Eagle Seven Publishing

The Four Seasons of Boat Maintenance
A Checklist Based Plan
Christopher Birch


It’s hard to cook without a recipe.  Combine some random ingredients, and you might create something palatable.   But more likely, you’ll ruin the dinner party.

The same holds true with boat maintenance. Take a haphazard approach, and you might keep her afloat.  But more likely, you’ll wreck the ship.

Boat owners intuitively appreciate the importance of maintenance. Their head tells them it’s smart to protect their investment. Their heart tells them it’s smart to protect their family out on the wild sea. The will is there, but the way is missing.  Like an aspiring chef, boat owners need a good recipe for boat maintenance. 

The Four Seasons of Boat Maintenance delivers that recipe: a checklist-based instruction set that helps boat owners build a customized maintenance plan for their vessel. The season-by-season checklist layout of the book is simple to navigate. The detailed narrative embedded within every checklist item provides a thorough explanation, a supplies list, safety precautions, as well as time and cost estimates. Developing a maintenance plan requires an understanding of what must be on a boat’s work list and why it needs to be there. Instead of a loose discussion, this book lays out a concrete schedule. The Ffur Seasons of Boat Maintenance builds an annual maintenance plan for any boat – new or used, big or small, sail or power.

Manuals aplenty

Plenty has been written on the subject of boat restoration and repair. Also abundant are books that provide detailed explanations on the care of individual components of a boat. In most cases, new owners have had ample opportunities to learn how to operate their boat, but no one in the industry, or in the bookstore, has showed them how to maintain her. Guidance on boat maintenance is poorly organized, scattered, incomplete, sometimes mystical and often times ineffective. The result is a boat owner who is left metaphorically, and sometimes literally, adrift. 

In my 35-plus years working in yachting, I’ve learned that new boat owners are ill-prepared to develop a maintenance plan for their treasured new possession. The owner’s manual provided by the boat manufacturer presents little more than plumbing and wiring diagrams, often undecipherable by a layperson. The very basic question: “What work do I need to do this spring to get my boat ready for the upcoming summer boating season?” has gone unanswered until now.

The Four Seasons of Boat Maintenance delivers a holistic plan for the regular maintenance needs of a boat already in reasonably good working order.

This is the maintenance manual that should have come with the boat, but didn’t.

Check, mate

Checklists are gaining popularity in all industries for good reason: they work. Best-selling author Atul Gawande’s research in The Checklist Manifesto shows that errors fall into two broad categories: errors of ignorance, mistakes we make because we don’t know enough, and errors of ineptitude, mistakes we make because we don’t make proper use of what we do know. Checklists provide a simple and effective way to address both categories of error. 

Checklists find a logical and much needed home in boating where the boat owner may need reminding about some items on the work list and an explanation on others. Order of operation is critical in boat maintenance and not always intuitively obvious. The checklist is the ultimate ordering tool. These lists will guide new boat owners around errors of ignorance and guide the marine industry past errors of ineptitude. This book looks IN to address the needs of the individual boat owner. It also looks OUT to solve the problem of an industry that is failing to guide its consumer.

I wrote the original draft of The Four Seasons of Boat Maintenance in an effort to standardize best practices for the nine employees in my mobile marine maintenance business, Birch Marine Inc. The checklists have developed over time to become increasingly comprehensive and detailed. 

Shrinkwrap, servicing stuffing boxes, tuning sailboat rigging, de-commissioning ice makers, commissioning engines, winterizing water systems, waxing, varnishing, winch maintenance, steering system service, sail service and much more are all included in these comprehensive and logically ordered checklists.

Bruising breakdowns

Boat breakdowns bruise the morale of captain and guests alike. I recently spoke with a relatively new boat owner whose boat was suffering from considerable electrolysis damage that cut short a family excursion. 

“No one ever told me I needed to change my zincs.” He exclaimed.  He paused momentarily.  “What are my zincs, anyway?”  

In this case, a bit of knowledge encouraging the routine change of a $13 sacrificial zinc anode would have saved him thousands of dollars, an embarrassing breakdown and a ruined holiday.

Boat owners often have family onboard whose safety they care quite a lot about. According to the US Coast Guard, there were 2903 boating injuries and 658 boating fatalities in the United States in 2017. Taking the helm of a new, heavy and complex vessel for a day on the water with family and friends can be justifiably quite nervous making. Having confidence that the boat will perform without fault helps calm those nerves. With this book, boat owners can literally check the box on boat maintenance and by doing so will gain important confidence and relief from anxiety.

A wise old salt once said, “Take care of your boat and she will take care of you.” 

This book is nearing completion, stay tuned…