This page describes things that must be done from time-to-time, and probably more so if the boat is regularly taken out on the water. These are only a few of the things that require periodic maintenance on a boat. Keep checking back, because I’ll be adding more over time!
Like many boats, Candide is equipped with an internally mounted, water-cooled air conditioner. This type of unit requires considerably more maintenance than a hatch unit because it draws nasty river water to cool the compressor. It has two filters that must be cleaned on a regular basis:
- Air filter. Just like the air conditioner in your house, Candide’s AC has a foam air filter that keeps dust and microbes and whatnot from settling on the grill. I once tried to wash and reuse the air filter, but it fell apart as I scrubbed it. Now, I just buy packs of them at the local Home Depot and replace the filter every 6-7 weeks during the summer months.
- Water filter. The AC has to draw river water from a through hull, force it through the system, and then expel it overboard. I was swimming recently and decided to check the temperature of the exiting water. It is very, very warm compared to the river water! No doubt I’m contributing to “river warming” which will soon end life as we know it on this planet. In any case, the water at Ortega River is pretty muddy and barnacles grow in abundance! There is a large filter directly behind the through hull that gets full of muck and barnacles. Every other week during the summer, I have to take apart the filter and hose it out. Still, though, the filter’s not perfect and muck still gets into the AC system. Every month or so, I connect a garden hose from the dock to the water intake line and let it run for about 10 minutes. This effectively cleans the system.
There is one other thing to mention about the air conditioning system. I thought about placing it under the “painful maintenance” section, but it seems more appropriate to mention here. The air conditioner compressor cools itself with water drawn by a 12-volt pump. These pumps can be purchased at West Marine or the local pet shop (they’re used for large aquariums). They don’t last forever. In fact, their lifespan seems to be for about two summer seasons in Florida. They cost about $150 to replace.
Consequence of Laziness – if you don’t regularly clean / replace your air filter, probably not much will happen assuming the coils still get air. However, if you ignore the water filter, your pump will overheat and shut down the compressor. This means that you will become very hot and uncomfortable.
Fuel tanks are a thriving universe full of microbes that absolutely love diesel fuel! Eventually, they reproduce to a point where they can cause damage to your engine. Hence, most boats are equipped with one or more filters in the line from the tanks to the engine. Most of these filters are also able to remove any water that may have collected in the tanks through condensation.
Candide has two fuel filters; one 10 micron and one 5 micron. Since I don’t run the engines constantly, I only have to replace them once a year. Total cost is about $8.00.
The process of replacing these filters would seem trivial, but in reality it requires a bit of knowledge. It should be understood that the diesel fuel lines cannot have ANY air in them, or the engine won’t fire. No matter how careful you are in replacing the filters, even letting the fuel overflow the filter when the new one is installed, there will be air in the system! This means that you’ll have to bleed your engine to get it fired up again. If you don’t know how to bleed your engine, my suggestion is to leave the fuel filters well enough alone until someone shows you how it’s done. The process only takes about two minutes, once you learn the trick! If you’re lucky enough to have a very modern diesel engine, this may not be so much of a problem. In fact, my Dad wanted my assistance in helping to replace his fuel filters recently (Dad has a brand-new Hunter). I was very concerned with how to bleed the engine, so I read the manual. Basically, it said that bleeding would be unnecessary. Simply use the finger-pump to force a bit of fuel through the injectors. Quite frankly, I was amazed that this process actually worked! New engines are COOL!
Consequences of Laziness – if you don’t change your fuel filters, they will eventually become clogged. One day, you’ll be motoring around and will realize that you’re not getting the power that you once enjoyed. The engine will start sputtering and may eventually die altogether. This happened to me once! Don’t let it happen to you! Change your filters regularly to keep your engine running smoothly.
Just like your car, your boat’s engine will have an oil filter. Follow the owner’s manual for how often is should be changed. As a course of habit, based on how much I run Candide’s engine, I replace the filter once a year. The process is fairly simple. Run the engine so that the oil becomes warm and flows more easily. Use a hand pump to remove the oil from the engine and then unscrew the oil filter. Replace it with a new filter, refill the oil to the engine manufactures’ specifications, and run the engine for a few minutes. The whole process should take about fifteen minutes.
Consequences for Laziness – To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what will happen if you don’t change your oil filter from time to time. I suspect that bits of metal will accumulate in the oil and eventually cause serious damage to your engine, slowly wearing out moving parts over time. I’ve never allowed my oil filters to become a problem. It only takes a few minutes to change the filter. Don’t sweat the small stuff…replace your oil filter as recommended in the owner’s manual!
Head Hose Replacement
I don’t know the science behind the problem, it is something that one day I will have to research. The problem, though, is clear. If you use the head on your boat on a regular basis, a “calcium-like” deposit will build up on the inside of the hose leading from your toilet to the holding tank (or overboard). This is one nasty problem that absolutely will happen if you use the head on board (as I do).
There are two ways of dealing with this build-up. Both of them require a significant amount of work. You’ll know it’s time (or past time) to decide on a course of action when you’re no longer able to pump the shit out of your toilet. You’ll be met with major resistance as you pump, and water (and other stuff) will start shooting from the connections between the toilet, hoses, and joints. It is NOT a pretty sight (or smell)!
The first (and preferable) choice is to replace the hoses altogether. Take the old hoses out, measure them, and buy new ones of the same length and diameter. On Candide, the cost for the new hose was about $8.00 per foot, for a total bill of about $150. This may sound like a small price to pay, but remember that money isn’t everything. When I replaced the hoses, I was covered in shit for two 12-hour days before I got the toilet working again! It’s a nasty, nasty job! And, yes, I harbor some very strong feelings about that episode, especially considering that it was my CREW who clogged the head! Yet, it was the CAPTAIN (me) who had to fix it! The six of us were on the way to the Bahamas when the problem reared its ugly head. I woke up one morning and the other five were waiting on me hand and foot (definitely out of the ordinary). “Do you want more coffee?” they asked. “We have some more eggs, captain,” they said. Hmmm…my suspicions were raised rather quickly that morn. My crew is NEVER this generous. They all lined up in the cockpit to give me the news. “The head is clogged.” is what they said.
One of the few rules I have aboard is that if YOU clog the head, well, YOU fix it! When I asked who had done it, the ENTIRE crew pointed to the five-year-old daughter of my shipmate. As cold-hearted as I might be, I couldn’t make a five-year-old clean up the mess! So, we pulled in to port and I went to work. Two 12-hour days of me covered in shit to replace the hoses that were clogged! I’m sorry if I’m getting a bit emotional about this. It was one of the most unpleasant experiences I’ve had to date. On top of it all, the crew accused me of being “surly.” Surly! For being covered in THEIR shit for two days! Well, I suppose I was…
In any case, the alternative to complete replacement is to remove the old hoses, take them to the dock, and stomp the crap out of them! Literally put them on the dock, and have a heavy friend jump up and down on top of them! This will break up the “calcium” on the inside of the hoses, and allow you to blow out the remnants with a garden hose. Personally, I’m not sure how well this method works, as my hoses cracked and shattered under my 220 pounds of weight. Nonetheless, I’m told if the hoses are in fairly good condition, this is an option to total replacement.
By the way, a lot of liveaboards complain about foul odors emerging from the head. I’ve read plenty of articles suggesting various chemicals that, if flushed through the system, will eliminate these odors. Candide has never had an odor problem in the head, and the reason is very simple. I flush profusely every time I do my business, and make my guests do the same! The rule is: 10 complete strokes of the pump handle after doing “number one” and 20 complete strokes after “number two.” Yes, this is probably overkill, but Candide’s head doesn’t smell!
Consequences for Laziness – If you don’t keep an unobstructed path between your toilet and the sea (or holding tank), you won’t be able to flush your toilet. If you try to force the toilet’s hand pump, you’ll have human waste all over the sole of the head. This cannot be allowed to happen, if ever you’d like to invite people on board. So, plan on replacing the hoses every 3-5 years. Better yet, plan on paying someone to do it for you! Starving sailors, desperately in need of work, are easy to find!
I’m amazed by the number of lights aboard Candide. There are 12 overhead lights in the cabin and six red “courtesy lights” along the cabin sole. She has two lights in the engine room, one at the navigation station, and two reading lights in the staterooms. On the outside of the boat, there are four lights for navigation, one anchor light, and two spreader lights. That makes a total of 30 bulbs that tend to burn out on a fairly regular basis!
Some of these bulbs are easy to replace. I simply unscrew the light fixture, take out the old bulb, and replace it with a new one. Some of the lights, however, are rather difficult to replace. The worst of these, I believe, are the spreader lights.
“Spreaders” on a sailboat are cross-beams attached to the mast. Their purpose is to force the shrouds away from the mast, thereby giving the support wires a wider radius and increase the stability of the mast. The spreader is a great place to install lights because they’re high off the deck and centrally located along the length of the boat. By attaching lights to the spreaders, it easy to illuminate the entire deck at night.
Changing these bulbs, which I do about once a year, requires a trip 35 feet straight up the mast. I then have to lie down on top of each spreader and disassemble each lamp which are underneath the spreaders! Not a job for those with a fear of heights! It takes about an hour to change each one (and a cost of about $15 for each new lamp).
Consequences of Laziness – If you don’t replace your bulbs, you’ll be living by candlelight (or in the dark).
Refrigerator Water Filter
Not unlike the water filter described earlier for the air conditioner, the refrigerator compressor also uses water to cool itself and therefore has its own filter. Unlike the air conditioner, though, Candide’s refrigerator pump doesn’t draw water from the sea. Instead, it circulates water from the boat’s fresh water tanks. This means that the filter doesn’t require nearly as much attention! In fact, I only have to clean the filter about once every five to six months! The process is simple. Take the filter apart, remove the wire mesh, rinse the mesh off in the sink, and put the filter back together. Takes about five minutes.
Consequences for Laziness – If you don’t clean the filter, your refrigerator will overheat and possibly destroy the compressor. You will have to drink warm beer until you lay out a LOT of money (perhaps $800 – $1000) to replace the compressor.
Basically, all boats leak. They leak through loose hose connections, or water may come in through the deck when it rains. The propeller shaft and rudder shaft may also let water in if you don’t attend to the stuffing regularly. Whatever the path it finds its way in, the water will eventually settle to the lowest part of the boat, which is called “the bilge.” The boat’s bilges are under the cabin sole (i.e., “floor”), and are designed to hold a certain amount of water.
Candide’s bilges are never completely dry. There’s always a bit of leakage from one or more sources. Generally, water is undesirable in the bilge, but on some boats (Candide included), it is nearly impossible to completely remove all of the water short of spending a few hours soaking it up with sponges. An inch or two of water won’t necessarily cause any harm. Much deeper than that, though, may indicate that the boat is slowly sinking. To counteract such a catastrophe, prudent boat owners equip their vessels with bilge pumps, and they maintain them religiously.
Candide is equipped with three bilge pumps. One of them was originally installed with a “float switch.” When the bilge water level rose to a certain point, it would physically raise the switch which would turn on an electric pump. Unfortunately, I had constant problems with this type of switch. Things would sometimes fall into the bilge an hold the switch down, even as the water level rose to dangerous heights. I also had this type of switch break away from its base, and it simply floated to the top of the incoming water and rose with it without turning on the electric pump.
Eventually, I grew tired of replacing these switches and purchased an all-electronic switch with no moving parts. I don’t really know how the device works, but basically it has a sensor on the bottom of the unit that detects water. As soon as water touches this sensor, it turns on the electric pump. The current one has worked for well over a year and has been maintenance-free.
The second bilge pump installed on Candide doesn’t have an automatic switch. Instead, there’s a manual switch for it at the ship’s electronic panel. It serves as a backup should the automatic pump fail. Once a year or so, I take the pump apart to inspect the valves. If a particular part looks questionable, I replace it (many bilge pumps can be repaired without having to replace the entire unit. If you ever need to buy a new pump, make sure that the model you choose has “repair kits” available).
The third pump is operated manually from the deck. To use the pump, I insert a metal bar into the pump’s coupling and move the bar back and forth. It is considered the last-ditch backup pump that can be manually operated from the cockpit by the helmsman while he’s behind the ship’s wheel. The way Candide is configured, one would steer with the left hand and pump with the right. Doesn’t paint a pretty picture, does it?
In any case, this manual pump has a rubber diaphragm. On a recent trip to Cuba, when I actually needed to use this manual pump, I learned that the rubber had cracked because of age and the pump was useless! This was a very, very bad situation (read all about it on the Cuba section of this site)! I now know the importance of carefully maintaining all of the bilge pumps!
Consequences of Laziness – Bilge pumps are things that a lot of boat owners don’t think about…until they’re needed. Then, suddenly, they become the most important equipment on the boat! You can lose your boat and / or your life if you don’t properly maintain the bilge pumps.
Winches are mechanical devices that use internal gears to rotate a drum which in turn pulls various sheets (i.e., “ropes”) attached to the sails or boom. These gears require occasional greasing to properly function. On Candide, I typically grease the winches once a year. You may find that your winches need more or less maintenance, depending on how much you use them.
The process of maintaining the winches is fairly straight-forward. First, the winch is taken apart. All of the gears and bearings should be removed and soaked in mineral spirits for an hour or so to remove the old grease. Then, new grease is spread on the parts according to the manufacturer’s instructions. By the way, there is special winch grease at marina stores. It’s specially designed for the possibility of salt water interaction. It costs considerably more than grease you might find at an automotive store, but I recommend using it.
The last step is to put everything back together. If you paid attention to what you were doing while taking things apart, this shouldn’t be a problem. Be careful, though, because there are tiny springs and rings and things (yes, I know that all rhymes) that can easily find their way into the water.
Consequences of Laziness – If you don’t maintain your winches properly, they’ll become increasingly harder to operate. This may be good for your biceps, but not so great for the winches. Eventually, they could seize up completely, which will make sailing a real challenge.
Hopefully, you’ll never have to use flares. They’re designed to light up the sky with flame and/or smoke to allow rescuers to visually locate your position when you’re ready to abandon ship. They’re absolutely vital on any vessel (required to be on board by law, in fact).
Flares do have a shelf life. Every year, I buy new ones to replace the old. Both the Roman Candle type and the 12-guage shells that shoot a fireball into the air. Replacement cost is about $30.
Although it’s technical illegal to fire a flare in non-threatening conditions, a blind eye is usually turned on July 4th and New Year’s Eve. On these dates, it is generally acceptable to set off expired flares. These holidays provide the perfect opportunity to learn how to operate these potentially life-saving safety devices.
I don’t particularly want everybody writing me to explain that firing flares on holidays is technically illegal. I’ve acknowledged that it is, and I admit to joining most of my fellow liveaboards in this tradition. If you’re exceptionally paranoid (or law-abiding), it is possible to get permission from the Coast Guard to discharge your expired flares. Simply call them on the phone, tell them your plans, and they’ll probably give you verbal permission to contribute to the fireworks.
Consequences of Laziness – If you don’t keep your flares up to date, they may fail when you need them. Imagine being 20 miles to sea. A horny whale decides he’d like to mate with your vessel. While flirting, he tears off your keel and your boat goes bottom-up (if you prefer, you can think of some other catastrophe…I don’t mind). Frustrated beyond belief, the whale swims off leaving you and your loved-ones clinging to the rudder of your upturned boat. After two days of floating around under a hot sun during the day and bitter coldness during the night, you spot a rescue plane. Fortunately, you were able to retrieve the flare gun the day before. As the plane approaches, you aim the gun up and pull the trigger. Nothing happens. You pull that trigger again and again and again. It simply won’t go off! You start to understand a little about the frustration that the whale experienced as the plane slowly disappears over the horizon. Keep your flares up to date, please.
I’m not a mechanic, and I don’t understand why I need antifreeze in my engine while living under the Florida sun and almost never gets below freezing. I’ve been told that it helps prevent corrosion within the engine, so I add the stuff to my engine’s cooling system despite the fact that my engine will never be in danger of freezing.
The problem with antifreeze in my situation, along with a lot of other liveaboards, is that my engine heats my hot water tank when I’m away from the dock. At the dock, when I have shore power, my water heater uses electricity not unlike water heaters found in houses and apartments. When I’m away from the dock, there simply isn’t enough energy in the ship’s batteries to keep the water hot. So, if I’m sailing or at anchor, the engine can be used to heat my water. This is accomplished by a stainless steal pipe that circulates the engine’s fresh water coolant through the water heater. It takes about 10 – 15 minutes to generate extremely hot water with the engine.
So what does antifreeze have to do with my water heater? Well, antifreeze is highly toxic (just ask any of those families that come home to discover Fido lying dead in the garage next to a pool of antifreeze). Should the water heater’s stainless steal heating tubes burst, my engine coolant (with the antifreeze) could mix with the boat’s fresh water system, which I drink. Not wanting to wind up like so many Fido’s, I suggest using a non-toxic antifreeze if your engine’s coolant is circulated through the ship’s hot water maker. Propylene glycol is non-toxic and can be used as antifreeze. The problem is that it doesn’t have the rust-inhibitors and lubricants found in regular antifreeze. If someone has a better suggestion on what to use, please send it to me!
Once a year or so, I replace all of the engine’s coolant. I drain the heat exchanger of all water and antifreeze and replace it with the manufacturers’ recommended mixture of fresh antifreeze and water. Cost is less than $5.00.
Consequences of Laziness – If you don’t have antifreeze in your engine, and the temperature drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, your engine block may crack. Should this happen, the only recourse is to replace your engine…a very expensive proposition, indeed. If you choose to use toxic antifreeze on a boat that heats water with the engine coolant, you run the risk of death should the antifreeze mix with the ship’s water supply…also an expensive proposition when your family has to have you buried (I just read that the cost for an average funeral in this country is approaching some $8,000!!!).
Boats that stay in the water all of the time will attract barnacles and other growth below the waterline. If enough of this growth accumulates, it will significantly slow the boat while she’s underway. To counteract this growth, special toxic paint is applied to the hull once a year or so. Even with this protective paint, varmints will still attach themselves to the hull of your vessel. The easiest way to keep your hull clean is to hire a diver to scrub the bottom of your boat every other month or so. Divers won’t be hard to find in your area—just look at any marina’s message board and you’ll usually find several advertisements. Simply call one up, and he’ll show up on the dock with scuba gear, a wet suit, and a heavy-duty scrub brush. He’ll jump in the water and give your bottom a good scrubbing (some of you may enjoy this). He should also let you know the condition of your bottom paint so you’ll know how much longer you’ve got before you must haul the boat out of the water and have new paint applied. If he’s worth his salt, he’ll also report on the condition of your sacrificial zinc anodes, which help dissipate electricity. Over time, these will need replacing.
Typically, divers charge by the foot for cleaning. Candide, with a 33’ waterline, costs about $45 to have her bottom scrubbed. Well worth the money, since it keeps Candide sailing at top speed!
Consequences of Laziness – If you forgo regular bottom scrubbing, your vessel will become increasingly slower as she moves through the water. Not necessarily a problem if you never leave the dock, but a significant issue if you want to take your friends out sailing and discover there’s a six-months’ build-up of sludge and barnacles on your hull that limits your top speed to 2 or 3 knots.
Nearly all boats require gasoline or diesel to run their engines. Candide happens to use diesel. The tanks hold 100 gallons of the stuff and she burns about ½ gallon an hour. A little math tells me that I can run the engine for about 200 hours before I need to top off the tanks.
Many boats, including Candide, don’t have fuel gauges like the ones found in cars. Instead, there’s an “engine hours” meter that continuously counts off the time while the motor is running. Every time Candide is filled with fuel, I note the engine hours in the ship’s log. Every time I take her out, I look at the log, compare that number to the “engine hours” meter, and compute how much time I have left before needed more diesel. When I’m left with 20 hours or so, I stop by a marina to refill. It’s pretty much like pulling into a gas station. The proper procedure is to hail the marina on the VHF radio to let them know you’ll be refueling. They’ll meet you at the fuel dock, help you tie up, and hand you the fuel line. You’ll refill, hand the line back to the attendant (with a gratuity), and pay the bill. Then you’re on your way!
I spend an average of $100 per year on diesel for Candide. This is one of the advantages of owning a sailboat. Many powerboat owners at my marina spend thousands of dollars a year for engine fuel.
When I bought Candide, I was scared to death of pulling into a fuel dock. What would happen if I slammed into the dock and caused an explosion? For a few months, I would use jerry cans and fill them with diesel at the local gas station. I’d pour five gallons at a time into Candide’s tanks and we’d be on our way. As my confidence grew, I eventually maneuvered to a fuel dock and topped off with 60 gallons. I was truly amazed when I got a bill for only $180. It would have cost twice as much at a gas station! Not being accustomed to spending less money for things at a marina, I asked the attendant about the difference in price. “Well,” he said, “at a marina, you don’t have to pay road taxes for your diesel.” Made sense to me, and to this day, you’ll find that fuel at a marina is significantly cheaper than you’ll find on land.
Consequences of Laziness – Well, I should think this would be self-evident. If you run out of motor fuel, it’s best to be on a sailboat. After all, sails are a primary source of power, while the engine is merely a back-up. Think about it for a while!
Life Vests and Cockpit Cushions
Candide has two emergency flotation devices; life vests and cockpit seat cushions. The seat cushions serve a dual purposes as a life-saving device and an ass-saving device when sitting in the teak cockpit for hours on end. Both of these devices wear out over time, especially the seat cushions. Life vests last a lot longer because they’re generally stored below decks, while the seat cushions are used constantly. Generally, life vests will last for 4-5 years aboard Candide. Seat cushions, if I’m lucky and not too picky about their appearance, will last for two years. Replacement cost for the cushions is about $60 per year, while live vests cost about half that amount.
Consequences of Laziness – If you don’t maintain your life vests, you’re an idiot. Sorry, I’m feeling a bit honest this evening. For God’s sake, keep your life vests in proper working order (for obvious reasons, I hope). As for seat cushions, well, when your ass starts to hurt because you don’t have enough “padding” back there, you’ll know it’s time to replace them. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than being on watch for several days in a row on hard teak. You’ll definitely want an “ass cushion.” So make sure you have this…even if it’s just for yourself and hidden from the rest of the crew (as happens aboard Candide). Ha, ha!
Candide has an “inboard” engine. This means that the engine is inside the boat, and the propeller (of course) is outside. The two are connected with a 1.5” stainless steel shaft that is some 11′ long. This means that there’s a hole slightly larger than 1.5” in the bottom of my boat. True, most of that space is taken up by the shaft, but because the shaft is made of steel, it expands and contracts as the temperature changes. This, of course, has the potential for letting water into the bilge.
To counter this problem, all boats with inboard engines have a “stuffing box” that is filled with “flax” made from nylon and Teflon (at least aboard Candide…other options are available). Its purpose is to provide a water-tight seal around rotating shafts. Typically, the propeller shaft and rudder shaft will be packed with flax to allow movement of the shafts, yet keep out water. Flax is commonly referred to as “packing.” It’s perfectly acceptable to walk into a marina and proclaim, “I need new packing for my propeller shaft.” They’ll understand exactly what you’re talking about!
Generally, you’ll know that your flax needs attention if you observe the propeller shaft at the spot it exits the hull. If there’s a steady stream of water entering your hull, it’s time to add another layer of flax. If it’s an occasional drop of water a few times a minute, well, that’s normal aboard Candide and most other boats.
There is a debate about how much water is “normal” for entering through the stuffing box. Some experts claim that even when the engine’s not running, there should be a drop or two of water every minute. Others claim that the only time water should be entering the boat is when the shaft is rotating; and then it should be only 3 – 5 drops of water a minute.
Personally, I agree with the latter experts. When the engine is not running, there’s no water entering through the packing. When the shaft is rotating, there’s an occasional drip of water into the bilge.
Whichever way you go (no water or some water when the engine is off), make absolutely sure that some water enters the boat while the engine is in gear. This provides lubrication for the flax. Failure to have some water coming through the packing can cause total failure of the stuffing box as the flax is heated by friction and eventually burns. This situation can result in catastrophe.
Consequences of Laziness – Over time, the flax in your stuffing box will break down and allow ever increasing amounts of water into the bilge. Eventually, it may let in so much water that the bilge pumps won’t be able to keep up with the flow. At this point, you’d better hope that your sails are all in working order as you’ll have to kill the engine.