PREPARE TO CAST OFF
If you laid up your craft at the end of last year, we thought it timely to offer a few reminders of jobs to do to help you get set for trouble-free boating this year
Advice and handy hints on what to check to get your boat ready to set sail after a winter lay-off
ENGINE & STERN GEAR
Modern high-tech engines need far less tinkering with but boats with older engines often need a little regular TLC. All engines need oil and filter changes carried out to the manufacturer’s hours or usage recommendations; if you don’t do many hours cruising, make the changes at least once a year.
Gently warm the oil with a short run-up as it makes it easier to pump out. If you haven’t changed the oil for some time, or if you have often run it off-load to charge the batteries, think about using a flushing oil to remove sludge that might have formed in the sump. There are two main types of filter, ‘spin-off’ on newer engines, and ‘bowl’ filters (generally on older engines) containing a throwaway element. Renew the cartridge or element.
Paper filters are quick and easy to replace; there’s usually just one nut or clips that secure the ‘lid’, and the paper element simply needs lifting out and replacing. Mesh filters need their wire or plastic foam removing, washing out in white spirit or paraffin, drying and then coating with a thin film of engine oil to trap the dust before refitting.
When replacing fuel filters check for any signs of diesel bug (slime, jelly or cloudy fuel). If you think you have diesel bug, use one of the ‘bug killer’ fluids in your fuel tank. Follow the fuel line back to the tank and drain any water traps. You will need to bleed the fuel system afterwards. If you left the
fuel tank mostly empty during the winter, add a fuel conditioner when you fill up because condensation can build up a water layer inside which helps diesel bug to breed.
If you didn’t grease the engine and gearbox control before laying up the boat, give them a light grease now (or a squirt with WD40 or similar) and work the cables to get them lubricated. It’s tempting to want to get going but do give the engine a clean beforehand; it doesn’t take long and will help you to spot any leaks or problems before they become serious: use washing-up liquid or degreaser and plenty of water. Place a clean new bilge blanket under the engine.
Check the cooling system hoses for perishing or cracking (squeeze them and if they feel too hard or soft or ‘crunch’, renew them); check the clips for tightness and the condition of the filler cap, especially the rubber seal – don’t forget to close the drain tap if you drained the block for the winter.
Check the antifreeze with a tester: even though winter’s coming to an end, it contains anti- corrosion inhibitors and should be used year-round; it should be changed roughly every two years. Bleed the skin tank if there is a bleed screw fitted. If your engine is raw water-cooled, check the seacock and pipework for leaks and clear the mud box.
Vibrations are one of the main questions we deal with at Canal Boat and it often comes down to the engine mounts, so check the rubbers for perishing, the engine for any movement and that the nuts are tight.
Exhaust leaks can be dangerous as well as unpleasant. On a dry exhaust look at the lagging for black dust, which indicates a leak; check wet exhausts for water leaks.
Electrics are the other bugbear of boating; damp and electrics never sit well together. So clean the battery terminals and posts to bright metal and dress them with petroleum jelly. Check the batteries’ electrolyte levels and top up as required with distilled or demineralised water to 3mm above the plates that you can see, or the level indicated on the battery case or by a marker in the topping-up hole. Any battery that needs one or more cells topped-up frequently is either being overcharged or is faulty. Test the cells with a hydrometer with a numbered
scale (on a non-sealed battery) and voltmeter.
Check the alternator belts for wear and cracks and that they are tightened correctly; inspect all wiring insulation for damage and chafing. Check that terminal connections are clean and tight.
Tighten and, if necessary, repack the stern gland; you can do this yourself, but seek professional help if you are unsure. Grease the rudder tube nipple if there is one. If you can reach through the weed hatch, check the prop for anything that might be wrapped around it and for play or tightness. Grease the weed hatch bolts threads and check the seal. Don’t forget to check that the bilge pump is working.
Check for signs of mould or condensation damage. Check carefully around the windows for signs of leaks; if it looks as if a window is leaking you’ll need to either reseal it (which might mean removing it and replacing the seal) or replacing if the frame has gone or is distorted.
Check that the basins’ and shower/ bath taps are closed, refit any drain plugs, refill and flush the system with a sterilising solution. Bleed central heating radiators and add extra solution to pump-out holding tanks. Clean kitchen worktops with mild disinfectant cleaner.
Check that the bilges are clean and dry; if there is a fair amount of water sloshing around you might well have a leak either from the domestic pipework or through the bathroom floor.
Advice on gas is simple - if in doubt, get the system checked by a qualified engineer.
Wash and wax the paintwork; if you have an expensive or decorative paint scheme it really is worth the effort, and touch up any damage.
Cratch covers can be cleaned with a mild detergent made for the job (not washing-up liquid) and treat them with a proper preserver. Check the condition of the ropes, particularly splices and eyes for signs of wear or fraying; consider giving them a good wash at home by placing them in old pillowcases and washing with a non-biological detergent on the lowest setting. This can remove grit that shortens their life and reduces paintwork damage. Lubricate all exterior locks, hinges, catches and runners.
And finally, have fun on the waterways.
Inspect alternator belts for condition and tightness
Check weedhatch seal
Skin tank showing bleed point
Check the stern gland bolts for tightness
Check battery terminals and top up fluid
Check fuel filters and drain any water traps