Boats old and new need constant upkeep. Various parts and regions need attention due to age, the effects of water and sun, and use. They stay out in the weather, in all conditions,
The Universal Solvent
The effect water has on boat decay can’t be overstated. Salt and fresh water both contribute to deterioration, but tend to contribute in different ways. Saltwater can penetrate fiberglass hulls causing osmotic blisters in the gelcoat and outer layers of laminate. Salt, as it dries and crystallizes on fiberglass, wood, and painted surfaces is abrasive and degrades the finish and surface texture. Saltwater also accelerates metal corrosion. Critters live in salt water which attached themselves to the hull, and have to be scraped off or power-washed off regularly. The primary concern for freshwater effects on boats is wood rot. Surprisingly, saltwater doesn’t rot wood, because the organisms responsible for rot don’t live in the presence of salty water. Freshwater is the culprit. This is why it’s so important to seal wood in areas that are exposed to freshwater intrusion, or simply to keep the rain water out. When I bought Cay of Sea, every wood-faced storage cabinet had extensive rot damage from rainwater intrusion (every port leaked). I was tempted to fix the damage right away, but knew that I had to stop the rain water leaks first.
Sunlight is the other major deteriorating force. Day after day of UV radiation eventually degrades just about everything, including gelcoat finish, varnish, sealant, rubber, canvas, line, wood, plastic, and sailcloth. Some materials resist the sun longer than others – acrylic canvas, for instance (Sunbrella is one trade name for this stuff) is remarkably UV resistant. As an example, the Sunbrella UV covers for my sails are original, and still serviceable, though a bit faded after 32 years. Eventually we just need to replace these things as the sun destroys them. For an eye-opener on effects of UV on boats, take a look at photos of boats for sale in Florida as opposed to boats for sale in a state like Maryland, where I live. That strong Florida sun wears boats down faster than it does in northern states, unless the owner(s) is diligent with protective maintenance.
Refitting Bits and Pieces
In the last decade or two, boat manufacturers have changed design elements such that boats require less maintenance. They’ve accomplished this primarily by eliminating wood from the exterior. It is now rare to see teak handrails or companionway washboards that are made of wood on a production boat built over the last 20 years. I understand the change. Our lives are busier than ever before, and though we might have time for sailing and recreation, we resent time spent maintaining our recreation toys. We’d rather sail than sand and varnish (or Cetol, if that’s your choice of wood finish). Perfectly understandable, but. . . I think we’ve lost something as we eliminate all wood from the weather surfaces.
Age and Programmed Maintenance
Mechanical things wear out too, and sun and salt certainly play a role in the wear cycle. However, even without the added factors of environmental stress, parts like bearing surfaces wear too. Line handling hardware – blocks and pulleys – wear out from use. As engines accumulate thousands of hours of use, the typical wear issues crop up with them too: injectors need rebuilding, along with injector pumps, water pumps, throttle and shifter cables, fuel pumps, head pumps, through-hull valves. And of course, things that are meant to wear out do so – stuffing box packing, for instance, does its job for several years, then needs replacing.
Traditional Boat Skills
For those of us who own wooden boats, or fiberglass boats with wood elements, the traditional skills of sailors are essential.
Acquiring the traditional skills of maintaining wood, working with canvas and leather and line – that’s all part of boating. Even if you own a boat with no wood on the weather decks, wood skills and wood finishing skills can still benefit, as much of the interiors continue to be crafted from wood. These finishes wear and require renewal, although not as often. Modifications and customizations are conveniently shaped from wood. Canvas and rope work, as well, are incredibly useful skills, even if you have a modern boat with “low maintenance” features. If you intend to cruise in any sort of comfort, you will still need to craft canvas items like awnings, cockpit side sun shades, rain covers for hatches, plus an endless number of custom canvas objects to make a boat livable and life onboard enjoyable. Who doesn’t need loops in mooring lines, chafe protection, anchor rode snubbers and fender tethers? All this can be done attractively, securely, and functionally by acquiring a modest measure of skill in the traditional craft of rope work. On top of the practical benefits, it’s fun and satisfying.
Our boats operate under conditions that bounce the occupants around inside the cabin and cockpit. These conditions can shake us loose from our hand-holds or lurch us across the cabin, bumping into fittings that can break, and cause an injury (we have the scars to show for it). We minimize the obvious things that will hurt us by reducing sharp edges, rounding off corners, but eliminating all of the hazards isn’t possible. Boats are just like that. And, we constantly repair and replace stuff to keep our boats from falling into a disreputable state.
Programing Maintenance Costs
As it turns out, boat ownership is a pretty big commitment. It takes time and money to prevent a boat from mouldering into a floating derelict. Purchase price is just the beginning of expense: the very first additional cost incurred is parking, which can only be considered cheap by referring to pricier moorage than your own. Add to moorage expense your annual winterization (if you live in a cold place), hauling and winter storage, antifouling paint, motor oil, various gaskets, varnish, cleaning supplies, random stuff that breaks.
So every year we fix and maintain. As the season progresses little projects crop up from use or wear that have to be addressed. And there is always a “big project” for that year, which pushes Cay of Sea more in the direction of improvement rather than maintenance. Or sometimes the project occupies concern for safety so much so that it seems like improvement, but really isn’t. It’s just taking care of something that is past due. For instance, this year the big project is replacing the headstay, complicated by the fact that the same-vintage furler components are salt-welded in place – I’m fairly certain that a new headstay is going to mean a new furler too. But this is improvement on a quantum level – at least in my mind – as now I will rest and sail easier knowing that the rig has all been renewed over the last 5 years.
The standing rigging is a good example of programing maintenance/refit expense. I did not want to “afford” all of the rigging at once, as the cost was beyond my idea of reasonable for one year’s expense. So instead of spending $1k -$1.5k in one year, I stretched it out over several years, easing the financial pain into more manageable portions. This idea can be applied in many places on a boat. However, there are safety concerns that should take priority. These should not be approached in half-measures. Items like having a reliable engine, navigation lights (if sailing at night), suitable life jackets, harness and tethers for off-shore or solo sailing – I don’t cut corners on this. I spend the money for prudent and required safety afloat.
All told, we have less invested in our boat than the purchase price of many new cars. We bought an old boat for a good price and did most of the labor ourselves. Since I am now retired, I don’t hire out work – I have the time to do it all myself. However, when I was working, I did pay labor for a couple of jobs: replacing the engine was one, and some glass work was another (before I became more confident in this area). But I would tackle either one of these tasks today. It’s not difficult, just time-consuming.
On an annual basis, we spend $2700 to park the boat in our slip and on shore in winter. Again, this is less than most car payments, and it’s the sweet spot for us, financially. If it cost much more, we wouldn’t be able to afford it, so a bigger boat is out of the question! That’s okay. We love this boat and it’s size. It fits our use and aspirations perfectly, and it’s a good match for our pockets as well.