Maintain-ability. I’ve been thinking about this a bunch lately. Building systems or designing particular items so that they can be maintained as needed.
Okay, I certainly get that space is tight on boats. But shoehorning equipment into places — or picking equipment without a thought about how it will need to be serviced — is just asking for trouble. Necessary maintenance won’t be done if it’s nearly impossible to do (see Cory’s story about just that).
We have always prided ourselves on keeping our boat in great mechanical shape. She may not always be the prettiest boat, with shiny brightwork, but everything works.
But man, sometimes designers make that hard. Three things come to mind. One we’ve figured a way around; one caused an injury and one was just hard as hell to work on.
This isn’t a rant. Honestly, it’s not. It’s more of “things to look at as you’re looking at boats.” Considering maintainability when comparing a couple of boats may make one suddenly look a lot better than another. And overall ease of maintenance will make your cruising much more enjoyable, both as it will take less time and things will work the way they should.
So, you’re wondering, what are the three things?
Battery compartment. There’s the battery compartment on our Gemini catamaran. Batteries go in under the nav station, then are slid forward under another locker. To put batteries in, you have to sit on a step and then lift them straight out in front of you. Not easy with something that weighs 50 to 70 pounds. Then, once they’re in place, one is impossible to reach to add water.
Literally impossible. The only way to add water would be to disconnect all the batteries, remove two from the battery compartment and then slide the third one out where it could be accessed. Then put them all back in and dreconnect them. Not gonna happen on a monthly basis.
Now, we got around the watering problem with a wonderful watering system that makes adding water to all our batteries about a 5-minute job (read about Easy Battery Watering). But if friends hadn’t told me that such a thing existed, we would have had to go with AGM batteries (lithium would be another choice now).
Engine compartment. I swear, the engine had to be installed and then the cockpit installed around it. The sides of the engine are accessed by removing side panels to the engine compartments. Fine except that to do any work you have to lean in over a quarter-inch piece of fiberglass that digs into your ribs. It still hurts after putting a pillow over it. And when Dave last went to change the zinc on the heat exchanger, he moved just wrong and badly bruised his ribs.
There’s a designer out there who never thought about how you’d get to many of the engine components. So you have to think about these things before you plunk down your money. How will you change the oil? Transmission fluid? Tighten the alternator belt? Change the alternator? Go right on down the list.
Same for pumps, water hoses, wiring. Can headliner be easily removed to get to things hidden behind it? Wall panels?
Steaming light. This one we discovered over the past few days. Now any light is going to need the bulb changed periodically. It’s a given. And we all know that doing any work up the mast dramatically increases the difficulty. First, it can be hard to have any leverage or get to “just the right spot.” Screws and nuts can be dropped — and the smaller they are, the more likely. And there’s no table or work surface up there — you’re usually using one hand to keep you in place, so there is only one hand for the work.
Well, our steaming light was out. Seems simple enough, just change the bulb. But guess what? To change the bulb, you have to remove the fixture from the mast, then remove two tiny screws from the back of it so that the lens can be removed. Actually, when you remove those screws, the lens just falls off — hope you had your hand in just the right spot to simultaneously grab the screws and the lens!
Again, this thing is sold as a masthead light. It’s not like they didn’t know someone would be in mid-air trying to change the bulb. I realize that it has to be waterproof, but I think it could be designed a lot better.
Bottom line. We like our Gemini catamaran, and part of its attractiveness is its price. And every time we discover something like this, we repeat “The Gemini was built to a price point.” In other words, $5 here and there adds up and choices were made based on cost.
But maintain-ability was sacrificed. It’s something to look at in comparing boats. And every used boat is different in what previous owners may have done, so you can’t assume that all boats of the same make are good, or poor.
It’s important to note that most surveyors don’t look at maintainability. If you’re buying your first boat, you might want to specifically ask the surveyor their thoughts on access, or even pay a mechanic for their assessment.
No boat will be perfect. But it’s nice to know where the challenges will lie.