Your narrowboat needs a lot of TLC if you want to keep it running at its best – after all, it’ll go through a lot! If you’re not a natural when it comes to DIY, the idea of narrowboat maintenance might be daunting, especially when engines and batteries are involved.
However, don’t let this put you off – regular maintenance and simple checks to your boat mean that problems can be avoided (or uncovered early) which will save you money and danger down the line.
That’s why we’ve created a handy narrowboat owner’s maintenance guide, so you know how you can keep your boat in tip-top shape.
If you want your narrowboat to stay healthy, the best approach is ‘little and often’, and there are certain checks you should be doing every day.
In the morning or evening, or before or after you start a cruise, you should be checking the following things:
- Engine - The engine is the beating heart of your boat, if something goes wrong with this you won’t be cruising anywhere. Every day, you should be checking your oil level in the engine and the gearbox, as well as your coolant and battery fluid levels.
- Bilge levels – Bilges that become full of water and oil can damage your engine if they leak in. So, if one of your daily checks shows the levels to be too high, wait until you can manually dispose of it ashore, as you shouldn’t pump oil into the waterways.
- Fan belts – Always carry a spare bet, and before you set off be sure to check the condition of these. If they are making a squealing sound, then this a tell-tale sign that they need replacing.
- Battery – Top it up with deionised water and make sure it’s clean before each journey.
- Electrics and wiring – Check for loose or disconnected wires.
Checking these regularly will mean that you should be able to nip any engine problems in the bud before they become a more series (and expensive) issue.
Once a month has passed, you should do a more thorough check, on top of the daily ones you’ve already been doing.
1. A thorough engine inspection
As you’ll know, engines have many elements which would be impossible to check every day. That’s why every month you should set some time aside to make sure everything is working as it should be:
- Drive plates/gearbox – The drive plate is often the first thing to be damaged if you hit an object that was lurking beneath the water. Your gearbox also goes through a lot, so check it once a month and get them serviced regularly.
- Couplings – Make sure the bolts that connect the engine to the propeller shaft are screwed If they’re loose, they can be knocked off by the boat’s movement and you’ll lose propulsion.
2. Narrowboat battery
After the engine, the battery is one of the most vital parts of keeping your narrowboat working as it should. Most narrowboats have two batteries – one to keep your electric and heating working while you’re on the move, and one to power up your engine.
Problems with batteries are usually easy to spot as you’ll get a warning light on your dashboard, but in older boats that don’t have dashboards, you’ll have to be observant and regularly check the battery is working as it should be.
On top of the daily battery checks, each month be sure to:
- Remove dirt that may have built up.
- Apply petroleum jelly to the battery terminals to help prevent corrosion by keeping out surrounding air and moisture.
- Buy a voltmeter so you can keep tabs on how much charge remains in your batteries.
3. Water holding tanks
Wherever there’s a water tank there’s a risk of leakage. So, every month you’ll want to check your narrowboat’s water tank is still watertight – especially if your boat is getting old.
4. The hull
Your narrowboat’s hull will likely be the part of the boat that will take the brunt of the wear and tear. That’s why every month you should cast a close eye over it, looking out for rust and corrosion in particular. Make sure you don’t forget the inside of the hull – the inside isn’t exempt from rust or corrosion either!
While this will make sure you spot any hull issues before they become serious, because much of the hull is under water, you’ll occasionally need a professional inspection. Once every four years book an inspection with a qualified marine surveyor who can check for other issues such as cruising damage and hull quality.
End of season checks and preparation for winter
Many narrowboaters see the end of the season as when winter starts to draw in. If you are putting your boat into storage for the winter, there are some checks and preparation you need to tick off to make sure you don’t have any nasty surprises come spring. If you’re living aboard your narrowboat through the winter, it’s pretty much business as usual.
Before you hang up your boating shoes for the cold season, be sure to make the following precautions and checks:
- Empty the domestic water system to prevent your pipes from freezing.
- Leave the taps in the open position. This will ensure that less pressure is put on the pipes if there’s any water left in the system.
- Leave your cupboard and fridge doors open to allow air to circulate.
- Be sure to turn off gas appliances, the main gas supply and the master battery switch.
- Top up anti-freeze in keel cooling and other sealed heating systems (such as radiators connected to the boiler). This one applies if you’re continuing to live on your boat over the winter too.
- Empty your boat of anything valuable such as electricals. Even a food cupboard can lure in unwanted visitors. If in doubt, play it safe and remove said item.
Even when you take all these steps, we still recommend not leaving your boat to fend for itself all winter. Visit your narrowboat regularly, especially if there’s been a spell of extreme weather such as snow or heavy rain. During your visit, check your battery is still charged, and run your engine for an hour or so to push oil around the engine to keep rust at bay.
For an extra layer of protection, our final tip is to make sure you have Specialist Narrowboat Insurance so you can enjoy our beautiful waterways without any unnecessary worries.