Getting ready for the season's cruising
With over 3,000 miles of canals and navigable rivers to explore in Britain alone (and over 28,000 miles of navigable in Europe), cruising the inland waterways with friends and family is one of the most relaxing ways you can spend time on the water. Meander at your own pace through the countryside and past towns, embracing the unique lifestyle of the waterways and their fascinating history and heritage.
Whether you love tinkering with machines, or find the prospect of opening an engine somewhat daunting, it is essential that you maintain and service your narrowboat. Repairs or replacements for your boat can be costly, and are often caused by lack of engine knowledge or simply from using the wrong battery. Other times, it could be an alternator failure, water contamination or a broken cable.
Narrowboat maintenance checklist
It's recommended that you regularly carry out the following tasks for your canal boat:
Check your oil levels
Clean the boat's engine and check it's in good condition
Plug any leaks
Check the bilge pumps are working
Inspect the battery and top-up with de-ionised water
Look for any loose bolts or pipes
Check drive belts for tension and condition
Inspect the cables and control equipment for signs of wear and tear
Common engine issues
Carrying out regular preventative maintenance on the following engine components could save you from a costly repair call-out.
If your bilges are full of oil and water, this dangerous mixture could get into the engine with potentially disastrous consequences. It is important that you do not discharge the oil with the bilge pumps into the waterway but to manually dispose safely ashore.
If you hit an underwater object, the drive plate is usually the first victim. As canal boats don't have a clutch arrangement, gear boxes tend to receive a fair bit of abuse, so go easy and regularly service them.
Always carry a spare alternator belt, and check its condition before setting off. Simply twist the belt and if there are cracks, or the edges are starting to look ragged it's time for a new belt. If you hear 'squealing' from an old belt, it probably needs replacing. If it's from a new belt, an adjustment is required.
If the bolts connecting the propeller shaft to the engine are loose, any movement will either sheer them off, which can result in loss of propulsion. Eventually the coupling will need replacing, and you may even have to change your prop shaft if the coupling has damaged it.
Narrowboat hull inspection
The hull of your narrowboat will take the brute force of the elements. This means it should undergo regular inspection to avoid leaks and other damage. It’s best to keep an eye on rust, corrosion and pitting, and don’t forget to have the inside of the hull checked over too.
Since the hull is normally out of view, you will need to organise regular inspections by a professional. You will be required to take the boat out of the water in order for a marine surveyor to carry out a review of the state of the hull. As a rule of thumb, this should be done every three to four years – or more often if you’ve sustained any accidents.
Blacking the hull helps to maintain the condition of your narrowboat by minimising the risk of rust and corrosion. Hull blacking involves extensively repainting the hull, and this should normally be done every two to three years.
It is entirely possible for you to black your boat's hull yourself. However, you will, of course, need the means to take the boat out of the water, and the time to paint it – meaning most boaters get it done by professionals at a marina. Blacking the hull will take up to three days and involves cleaning the hull of muck and grime then applying a couple of coats of hard-wearing paint, before drying and returning to water.
Preparing for the long haul
By taking the time to keep your narrowboat maintained, you will save yourself considerable money involved in repairs, replacements and call-outs. Keep our guide handy and follow the steps to ensure you stay cruising for years to come.
Now, just the shopping list to do,...Bacon, wine, beer.........
Happy Cruising from all at Venetian Marina.