Follow ‘middle age’ maintenance tips for boats

By James L. Cummins


With people, middle age begins at around 40. With boats, it’s about the 10-year mark.

This signals a time when age begins to show and more effort is needed to stay in shape. With a 10-year-old boat, that means taking a hard look at things that haven’t been checked out over the years. BoatUS suggests these nine “middle age” maintenance tips for boats.

A 10-year-old bilge pump has likely lead a tough life. Switches are often the first to go, Make sure your switch, often the first thing to go, works fine by pouring water in the bilge to activate the pump, making sure nothing interferes with the switch. Take a close look at the wire connections at the bottom of the boat.

When the gas hose was new, the hose did a great job of delivering gas to the engine. However, gas can permeate the hose wall over time and cause damage. Take a rag and wipe down the hose. When you smell the rag, if you smell gas, replace the hose immediately. Remember to always install new hose clamps, too.

Bend the steering and control cable in your hands and listen for “crunching,” this is a telltale sign that all is not well. Swelling and rust are also bad signs and indicate it’s time to replace.

The boatyard rule of thumb is that after 10 years, the bedding compound owes you nothing. Begin a schedule to periodically remove and rebed fittings, doing a few each year so the job isn’t overwhelming. This will keep the leaks out that could lead to more expensive repairs.

Eventually all props get dinged, and you may not see the damage clearly with your eye. If it’s never been to a shop, now is a good time to take it to a prop shop for reconditioning, and you’ll also likely save some money on fuel with a tuned prop.

If you have an inboard, the cutlass bearing might be due for replacement, especially if there’s more than just a smidgen of play in the drive shaft. It’s also time to take a hard look at the stuffing box. If you’ve had to re-tighten the stuffing box nut often, it’s time to replace the packing.

If you boat in salt or brackish waters and still have the original manifolds, be thankful they haven’t failed yet. Now is the time to do some proactive maintenance to replace them. According to a Seaworthy Magazine article, leaking manifolds can destroy an engine.

If it’s been years since the seacock/through hull has been fully opened and closed, it could be frozen, and that’s useless. Make it a point to work seacocks a few times each season and while you’re there, check the hose clamps.

If you have a sailboat, when was the last time you had a close look at all, even the ones up high, of the fittings and mast attachments? If you race boats, 10 years is a long time for rigging, but even those used for day sails can suffer from the cyclical loads that cause stress cracks, and saltwater can cause corrosion in swaged fittings not easily seen by the naked eye.


James L. Cummins is executive director of Wildlife Mississippi, a non-profit, conservation organization founded to conserve, restore and enhance fish, wildlife and plant resources throughout Mississippi. Its website is