Ultimate Guide to Boat Maintenance for 2024: Prep Your Vessel for the Season and Beyond

With the boating season just around the corner, properly preparing your boat is crucial for a safe and enjoyable summer. Effective boat maintenance ensures a hassle-free experience at sea while expanding your vessel's lifespan and helps you avoid costly repairs. While we recommend leaving the service of your boat to professionals, it is valuable to understand the basics of boat maintenance, so you can decide which tasks you feel comfortable performing yourself, and which to leave for your local service expert. Continue reading the article for an in-depth guide to boat maintenance.

This article covers:

  1. Comprehensive cleaning
  2. Inspecting the propeller, hull, and anodes
  3. Engine and fuel system assessments
  4. Electrical system and battery maintenance
  5. Steering and throttle control maintenance
  6. How to take care of your boats drainage system


Watch all of Nordkapp's boat maintenance videos here.

Comprehensive Cleaning: The Foundation of Boat Maintenance

Begin your boat maintenance routine with an in-depth hull, deck, and interior cleaning. This crucial step goes beyond aesthetic appeal and sets the stage for an enjoyable time at sea. 

Hull Cleaning

Best practice regarding cleaning of the hull, is to conduct this just after placing the boat on land. This is because marine growth is quickly becoming very hard to remove. If you have not done this, a thorough cleaning (sometimes utilizing solvents like acid) must be done.

Even though you cleaned the hull prior to winter storage, it is a good idea to conduct cleaning before placing the boat back on water. To further protect the hull, a round of polishing can help close the pores in the gelcoat and improve its performance. In addition your boat will look amazing!

Watch How to Get Rid of Hard-To-Remove Spots

Deck Cleaning

Clean all surfaces on the deck, including non-skid areas, windows, and hatches. You should pay special attention to removing salt, dirt, and grime from all crevices and surfaces. A good advice here is to open all hatches and clean them thoroughly during preparations for winter storage (and let them dry out as well), but is wise to run over the hatches one more time during the preparation for the boating season.

Make sure to check which cleaning aids your deck allows for, remember that it is a big difference between anti-slip gelcoat and teak for instance.

Interior Cleaning

My first advice is to store all cushions and upholstery in a dry place during winter storage and bring them back to your boat when preparing it for a new boating season. By doing this you minimize risk for mildew,  and keep them in greater shape for longer. In either way, you should vacuum and wipe down all upholstery, carpeting, and hard surfaces in the internal areas of the boat after winter storage as well to get rid of dust and make everything tidy for use. Clean all fabrics, such as seat cushions, bimini tops, and boat covers, and make sure to use appropriate cleaners for the material type.

Windows and Hatches Cleaning

Clean glass and acrylic windows, hatches, and portholes using suitable cleaning agents that won't scratch or degrade the material.

Inspecting the Propeller, Hull, and Anodes

Regular inspections of the propeller, anodes, and hull can prevent performance issues. These components are crucial for the overall health and efficiency of your vessel.

General Maintenance Tips

  • Regular Dry Docking: If you use your boat throughout the year, it can be wise to bring the boat on land periodically to clean and inspect the hull. This also allows you to perform more comprehensive inspection and maintenance.
  • Professional Inspection: Make sure to follow the service intervals of the engine (often annually). It may also be a good idea to have the service provider of winter storage to inspect your boat, if they provide that type of service. 

Hull Inspection

    • Visual Inspection: Perform a visual check of the hull before the season starts to identify any damage, scratches, or signs of wear. It's also a good idea to regularly check your hull during the boating season.
    • Waxing and Polishing: Wax the hull ahead of the season to protect the gel coat and maintain the hull's appearance and integrity.
    • Antifouling Paint: For boats kept in saltwater, inspect the antifouling paint annually and reapply as necessary, typically every 1 to 2 years, depending on the paint type and water conditions. Saltwater is usually rougher on the boats hull.
  • Fix a damaged hull:
    Any damage on the hull must be repaired before heading out on your adventures. Small scratches can easily be fixed by yourself, and more severe damage should be left to the professionals.


Anodes Inspection

  • Frequency: Check sacrificial anodes (zincs) before you launch your boat and keep track of them during the season, especially if your boat is in saltwater. Saltwater accelerates corrosion, making anodes wear out faster.
  • Replacement: Replace anodes when they are about 50% worn. This usually means checking at the start and mid-season, but more frequent checks may be needed in harsh conditions.
  • Types of Anodes: Be aware that different waters (fresh, brackish, salt) require different types of anodes (zinc, aluminium, magnesium). Ensure you're using the correct type for the water your boat is most often in.

Propeller Inspection

  • Before and After Use: Check the propeller for nicks, dents, or entangled debris as often as possible, ideally both before and after use. Even minor damage can affect performance and fuel efficiency.
  • Tightness and Wear: At least twice a season, ensure the propeller is securely fastened and check for signs of wear or damage. Look for corrosion or signs that the propeller may be out of balance.

Engine and Fuel System

For maintaining your boat's engine and fuel system, adhering to a regular maintenance schedule is vital for ensuring the longevity and performance of your vessel. While specific maintenance intervals can vary depending on the engine model, manufacturer, and usage conditions, here's a general breakdown of how often you should consider changing the oil and fuel filters and performing other maintenance tasks. Always consult your engine's manual or the manufacturer's recommendations for the most accurate information. If you have a Mercury engine, you can check out the maintenance guides on the Mercury website.

Engine Oil Change

  • Frequency: Generally, you should change the engine oil every 100 hours of operation or at least once per season, whichever comes first. For boats that see heavy use, more frequent changes may be necessary.
  • Reason: Regular oil changes help ensure the engine operates smoothly, reducing wear and tear on moving parts.

Fuel Filters

  • Primary Fuel Filter/Water Separator: This should ideally be checked before every outing for water and contaminants and be drained or replaced as needed. A total replacement is typically recommended every 100 hours of operation or annually.
  • Engine Fuel Filter: Change the engine-mounted fuel filter every 100 hours of operation or once a season, similar to the oil change interval.
  • Reason: Clean fuel filters are crucial for preventing contaminants from entering the engine, which can lead to poor performance or damage.

Fuel Conditioner Use

  • Frequency: Adding a fuel conditioner should be done with each fill-up, especially if your boat is used infrequently or if you're storing it for an extended period.
  • Reason: Fuel conditioners help maintain fuel quality, prevent the formation of deposits in the fuel system, and reduce the risk of ethanol-related issues in modern fuels.

Spark Plugs

  • Frequency: Inspect spark plugs annually or every 100 hours of operation. Replacement depends on their condition but is generally recommended at least every season for optimal engine performance.
  • Reason: Well-functioning spark plugs are essential for efficient fuel combustion, engine start-up, and overall performance.

Cooling System

  • Frequency: The cooling system should be flushed and inspected at least once a year, preferably at the start or end of the season. Before winter storage, you should check antifreeze levels (for closed cooling systems).
  • Reason: A properly functioning cooling system ensures the engine maintains an optimal operating temperature, preventing overheating and damage.

Regular Inspections

  • Leak Checks: Ideally, inspect for fuel system leaks, including hoses and connections, before every use.
  • Hoses and Clamps: Check for wear, cracks, or loose fittings annually and replace them as necessary.


Watch all of Nordkapp's boat maintenance videos here.

Electrical System and Battery

A thorough review of the boat's electrical systems is vital for operational reliability. Ensure the battery is fully charged and all connections are corrosion-free. 

General Tips

  • Use Dielectric Grease: Applying dielectric grease to battery terminals and electrical connections can help prevent corrosion.
  • Regular Charging: Regular use and charging of the battery help maintain its health and longevity. If the boat is used infrequently, consider using a battery maintainer.
  • Professional Inspection: Consider having a professional marine electrician inspect your boat's electrical system annually. This can help identify issues that might not be obvious to the average boat owner.


  • Load Testing: Perform a load test on the battery at the beginning of the season or every six months to assess its ability to hold a charge. Replace batteries that fail the load test.
  • Water Levels (for lead-acid batteries): Monthly, check and maintain proper water levels in each cell, adding distilled water if needed.
  • Storage: During off-season storage, disconnect the battery and store it in a cool, dry place. Use a trickle charger or periodic charging to keep it fully charged.

Electrical System

  • Lighting: Check all lighting, including navigation lights, cabin lights, and spotlights, before you head out for the season.
  • Horns and Safety Signals: Ensure horns, alarms, and other safety signalling devices work.
  • Wiring Inspections: Inspect all visible wiring for signs of wear, corrosion, or damage. Pay special attention to areas prone to moisture and make repairs as necessary.
  • Circuit Breakers and Fuses: Check circuit breakers and fuses for signs of wear or damage and ensure they function correctly. Replace any that are faulty.
  • Switches and Controls: Test all switches and controls to ensure they operate smoothly. Look for signs of corrosion or wear.
  • Grounding and Bonding Systems: Inspect the grounding and bonding systems for integrity and security. Ensure there's no corrosion or loose connections.
  • Navigation Tools: Before each use, ensure that navigation tools (GPS and chart plotters) function correctly. Check for software updates at the start of each season.

Steering and Throttle Controls

Maintenance of the hydraulic system is usually done by professionals when you service your boat. But here is a basic overview if you are interested in trying it yourself:

Hydraulic Steering Systems check

  • Fluid Level Check: Check the fluid level in the hydraulic steering system at the beginning of each season or every six months for year-round boats. Additionally, a quick check before long trips can help avoid surprises.
  • Fluid Change Frequency: Hydraulic steering fluid should be changed every two to three years or as the manufacturer recommends. However, this interval can be shorter if the boat is used heavily or operates in harsh conditions.
  • Signs That Fluid Needs Changing:
    • Changes in the colour of the fluid, from clear to dark or cloudy, can indicate contamination.
    • Difficulty in steering or noticeable noise from the hydraulic system may signal the need for a fluid change or system inspection.

General Maintenance Tips for Hydraulic Systems

  • Leak Checks: Inspect all hoses, fittings, and seals for leaks or signs of wear at the beginning of each season and before long trips. Hydraulic systems are pressurized, and even a tiny leak can lead to a significant loss of performance.
  • Hose and Fitting Inspection: Look for any signs of cracking, brittleness, or leaks in the hoses and fittings. Replace any components that show signs of wear or damage.

A well-oiled hydraulic system enables your high-speed actions.

Maintaining drainage systems

Maintaining drainage systems are crucial for your boat's safety and operational integrity. Here's a guide on how these components should be inspected and maintained:

Drainage Systems

  • Inspect Drains and Through-Hulls: Every outing, visually inspects drains and through-hulls to ensure they are free from obstructions. This includes checking the boat's scuppers, cockpit drains, and other drainage pathways.
  • Check Seals and Valves: Annually, or at the start of the boating season, check the seals and valves on through-hull fittings to ensure they are watertight and functioning correctly. Replace any components that show signs of wear.
  • Clearing Blockages: If you notice slow drainage or water not clearing as it should, investigate and clear blockages immediately. This could involve removing debris or cleaning out the drainage pathways.

General Maintenance Tips

  • Regular Checks for Leaks: While checking bilge pumps and drainage, watch for unexplained water, which could indicate a leak. Identifying and addressing leaks early can prevent more severe issues down the line.
  • Educate Crew Members: Ensure that all regular crew members know how to operate the bilge pumps manually and are familiar with basic troubleshooting in case of failure.

Commitment to Season-Long Maintenance

Adopt a proactive approach to boat maintenance, routinely inspecting your vessel's condition and performance. Regular freshwater rinses, especially after saltwater exposure, prevent corrosion and maintain your boat's aesthetic and functional integrity.

Follow a Boat Maintenance Schedule

Nordkapp recommends leaving the heavy lifting to the professionals when it comes to boat maintenance. But it’s a good idea to follow a structured maintenance schedule for the tasks you feel comfortable performing yourself. It helps identify potential issues before they become significant problems, ensuring your time on the water is safe and enjoyable. Keeping a log of all maintenance and inspections can help you track the boat's condition over time. It can be valuable for resale or warranty claims.

By integrating these steps into your boat preparation routine, you're gearing up for a fantastic boating season and investing in the longevity and enjoyment of your maritime adventures. Remember, a well-maintained boat is the cornerstone of unforgettable experiences on the water.


Watch all of Nordkapp's boat maintenance videos here.