your boat. How much you spend each trip is going to vary by how you use your boat and what kind of boat you own. Sailboat owners are famously frugal and tout their boat’s low operating costs, the wind is free after all. Power boat owners are in a decidedly different boat with fuel costs ranging in the hundreds to thousands for a trip depending on the boat and what kind of trips you take it on.

Things like ice, bait, food should also be counted in. Remember we’re trying to get a handle on what our boat’s ownership costs are throughout the year so adding up what you usually spend on a trip and multiplying it by the times you use your boat each year will help us reach a more accurate figure. Of course, having friends that are willing to pitch in with some of the costs on each trip is always nice and can help defray some of the costs of each trip.

Boat Maintenance Costs

Our previous article on boat maintenance went into a bit more depth on what to expect when it comes to maintenance and associated costs. Maintenance costs are highly dependent on the type of boat you own, how big it is, and how much maintenance you feel is necessary. While a lot of maintenance can be done yourself to save money, some you will need to find a professional to help you out with. Maintenance costs can add up quickly so try to develop a budget for your boat’s maintenance and plan accordingly.

Hypothetical Ownership Costs

I think it’s useful to attach some of these costs to actual boats so we can take a look at what various boats would cost to maintain.

25′ Outboard Powered Center Console

  • Engine Maintenance – $300/year
  • Other Maintenance (waxing/detailing/replacing parts) – $500/year
  • Trailer Maintenance – $200/year
  • Insurance and registrations – $1000/year
  • Usage – $200/trip includes fuel and other expenses.

Our hypothetical 25 foot center console owner can expect to spend roughly $2,000 per year on their boat in recurring fixed costs. A little under the general $100/foot rule of thumb. In addition if they use their boat 15 times a year they’re spending another $3,000 on the boat. You can play around with the usage numbers a bit but remember as you use your boat more your boat’s engine will need more maintenance since that’s done at 100 hour intervals and maintenance on other systems increases as well.

35′ Sailboat

  • Engine maintenance – $200/year
  • Monthly Hull Cleaning – $2.50 x 35 (billed per foot) $87.50 ($1,050/year)
  • Other Maintenance (waxing/detailing/replacing parts) – $500/year
  • Slip Fees – $20/foot per month $700 a month ($8,400/year)
  • Insurance and registration – $800/year
  • Usage – $100/trip

Total yearly costs for our sailboat owner are just under $11,000 in fixed costs before accounting for what they spend on each trip.

Our sailboat owner is saving a lot per trip compared to powerboat owners who often face a large fuel bill each trip. However, boats with a keel are difficult to trailer so they’ve decided to keep their boat in a slip at a local marina. As you can see the slip fees, and associated hull cleaning fees, are the bulk of their expenses. For sailboats kept in the water this is a fairly common occurrence, using the boat isn’t that expensive, neither is any of the other maintenance. Most of the budget goes toward paying for the slip and keeping the hull in good condition.

40 Foot Powerboat

  • Engine Maintenance – $600/year
  • Hull Cleaning – $2.50 x 40 ($100 per month or $1,200 per year)
  • Other Maintenance – $1,500 includes detailing and replacing parts
  • Slip Fees – $20 per foot ($800 per month or $9,000/year)
  • Insurance and registrations – $2,000/year
  • Usage Costs – $300/trip

Large powerboats are expensive to operate and maintain, there’s no way around that. In addition to the slip fees and hull cleaning incurred by sail boat owners, a large powerboat has significant operating and maintenance costs as well. An owner of our hypothetical 40 foot power boat can expect to spend around $14,000 per year in fixed costs. Tack on to that the per trip budget of around $300, a lot of which goes toward fuel costs, and you can see how the 10% of your boat’s value rule of thumb came into existence.

Ownership Costs and Choosing the Right Boat

How much of a role should boat ownership costs play when choosing a boat? That depends on a couple factors, namely how much of your budget can you dedicated to recurring expenses in addition to the purchase price of the boat, and how comfortable are you working on the boat yourself to help save money. In general smaller boats are more affordable not only because they cost less to maintain, store, use, etc. but also because they’re easier to maintain yourself.

Boat owners who expect all systems aboard their boat to work like new are in for a surprise when it comes time to open up their checkbook, ownership costs for a demanding boat owner will quickly add up. In such cases a smaller boat, or one with less component systems aboard, might be a better option than a larger more complicated boat. When choosing a boat you have to be realistic about what you’re capable of doing yourself, how meticulous you are when it comes to maintenance, and what your budget allows you to spend on it. It makes no sense to buy a boat that just keeping it afloat is a major financial strain, even if you can afford the purchase price.

Used boats can be deceptive since a lower purchase price might mask higher maintenance expenses. Older boats have older components aboard which are more likely to wear out and need replacing or additional maintenance than those found aboard a new boat. While boats often depreciate fairly rapidly from new, there is a sweet spot for boat buyers where you can find a boat a couple years old that still has relatively “new” engines and components but at a lower purchase price than the same model brand new. Finding the right boat that matches your needs and capabilities is the best way to save money on your boat’s ownership costs.

How to Launch a Boat

Knowing how to launch a boat on a trailer is a skill no one is born with. It’s that part of every boating trip that no one really likes and can be difficult for even experienced boat owners. While “fail videos” of boat launch disasters are popular across social media, what most non-boaters who see them, and even some boat owners, fail to realize is just how difficult launching a boat can be under the wrong conditions. In this article we’re going to help you develop a strategy for launching your boat that will make your trips to the boat ramp safer and hassle free.

How to launch a boat at the boat ramp

Prep Your Boat Before Launch

There are a few things you just shouldn’t do when boating and being the person who is loading their coolers and gear into their boat in the middle of a busy boat ramp is near the very top of the list. Just don’t do it! Most boat ramps have an area off to the side where you can load and prep your boat beforehand and then launch at the actual ramp when ready. When prepping your boat for launch there are a couple things you should check to make sure your boat is ready to go in the water.

Check the Plug

Check to insure your boat’s plug is inserted properly and any other thru-hulls that should be closed are closed. Boats launched without their plug in sink very quickly so while it sounds like common sense, double check to make sure the plug is in and your boat won’t be taking on water from there or any other location once it’s in the water.

Check the Batteries

Launching a boat with a dead battery is embarrassing. When you’re loading your boat at the staging area at your ramp, or even before you leave your home, check to make sure your boat’s batteries are fully charged and capable of starting the engine. An easy way to do this is to key your boat’s ignition switch to the “on” position, don’t turn all the way to the “start” position, you just want to key to on and have your engines gauges power on. Most modern outboard engines will display the voltage they’re receiving. A fully charged 12 volt battery should display a reading of 12.8 volts. While what your exact engine needs to start will vary depending on the engine, a battery reading in the 12.8v range is indicative that your batteries are charged and should be capable of starting your outboard. Some outboards may be capable of starting at slightly lower voltages, and the voltage displayed on your dash gauge isn’t always what your engine is receiving but we’re trying to go boating here not perform boat maintenance so a reading of 12.8v means we should be good to go.

Check the Trailer

By this point you likely have already trailered your boat from your home or its storage location to the ramp so your trailer should be working fine. However, depending on your trailer’s set up and how you usually launch your boat you may decide to unhook the safety chain and the winch strap. This is a matter of personal preference and depends a lot on your launching style as well as how you have your trailer set up but it can be a good way to save time on the ramp and avoid the person driving the tow vehicle from getting out of it on a potentially slippery ramp. At this point you should also remove any other straps you have attaching the boat to the trailer such as tie-downs to the stern or straps over the bow or stern of the boat. A boat that’s still strapped to the trailer at the stern is going to have a hard time floating so make sure the stern can float free once it hits the water.

Ready for Launch

We’ve loaded everything aboard, checked the plug, the batteries, and made our trailer ready for launch, now what? As we leave the ramps staging area we’re going to look for a ramp that’s free that can accommodate our boat. You might take into account factors like the direction of the wind and current when doing this to choose a ramp and dock, if there is a choice, that is easier. Sometimes launching with the wind or current holding your boat against the pier is easier, especially if launching solo, than having the boat float away from the pier.

Once we’ve chosen which ramp we’re targeting to launch our boat in we’ll begin backing the boat down to the water slowly. I said earlier that launching a boat isn’t something anyone is born knowing how to do, and I was mainly referencing driving a trailer in reverse. Trailering in reverse is by definition counter-intuitive, years of driving experience are telling you to do one thing when in fact you need to do the opposite to align your boat with the ramp and pier. Trying to explain it to someone, especially in text is almost impossible so my suggestion is practice. Take your boat and trailer to the ramp on an off day like a weekday or during the slow season and practice lining up with the ramp properly a couple dozen times. With a little practice when the pressure is off and the ramp is empty you’ll quickly become a master. Your first time launching shouldn’t be on a busy weekend when everyone else at the ramp is waiting for you, take some time when no one is watching to build your confidence maneuvering your trailer and you’ll get it.

Once you’ve lined up your boat with the ramp slowly back down until the boat is in the water. Every boat and trailer is a little different but there tends to be a sweet spot where the boat is floating but still on the trailer. If you didn’t unhook your winch strap and/or safety chain earlier, now is the time to do it. If you’re getting out of your vehicle to unhook your boat’s straps or to use the dock lines to walk it off, please make sure to set your parking brake. Putting your vehicle in park isn’t enough, especially with the weight of the boat and trailer behind it pulling it down the ramp. Make absolutely certain to engage your vehicle’s parking brake before getting out of the vehicle. Some boaters even carry wooden chalks to put behind the vehicle’s wheels when launching their boat that prevent the vehicle from slipping.

Long boat ramps can make launching your boat a challenge.
Properly lining up your vehicle and trailer is especially important on longer ramps.

Power Launch or Walk it Off?

Everyone has their own preference when it comes to launching their boat. How you decide to launch is up to you and your preference may change as you become more familiar launching, mine certainly did. In general there are two schools of thought. One involves simply walking the boat off the trailer by having someone on the pier next to the boat ramp hold the dock lines and slowly pull it off the trailer and secure it to the dock. The advantage of this is you can do it yourself pretty easily if you’re launching solo or someone who isn’t an experienced boater is still able to hold on to the dock lines and walk the boat down the pier.

The other option involves using the boat’s engine(s) to power it off the trailer. This is a pretty straightforward launch method but does require having someone in the boat when it’s launched so that it can be driven off when it hits the water. From there they’ll simply hold the boat in the basin or bring it in to the dock to take on the other passengers and the vehicle driver. If the ramp is busy this can be a good strategy to use since you can launch and pick up your passengers somewhere else if the docks along the ramp itself are all full of boats.

Launching Solo

How to launch a boat by yourself is a bit more advanced but it’s worth going into since all boaters should be familiar with it. For many boaters taking guests unfamiliar with boats out, it often becomes easier and safer to launch solo once they get the hang of it. Much like launching your boat in general, when launching solo you’re going to develop a routine that works every time which you can repeat for a successful launch each time.

When launching solo I like to loop a dock line from the cleat on my boat’s bow around the trailer and then back to the cleat. This holds the boat on the trailer once it starts to float and importantly is easy to release from inside the boat. If you launch the boat so that it’s close to the dock you can quickly hop in from the dock and power the boat off the trailer once you’ve released your looped dock line. If your ramp doesn’t have a pier or dock running alongside it, things get a bit more complicated. You will have to exit your vehicle and climb up on the bow of your boat to get in. Some boaters who launch solo frequently will have a marine metal fabricator build a ladder for their trailer to make boarding at the bow easier.

Whichever route aboard you choose, launching solo can be tricky, especially if there is a strong wind or current where you launch. You will have to exit the vehicle, contend with a potentially slippery boat ramp, and board your boat. If you’re launching solo I think using the boat’s engines to power off the trailer is your best bet since it allows you to keep the boat on the trailer and use the boat’s engines to get it floating. If you do decide to launch your boat so that it is completely floating it can angle itself toward the dock potentially causing it to scrape the dock or pilings so make sure you have your fenders out to prevent this. A quality pair of trailer guides can also help keep your boat in position and are a good asset on any boat trailer.

A great video that covers how to launch your boat solo.

Launching Hazards

Now that we’ve covered most of the aspects of how to launch a boat, let’s look at some of the potential hazards or problems boaters face when launching. I think the biggest one isn’t so much a hazard as it is a condition and that’s other boaters using the same ramp. When the weather is nice we all want to spend time out on the boat so boat ramps on a nice weekend during prime boating season get busy. For an experienced boater who is comfortable trailering their boat this is par for the course. However, if you aren’t comfortable trailering your boat it can be intimidating to do so at a busy ramp. Everyone is watching, and waiting, for you to put your boat in the water and sometimes even a few horns will be used if you’re holding up the line. Like I mentioned earlier, take some time on an off day to master launching your boat, it will make you a lot more comfortable on days when the ramp is crowded.

You should also pay attention to the condition of the ramp. Some ramps accumulate a lot of seaweed, a problem made worse for boaters on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts in recent years by massive Sargassum Seaweed blossoms. Seaweed or other debris on the ramp can cause your vehicle to lose traction and cause you to lose control. While launching this can mean your boat slides into the water faster than expected and can make retrieving your boat and trailer when the day is over more difficult.

Seaweed isn’t the only problem found at the boat ramp though. Ramps in poor condition can be slippery or have broken pieces of concrete. Be especially cautious of ramps that have an abrupt drop off at the end since your trailer can become stuck on it. If the ramp hasn’t been cleaned recently it will be very slippery so you should exercise caution when getting out of your tow vehicle to release any winch straps or board the boat from the bow. Because my own local ramps in South Florida are extremely slippery with algae I use a launching routine that lets me stay in the boat while someone else drives it off the trailer without either of us ever having to walk on the ramp itself.

Ramps in poor condition can be dangerous when launching your boat.
Poorly maintained ramps that are covered in algae can be quite dangerous.

Something else to think about is where you’re parking your tow vehicle while you’re out on the boat for the day. Some boat ramps may be subject to flooding at extremely high tides, something you probably want to avoid subjecting your vehicle to. You also want to make sure you’re parking it in a secure area where it won’t be broken in to. Make sure to lock the vehicle as well as use a trailer lock to prevent the trailer from being stolen.

A Successful Launch

Launching a boat isn’t hard, it just takes some planning and practice. A well maintained boat should be ready to use when it hits the water and a well maintained trailer should have no problem getting you and your boat safely to the boat ramp. When you’re planning your day on the water take the time to check your boat and trailer before you leave the house. When you’re at the ramp load your boat and conduct your final prep in the staging area. A successful boat launch should become routine with practice, once you develop your routine and checklist, the aspects of launching that may seem stressful today will become second nature. Have a question about launching your boat or want to suggest a tip to include in this article? Feel free to leave a comment below or contact us at BoatEasy. If you’re looking for someone who can give you lessons on how to launch your boat, check out BoatEasy’s boat captains, many of which offer training to new boat owners.

Boat Maintenance Made Easy

Boat maintenance is the part of boat ownership no one likes to talk about. Every boat owner has experienced the frustration of an inoperable system aboard their boat, whether it is an engine that won’t start, a dead battery, or any one of the many issues that keep boaters from enjoying their time on the water. And while all boats, no matter how well maintained, will experience the occasional issue, staying on top of your boat’s maintenance will go a long way toward making your time on the water enjoyable and safe. Our goal at BoatEasy is to make maintaining your boat easy by offering a wide variety of tips for boat owners and by connecting boaters with experienced professionals that can help them take care of their boat or offer advice so they can tackle the problem themselves.

Proper boat maintenance will keep your boat looking great.

Boat Maintenance Tips

Maintaining a boat can be difficult and time consuming. Our goal in this article is to provide some tips that will help you streamline your boat’s maintenance in order to save you time and money. Below are a few quick tips that we’ve found to be helpful to boat owners and we’ll expand upon them throughout this and future articles.

  • Develop a boat maintenance checklist.
  • Create an annual budget for expected boat maintenance costs.
  • Find boat service providers for the aspects of maintenance you need a hand with.
  • Keep a boat maintenance log for your vessel

Developing a Boat Maintenance Checklist

Part of making boat ownership easy is to make it predictable. Unexpected problems with a boat can delay vacations, cause financial strain, and in general make owning a boat seem like more hassle than it’s worth. One way to avoid unexpected issues is to create a boat maintenance checklist. A good maintenance checklist encompasses maintenance on your vessel’s systems that needs to be done at regular intervals to keep your boat operating in tip top shape and keep you safe on the water.

Develop a boat maintenance checklist to make maintaining your boat easier.
A checklist similar to the one I use for my boat. Feel free to copy it and modify for your own boat.

When I think about maintenance aboard a boat I like to mentally divide the boat into its composite systems. For example, in a recreational fishing boat those systems might include the engine(s), the electronics, the hull, and the various electrical systems aboard like pumps and lights. A sailboat will also have the sails and associated rigging. Larger vessels will have more systems that also need maintenance like a generator, air conditioning, etc. Dividing the boat up into a handful of categories makes planning out routine maintenance easier since performing regular maintenance on related systems is more efficient than trying to tackle them all at once. So, let’s take a look at some of the different systems found aboard most recreational boats and the regular maintenance they might need.

Engine Maintenance

Marine engine maintenance is a major part of boat ownership.

Whether you own an outboard powered dinghy or a mega-yacht, your boat’s engines need maintenance. Regular oil changes at the hour intervals prescribed by the engine manufacturer are a good starting point to keeping your engines operating at their highest potential. For boat owners that are handy, regular oil changes at the 100 hour (or the manufacturer recommended interval) are something you can usually do yourself. In addition to regular oil changes, your engine’s owner manual or your marine mechanic will inform you of other boat engine maintenance that you need to perform. This will include things like changing your oil and fuel filters, your lower unit’s oil, your engine’s impeller, and any marine engine zincs for vessels kept in the water. Staying current with your engine’s prescribed maintenance won’t guarantee trouble free operation but it will go a long way toward keeping them operating at peak performance and help familiarize you with any potential problems. A good place to look for information specific to your engine is its manufacturer’s website where you can find out exactly what your engine manufacturer recommends regarding maintenance. For example, Mercury Marine has an extensive website complete with how-to videos to help owners better take care of their engines.

Engine maintenance also includes maintaining your boat’s fuel system. The easiest way to keep your fuel system in optimal condition is to make sure the fuel your putting in is of a good quality. That is, it is free of water and other contaminants that can clog your fuel lines or damage your engine. In addition, regularly checking your fuel filters is good practice and you can do it while performing your scheduled engine maintenance.

Marine Electronics Maintenance

Marine electronics range from relatively simple handheld devices to complex suites of electronics that integrate systems like radar, sonar, thermal imaging and video to a display on your dash. While the more electronics your boat has, the more maintenance they will need, there are some general things the average boat owner can do to keep their electronics working properly. To start with, keeping them adequately supplied with the correct voltage is imperative. Check that your boat’s batteries are putting out the correct voltage and that the electronics are actually receiving that voltage. Check the wires going from your electronics to the batteries for any signs of wear and make sure they are securely connected to the electronics in a way that doesn’t stress the connection point placing strain on the delicate pins that actually plug into the device.

Your vessel’s electronics are likely some of the most technologically complex, and expensive, items found on your boat. Because of this, it’s a good idea to make sure your electronics are protected as best as possible from the elements, especially salt spray but also unnecessary sun exposure or excessive heat. While marine electronics are designed to operate in a harsh environment, if you can protect them from exposure you will prolong their useful lifespan and be able to count on them working for years to come. Depending on the electronics you will also want to regularly update them to the latest version offered by their manufacturer and if you store data like way-points or fishing spots, you might also want to regularly back them up on a separate device.

Boat Hull Maintenance

Wood, metal, fiberglass, even concrete, all boat hulls need regular maintenance to keep them running safely and looking good. Regular hull maintenance starts with keeping your boat’s hull clean. Washing with water and an environmentally friendly soap after each use is a good start to keep dirt and grime off your boat’s hull and deck. Plan to also apply protective coatings like wax or varnish to your hull and exposed areas at least once a year, with more frequent applications being necessary depending on climate and use. For vessels used regularly in an area with high sun exposure, waxing 3 times a year may not be excessive in order to keep the hull looking good.

Vessels kept in the water have an extra layer of maintenance required thanks to marine organisms that like to attach themselves to a hull and make it their home. This aspect of boat maintenance is unlikely to be something you can do yourself so finding a reliable boat bottom cleaning service is invaluable. Your hull diver will know the conditions in your area and help you formulate a plan to keeping your hull and running surfaces like your propellers and rudders growth free. In addition a professional hull cleaner will be able to check your boat’s zincs and replace them as necessary. Boats kept in the water also need regular bottom paint, while good bottom paint can last several years depending on conditions, you should talk to your hull cleaner as they likely have a good grasp of its condition and can give you a heads up on when you should replace it.

Included in the broad category of your boat’s hull are all the various metal parts from cleats and rod holders to railing and console enclosures. A good wash after use is imperative to remove any salt spray that might cause corrosion. You should also regularly check the metal on your boat and if you notice signs of rust or corrosion try to remedy it. A light acid like vinegar diluted with water is usually effective at removing minor corrosion on metal. Like with most issues that crop up with boat ownership, corrosion is easier to deal with if you catch it sooner rather than later. Your boat’s electrical systems are perhaps the most important system aboard yet also the one that suffers the most neglect. First, what’s included in your boat’s electrical system? Well, it’s everything aboard that runs off the batteries or generator that isn’t your electronics. This includes all your pumps for your bilge, baitwells, fresh water, raw water, etc. as well as lighting, and any other electrically powered accessories aboard. Unfortunately it’s rare to find a boat that has all it’s electrical components in easy to reach places that facilitate regular maintenance. Rather, pumps are often in cramped compartments that require an inventive yoga pose to access let alone work on or replace. For this reason, most boat owners rarely check their pumps and wait until they fail to replace them.

Maintaining Your Boat’s Electrical Systems

Knowledge of, and the ability to work on your boat’s electrical system is good practice for all boat owners. Even if you have a marine electrician you can count on that usually works on your boat, knowing how to troubleshoot electrical problems can save you time and money. Your boat’s electrical systems all start at your batteries, keeping them working is imperative for starting your boat’s engines as well as running everything aboard. They are perhaps the single most important item aboard and if they fail you’ll likely be stuck at the dock or worse. For maintenance it’s important to monitor your batteries age, and check that your battery charger, if you have one, is keeping them charged at the correct voltage. In addition the condition of the wiring running to your boat’s various electrical systems should be monitored for any corrosion or chaffing and replaced as necessary. Perhaps you’re noticing a theme here when it comes to maintaining your boat? Corrosion is the common enemy of all boat owners and it tends to rear its ugly head where its least expected so keeping an eye out for it and taking preventative measures beforehand can make boat ownership easier.

Maintaining Your Boat’s Rigging

Keep your boat's rigging and sails maintained.
Fortunately the rigging on today’s sailboats is a lot easier to maintain!

Regular maintenance of your sailboat’s rigging is incredibly important since a failure while under sail could be catastrophic for your vessel or passengers. Standing rigging should be regularly inspected for signs of rust or any frays on the cable itself. If you notice excessive wear on any part of the standing rigging consider replacing it as soon as possible. Sheets, halyards and other ropes should also be inspected regularly, particularly those that you’re not handling often or the sections of them that may be out of sight because they are high on the mast or inside it. Like with your vessel’s other systems, the rigging is subject to wear and tear from exposure and use and will need regular replacement every few years regardless of how well you care for it.

Marine Upholstery and Canvas Maintenance

First impressions are everything and nothing says a boat is well cared for more than the condition of its upholstery and canvas. Upholstery on benches, coaming bolsters, and seats is subject to wear, fading, and mildew. Keeping it looking like new can be a challenge even for meticulous boat owners. Maintaining marine upholstery starts with regular boat washes. However, your boat’s upholstery is more delicate than say the hull or deck so be careful not to use too abrasive a brush on it while cleaning or any harsh cleaners that may bleach or damage the fabric. Boating stores like West Marine will carry a wide range of marine upholstery cleaners that are tailored for cleaning, removing stains, and treating mildew.

Like your boat’s upholstery, any canvas you may have aboard needs care as well. Things like sail covers, binnacle covers, or even a boat cover are by design made to protect what they’re covering from the elements. However, to keep them looking good and prolong their useful life, it’s a good idea to do some basic maintenance on them occasionally. Zippers and snaps on canvas exposed to the elements can corrode or wear out so regularly lubricating them keep them pliable and make taking your boat’s canvas on and off easier and in turn make you more likely to use it. Since a lot of canvas is removable you can take it off and wash it periodically, some is even made to be machine washable making keeping it clean easy. Things like T-Tops and Bimini Tops that aren’t removable can be cleaned while doing your regular boat wash and if necessary a mildew or stain remover can be used on them like on your upholstery.

Creating a Budget For Your Boat Maintenance Costs

Boat ownership is expensive. The first time a new boat owner hears the joke about the acronym B.O.A.T standing for Break Out Another Thousand, they probably think the person telling it is having fun at their expense. However, boat maintenance, both expected and unexpected, is more expensive today than ever. At BoatEasy part of our goal is to offer boat owners affordable options when it comes to finding marine service providers that can help them with the many things their boat may need. At the same time, BoatEasy is a community of boaters helping boaters so sharing experience and learning from other boaters who’ve been in the same position as you might enable you to tackle a lot of things yourself. So, let’s take a look at what a new boat owner might expect to budget for regular expenses.

Before we dive too much into various maintenance costs, it’s worth pointing out that your boat’s maintenance costs are only a portion of your annual boat ownership budget. Things like slip fees, registration fees, insurance, fuel, and whatever you’re spending on miscellaneous expenses each trip all add up and should be included as well into your total budget. However, maintenance costs can comprise a significant portion of your yearly expenditures on your boat and their often unexpected nature can be a major point of stress for many boat owners so developing a budget that includes a close approximation of likely maintenance costs is important.

For power boat owners the biggest recurring yearly cost is going to be service done on your engines. This expense is dependent on how often you use your boat but a service that includes changing your oil and oil filters and will need to be done every 100 hours with a more extensive service done every 300 hours. For an average boat owner that uses their boat 100-200 hours a year then budgeting in 1 or two such services a year makes sense. Owners that are able to use their boat a lot more frequently or use it for commercial purposes likely put several hundred to a thousand hours a year on their engines and services like this are a monthly expense.

In addition to your engine’s annual service or services, it makes sense to budget for some recurring costs due to various components failing or wearing out. Things like pumps, lights, ropes, etc. will need to replaced every few years. Perhaps replacing all the components of a system isn’t in your budget so doing a portion of it every year and staggering it out over a couple years might make sense and help defray your boat’s ownership costs each year.

It’s easy to forget that your hull needs some attention too, even if it doesn’t have any moving parts. If you keep your boat in the water, you’re probably well aware of the costs to keep the hull growth fee as your hull diver is likely billing you monthly to clean it. For boaters who don’t keep their vessel in the water, maintaining the top sides of the hull and deck is your main focus. While regular washing after use is imperative to remove salt residue, you should also budget for anywhere between 1-3 boat detailing sessions a year. Detailing will protect the hull from the elements and prevent it from fading causing the chalky look older, neglected boats get. A well detailed boat is also a lot easier to clean after each trip and salt and grime are less likely to stick, saving you time after each trip.

Unexpected expenses, the great unknown of boat ownership. Every boater dreads calling their mechanic when they take their boat in because something isn’t working right. Is it a quick fix your regular mechanic might not even charge you for, or do you need to replace your whole engine? Unexpected expenses are one of the most stressful parts of boat ownership however, they’re something you can budget for because while you don’t know what will go wrong, every boat owner knows something will go wrong.

How much should you budget? Well that depends on your boat and how many and how complex its systems are. Anywhere between 1 and 3% of your boats value is a good rule of thumb. And just because you don’t spend anywhere close to that one year doesn’t mean you won’t have to spend double it next year. Unexpected expenses are tricky like that and can bite you when you’re least prepared for them so including them in your budget for annual boat maintenance costs is a good idea.

Your Boat Maintenance Budget

  • Engine service – 1 or more times a year depending on use.
  • In water hull cleaning – usually monthly billed by the foot, includes changing zincs when necessary
  • Boat detailing – 1 to 3 times a year. Generally anywhere from $12-20 per foot of boat length.
  • Regular boat washes – $1-3 per foot. If you’re doing them yourself after each trip be sure to factor in the cost of your cleaning supplies.
  • Replacing miscellaneous components aboard as they wear out or fail.
  • Unexpected expenses – 1-3% of your boat’s value.

Connecting With Boat Service Providers Near You

Finding professionals in the marine industry you can trust is important. While there are a lot of aspects of boat ownership that a handy boat owner can handle themselves, particularly with a little coaching from experts or watching videos of someone else doing it. However, there are some things you may not be able to do or want to do yourself. BoatEasy was created for just this purpose. Our site connects boat owners with knowledgeable marine service providers near them. As boat owners ourselves, we know how hard it can be to find someone who is able to help you with your boat or is even available when the peak boating season is here. And while we’d love to have you connect with one of our many fabulous service providers on BoatEasy, if you can’t find someone that can help you, feel free to reach out, we may be able to help. Your goal as a boat owner is to have a “team” of professionals that can handle the challenges you’re likely to face with your boat.

Part of finding a service provider for your boat is developing a relationship with them. They’ll get to know your boat, how you use it, and what kind of problems you may have with it. They’re also familiar with your area so problems other boaters near you are facing they’ll have experience with and can help you with. Most boat owners likely have several service providers they use for a variety of things. From a mechanic to handle their engines, in-water hull cleaners that can keep their boat growth free, detailers, a marine electrician for those pesky electrical problems you just can’t solve yourself, and maybe even a captain or mate to give you an extra hand and lend their expertise on your trips. The point we’re making here is talk to professionals in your area before you need them, get to know them, what you can expect to be billed, and have your “team” on standby so to speak so that when you do need a hand with something they’re there to handle it.

Keeping a Boat Maintenance Log

A ship’s log is an ancient maritime tradition. A good log records the days events, the weather, and can be a wealth of information to look back on. While most boat owners today don’t keep a ship’s log in the traditional sense, keeping a maintenance log for your boat is something we recommend to all boat owners. A maintenance log will let you track maintenance over the years and have a better idea of when components may need replacing. In addition it will help you keep track of your boat’s maintenance costs and aid in forecasting expenses.

What should you include in your boat’s maintenance log? To start with it should include all service you do on your boat or contract someone else to do. This keeps a running tally of work done and its expenses. In your log you should also include any receipts for parts you replaced, often things like pumps have a warranty for several years so should they fail within that period you may be able to have them replaced. Finally somewhere in your log be sure to include contact information for professionals you’ve talked to or used for services in case you need to reach them again in the future. Whether you choose to create a digital log or go old school with a notebook or folder is up to you, but keeping it somewhere along with your vessel’s documentation is a good idea and can increase your boat’s value when selling it.

Making Boat Maintenance Easy

If you’re looking to buy a boat and reading this and other articles on maintaining your boat, I realize it may seem daunting. There is a lot to do and the harsh environment boats operate in contributes to a constant need for maintenance just to keep them operating safely. And, if you’re the type of boat owner that wants to keep their boat looking aesthetically perfect then your maintenance schedule just got a lot busier. In the end I think all boat owners come to terms with what degree of maintenance they’re comfortable with and that is reflected in how their boat looks. Some boat owners insist on keeping their boat looking perfect and put hours of their time and a considerable amount of money into keeping it that way, others take a more utilitarian approach and focus mainly on keeping things functioning.

While staying on top of your boat’s maintenance may seem like a never ending challenge, things do get easier as you do them. I think I speak for every boat owner that has ever changed a pump in their bilge by saying the second time went a lot easier than the first, and each subsequent time was a lot easier. There’s no real secret to boat maintenance, it takes time or the ability to hire someone else to handle it, and even the best maintained boats will still have issues occasionally. Our goal at BoatEasy is to take the hassle out of boat ownership so if you’re interested in connecting with other boaters and professionals in the marine industry you’re welcome to join BoatEasy, it’s free and a great resource for boaters across the country. Hopefully this article provided some helpful tips that can simplify your boat maintenance routine.

Hull Cleaning Made Easy

Hull cleaning can be thought of as the boat owner’s equivalent to mowing your yard. No matter how much you want to put it off, or how busy you are, your grass is going to grow and the higher it gets, the longer it will take to mow when you finally do get around to doing it.

In water hull cleaning is much the same. Speaking from my own experience in South Florida, a boat left a few days in the water will have a thin layer of slime, a few weeks and you’ll start to see small barnacles appear, and if they’re left to grow, in a few months you’ll have large barnacles and your very own coral reef that goes wherever your boat goes. Boat owners looking to avoid expensive repairs and maintenance should plan on regularly utilizing the services of an in-water hull cleaner.

Hull Cleaning Services
A sailboat that has gone far too long without a hull cleaning.

Finding Hull Cleaning Services

When looking for a diver that offers hull cleaning services, you’re looking for someone that you can build a long term relationship with. Unlike other services that your boat might only require once a year, hull cleaning is something that needs to be done regularly, once every 4 to 6 weeks is common with some boat owners preferring more frequent cleanings to optimize their vessels speed and efficiency.

From the perspective of a diver, it’s a lot easier to clean a hull that was cleaned a month ago than it is to clean one that hasn’t been cleaned in over a year which is why many divers that post offerings for boat bottom cleaning on BoatEasy specify that their per foot rates are applicable only for hulls in good condition that have been recently cleaned. An experienced diver can quickly clean a boat that has benefited from regular cleanings while a boat that has been neglected can take hours to clean.

Hull Cleaning Costs

In addition to building a relationship with your boat’s hull cleaner, you will also want to know what to expect as far as pricing. Assuming your hull has been kept in good to fair condition or is a new boat or one that has had a fresh coat of bottom paint applied, you can expect to pay somewhere in the $2 and $3 per foot range depending on your vessel’s size and location. These fees apply only to the cleaning of the hull itself. If your boat needs other underwater services like having its zincs changed or any work done on it then those would likely be additional costs to factor in. However, your most common recurring cost when it comes to hull cleaning can be calculated by simply multiplying your vessel’s length by the price per foot quoted by your diver, factoring in between 9 and 12 cleanings a year. Remember to add any fees your marina may charge your hull cleaner (or other service personnel) to access your vessel. These are fees they will have to pay just to work on your boat so it’s important to discuss these fees with your marina’s management and any professionals you hire to work on your vessel.

Alternatives to Hull Cleaning Services

For vessels kept in the water, hull cleaning is an inescapable part of boat ownership. The traditional method of sending a diver under your boat to clean it can be costly and time consuming. In an attempt to innovate and offer lower cost solutions to boaters, a number of companies have tried to create automated hull cleaning solutions. For instance here is a drive in boat wash that a company has designed allowing boat owners to pull up and have their bottom scrubbed, much like an automated car wash. Whether you’ll see them at a marina near you anytime soon remains to be seen.

Another approach to anti-fouling developed by AkzoNobel incorporates UV-LED lights on the hull to prevent marine growth from having the chance to grow on the hull.

Anti-fouling solutions have applications beyond recreational boating including shipping, offshore oil and gas platforms, and offshore wind turbines. There is a lot of incentive for businesses to come up with scalable approaches to preventing marine growth on important vessels and structures and perhaps some of these innovations will find their way into recreational boating applications eventually.

However, for the average boat owner  there isn’t much choice besides finding a reliable hull cleaning service and paying them to maintain your boat. Perhaps one day a new technology will render hull divers obsolete but we’re not there yet. Need help finding a diver in your area? Check out BoatEasy’s hull cleaning category to connect with divers in your area that offer diver hull cleaning, zinc replacement, underwater inspections, gear recovery, and many other services to boat owners.