Extended Cruising Preparation

Posted: April 1, 2014

During the cruise is not the time to find out something doesn’t work.

By: Story and photos by Deane Hislop

It’s the time of year when boaters up and down the West Coast are looking forward to the cruising season and preparing to head out for one- or two-week trips, or a summer of extended cruising, and they are establishing their to-do lists. If you’re one of those people, what should be on your list?

The first priority is to attend an engine-maintenance class offered by a distributor or a dealer, if you haven’t already. Then take your owner’s manual into your engine room, find a comfortable place to sit and identify all the major components while reviewing maintenance and service topics. Doing so will not only help you understand exactly where things are but also identify any special parts and/or tools you’ll need to deal with issues.

Second, make sure you’ve done all the scheduled services recommended by your engine and transmission manufacturer. Be sure your fuel system is running cleanly by checking filters after taking the boat out and letting it roll around a bit. Make sure hoses are sound and are all double clamped with stainless hose clamps, and that sea strainers on the engine intakes reseat after you check and clean them. Check your fresh- and saltwater pumps, and be sure to have either spares or rebuild kits, especially belts and impellers. Examine your stuffing boxes or dripless shaft seals for leakage, and make sure shaft couplings’ nuts and bolts are tight.

Look at your bilge with the presence of mind that you are going on an extended cruise. Check the bilge pumps to ensure the automatic switches and high-water alarms work, and that the hoses have a goose neck or are well above the waterline, to make sure they don’t siphon water into the boat in rough seas. While in the bilge, check that all your through-hulls are working.

Boats have complex electrical systems. Sitting at the dock doesn’t really show you if your batteries are up to snuff. Even a day cruise most often will not provide any indication of battery condition. But going out to the islands and sitting at anchor for a couple of days will provide a good indication. Most extended-cruising boaters rely on battery monitors/chargers to provide the data they need to stay on top of their electrical requirements and battery conditions. If you rely solely on your alternator to charge your batteries, I suggest carrying a backup.

Check your ground tackle; invest in at least two good proven anchors a size larger than officially recommended for your boat’s length and plenty of chain. All-chain rode is the choice of most cruisers these days. You want to be prepared to anchor in depths of 40 feet or more at a ratio of 5 or 7:1 in storm conditions. That’s a lot of chain, but you’ll sleep much better.

Next, find the names and locations of authorized mechanics along your route. Also, make sure you have a service and parts manual; many technicians can help you if they have this information.

Purchase the right spares:

  • Motor oil for top-offs

  • Power-steering and transmission fluid

  • Primary and secondary fuel filters

  • Enough pre-mixed extended-life antifreeze to replace that in the engine and hydronic furnace

  • Toilet repair kit

  • Freshwater pump

  • Macerator

  • Extra drive belts

  • Gaskets and seals for sea strainers

  • Replacement zincs for heat exchangers

  • A selection of stainless steel hose clamps, tie-wraps and spare fuses

If you’re leaving the country, you may want to carry an extra alternator, a complete seawater pump, several spare injectors and a complete gasket set. Most engine manufacturers have “cruise kits” available with many of the aforementioned items.

And don’t forget the right tools. Many manufacturers’ maintenance manuals provide a complete list of tools required to perform maintenance and repair tasks.

Notice that almost all of the aforementioned recommendations include some test to be done away from the dock. Cruise away for a weekend at least to check out how your systems perform. And don’t wait until the last minute to do it. While away from the dock, check your depthsounder, radar, autopilot, GPS, chartplotter, VHF, AIS, SSB, winch, thrusters, stabilizers, trim tabs, generator, inverter/charger and furnace. Cook with your stove and barbecue, run your refrigerator and freezer, and use your toilets. Life is not good if any of these don’t work properly.

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