Wednesday, 11 November 2015

General maintenance of a narrow boat

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Poor maintenance leads to breakdowns and system failures
Poor maintenance could be carelessness or lack of skill and knowledge. I am fortunate in having a boating partner who is a very careful engineer. However if I was alone I'd have to invest more in learning some basic skills as well as employing an engineer for regular servicing. It simply can't be skipped.
Maintenance is ongoing but can be divided into:
  • continuous (battery levels, check engine noise etc), 
  • daily (bilges, weed hatch, grease gland etc), 
  • per journey (fuel levels, pump out, gas supply, food and water etc), 
  • monthly (pumps, oil, etc) and 
  • annual (winterising, anti-freeze, draining water etc).
Start with a survey by a qualified marine engineer, which is also the opportunity for you to look over the boat inside and out, and accept a thorough and informed report. Act on it! Learn basic skills and employ them in a regular regime.

Every boat must have a current BSC - Boat Safety Certificate, renewed every four years. Most problems can be avoided by regular inspection and maintenance and the BSC reinforces that. Start with a thorough survey of the boat in dry dock by a qualified marine surveyor - local names and contact details are in waterways magazines and from your local marina. The £500 or so paid then could save you thousands if you avoid buying a boat with problems or you can forestall likely problems. It will also inform you of future tasks which could improve your boat's safety and comfort.

If you know what you are doing you will probably enjoy maintaining your boat in top condition. If your interest is more in the enjoyment of sun and water, birds and bridges, you may have to push yourself in to a basic routine and supplement this with regular maintenance by a qualified mechanic.

You might even decide to choose a marina on the basis of on site engineering facilities rather than lovely views and landscapes. You should then back that up with a subscription to Canal and River Rescue, the AA of boating.
Make sure you have the bottom of the boat blacked every 3 to 4 years and use this opportunity to check its condition.
Always wash hands after contact with canal or river water - see Weil's disease.
Be careful around moving parts and the heat of the exhaust. Whenever practical when dealing with or moving near the prop, ensure engine is turned off. For double certainty place keys in your pocket so no-one else can start the engine.

And don't venture alone into the water tank! It may need a layer of paint with potable bitumen but fumes and dust in a confined space can be hazardous. Who would hear your cries for help if you got stuck down there?

Several websites have detailed what should go on to your personal maintenance list so I'll refer you to them (below). We recommend creating a personalised handbook for your boat - it will provide information for anyone wishing to use your boat, will push you to answer questions and find out answers to be collected together (local phone numbers near your moorings, local shops and pub opening times as well as details of your boat's plumbing, what is always stored there and what should be removed in winterising ...). It would also list your regular and essential maintenance issues.

View these sites for more on regular maintenance:
Practical Narrowboat Maintenance
Boaters Handbook
Narrowboat Info
The Fitout Pontoon
Canal Junction

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