The 3 Different Types Of Boat Maintenance

What are the difference types of maintenance that can be applied to engines and equipment on boats? Boats over the 40ft mark often have a number of engines, generator/s and other serviceable items onboard (water makers, stabilisers). All of these require regular maintenance.

I would say that we could categorise types of boat maintenance and repair into the 3 following categories:

  1. Planned Maintenance 
  2. Condition Based Maintenance 
  3. Breakdown/Corrective Maintenance 

Today we’ll over each of the above options. You should walk away confident knowing what’s best for your needs.

#1 Planned Maintenance and Repair

This is typically what you may be familiar with in your engine service manual. It’s also what most companies follow in the boating industry.  Manufacturers state a timeline of either hours or months/years to perform a certain task. This could be for instance, change engine oil ever 100 hours or once per year. Being standard practice, it is easy to follow and implement globally. This standardisation means manufacturers can be confident that the tasks are performed correctly and at the correct intervals.

The biggest benefit of planned maintenance is that it is easy to follow and track. You can simply set reminders for yourself to book in a service. Thankfully,  most companies now have computer based systems which send reminders for servicing.  Typically, with using this type of schedule most engine manufacturers will provide you with a warranty if the services are performed on time and by an approved dealer.

Looks can be deceiving

The downside that we see a lot of in this industry, is that people often don’t do the required hours before the year is up. Many think it’s fine to prolong their planned maintenance until they reach the hours – which could years away. If you look closely, your maintenance schedule will usually say something like “100 hours or 1 year, whichever comes first”.

The other comment we get a lot of is “it looks okay” externally, so I won’t touch it. Engine companies have put a lot of time, money and effort into coming up with the service schedule,. I have personally done this with Wartsila and Rolls Royce, so don’t think skipping a service will save money. This might be true in the short term, but will cost you in the long term when a component fails.

#2 Condition Based Maintenance and Repair

What is condition based maintenance you may ask?

Sometimes referred to as RCM (Reliability Centred Maintenance), condition based maintenance is a predictive maintenance strategy. It uses all the equipment’s data to try and predict a failure before it happens and prolong the planned maintenance schedule. It will use data such as oil pressure, engine temperatures, oil analysis and vibration monitoring.

Although more common in larger scale installations,  I have seen it successfully implemented in the super yacht industry.  For this to work to its full potential, you must keep a good record of the equipment data and understand the analysis. For example, you could take engine oil samples and vibration readings every 3 months. This may let you see slight changes, hinting at an internal problem that you cannot see. Alternatively, you see no changes at all, which gives confidence that you can keep the item working longer past its service schedule.

How and why it might work for you

To set this up, you first must carry out a FMEA (Failure Mode Effect Analysis). This enables you to evaluate a process to figure out where, and how systems might fail. It also highlights failure parameters beforehand so you can avoid it. On a single engine boat the risk would be high due to the fact you would be stranded with no propulsion, but on a triple engine installation your risk is low as you would still have two engines to safely get you home.  

The upside of this is if you can confidently prove that you can extend the maintenance interval. For example, if you extended the oil change from 250 hours to 450 hours, you would save money over the life of the engine if used in a high hour scenario.

The downside is if you missed the failure point, potentially causing you to destroy the asset and be up for a costly repair bill.

This type of maintenance definitely isn’t suitable for a typical private boat owner that has a small maintenance budget, doing minimal hours.

damaged engine
A failed engine due to failed exhaust manifolds. Unfortunatenly for this one it got left until the entire engine was seized!

#3 Breakdown/Corrective Maintenance and Repair

This is exactly what you think it is and sadly we see this all too often – a piece of equipment is used until it fails and you have to fix it.  For example, when you don’t change the impeller for 3 years because you’ve only done 12 hours and its somehow failed!

I often see corrective maintenance filled throughout a boat’s service history. This could be something as simple as a hose clamps coming loose or a piece of equipment installed incorrectly.  With correctly trained personnel and choosing the correct maintenance types, neither of these two should happen to you.

Risky business

A cheap “oil change” is often confused as a “service”. A proper service of an engine includes inspection of the entire component, and making appropriate comments on other items that should be addressed to prevent a breakdown. It’s too often that we see mechanics being less inclined to recommend additional work in fear of being labelled “too expensive” or “a rip-off”.

You may wonder if there is an upside to this type of “maintenance”. If you are willing to risk running a component to failure, when it finally happens you may get more life out of that particular component in comparison the manufacturers recommendation. It might also be that it turns out to be cheaper to replace the whole component when it failed versus constantly maintaining it in the long term. But do you want to risk this with your family onboard at sea? I certainly don’t.


So, which type of boat maintenance to choose?

Well, it’s a personal choice to make as there are a lot of different factors to consider when choosing your preferred type of maintenance. By monitoring and working on my own engine for the last 4 years, I have slightly tweaked the maintenance schedule to suit as I see fit, and I am following my own condition based maintenance schedule.

I would not choose breakdown maintenance, as this can be very costly and no one wants to be that boat getting towed in on a nice day out on the water because their engine failed or batteries went flat!

That leaves us with planned maintenance, and for the majority of the boats in our industry – it would be hard to look past this type of boat maintenance. It’s simple to implement, easy to carry out and approved by most manufacturers.  Set yourself up with a good service workshop that you are happy with and let them help you look after your boat to enjoy years of easy, and hopefully, trouble-free boating.

Final thoughts

A tip I would give any new boat purchasers would be to look at the planned maintenance for the equipment on-board your new boat – this will give you a rough estimate to what sort of money you would have to outlay to keep your boat in good condition. A boat with a bulletproof planned maintenance history will also achieve a much higher sale price, as it provides peace of mind to the prospective buyer. Anyone running a boat on a breakdown maintenance schedule is going to have a hard time finding a buyer!

If you’re unsure about the quality of maintenance on a boat before purchasing it, consider contacting our team here.

About The Author – Donald Nicholson

Growing up on the Isle of Barra on the West Coast of Scotland (population of around 1100), Don’s family owns and operates a fleet of fishing vessels that mainly fish for prawns and lobsters. At age 17, Don completed a degree in Marine and Mechanical Engineering, and has spent the last decade working in numerous engineering roles across the globe, before settling in Australia in 2017. Don specialised in diesel engines working on a diverse number of vessel and engines across Pittwater. Don has also completed his Diploma in Marine Surveying, and is a valued BoatBuy team member. Liked this article? Feel free to get in contact direct at

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