Owning a canal boat is a great experience, as long as you understand how to maintain your vessel. With care and consideration, a canal boat can last for a very long time, but if you do not take care of your boat, then you are likely to find that it ages quickly. The following tips are designed to promote good boat maintenance, although the list below is not comprehensive.
Blacking the Hull
A narrow boat hull will normally need to be “blacked” to help to protect the areas which sit below or close to the waterline. It helps to extend the life of the hull and reduce the risks associated with rusting, pitting and rubbing.
In order for the hull to be “blacked” the boat will need to be taken out of the water, either in a dry dock or on a slipway trailer. A simple Bitumen finish will need to be reapplied every 2 – 3 years, whereas the more expensive Epoxy option will only need to be reapplied every 5 – 6 years. Whilst the boat is raised out of the water, it is also worthwhile to carry out routine maintenance on any other components which sit wholly or partly below the waterline.
Whilst the boat is out of the water
Thoroughly inspect the hull for any patches which look like they are weak or compromised. If you are blacking the hull yourself, you may want to do a thorough visual inspection and pressure test any areas which look weaker or degraded. If you discover any areas that need repairing on the hull, you are advised to have these looked at by an expert. Do-it-yourself repairs to the hull of a boat can invalidate some boat insurance policies, so it is best not to risk it.
Whilst the boat is out of the water, you should also inspect the propeller and the rudder. Make sure that they are both able to move freely. Replace the rudder if any holes have appeared, because these holes can prevent the boat from turning as efficiently as it should. Small holes will invariably start to grow larger as the corrosion progresses. Remove any weeds or ropes which may have become wrapped around the propeller. “Prop-wrap” can badly damage the engine and propeller system, so you should try to avoid allowing ropes to trail near to the rear of the boat whilst it is in the water.
It is also a good idea to check all of the outlet pipes on the boat whilst the boat is raised out of the water. Corrosion on or around outlet pipes can result in waste being expelled to the wrong places. It may even cause waste products to leak into the bilge areas of the boat. Replace the outlet pipes if you have any concerns about corrosion. These pipes are more likely to corrode rapidly if you regularly use chemical detergents and cleaning products which are not environmentally friendly.
Regular engine maintenance is important to help to keep the engine running smoothly and efficiently. Fuel conditioner should be added to diesel engines to help to improve performance, reduce emissions and improve the fuel economy of the boat. It does this by helping to dissolve sediments and deposits which have collected in the fuel tank. It also prevents fungal growths that can occur in the engines of water vehicles. You will also need to add anti-freeze to your tank to reduce the risk of the tank cracking or splitting during prolonged periods of cold weather.
Understanding the basics of engine maintenance can help you to fix the most common causes of breakdowns. Learn how to check and replace standard components like the fan belt, alternators and starters. Always check the engine oil levels before setting off on a long journey. Look out for signs of leaks from the engine. You may notice strange colours or smells around the engine. There may also be telltale signs like abnormal engine vibrations and erratic noises coming from the engine. Understanding basic maintenance can help you to reduce the need for costly engineer call-outs.
Regularly check any ropes and connections that are used on the deck of the boat. It is good practice to check all ropes and mooring pin before leaving a mooring, so that you know that they will be accessible and functional the next time that they are needed. Fraying ropes should be discarded and replaced, because these ropes are more likely to break next time that they are under strain. Before plugging in a shore power cable, you should check that there is no damage to the wire or the connectors. Power cables can be wilfully or accidentally damaged by people who are using the towpath. It is important that these cables stay in good condition, because they are designed to be safe for use around water.
Regularly check the bilge pump to make sure that it is pumping water out of the bilges correctly. Manual bilge pumps will only operate when they are switched on by a user; however automatic bilge pumps can be purchased which switch on automatically if water ingress (or the presence of any other fluid) is detected. An automatic bilge pump is a great investment if you are planning on leaving your boat for prolonged periods, because they can help to keep the boat afloat if there is an unexpected leak whilst you are away.