Yacht Maintenance Overview: An Introduction To Caring For Your Yacht

Posted Date: 01/06/2019

Yacht maintenance is a crucial element of yacht ownership and operation. That gorgeous yacht sitting at the dock represents a substantial investment, and just like any asset, it must be protected and maintained to ensure reliable operation and to preserve value.

Maintaining your vessel is imperative, not just for peace of mind while operating, but for the safety of those aboard during use. The larger the yacht, maintenance can get more complex as the scale and complexity of the systems aboard the vessel increase.

At a high level, an owner should approach yacht maintenance by doing the following: When purchasing your new or used yacht, be sure to thoroughly ask your yacht broker or salesperson questions about maintenance and servicing schedules. Additionally, get familiar with the manufacturer’s ownership manuals as they contain a plethora of information regarding maintenance. Moreover, map out your cleaning and maintenance routines that will go hand-in-hand with using your yacht (more on these below). Lastly, if unsure what to do or how to handle a specific situation, never simply “wing” it. Always consult a professional to ensure the yacht is properly cared for and that you're adhering to manufacturer recommended service and maintenance needs.

yacht maintenance 

Yacht Maintenance Schedule

For most yachts 40 feet and larger, the yacht will sit in the water full time. Regular care and maintenance is especially important in this scenario. For boaters in the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf’s waters have high levels of salinity which makes the water especially corrosive. For saltwater boaters, staying on top of yacht maintenance is crucial.

While not exhaustive, the following items are a good starting point for a regular care and maintenance schedule. Be sure to consult your manufacturer’s manuals and yacht servicing professionals for a more detailed yacht maintenance schedule.

Washing and cleaning the yacht - Some owners may have the boat cleaned every month, but for those wanting their vessel to always be in excellent shape, every two weeks is better. All visible elements on the exterior of the yacht should be washed and cleaned. Streaks and dust should be removed. Any bird droppings should be eradicated. Additionally, canvas covers can be removed and all upholstery wiped down. Metal wil be cleaned and polished, and woodwork scrubbed. Yacht owners can expect to pay on average $2-3 per foot for a thorough exterior cleaning.  Some yacht detail companies can also clean the interior which can involve dusting, cleaning countertops, toilets, sinks and more.

Clean the bottom of the yacht - Once a month is a good rule of thumb, but in hotter, warmer water months, you may want to have this done more frequently. Similarly in cooler weather months, you could go a bit longer than a month. Having the barnacles cleaned off the bottom part of the boat on a regular basis is important. A smooth clean hull is crucial to long-term care and efficient performance of the yacht. Typically this involves a diver cleaning the hull from the water line and below to ensure all barnacles and other forms of algae and marine life are cleaned from the boat. The diver should also ensure all running gear below the water is free of barnacle growth. Yacht owners can expect to pay on average $2-3 per foot for an underwater cleaning. Alternatively, some services may charge hourly rates instead. 

Also note that being in a higher current area can cause more frequent growth and the need for more frequent cleaning. It is good practice to ask the local dockmaster at your marina or a neighbor nearby how often they recommend getting the bottom cleaned.

Systems check - Your yacht has a large number of systems that need to remain functional for a pleasant yachting experience. Air conditioning, pumps, exhaust and air intake, batteries, coolant levels, and fuel and lubrication are just a sampling of the systems that operate during regular usage. While some owners are comfortable checking the status of some or all of these systems themselves, other owners will opt for a regular systems check by a professional. During the season of regular use, it’s advised to have all systems checked once a month. This type of service will likely cost in the $200-$250 range for yachts in the 40-50 foot size range, and more for larger yachts.  After the service is performed, the service professional will provide you with a service report summary and any recommended courses of action.

Waxing the boat – Every three to six months depending on sun exposure, the visible (topside of the boat from the waterline to the rubrail) parts of the boat should be waxed. When the hull is colored (such as blue or black), waxing frequency may increase.

Annual Engine, Drivetrain and Generator Service  - Once a year, you should have your yacht serviced. Haul out is not required, but it can be good practice to do so in order to check the bottom and running gear. This annual service is not too dissimilar from when car owners bring in their vehicles for regular servicing; all necessary items on the main engines, transmissions and generators will be serviced. The costs for annual servicing that includes engine maintenance will vary widely depending on your vessel, but smaller yachts can expect to pay approximately $3,000 (more if yacht is hauled out to check and service bottom and running gear). The costs increase with larger yachts.

Repainting the bottom of the yacht - While every two years is considered by many to be sufficient, it’s good practice to haul out the yacht once a year to check the condition of and possibly repaint the bottom of the yacht’s hull (consider doing this alongside annual servicing). As the bottom of your vessel is cleaned and barnacles scraped off, the paint layers can thin and deteriorate. Costs will vary, but owners can expect to pay approximately $50/foot for a repainting of the hull.

Air conditioning system maintenance - In hot climates such as Florida's, air conditioning systems need regular maintenance. The air conditioning lines on a yacht in Florida should be acid flushed every six months to ensure a proper cleaning and removal of anything that has attached itself in the lines.

Additional Yacht Maintenance Tips

1. Saltwater can lead to corrosion, so a few simple maintenance tasks after each run can be good practice. After each run, do a simple visual inspection of the engine room to check for any leaks. Also, be sure to give the boat a hose down to remove any salt particles.

2. Keep a yacht maintenance log. Log all maintenance work and servicing done on the yacht with appropriate details and dates. Not only will this serve you well as you can know exactly what has been done and when, but this log can be useful to show potential buyers when you go to sell your yacht.

3. Have your mechanic pull oil samples from the engines, transmissions and generator to send to a lab for testing. The results will serve as a baseline on the health of the components and can often detect a possible issue before it becomes apparent otherwise. Keep records of the results for future reference.

Yacht Maintenance Resources & Additional Information

Yacht builders design engines and components with a countless number of vendors. 

Note that there is not one specific engine manufacturer that is better than another in every situation. Depending on the yacht that it is going into, the application and what size and horespower is needed, a specific engine manufacturer might be recommended.  For instance, Cummins makes great smaller engines in the 300-715 horsepower range, CAT is most common in the 850-1925 horsepower range, MAN is common in the 800-1800 horsepower range, MTU is most common in the 1200-2600 horsepower range and Volvo is typically in the 300-900 horsepower range. 

It's common for individuals to inquire about what engine is best when they're considering a yacht purchase. Be sure to ask your yacht broker or salesperson for more information and advice.

For owners looking to learn more about engine maintenance, use the links and information below to discover what your engine manufacturer recommends for maintenance. This is by no means an all-encompassing list. However, these are some of the larger engine manufactuer names in the industry:

  • MTU Diesel Engines have an extraordinary history extending as far back as 1900. MTU is now a subsidiary of Rolls Royce Power Systems. The MTU Series 4000 Diesel has accumulated over 180,000,000 hours of operation.  Their engines are developed for a world of large commercial and passenger ships.
  • Caterpillar Marine Power Systems. Caterpillar Marine has the most comprehensive range of engine types in the world. CAT engines fall into several divisions including Cruisers, Fishing and Pleasure Craft. Worldwide dealer support is a powerful asset when considering engine types.
  • MAN Yacht Engines. The story of MAN Engines can be charted back to 1758 when St. Antony Ironworks began operation in Oberhausen Germany. Owners of a MAN Yacht Engine must sign off on approval of their merchandise, and that is just the introduction of their superb protection.
  • Cummins Marine. Worldwide support is a necessary factor when choosing your power plant. Cummins Marine is another recognizable brand that has been building marine engines since 1919. The Cummins Service Network is one of the widest in the world and extremely robust.
  • Volvo Penta Marine Leisure.  Volvo Penta has carved out a vast swath of the marine propulsion industry.  While other engine builders cater to the superyacht niche, Volvo Penta delivers marine systems for yachts in the 60 to 120-foot range. The company has built up a strong group of stern-drive engines for powerboats and a series of engines for sailboats.
  • Mercury Marine. Mercury is a well-known brand, and the Mercruiser line of engines are favorites on boats in the 40-foot range or less. Mercury carries a worldwide dealer network. This is a significant advantage when deciding on power. The company offers an extensive line of sterndrive and inboards. The Mercury Diesel is making inroads into larger boats and yachts.

While many yacht owners opt to leave the inner-operations of the vessel to yacht servicing and maintenance professionals, some owners enjoy gaining additional understanding of the various components that allow the yacht to operate. If you’re in the latter group, the below explains in further detail some of the systems and components that make up your yacht:

Fuel & Lubrication 

Regular servicing of the fuel and lubrication systems is important. Typical fuel system problems will involve saltwater intrusion and corrosion. Proper maintenance might include draining the fuel tank, ensuring any sediment is cleaned out and replacing the fuel filters. Since emission controls bind modern diesel engines, additives in the fuel are now required. Ensure you’re using the proper marine diesel fuel by asking a professional and reading the manuals. 

Clogged filters and a bad fuel pump can lead to fuel starvation. If a fuel pump is pushing air through the system, a number of problems can occur: the fuel pump bearings wear out quickly and injectors are not taking in the fuel at pressurized levels.

Reference manufacturer manuals to ensure the proper engine oil is being used. 

Coolant

Marine coolant is crucial to regular yacht operation. Just as oil, owners need to follow manufacturer guidelines. Marine coolants reduce corrosion, improve boiling points, neutralize engine by-products and stabilize engine temperatures. It is good practice to check the coolant before every trip.

Exhaust and Air Intake

Attentive owners will monitor smoke discharge at startup from the exhaust. While a small whiff of black smoke isn’t typically a concern, anything more might require further investigation. Examine your air filters regularly as they are key to engine performance and longevity.

Cylinder Heads and Blocks

Unless you are a professional mechanic with diesel system experience, a visual check is all that can to be done. Head bolts and valve timing adjustments are all torqued. Experienced owners who require pristine conditions may clean the engine area and cylinder block with degreaser products. Follow degreaser instructions closely and check with the owner’s manual. We typically recommend leaving any form of engine maintenance to professionals.

Electrical Systems

Anything electrical is typically left to professionals, but yacht owners can use common sense regarding simple oversight of the electrical system. The following are a few items to check on a regular basis: Ensure proper capacity levels in all batteries, examine connections into the engine for anything that may have worked its way loose, check that wire connections are properly sealed and that no evidence of corrosion exists, and replace bulbs on interior and running lights throughout the yacht.

Transmissions

The gearbox in your yacht is a mundane piece of fundamental machinery. There is little owners can do if a transmission starts to cause troubles. Visual inspection and checking fluids are necessary maintenance steps. Otherwise, a professional is required if anything goes wrong. Transmission problems are deceiving, and the frequent result is being dead in the water. Keep the equipment clean from saltwater and any surplus oil. As previously stated, regular oil sample analysis at your oil change intervals can help spot any potential issues before they cause major damage.

Yacht Maintenance Costs

The commonly-quoted rule of thumb in yachting is that owners should expect to pay 10% of the purchase price in annual operating costs. Yacht maintenance is certainly a part of this 10% estimate (along with other costs such as insurance, docking fees, fuel and more).

This rule of thumb, however, can vary depending on your purchase. If you purchase a new construction yacht, the 10% estimate is likely high due to the higher purchase price, the fact that fewer things will break on a newer vessel and that a number of such items are covered under the new yacht warranty. If you’re acquiring a used yacht for a lower purchase price, the maintenance and repairs cost will likely be higher.

When inquiring about a specific yacht, be sure to ask your broker or salesperson about projected maintenance costs.

If you have further questions on the topic of yacht maintenance or any other topic, please do not hesitate to contact us at Tom George Yacht Group. For more information on TGYG's yacht service department, click here.