All you need to know about boat cleaning and maintenance

You probably have spent two days in a row to clean, repair and upgrade your Opti, 420, 29er, laser, etc. instead of going to sail or enjoy the club with your friends. In this post we will tell you the fundamentals and give you a guide for boat cleaning and maintenance.

All you need to know about boat cleaning and maintenance
Photo by Nareeta Martin / Unsplash
Related: How to rig an Optimist like a pro - strong winds

When you start to race, you learn a bunch of things all together. And, if your coach is really good at his work, he will teach you how to keep your boat in good condition.

You probably have spent two days in a row to clean, repair and upgrade your Opti, 420, 29er, laser, etc.  instead of going to sail or enjoy the club with your friends.

In this post we will tell you the fundamentals and give you a guide for boat cleaning and maintenance.

Maintenance

Have you ever been training or at a regatta, and saw a colegue who couldn't keep sailing because something at his/her boat failed? Or maybe this happened to you... we have been there and we can tell it's not a funny situation.

The reason why boat maintenance is sooo important, is because it will prevent things failing while sailing.

Althoug it is impossible to foresee every breakdown, we will list the areas that you should inspect during the season for wear.

General condition of the hull

This is an easy one. Make sure you constantly control the hull of your boat and quickly repair it in case somewhere appears fiberglass.

Depending on the degree of damage to the hull, you can use:

  • Gelcoat: it gives a high-quality finish which can be tinted to match the colour of the hull. Ideal for small nicks, dings and scratches on the hull.
  • Polyester resin and fiberglass: catalyst is added to the resin and then applied by brush to cloth laid over the damaged area. Dries to a hard surface which can be sanded down and faired to a smooth finish which can be painted or coated with gelcoat.

Ratchets and blocks

Ratchets and blocks also need some maintennance. Once or twice a year, you can put a light coat of W-40 and also check if there is any crack.

Bowline and main sheet

One of the thing you must have in good conditions is the bowline. It's a matter of security. Every now and then take a few minutes to check it doesn't has any knot on it and that is isn't about to cut.

Do the same thing with the main sheet.

Deck collar and mast step

This area is the hardest to repair when it is damaged. This is why it's super important to check it a couple of times during the year.

Remove the mast step, clean it and look for any crack on it.  Inspect the welds and the fasteners that hold the base to the hull floor. Once it has a crack we recommend to change it in order to prevent it brokes while sailing.

Please do not underestimate the importance of the cracks that appear in the mast step because if it breaks when sailing, it could break the deck collar.

Deck collars are designed to fit snugly into a hole in the deck. Use your hand or a mast to see if the collar moves. Also inspect the deck for spider cracks in the gelcoat. If the collar is loose, remove it and inspect the hole in the fiberglass.

If the hole is oblong then you will want to fill in the area. Simply tightening the fasteners will not work over a long period of time.

More information on how to repair it on MacLaughlin's guide to repair mast collar:

Rudder and dagger board

Rudder and dagger board need periodic inspection. Pay close attention to the state of the rudder extension.

The laminate of the rudder and the dagger board is clear, so it allows you to see the inside core material. Some discoloration of the foam core is normal with age, but watch out for dark spots because this may be a sign of water intrusion.

More information on how to repair it on MacLaughlin's guide to repair blades:

The hardware on the rudder can also fail. Consequently, the fasteners and welds on the pintles need to be inspected to make sure they are snug and do not show any signs of fatigue. Be sure to check the ones on the rudder and the ones on the hull.

Trunk, hiking straps

The trunk should have four rubbers (one for each corner). This protects the dagger board and the hull.

Look closely at the rubbers (especially the ones on the bottom), to make sure are well stuck.

To minimize the lateral movement of the dagger board (you don't want this!) you can either use shim tape o velcro strips (the soft side) at the top and the bottom of the trunk. Whatever you use on your boat, make sure it's in good condition.

Optimist dagger board rubbers

You also want to take a good look to the shock cord around the trunk. With  time it will wear out. If this is the case you must replace it.

The hiking straps are your connection to the boat, as a result, you want to make sure the canvas on the straps is in good connection. Also check the adjustment line and hardware that connects the straps to the boat.

Spars and lines

Optimist spars wont give you a headache  as they are designed to last a long time. However there are some spots that need a little attention from time to time.

From time to time, especially if you sail in salted water, put a coat of W-40 (or anything similar) to prevent the metal be eroded. It also helps sail ties slide 😉

Take a close look at the end fittings of each spar. They should all be firmly attached. If you can rotate an end fitting then it needs to be removed and glued back in place.

Pay close attention to the lines, they may be worn out. This typically happens when they go through the cleat. If this is the case you may have to change it.

But, if the line is in otherwise good shape you do not have to replace it. For instance, you can flip the line around or shorten it so that it enters the cleat at a different place.

Related: How to rig an Optimist like a pro - medium winds

Boat cleaning

There is one rule every sailor must know:

Clean hull = fast boat

Before your day on the water you should clean your hull with a mild detergent and a very soft sponge.

  1. Rinse it down with fresh water. This will help remove any dirt that has accumulated on the surface.
  2. Use a non-abrasive sponge to work the detergent around.
  3. Rinse it again to remove any remaining soap or residue.

It is super important to have this rutine every day before you start your sailing session in order to have your hull in the best conditions.

If you sail on salt water, after sailing you must wash your boat off to prevent the salt damage the boat. You should wash every part of your boat, including the sail.

Polishing

A couple of times a year you sould polish the hull. This will take out some scratches  and leave a nice, smooth look on the hull.

But... why is  a smooth polished boat so important?

Because a sanded bottom is going to have every piece of debris in the water adhere to it like glue.

Unless you capsize and clean your bottom off between races, this dirt and debris will slow you down significantly; therefore, It’s much better to have a polished surface that will repel debris.


By following this guide, you can keep your boat looking great and performing well for years to come. Remember to clean your dinghy regularly and that

A clean, well-maintained boat is faster. A fast boat is more likely to win a race.
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