Maintenance, Maintenance, and More Maintenance
Running a charter fishing operation is like running any small business. As the owner, the buck stops with you-everything is your problem. As boat people, we all know that there are many projects to do on any boat-some critical and some not so critical. I have heard from many sources that a boat’s ideal use window is about 200 hours per year. If you run your boat less than that, more maintenance is required. If you run your boat more than the 200 hours, more maintenance is required. Unlike the boats that sit and rot away from neglect, the boats that get used usually get the attention they demand.
Since I have been in the charter business, I have run my old Bertram 38 about 500 hours a year. My boat has the original Cat diesels that now have about 3000 hours on them. The advice I have heard from many knowledgeable mechanics is to “run them”—they were built to be run. Due to the hours that go on the engines and the necessity to be ready to go for a charter in a day or two, I have been forced to perform most of the engine maintenance myself. Working on the engines for routine maintenance is not difficult, it is just hard to remember to do all the little things that need to be done that I never thought much about when I was a casual boater. Things like changing the pencil zincs in the heat exchanger and the transmission oil cooler—easy jobs, but if you forget to do it and the engine overheats because of a broken off pencil zinc, now you have to replace a blown head gasket which can cost $10,000 and take a week out of your charter income. Engine drive belts are another minor task most can do; lose a water pump drive belt and overheat the engine? Another expensive repair and down time. Checking hose clamps and replacing them when they get rusty, hopefully before they break and let all the coolant or oil out of the engine is another minor, but critical job.
Please don’t think that the engine room is the only place your attention is required; think about the almighty head. When it works everyone is happy; but when it doesn’t, no one wants to be aboard for long. If you are in the charter fishing business, like me, your fishing tackle has to be in order: reels oiled, leaders replaced, hooks sharpened. And your back-up tackle supplies have to be up to date so when you lose a lure or rig, you have another waiting to go into action.
So, for any reliable boat, there is much more maintenance to be done than most think. When I was running a tour boat in DC, an old friend came on the boat one day and told me how lucky I was to have such a “fun” job. I showed him the engine room and told him that for every hour I spend on the bridge running the boat, I spent three hours in the engine room performing some mundane task–not what I would call “fun”. He remarked he had never considered the attention to detail required in boat maintenance before. If you don’t like performing boat maintenance, stay away from boats!