My top 15 sailing maintenance tips, tricks and little known secrets

During our first year of living on our sailboat I kept a running list of sailing maintenance tips, tricks and little known secrets. Some of the items noted are big-time money and/or time savers and others are simply common sense that isn’t common when you’re a newbie sailor. Considering that this has been our first year living on a sailboat full time our learning curve has been massive.

I’m sure someone could create volumes of sailing maintenance tips and tricks but those listed below really made an impact on me

And I thought that perhaps a few might make an impact on you too!?

What’s your top sailing maintenance and living tip, trick or secrete? Can you add to list? If yes, please leave a comment below the article.

My top 15 sailing maintenance tips – the list is not ranked in any priority

1.  When staying in a marina, if there’s enough room either side of the boat, tie your fenders in a way that allows them to rest on the top outside corner of the deck rather than along side of the hull.

By having the fenders pointing out and away from the hull it reduces the likelihood of the hull exterior or jell coat from being worn down. (If you like my sexy sailing t-shirt I’m wearing below and want to get one for yourself, visit my shop)

Sailing Maintenance Tips
Sailing Maintenance Tips

Do you like my scoop neck t-shirt? You can buy it in my store – click the picture!

2.  Would you like your propeller to look shiny and new even after a whole season in the water?

Avoid buying any fancy shmancy propeller solution! The secrete is to paint your prop with egg whites! When your boat is out of the water (perhaps when you get it antifouled) paint a coat of egg whites on the prop, let it dry and then repeat four more times. I discovered this tip after being laid up next to a boat crane at the end of a season in the Mediterranean.

My family and I watched about eight boats a day for three weeks be hauled out for the winter. One boat, in particular, came out with the shiniest propeller we’d seen the whole time during our stay. My husband had to ask him what product the boat owner used as all the other props were barnacle ridden, brown-green and disgusting.

We were all flabbergasted when we heard the egg whites answer!

3.  Squeaky floorboards? During the evening do you attempted to sneak into the galley to grab a cookie only to be exposed by a squeaky floorboard? Try rubbing candle wax on the underside of your floorboards to prevent floor squeak.

Sailing Maintenance Tips

Sailing Maintenance Tips

4.  Over time the black stuff between your teak boards on your deck expands upwards.

When it gets too high it can become uncomfortable to walk on and worse, it creates areas where water can pool on the teak surface – a no-no. Every so often, you’re suppose to ‘skim’ the black stuff down so that it’s level with the teak boards or very slightly lower.

Most people painstakingly use a chisel to remove the black stuff however the secrete is to use one of those snap off razor blades

By slightly bending the blade and skimming along the black stuff you get the perfect shape and it’s a rather quick method. Make sure to tape something around your fingers, however, as holding the blade in the same position can cause callus’s.

Sailing Maintenance Tips

Sailing Maintenance Tips

5.  If you have a stern gland it’s suppose to drip every minute while in use.

Read my article “When I thought things couldn’t get any worse, they have – looks like we might have fried our propeller shaft” for more information on the stern gland. That being noted, your bilge will get a steady flow of salt water, which is never a good thing.

My husband affixed one side of Velcro on the hull under the stern gland, and then the other onto a Tupperware container

The Velcro was the type with stickers on either side. Now…we can pour the salt water out if gets high and more importantly we can determine whether or not our stern gland is dripping!

Sailing Maintenance Tips
Sailing Maintenance Tips

Click the picture if you like the t-shirt Simon is wearing. We sell it in our store ?

Sailing Maintenance Tips

Sailing Maintenance Tips

6.  What’s the best solution to clean the interior wood, ceiling panels and bathroom?

The magic solution is warm water and vinegar

I think there’s a book out there about the 500 uses for vinegar. The stuff is amazing. I use it to clean the toilets, wash any mould that develops off the walls and on our ceiling. Not only is it environmentally friendly but it works!

And a note about mold…I’ve included a picture below of what mold looks like on wood so you can identify it – this is actually called mildew. When I leave the boat for any duration of time (a couple weeks or more) whenever I come back my walls have a white substance on them. At first I thought it was dust and I was okay with that. Recently I’ve been told that it’s mold. How disgusting is that?! Read my Boat Mold Removal article for an in-depth explanation of mold. The article includes various ways you can prevent and remove it.

Apparently,  if we ran a dehumidifier while we’re gone it will reduce the likelihood of mold but that’s yet another device to buy and store. Anyway, mould can easily come off using a vinegar and warm water solution…

Sailing Maintenance Tips

Sailing Maintenance Tips


Do you like the t-shirt I’m wearing? Click the picture and you can buy it from my store!

7.  Now that we’ve spent a year on the boat I’m not exaggerating when I say that every towel, bed linen and article of clothing that we own has a rust stain on it.

The picture below doesn’t really show the rust stains but it does show my ‘mad face’!

Unbeknown to me, I innocently spent the summer drying our laundry on the safety rails that surround the boat. Not knowing the source, rust stains started to appear on everything. It didn’t take long to realize that our safety lines had spots of rust (unseen by the naked eye) and were therefore transferring the stain onto our clothes.

After trying to clean the rust off the safety lines I then had laundry with long black stains across everything – it must have been the rust solution that I evidently didn’t wash off good enough. In the end, I discovered that the best solution is to buy a clothesline and attach it from the mast to the front of the boat. I now only put darks on the safety line!

Sailing Maintenance Tips
Sailing Maintenance Tips

The t-shirt I’m wearing is also available at our store! Click the picture to see it.

8.  Speaking of clotheslines, I find that the best clothespins are the wooden type.

The plastic pegs will only last a season or two at most

The sun, sea air and sailing conditions seem to destroy plastic quickly. Often, I’ll use a clothespin and it will snap off sending a bit of plastic in one direction or another. The LAST THING our seas need is more plastic. I’ve changed all my clothespins to the wooden type now.

9.  Never agree to buy anything from anyone when you first meet them.

I suppose this tip is the same in the land-based world too

But when you’re a newbie you can often be swept up with the abundance of kindness offered within the sailing community. What am I talking about? Well, the first quote I had for new sails for the boat came to €23k. The person that offered to make them for us was a wonderful guy (and I still think he’s wonderful) but the sails on offer were not only beyond our budget, they were not exactly what we needed.

I gave my word (that I later had to break) that we were going to buy the sails thinking that we were getting a good deal only to find out that what we needed/wanted would cost us around €14k. BIG DIFFERENCE.

Like anywhere in the world, you’ll meet great people that offer a great variety of products and services. Don’t change what you’d normally do – always go out, get several quotes and talk to several people before making a commitment to making a large purchase. See the picture below to discover why we need new sails!

Sailing Maintenance Tips

Sailing Maintenance Tips

10.  Before moving onto your boat, go to IKEA and buy as many plastic containers as you think you can store. You will use these for all sorts. First of all, anything that comes in cardboard needs to be removed and repackaged. Cereal boxes, pasta boxes, outer cardboard covers. This needs to be done for two very important reasons. The first is that cockroaches lay eggs in cardboard and if you happen to get some cardboard with some eggs on the boat you’ll have a massive situation on your hands.

The second reason is bugs (other than cockroaches)

Bugs are latent in all sorts of products – flour and pasta come to mind immediately. This year I’ve had pasta that I’ve taken out and the bag it was sealed in was full of living, crawling bugs. If that pasta was in a cardboard box, rather than a bag, my whole cupboard would have been full of bugs. The bugs can’t escape plastic or Tupperware but they can easily get out of cardboard boxes. I put flour, polenta, rice, pasta and anything that comes in a box into Tupperware immediately and discard the boxes.

I often use the smaller plastic containers for odd pieces of stuff (screws, etc.), my daughters hair clips or office stuff like paper clips and so on. The pack displayed below is from Ikea and stacks within itself to take up very little space. The cost to buy is cheap so if you give a neighbor left-overs and they forget to return the container it’s no big deal.

Sailing Maintenance Tips

Sailing Maintenance Tips

11.  Some sailors will most likely disagree with me on this but based on the courses I took I’m a firm believer that on a boat if you don’t use it you lose it. Things like pumps, refrigeration units, air conditioners, engines and so forth all need to run on a weekly, if not monthly, basis.

We’re laid up now in Sicily for the winter for five months. Every Monday we turn on everything that runs.

Just take an impeller, for example. These little plastic wheels found within pumps are stuck in one position once the pump is turned off. If they’re not moved around they can become weak and brittle.

Perhaps they need lubrication or the pieces that are bent the most need a change of position

If you ask any boat professional, they always say that the majority of issues come from commissioning a boat after wintering. If you’re not wintering your boat, exercise everything at least every month. This also applies to seacocks too. If you don’t move them around, barnacles grow, seawater sets in and they won’t move.

When a pipe busts and you can’t close a seacock it’s not a pretty sight!

12.  Another one on fenders…Fenders are not cheap! It makes me feel sick if we lose one as ours cost around €80 each. That being noted, if you’re going to moor up along side a cement wall it’s very important to carry a plank of wood to put over the fenders so that it’s positioned between the fenders and the wall. Otherwise your fenders will be slowly eaten up and eventually destroyed by the wall.

13.  Make sure you have a multimeter.

At first I was afraid of these handy devices however this year I’ve used it time and time again

They help to determine if electricity is flowing and the amount that is flowing! They even help to let you know if a light bulb is good or dead. Before taking anything electrical apart, a multimeter helps to troubleshoot a whole variety of issues. Below is my husband checking the voltage of our batteries.

Sailing Maintenance Tips

Sailing Maintenance Tips

14.  Vaseline your hatches and window seals – better yet, use a Silicone Grease. If you do this on a routine basis it will keep the plastic soft rather than allow it to dry out and become brittle. My husband looks like he’s enjoying this job a little bit too much! (Scary!)

Sailing Maintenance Tips

Sailing Maintenance Tips

Our first year sailing our new boat has been an incredible year – 2014 will go down in history as being nothing short of remarkable. We’ve learned so much. At times I thought that my head was going to explode. At other times I put my head in my hands and thought, ‘how are we ever going to survive’?

Well…we’re still here, we’re still learning. And I’m sure we’ll be learning until we decide to dry up back on land. That being noted there is so much we have to learn. If you know of any tips you’d like to impart with us and the readers of this blog, please share! My motto is to learn from my mistakes so that you don’t have to make them yourself.