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5 Things Boaters Never Maintain, But Should

Here’s a look at often-ignored items that need a little love

A white boat's silver hatch on a fishbox.

Since this hatch is on a fishbox, you can betthat strut will be exposed to plenty of grime and goo. Photo: Lenny Rudow

A well-maintained boat is a happy boat. Most of us who’ve been on the water for more than a few years pay strict attention to our maintenance routines. But boats have lots of parts, and they’re constantly exposed to the elements, doused with water, or fried by the sun. Miss the maintenance on a moving part and there’s a good chance that, sooner or later, it will cease moving altogether. Here are five commonly ignored items that should be on your list of maintenance chores.

1. Gas-assist struts

The struts that make it so easy to raise and lower your deck hatches are often advertised as “maintenance-free.” And it’s true that the gas-filled piston isn’t meant to be disassembled or even repaired; it’s generally accepted that they have a limited service life and will need to be replaced when worn out. However, you can extend that service life significantly with one simple maintenance practice: Keep them clean. Give the strut a wipe with a clean cloth to minimize grit and grime, and rinse the entire unit with freshwater every now and again, especially if it’s been exposed to saltwater. Note that this is particularly important for hatches or compartment lids that may be kept open (thus leaving the strut exposed to salt spray) and for deck hatches closing over compartments like the bilge or a fishbox, which tend to get quite dirty.

2. Screws

Have you ever found a screw rolling around on deck and wondered where the heck it came from? At least once or twice a season, grab a screwdriver, put it on every screw you can find, and tighten up all that are loose. One big repeat offender you’ll likely encounter: the small screws located on the underside of hatch latches. These ride through the seas upside-down at all times, so gravity and vibrations are always working against them. If you’ve ever had one of these latches come apart in your hands, you know why – and how to prevent it from happening in the future.

Hand pointing to fittings on a boat that need to be screwed in tighter.

Go all through your boat and put a screwdriver on every head you can find to make sure those fittings are tight. Photo: Lenny Rudow

3. Snaps

One would think that a simple snap could be ignored, right? Well, maybe. It will probably keep working, but if you struggle to get those snaps on and off, you could pull one out of the fiberglass or rip the canvas it’s attached to. Annual maintenance will be a help. Snaps are a lot more cooperative when lubricated, making that struggle, well, a snap. There are plenty of dedicated snap lubricants on the market, but any standard-issue silicone or Teflon lube will do the trick. Dabbing on a bit of wax as you wax your boat works fine, too.

4. Steering and tilt mechanisms

If your boat has one or more outboards, chances are the engines turn in a swivel bearing (also called a swivel bracket) and/or through a steering bracket. These may be the least well-maintained parts of the average outboard owner’s power system because many boaters never even realize that there are Zerk fittings back there (see arrow in photo above) – and you need to hit them with grease. Just how often they need attention will vary with the recommendations of different manufacturers, so break out your owner’s manual and look up the maintenance schedule. And note that this should be considered a critical practice. If the bearing or bracket fails, it’s catastrophic because you can’t turn the motor anymore. And replacing it usually requires pulling the motor off the boat, so it can be a very expensive procedure. With older rigs, it can be so costly that a repower job is the ultimate result of a swivel bearing gone bad.

A hand holding down silver snaps on a white boat's black cover.

Find those hidden zerks, and hit ’em with grease. Photo: Lenny Rudow

Red arrow pointing to a hidden zerk that is needing grease.

Give those snaps some lubricant from time to time, and they’ll be far more cooperative. Photo: Lenny Rudow


Many of you already know about this one, but we hate the thought that some hapless boater out there hasn’t heard, so we’re including it: Plastic parts exposed to the sun need maintenance, too. UV rays leech out the plasticizers (which act as buffers in the molecule chains and give plastic its flexibility), and many cleaning products eliminate the plasticizers even more quickly. Net result? The plastic turns dull, brittle, and crazed. To protect it, use a dedicated plastic cleaner/restorer (we’ve had great results with Plexus and Meguiar’s PlastX through the years). It will shine and seal the plastic without doing any inadvertent damage.

5. Zippers

Ever wonder why your boat’s zippers are so darn tough to use? Well, when’s the last time you lubricated them? Like snaps, misbehaving zippers are something we all tend to deal with via an application of force – which can lead to damage – rather than giving them some love and care. You can get zipper lubricant and some of the snap lubes out there are dual-purpose, marketed as “snap and zipper lubricant.” Or you can use an old seafarer’s trick and simply rub a wax candle up and down the zipper.

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Lenny Rudow

New Boats, Fishing & Electronics Editor, BoatUS Magazine

Top tech writer and accomplished sports fisherman, BoatUS Magazine Contributing Editor Lenny Rudow has written seven practical boating books, won 30 awards from Boating Writers International — many for his marine electronics articles – and two for excellence from the Outdoor Writers Association of America. He judges the NMMA Innovation Awards, and is Angler in Chief at FishTalk, his own Chesapeake-based publication. A great teacher and inspirational writer, Lenny hosts many of BoatUS Magazine’s very-popular how-to videos, which can be found on the BoatUS YouTube channel, or at