The range of skills you need to have to successfully maintain your boat is really quite broad. You need to be a rigger, an electrician, a carpenter, diesel mechanic, painter, sewer/seamstress, fibreglasser (or whatever a fibreglassing expert is called). These are just the basic skills – then there are some specialist skills such as welder/boilermaker, fitter and/or machinist. The mind boggles – how do you learn all this stuff? A lot of books on the cruising lifestyle suggest you go and do courses to learn stuff such as basic diesel maintenance etc. On top of the maintenance skills, there are also the sailing skills which encompass sailing, navigation and docking. You can then throw in a few other skills into the mix such as cooking and first aid. A lot of people only learn a couple of these in their lifetime, let alone the whole lot. To be honest, I don’t think a lot of boat owners have the whole suite either, although I do know a few people who come very close.
As for myself, I have picked up a few things along the way and have a lot to learn. I have tinkered about with petrol engines a bit in the past and learnt a lot of my mechanical skills that way, but not really had much to do with diesel engines, although my car, a Landrover Defender, has a diesel engine, it’s never broken down (touch wood) and all the maintenance has been done by the dealer. I have yet to bleed my marine engine – mainly because I haven’t had to do it yet, but learning that is just around the corner. The Yanmar is infinitely a lot more simple that the Defender engine, but at some stage I will need to learn how to bleed it also. Surprisingly, owning motorcycles, is perhaps one of the areas that will give you the greatest range of skills to be able to do boat maintenance. Granted a bike doesn’t have rigging or sails, and is petrol powered, but there is a heck of a lot of other things in common. Fibreglass? If your bike has a fairing and luggage you will need fibreglass skills. It has an electrical system and a mechanical system. But really the main common factor is that self-reliance and the attitude of “having a go”. Yes, there are lots of bike owners, who couldn’t adjust the mirrors without help, but there are a hell of a lot that can fix a lot of things that break, or won’t be afraid to have a go at fixing them. I hear you cry that bikes are very technical these days and you need specialised training. Yes, they are a lot more complex than they used to be, but underneath all those hoses and wiring and computer systems, they still function the same. Boats and cars still function the same basic way they always have and the skills required don’t change.
I have just gone through a week of sorting bike issues to get it passed for its annual registration renewal. The Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) has been playing up and needed sorting. In Just one week, I have learned how to remove the upper fairing sections and the instrument cluster from the bike. Once removed, I opened up the instrument cluster to remove and replace the ABS warning lights. And then put the whole lot back together again. I also now know how to remove the ABS unit and replace it. Bleeding the air out of the braking system is a fairly standard operation, and it hasn’t changed all that much over the last few decades. Of course, I am not doing this blind. I start off by trawling through the Internet forums for my model bike and can usually find instructions from someone else who has done this before. Then there is the manual and of course, good old Youtube. Spend a bit of time researching how to get to the instrument cluster and then the removal and replacement, and that’s half the battle. The other is getting out there and getting practice. I can imagine that attempting to repair something as complex as a BMW motorcycle can be really daunting for those that have no experience. I don’t count myself as experienced but I have fixed other things and I know how to go about fixing it – even if I don’t know the ins and outs of a particular job, I know how to go about it. Finding out what’s wrong and then finding out to fix it. Is it fixable? Where do I get the parts from. Can I get parts other than that supplied by the dealer? Are there other modifications or procedures that aren’t necessarily in the owner’s manual? You would be surprised by what you find when you start researching your project. For example, I discovered that you can buy LED kits to replace the instrument lights which are a vast improvement over the factory ones. I have already made enquiries about getting myself the kit!
The boat is exactly the same as the motorcycle. Something needs replacing, so you go about it in the same way. Work out what the problem is. Research how to fix it etc etc. It just needs a bit of confidence and to be able to see past the complexity. A lot of things these days can’t be fixed at home of course. Those mysterious “black boxes” full of electronics that seem to control things in the engine bay of your car or boat. They are mostly throw away and buy a replacement – quite easy really. Fixing them requires specialised diagnostic tools and specialised knowledge. Although, after watching a few episodes of “Wheeler Dealer” on the Discovery Turbo Channel mechanic Ed China makes it look easy – he just opens up the black box in question and gets out the soldering iron and sorts it. Ed makes fixing up old cars so easy, you sit there watching him and think “I could do that”. And that’s how it starts.
I grew up building Airfix models of Spitfires etc – I personally think it’s a wonderful grounding for life – it teaches the patience needed to sit down and work out how to disassemble something and then put it back together. Fixing bicycles is also a good grounding. They are simple and you start off by removing wheels to fix a puncture, then adjusting the chain, adjusting the brakes. It’s not rocket science but it builds the necessary confidence to go onto more difficult things. Pretty soon you will be like me and not be afraid to go at removing the instrument cluster on a motorbike, tearing down your sheet winches to service them. Replacing wiring and wiring in new instruments for your boat.
Whether it’s got two wheels or sails it needs maintenance and it will need fixing at some stage or another. Do you do it yourself and thus learn those important skills, or do you pay a lot of money for someone else to fix it? However, it’s easy being able to fix things in your garage with a nice workbench, good lighting and a vice, not to mention the internet close to hand. Trying to fix it out at sea, a long way from the internet or telephones, spare part stores and even any sort of advice is a different kettle of fish altogether.