Ask Uncle Ricky: Maintenance Tips

Published in the March 2013 Issue March 2013 News Rick Lauper, Houseboats A to Z

Well, we have made it through another winter. Thank goodness warm weekends are in sight. And the best part is, now is the time to start getting our boats ready for summer. Seems like every season I see a pattern of common mistakes that cause panic and sometimes damage. 

Engine Check

Let’s start in the engine room. Remove your bilge vent covers and store them away. First check the bilge blower for proper operation. Then check the water levels on all the batteries and fill as needed. While here, check for corrosion at every terminal and clean and tighten all fasteners.

Next, check and make sure your onboard charger is operating properly. A common problem here is a tripped GFI. Check all fluid levels on all engines and thrusters. Even if you or your mechanic de-winterized the engines, make certain to check the shut off valves at all water inlets. If these accidentally get left closed and you start the engines, certain damage at some level will occur.

Time To Fire

If everything checks out, turn your bilge blower on for five minutes and fire it up. You should be careful not to put yourself at risk of injury, but be looking and checking for anything out of the ordinary such as water leaking, unusual noises, smoke, etc. If your engines were fogged when winterized, you will see exhaust smoke that lingers a bit; this is normal and should clear up shortly. 

A clean and dry engine room is important for safety reasons. Having said that, please don't use your wet vac to suck up anything in the engine room. It’s a bad idea, especially for water or fluids. If fuel or fuel vapors are present, sending them into an electric vacuum canister can explode! I suggest disposable rags and basic type cleaners. 


Now we need to check our electrical shore plugs, making sure they are out of the water and twisted in tightly. Next, flip all breakers off and back on to make sure each is working properly.  Now is also a good time to switch over to generator power and check that all is operating properly while off grid. 

Looking For Leaks

Moving on, we are now ready to check the plumbing for leaks under all sinks and around all heads. This is pretty straightforward, simply open the doors, turn things on and look for leaking fixtures. Flush your heads and look for the unusual. And now is a good time to turn off dock-supplied water and switch on freshwater pumps.

Also, be sure to turn on fixtures to make certain everything is working properly. This is also the perfect time to go ahead and empty the freshwater holding tanks by just letting the facet run until empty. 

Remember that water in most cases has been in there awhile, so changing them out is important and then refill as needed. 

Down Below

Next it's a good idea to go down in the hull with a flashlight and inspect all bilge pumps for proper operation. While here look for evidence of any water leaks, especially at holding tanks, heads, water heaters, showers, tubs, etc. 

Good To Go

I realize this is a very long list of things to check, but it can save you time, money or both. Remember, even if you hired someone to get your boat ready for the summer, it’s still important to check your boat yourself. Like I stated at the beginning of this article, every year I see a pattern of common mistakes that cause panic and sometimes damage.

Uncle Ricky


“Ask Uncle Ricky” is a recurring column in Houseboat magazine. For other houseboat maintenance tips please visit


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