Do It Yourself and Save – Boat Ownership

When you purchase a boat all of your friends are going to tell you it is just going to be a great big money pit, you won’t care because you want to own a boat.  You should have listened. One of the things people generally don’t tell you is that hourly shop fees for boat repair run around $100 per hour.  Any major repairs and you are going to be out a good chunk of change.

This is an area where you are really going to save if you can just take the time to do some research and learn to do it yourself. I have leaned heavily on the internet, forums, and friends to learn what I need to do and so far I have been pretty successful.

Boats have engines just like a car, in some cases they are car engines, and those engines need to be maintained. Our boat is 14 years old so it needs a little more TLC than newer models.

Things I have had to learn since buying a boat, that you could do too:

Change Oil

Changing the oil in a boat isn’t exactly like changing the oil in your car. I can’t drive the boat up onto ramps to slide on under and pull the oil pan drain plug. In fact if I were to do that I would have a hull full of oil and my next outing would leave a trail like the exxon valdez. You have to get a fluid extractor and siphon out the oil through the dipstick, then swap out the filter and refill. It sounds pretty easy because it is, you probably don’t need to be paying someone at a shop to do this.

Winterize the Boat

I may skip part of this step entirely next year since I keep my boat in the garage. Essentially you need to 1.) fill your gas tank up and put a stabilizer in there, 2.) flush your engine cooling system with RV antifreeze, 3.) Change the lubricant in your lower unit, and 4.) spray fogging oil into the engine to keep it from rusting. This ensures your boat will weather the storm of sitting around for a season doing nothing. It is extremely important that you flush your cooling system with antifreeze because the last thing you want is water freezing in your engine, it gets bigger even though your engine doesn’t.

Change Belts

Those rubbery things on the wheely things in the engine compartment are kind of important, you need to keep an eye on them for cracks and if you see some cracks it is time to change your belts. It isn’t hard once you identify where the bolts are to loosen the moving parts. Just make sure you put the right amount of tension on the belts or they could break, or slip.

Trailer Wiring

When we bought the boat the trailer didn’t have any wiring at all, a dog had eaten it all. Not only did the dog eat the wiring he also ate the brake lines. I was able to pick up a wiring kit at Wal-Mart as well as some extra wire tap connectors and I had the whole project done in just a couple of hours. It was super easy for the do it yourselfer.

Boat Wiring

This is trickier than the trailer, there are circuits and fuses and such that you have to worry about. I didn’t do much wiring but I did have to cut and put back together the wires for the tilt/trim and I added a 12v outlet to power the iPod FM Transmitter. In all it has worked out nicely and the boat hasn’t caught on fire yet so I think I am good.

Alternator Replacement

This was my crowning achievement in boat repair. The alternator went out on my boat, after using it twice, and it needed a new one.  I didn’t know anything about alternators but I figured I could give it the old college try. I was able to pull the old alternator out and quickly realized someone had put an alternator on the boat that wasn’t exactly spec for this engine. Because the alternator was jerry rigged in I had to put new connectors on the end of the cables, which was super easy. The I just put the wires on the new alternator, bolted it back on, and replaced the belt. This could have easily cost me twice as much at a repair shop, and taken three times a long before I could get the boat back in the water.

While I have related this story to my own experiences with my boat it really applies to everything you do. Plumbing and electrical are two parts of homeownership that most people are deathly afraid of. The truth is usually the small repairs needed on these, and other things, are easy enough for you to tackle. So next time something come up that needs a fixin think hard about your resolve and your abilities and maybe you can tackle it yourself.


1 Baker @ ManVsDebt May 28, 2009 at 10:47 am

My wife and I are considering living on a sailboat in the next few years.

Boat repair scares me though, so I plan on taking some courses and working on some boats before we ever made this jump! From the sounds of it (even though its not the same) I should talk to you about some basic maintenance and upkeep first!

Baker @ ManVsDebt’s last blog post..Test Packing: Doing A Trial Run Before The Big Move

2 Kyle May 28, 2009 at 5:32 pm

I would love to live on a sailboat. My uncle owns a couple of them, they are a blast. Maintenance is definitely different though. Sails requiring sewing not wrenches. I definitely can help with what little I know, and I look forward to hearing about your Australian adventures.

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