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Old 13-04-2011, 08:57   #1
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Learning To Maintain The Boat

Hi all, been lurking for a long time.

As I seriously consider different boats, it occurred to me, If someone doesn't have any knowledge of anything regarding maintaining a boat, how do you learn?

At a local marine show, I spoke to a couple ladies at the local power squadron and they said they have an engine maintainance/repair class, sailing classes, etc.

essentially I'm trying to enter this lifestyle and I dont' know how to live it. This is going to be my biggest problem. I currently have ZERO mechanical, knowledge. how do people learn?

I went to the miami boat show couple months ago and went on every sailboat there. But it occured to me, I don't even know what I'm looking at with anything. If I turned the key to start the engine and it was dead, I'm not sure what even the first step is to try and diagnose the problem.

and that is just the engine. how bout everything else that can go wrong on a boat?

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Old 13-04-2011, 09:13   #2
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Re: unique noob question on buying 1st boat

I didn't learn to sail on a boat with an engine, and I don't think that starting off with a powered boat is the best way to learn to sail.

We get newbs here all the time who have never sailed a day in their lives and want advice on purchasing a boat that will cross oceans. I generally don't respond to such threads because I've learned that they don't want to be told that the first thing they should do is learn how to get a small sailboat boat across a small lake.

I'm not especially keen on the ASA system of keelboat instruction either. The first thing they do when they get you on a boat is spend hours and hours teaching you how to dock and undock. Then they spend maybe an hour teaching you the points of sail, after which they spend the remainder of the time on the water practicing crew-overboard drills. The result of this educational model are a lot of neurotic sailors who are afraid to dock without a bow thruster and who have absolutely no idea what a properly trimmed sail actually looks like.

If your guts are telling you that you're not ready for a boat with an engine, listen to them. You're not. Find yourself a sailing dinghy and learn how to make the boat go without the engine. Once you've become a sailor, you will never consider this to have been time wasted.

cruising is entirely about showing up--in boat shoes.
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Old 13-04-2011, 09:27   #3
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Re: unique noob question on buying 1st boat

Best way to learn (in my opinion) is to buy a smaller / less expensive boat. Because it's a boat it will require lots of maintenance and because it's less expensive you can be assured a lot of maintenance has been deferred.
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Old 13-04-2011, 09:27   #4
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Re: unique noob question on buying 1st boat

I agree on the small/dingy sailor advice and think that the next step up in the progression is a trailer sailor with a small outboard. Outboards can be pretty simple/easy to operate and reliable, and when they have a problem you can pop them off and take them to a mechanic if needed. They are also cheap (relatively) if you mess them up too bad.

As far as how you learn, in many ways the boat will teach you. You have to pay attention to the boat, read lots on the subject like the books by Don Casey (just one example) and pretty soon you'll be working your way through fixing whatever comes up and will have an eye for finding the problems. Beyond books and a maintenance hungry boat if you are in a yard, marina or area full of sailboats you can easily get advice and opinions from your neighbors. Most folks are glad to share their opinion and experience though they are worth what you pay for them.

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Old 13-04-2011, 09:58   #5
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Re: Learning To Maintain The Boat

There are 50,000 registered members on CF and at some point in there lives they were at the same position you are now. I suppose it's a bit like learning to drive a car, you are going to have to start somewhere.

I learnt the basics of sailing by taking courses, dinghy first then keel yachts. I was single at the time so spent my holidays going off on sailing courses. Then crewing as so on. You meet some interesting folk and have a fun time.

If you have a local yacht club nearby go join, they welcome new members. You just need to go up to the door and ring the bell to start a new adventure.

Moody 31 - April Lass
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Old 13-04-2011, 10:01   #6
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Re: Learning To Maintain The Boat

Much of the skills you will need are the ones you will drag from your house / garden / car maintenance - painting and varnishing, plumbing, changing oil filters and taking care of the things in general.

Other skills you can learn from the manuals - say you want to know something about shower drain pump - you go on the web download a manual and read it.

More skills you will get while helping others - there is always something being repaired on neighbour boats and if you just lend them a hand, you always end up learning something new.

Then finally things will start breaking down on your boat and you will sort them out one by one - it is a process and none of us, no matter how many years into boating, knows everything about every system, it is a process, a never - ending one.

One can also take courses, but I am against courses - I find hands on real life experience a better tutor. (Preferably on other people boats before I tackle the same issues on mine).

As you go thru boat systems a good book may help, if you are good at filtering information. I like Calder's book very much, this one:

Boatowner's mechanical and electrical manual: how to maintain, repair, and improve your boat's essential systems [Book]

So, in a word, you WILL learn from all sources as you go, one step at a time.

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Old 13-04-2011, 10:20   #7
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Re: Learning To Maintain The Boat

If you keep your boat at a marina you can learn a lot. Most of the people sharing the docks with you will be extremely helpful. After all, they had to start somewhere themselves. After you get to know them, which will take a very short time, keep your eyes and ears open. If someone mentions or you see them making a repair, go on up and explain that you'd like to learn how to do that and would they mind if you either watched or gave them a hand. I doubt you will be turned away.

It works the other way too. If you have a repair to make or need to find out if a repair is needed simply ask. Most of the time you will get one of two responses: 1) "Sure, lets go take a look" or 2) "I'm not too experienced at that but so-and-so has dealt with that several times. Lets go see what he has to say".

Meanwhile, as others have posted up above, there is a wealth of knowledge on this forum available to be tapped. I'd also recommend that you slowly start to acquire some good quality tools such as screw drivers, pliers, etc. A multi-meter will be indispensable and they are pretty inexpensive. I have two on the boat and one at home. Get one and learn how to use it. I'll second the recommendation for Don Casey's This Old Boat, and add Nigel Calder's books, particularly, Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual: How to Maintain, Repair, and Improve Your Boat's Essential Systems (9780071432382): Nigel Calder: Books

He has several other good ones but I wouldn't bother with the one on refrigeration unless you want to spend a bundle on specialized tools. Finally, I would also strongly suggest a subscription to "Good Old Boat" magazine. Each issue has a lot of articles on repair and maintenance.

As you can see, learning boat maintenance is not really an issue. It will just sort of grow on you.


Edit: I see barnakiel and I think a like, he's just faster posting!!
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Old 13-04-2011, 10:29   #8
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Re: Learning To Maintain The Boat

Also, just read everything posted here on CF every day. And go back and read old posts on any subject you're curious about. You'll see what problems come up most often, and you'll find a variety of good solutions. The collective wisdom here is extraordinary.
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Old 13-04-2011, 10:35   #9
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Re: Learning To Maintain The Boat

You didn't say much about your background or your "handiness". I'd echo Barnakiel's point that a lot of boat maintenance and repair has counterparts to maintaining your home and vehicles. If you're experienced and reasonably competent there, you'll find the application to your boat (or, ideally, your neighbor's boat first ) pretty easy. Using the recommended books and marina neighbors, you'll be able to build your confidence that you bring more applicable skills to the party than you thought.

If you're not comfortable with DIY maintenance in the rest of your life, I'd echo starting small and simple. Get a sailing dinghy and learn to sail. Find something that needs fixing and fix it. Adjust the standing rigging. Change the running rigging. Get a small outboard and keep it running. If you're sailing competently, most of the other stuff is gravy, but it takes a while to get comfortable so build your experience slowly. And enjoy.
- David
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Old 13-04-2011, 11:18   #10
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Re: Learning To Maintain The Boat

Originally Posted by gasaholic View Post
This is going to be my biggest problem. I currently have ZERO mechanical, knowledge. how do people learn?
I have always believed that experience is the best teacher. Personally, while I can learn by reading and studying, I learn best through experience.

As far as mechanics, I was born into a family of car mechanics. While I chose another career path, my father taught me the basics of what parts are which and how everything works. If I didn't have that experience, I'd start by working with the gas engine in my car. While there are a couple major differences, marine diesels are at least kin to gas engines. In both cases, fuel + air + spark (in a gas engine only) + confined space = power + exhaust + heat. If your engine doesn't start, it's because you're missing fuel, air, spark (in a gas engine only), or confined space. Diagnosing the problem is simply figuring out which one(s) you're missing.

As for other on board systems, I was in the same spot you are. I had never sailed a boat or tied a knot. I again turned to experience to learn. I bought a small keel boat. The seller of the boat took me out the Saturday after I bought the boat to get the basics. Since then, I've been learning by doing. I have made lots of mistakes, and learned from every one. I have formed lots of bad habits, and broken most of them. I've tried to do things my own way and have realized that the reasons why things should be done the "right way" rather than my own way. I've learned what things wear out. I've learned how to break things (oops!). More importantly, I've learned how to fix and maintain the things I've broken and things that have worn out.

You could, of course, take formal classes, but that wouldn't be nearly as cost effective or fun. I recommend a small boat to learn on.
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Old 13-04-2011, 13:20   #11
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Re: Learning To Maintain The Boat

You learn by doing. Read and apply. Get something cheap to learn on. If you break it, no great loss.
Making mistakes is part of the process and the trick is learning how to correct them.
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Old 13-04-2011, 13:44   #12
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Re: Learning To Maintain The Boat

The magic answer learn yourself.

How you do that will vary - but will probably cover every approach from reading a book (or the manual ) to attending classes (say on Mechanics or other specific stuff) to chatting with other boat owners (real life and online)........and from good old fashioned trial and error

Some of the stuff you will learn in advance of things breaking. some only afterwards The trick is to keep learning from all your experiances

The single bit of advice I would give is to "get stuck in" Except don't start on something critical Getting hands on builds confidence and also skills - particularly on thinking a job through. and just because it ain't broken (yet!) nor require maintaining doesn't stop you looking at things and thinking "how the fook would I fix that??" or "WTF does that do?!".

FWIW I always start a job thinking, if this doesn't go well - what's the downside? (i.e. I can live with crapping in a bucket after "fixing" the toilet - but can't live with water flooding in where the thru hull used to be ).

Personally I have never been "Handy" around the home. nor with cars etc. It's not that I can't do stuff - just no interest and also my standards are higher than my hands can manage The latter is one of the challenges I have had to overcome during my refurb.....I have taken a 2 pronged route:-

firstly I aim for perfection (whatever I do has to be capable of surviving a direct hit from a Nuclear weapon . and also look pretty ).

secondly I settle for what I can do

In practice this has been an evolutionary process, nowadays I will still do a job over. Just that I stop after the second time But to be fair, my first and second attempts are a lot better than in prior years But she is my garden shed, where I mentally dissapear to (even when not onboard) so I get a lot of enjoyment (?? ) out of working on her.

One day I may even leave the dock
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Old 13-04-2011, 13:49   #13
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Re: Learning To Maintain The Boat

It all takes time! Just start out simple and learn your way up. But do take at least one sailing corse where you actually sail a small boat.

You may find out that boats are not your thing after all.
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A nation of sheep breeds a government of wolves!

Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints!
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Old 13-04-2011, 13:57   #14
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Re: Learning To Maintain The Boat

In our marina we have a number of 'club' boats. A club or group of people own the boat and share chores. They let everyone maintain and sail the boats. This maybe be a way to start.
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Old 13-04-2011, 13:58   #15
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pirate Re: Learning To Maintain The Boat

What DOJ said....
My first boat was a derilect in wood...
I bought her as therapy after a bad accident and ended up surprising myself.... she turned out real nice...
You'll make mistakes but its rare its not 'fixable'....
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