Boat Maintenance Simple Guide: Checklist, Costs, Tips

Nothing is worst than getting stuck out in the middle of the water and your motor won’t start. This is why having the knowledge and capabilities of being able to perform a little bit of boat maintenance is extremely important for all boat owners.

The top 2 maintenance issues with boats are fuel and battery problems and not motor problems. So if you’re boat won’t start and you don’t know why, look at the fuel system and battery first. You can also click this link which takes you down to the sub-heading where I talk about this in more depth.

This is a long article, so if you want to check out all of the different sub-headings and skip down to the ones you want to see, click on the table of contents below.

Boat maintenance checklist

Boats have heavily evolved over the years and have become way less maintenance dependent but there are still basic maintenance tasks that should be done to keep your boat in good condition. Some tasks should be done before every outing, some once every week or so, and some only once a year.

Maintenance tasks that should be done regularly (every time you go out)

  • Make sure the drain plug is in and is not leaking. Checking your drain plug before every time you go out is probably the most important thing you can do. Not only is it easy to forget to put it in, but it can also be leaking which may cause it to break off.
  • Spray your boat with fresh water after saltwater use. Saltwater can deteriorate your boat very fast, especially metal and wooden parts. It’s even better if you also use soap such as this one here on Amazon. Don’t forget to do the interior as well.
  • Flush your engine with fresh water (especially after saltwater use). Your motor sucks up lots of stuff including sand, saltwater, and algae. This is why flushing it out is very important to avoid damaging your boat. Check out this YouTube video on how to do it.
  • Check your battery and wiring. Make sure your battery is charged properly and non of the wiring is frayed.
  • Make sure the air vents are not blocked or clogged. Clogged air vents could cause an inboard engine to overheat and start a fire, so it’s important to always make sure your engine can get air.
  • Fuel up using fuel with no ethanol. You should also never fill your tank up over 90% full to avoid it expanding and spilling overboard.

Maintenance tasks that should be done around once every other week

  • Clean your boat. Clean the hull and the interior of the boat. You can use this spray from Amazon for the hull, and this for the carpet and upholstery. If you don’t clean your boat often, the protective material that’s on the hull will start to corrode much quicker than if you did clean your boat regularly.
  • Check your engine oil. Many boats will have instructions on how to check the engine oil printed on a label on the engine. Otherwise, you can check the owner’s manual or watch this YouTube video on how to do it.
  • Put some marine decarbonizer in the fuel. Marine decarbonizer such as this one here on Amazon helps break down the carbon buildup in your motor. This will help you avoid many engine problems down the road.

Maintenance tasks that should be done about once every year

  • Wax and polish your hull and deck. Many boaters will recommend you do this twice a year if you want your boat to stay pristine. If you want to know how to do this, check out this video here.
  • Change the oil. Make sure to check your owner’s manual to see exactly how many hours until your boat needs an oil change, but it usually is around every 100 hours or once at the end of every boating season.
  • Change your lower unit oil. If you have an outboard or sterndrive motor, the lower unit gear case should get its oil changed about every 100 hours. This is extremely important for maintaining a healthy boat.
  • Clean the bilge pump. Although it’s pretty nasty, doing this is important. You don’t want that nasty stuff sitting in your boat for years and stinking it up. If you want to see how to clean your bilge pump, check out this video here.

Other maintenance tasks

  • Have a professional boat mechanic check out your boat at least once every other year.
  • The battery should be replaced every four or five years.
  • Power wash your boat
  • Check the power trim and tilt fluid.
  • Check all the belts and hoses for tears and cracks.
  • Check your propeller for dings, distortion, etc.
  • Make sure your fire extinguishers are still serviceable.
  • Make sure your trailer tires are not bald or cracked.

How much does boat maintenance cost?

According to, annual boat maintenance costs roughly 10 percent of the cost of the boat. I estimate this number to be more around 4 to 7 percent, especially for the first couple years of owning a new boat. You can use this calculator below to calculate your boat’s estimated maintenance costs.

If you are a DIY kind of guy, you could save a lot of money on maintenance as a lot of mechanics like to charge a high price for boat servicing (they know if you have a boat you probably have money). You could probably get annual maintenance costs down to only 3 percent of how much your boat costs if you do it yourself.

New boat maintenance will usually be much less than used boats because there shouldn’t be many significant problems with new boats. Freshwater boat maintenance also tends to cost less than saltwater boats because of how harmful saltwater is to boats.

Along with boat maintenance, you have to also consider storage costs, gas, etc. Owning a boat is definitely not cheap, especially if the engine likes to break a lot.

What to do if your boat won’t start

There could be many reasons that your boat won’t start, but here are the most common reasons:

  • Your boat’s not in neutral
  • Your battery is dead or disconnected
  • Make sure your kill switch is in correctly
  • Fuel lines are pinched or too loose
  • Your air vents or exhaust is blocked

If the issue is with your engine or electrical system, you may need to get a mechanic to come check it out, but there are some things you can try. Check out this article here to see all the things you can try if your boat won’t start.

How often should you do boat maintenance?

There are many boat maintenance things that you should do every time you go out, every week or so, and every year. (check all of those out by scrolling up to the “Boat Maintenance Checklist” sub-heading).

You should get your boat serviced by a professional mechanic about once every year or two depending on how much you drive your boat. According to, they recommend you get your boat serviced after every 100 hours you put on it.

Do boats require a lot of maintenance?

The amount of maintenance your boat will need depends on many factors such as the type of boat, how old the boat is, and if you are driving it in freshwater or saltwater. Although, all boats will require a lot of maintenance if you want to keep them in pristine condition and prolong their lifespan.

Saltwater can damage your engine and corrode metal parts on your boat. This is why it’s so important to always wash your boat off and flush your engine with fresh water after every use.

What boats require the least amount of maintenance?

All boats require maintenance to stay in good condition, but boats made out of aluminum generally have the least amount of maintenance required. This is because, unlike fiberglass, you don’t have to wax aluminum. Aluminum boats also tend to dent instead of crack, which is much easier to fix.

The boat that has the least amount of maintenance is a Jon boat. This is a very small dingy type of boat made from aluminum. Cracks can easily be welded shut and dents can be pounded out. Plus the engines you use on a Jon boat are small and extremely easy to service.

Do inboard or do outboard motors need more maintenance?

Inboard motors generally require less maintenance and last longer than outboard motors, but maintaining inboard motors is much more difficult than maintaining outboard motors.

This is why it will generally cost more money to get an inboard motor serviced than an outboard motor.

How long should your boat engine last?

As I said above, inboard motors generally tend to last a little longer than outboard motors but they both can last very long if properly maintained. Inboard engines last for around 1,500 hours before serious service is needed and outboard engines last for about 1,000 hours until serious service is needed.

These engines can last over 3,000 hours if serviced properly. Making sure you change your oil, flush your engine, and treat your fuel with a decarbonizer are a few things you can do to prolong your engine’s life and extend the time before serious service is needed.

Related Article: How Long Do Outboard Motors Last?

How to get your boat ready for the summer?

Before starting your boating season, some basic maintenance is always needed. You never know what could magically break from having your boat sit all winter long. So do these things before taking your boat out for the first time in the new season:

  • Charge up your battery
  • Wash the hull and interior
  • Check all your fluid levels
  • Turn the bilge pump on and make sure it works
  • Change the oil
  • Make sure your navigational lights work
  • Make sure your registration is up to date

How to get your boat ready for the winter?

Before your boat goes into storage, there are things that you need to do that are vital for ensuring your boat stays healthy.

  • Inspect the engine to make sure there are no serious repairs needed
  • Winterize your engine
  • Take out the batteries
  • Cover exhaust and intake ports to avoid animals living in your boat
  • Lubricate all the moving parts on your boat (gearbox, steering wheel, door hinges, etc.)

Related Article: Winterizing A Boat: What You Need To Know


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