Preparing the boat for offshore

Preparing your boat for offshore

We have heard a lot of cruiser talking about the many problems they had when they go sailing offshore and encounter some heavy swell or even worst, bad weather; books flying all over the cabin; water getting inside from many different places, making the interior of the boat an ice skating ring; bilge pumps that malfunction; and many other things that can go wrong will. Many cruiser admit that the lack of preparation was the major cause of most of the problems, the other reason was lack of preventative maintenance. This is what could happen if the preparation is not done to the tee. We also had problems, during our first offshore passage from Toronto Canada to Oswego NY on Lake Ontario in 1999 we got hit with gale force winds and sleet in the middle of the night approximately half way to our destination, as a result we almost lost the mast overboard, it was laying horizontal on wooden crutches, the wind generator and the solar panel also came apart and dangled by the heavy electrical cables that connect them to the batteries below and then on another occasion the same year during our passage from NY to Bermuda, we had an accidental jibe that broke most of the cars on the traveler, as a result we had to wait 3 weeks for parts to arrive while in Bermuda. Since then we have been more focused on our safety and the make preventative maintenance a priority.

Since then we always draw up lists, one for things to inspect and then from that we make another list of things to fix, upgrade or not to use during an offshore passage. From the following you can also draw up a list and make the necessary repairs, replacements and or maintenance as required.
Keep in mind that we do not do all the items mentioned below if we have just been offshore a month or so before, your boat may have been hooked up to shore and only out a few times a year, so going through the whole list will be a good idea but if your boat is being used offshore for extended periods of time and everything is working fine than you may eliminate some of the inspections. It all depends on usage as wear and tear is unavoidable.

If Boat is on the hard inspect and maintain below water line as follows:

1) Anti-fouling condition: Touch up or re-coat if necessary.
2) Remove raw water bronze intake strainers, clean and paint anti-fouling inside up to the sea-cock, the inside of the strainers and grease sea-cocks from the outside an also from the inside. Reassemble the strainers with plenty of caulking, clean off excess caulking and coat with anti-fouling when caulking dries.
3) Check transducers, clean if necessary.
4) Check cutlass bearing and replace if necessary. There shouldn’t be any play when pushed and pulled side to side by the propeller.
5) Shaft seal check condition of stuffing box, replace if it has gone very hard.
6) Inspect and adjust castle nut on prop shaft. Replace cotter pin.
7) Check rudder and bearings associated with it.

If boat is in the water dive and inspect only,

If you find anything not sea worthy you will need to haul out and repair on the hard. But just keep in mind that hauling out just to re-coat or even touch up anti-fouling may not be worth it at your present location, therefore you may need to scrape it and wait till you are somewhere that is more cost effective. In this situation you will have to use your own judgment, taking everything into consideration.

Inspection above the waterline with boat in the water:

1) Start from the waterline up, look for anything that is not the way it should be, the hull may need a good cleanup, but that is just an option that can be done anytime especially if planning to haul out.

On deck inspection:

1) Chain plates; scrape any caulking from around where the chain plate goes through the deck and perform a thorough inspection, if you have access to a inspection company have them do a die check, this will show any cracks and or porosity which would indicate the start of crevice corrosion, replace or repair if necessary;
2) Deck hardware; hatches that leaks, water coming inside the boat on an offshore passage can be very demoralizing. A pressure washer may come in handy for this inspection. Have someone below decks and look for water seeping from chain plates and other deck hardware, hatches etc… Repair as necessary.
3) Windlass should be taken apart, cleaned and all gears re-greased, gear oil replaces, check and clean power connections at the motor and solenoid. If you plan to anchor you will need this in top shape, or you may have to haul your heavy anchor and chain in a hurry by hand.
4) Anchor rollers for free movement.
5) Anchor chain and all connecting shackles and swivels.
6) The anchor itself would need to be inspected for cracks in welds and material itself.
7) If you have a wind-vane make sure it is in working order especially if you depend on it for steering the boat offshore. Grease all bearings and gears. Replace control lines if necessary.
8) Lifelines need to be inspected for any fishhooks, inspect the swage or other terminals for signs of cracks and loose parts, replace or repair if you feel it is not safe, lifelines are not meant to take the weight of a flying body across the deck they are there to slow you down and at worst to hang on to if you happen to slip overboard and manage to grab it at the same time, they are there to give you a better balance, but never trust them offshore. Tape the turnbuckles where there may be a snagging of sail or lines while sailing, you do not want to be going forward during heavy weather to un-snag lines.
9) Grease all winches at least once a year.
10) Check all fair leads making sure all blocks run smooth, a bit of WD40® will work wonders.
11) Inspect pedestal steering, grease gears and bearings as necessary. Most bearings can be replaced with off the shelf bearings, which are cheaper than if you get them from the pedestal manufacturer. Also inspect the below deck part of your steering system, especially with cable systems that tend to get loose and may need adjustments. If you have a hydraulic system check for oil leaks, these can have a detrimental effect on the operation of your steering. You may have to replace the cable/s or replace the oil and hose fittings if you have the latter. If you see the ram oily it means that the internal seals are breached and they will need replacing. Check the engine control making sure everything is greased and working properly.
12) Running rigging; look for chafed lines especially once going through fail leads and blocks, replace if necessary.
13) Turnbuckles; look for frayed wires at the swage, if one wire is broken close to the turnbuckle you will need to have this replaced.
14) If you have a dodger, that you keep up offshore, I know that many cruisers like to have this up offshore as it gives a lot of protection from the elements, having the plastic clear is of vital importance especially for night watches.
15) Manual bilge pump; make sure that this is working and that nothing can impede on its operation, you never know when it will be needed. This could be your last resort at saving yourself and the boat.
16) Navigation lights: open all navigation light fixtures at deck level, remove all the light bulb and clean all the contacts, once they are cleaned spread some dielectric grease on all the contacts, re-install the light bulbs, do a quick test, replace any burnt light bulbs and put the covers back on.

Mast inspection:

1) We already mentioned the deck level turnbuckle inspection, but now we go above the deck to the top of the mast. You will need to take with you some tools and dielectric grease and DW40®.
2) Standing rigging: look for fishhooks all along the whole length of each wire, replace if necessary.
3) Running rigging: while you are being hoisted up the mast check the running rigging for chafed lines.
4) Spreaders: check all connections to the mast also check the ends where the Standing rigging goes through. In some modern boats you may have turnbuckles at the spreaders, these will need to be addressed.
5) Steaming light: while half way up inspect steaming light as previously mentioned (sec:On deck inspection-16)
6) Radar; Check connections and mounting bracket.
7) Tangs: Check all tangs for cracks as best you can while dangling from the mast. Check standing rigging attachment points to the tangs; look for missing or broken cotter pins and frayed wires at the swages.
8) At the top: check antennas, wind instruments if available, and navigation lights, clean and lubricate all connections.
9) Blocks and sheaves: Check for free movement and lubricate.

Down below:

1) Engine: besides your regular maintenance, check operation if need get a mechanic to diagnose and problems that you may have notices. Check also the movement of the Morse cables and adjust if necessary. If you notice oil in the pan below the engine trace it and rectify as it will only get worst with time. Keep the engine compartment clean and organized, as you never know when something is going to go wrong.
a) Engine mounts: These should be changes periodically, as per manufactures recommendations, they can easily be replaces one at a time while in the water. It is a little more difficult to replace with a “V” drive transmission as you will need to push the shaft through the transmission and then after you are finished you will have to slide it back in place.
b) Engine electrics: check, clean and lubricate all wire connections.
c) Belt and pulleys: adjust and or replace the pulleys for the alternator and the main pulley.
d) Check and or replace the internal cooling system (max every 5 years)
e) Check the raw water pump impeller.
2) Pumps: not everyone has a lot of pumps but in any case you will need to check cable connections and impellers or diaphragms for breaks or wear.
a) Clear any debris from bilge pumps
b) Clean any float switches that may be hampered by foreign object or stuff one stores in the bilge.
3) Head: change the soft kit as required.
4) Stove: check for leaks in the hose and hose connections, make sure alarms are working. Fill up your tanks before heading offshore.
5) Storage: if you have not been out offshore for a long time make sure everything is put away, place foam where you think items may come into contact with one another especially glass and pots and pans. It is very annoying when the boat starts rolling from side to side during a run downwind while you are trying to have a couple of hours sleep during your off watch time. Rest is very important on a long passage and the noise from things banging into each other every time the boat heals from one side to the other can be nerve wrecking.
6) Heavy weather gear: Clean and dry and have it ready for easy access.
7) Clothing: prepare all the attire you will need in a convenient dry place ready to wear when you need it. It can be very cold offshore even in mid summer. We had to wear many layer during the night while sailing in the med, this is also through when crossing the Atlantic in the lower latitudes.

The above-mentioned inspection is not all that is required for an offshore passage but it is what makes the boat sea worthy and comfortable for everyone on-board.


1) Navigation Instrument are to be checked for functionality
2) Radios: SSB will be at the bottom of the list even though we depend a lot of it but it really is not going to jeopardize our safety unless we need to send a mayday signal from far out offshore. Having said that we personally find it very useful to send and receive emails, get weather via Airmail through Saildocs or form Southbound II and keeping in touch with other cruisers who maybe out of VHF range.
3) VHF radio: this is more important as you will likely use it to hail ships offshore when you think you may be on a collision course or when getting close to a marina and you may need assistance.
4) If you are using a laptop for your navigation, make sure everything is working and clean up the hard drive to speed up the processor. Make sure that you have all the paper charts handy for the area you will be traveling in.
5) GPS: not many cruisers use the sextant any more, even though most of them carry one on-board all the time, the GPS has become an integral and one of the most used navigation tools and it would be foolish not to carry a spare. We carry three on-board our boat, one is hooked up to the laptop we use as a plotter and the other hard wired in the cockpit. We have sailed over 30,000 nm and we never had to take the sextant out of the case. We do plot everything on a paper chart so that if something where to happen to the batteries, we can dead reckon or use the sextant the rest of the way or until the problem is solved. Therefore check the connections and lubricate them to prevent moisture from corrosion.
6) Last but not least are the battery banks: clean and lubricate the connections making sure that the connections at the posts are tight. Also top up the fluids and test for bad cells. If you have gel batteries that are questionable, turn all your incident lights and let the butteries drop to zero volts then and for a final discharge short the post together with a metal object, then start charging, this will eliminate most of the sulfide build up on the plate and your gel batteries will be almost like new. The last gel batteries we had on-board lasted for over 12 years, during that time we performed the procedure a couple of times. The reason we replaced them was that we where to head out for an extended cruise and it was cheaper and easier to buy from Canada then having them die when in Europe where it costs too much to replace.

The above-mentioned inspection is not all that is required for an offshore passage, boats are different from others and the responsible sailor should use his/her own discretion when preparing the boat for offshore, know all the intricate parts of your boat always helps in an emergency offshore when now else is around to assist you. Regular and preventative maintenance will also shorten the check list so that you can concentrate on other things to do before heading out. This in my opinion is what makes the boat sea worthy and comfortable for everyone on-board.

There is off course the provisioning, mail forwarding, food preparation for at least the first few days offshore makes it easier on the cook if he or she get a little mal de mar during the first few days. But this is another subject therefore I will not get into it at this time as it is beyond the scope of this article.

Mario Borg