Boat maintenance tips for the frugal sailor

DIY Hardware stores are usually much cheaper, and the products sometimes just as effective
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The holidays are coming and down at the marinas and out on the anchorages there'll be many a sailor 'messing about' on their boat. Working on your own boat saves money and is a great way to spend a day if the weather allows. But the equipment can be very expensive, so whether you're frugal because you don't have the cash or frugal because you have other priorities, here are some great tips to keep your boat budget down:

Tip No. 1: Keep away from marine stores as much as you can:

After spending 32,000 nautical miles on the water with a sophisticated charging system and gel batteries, if I had to sail remote again, and maybe even locally, next time I'd just get truck batteries - cheap, easily available, and simple.

Always look for non-marine alternatives, because they often do the job just as well, particularly if corrosion and the salt-water environment is not a problem. Many plumbing parts, for instance, are just as good as their marine equivalents. Clothing is another one - sometimes you can acquire yachting clothes - gloves and sailing shoes or sandals for instance - at a fraction of what you will pay in a marine store.

Naturally, electronic equipment needs the marine grade, as does the rigging - don't stint where it really matters.

Yacht for sale
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Tip No. 2. Does it have to be new?

Read the notice board at your yacht club regularly and occasionally you'll find a real bargain, sometimes something you really need. Visit your best local website that buys and sells, and search for what you want.

Good used sails can be re-cut, or you might be lucky and find one that fits.

Often eBay has some great boat-gear deals by auction, and if you're not used to the process, watch for a while until you become comfortable. The end of the sailing season is often a time when things are sold very cheaply.

Zac up his mast
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Tip No. 3. 'Do It Yourself':

A couple of years ago we found that the forward deck was pumping when we used the staysail. On getting back to the marina, we decided the solution was to fasten the inner forestay to the keel.

The quotes proved prohibitive.

It was the local Sunsail respresentative who scoffed, 'Do it yourself!' 'You're kidding - that's complicated, that's difficult!' 'No it's not I'll tell you how.'

After a few visits to the chandlery, and some sweating below decks, the job was finished and the deck has never pumped again.

You may not have a friendly and knowledgeable Sunsail representative around when you need him, but you can find almost any information online, often written by sailors who have creatively devised ways to avoid buying expensive gear. We even found a low cost watermaker (diagram shown below) that was pretty simple to make and cost a fraction of what a commercial watermaker will cost.

DIY watermaker
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Tip No. 4. Look for Free or Low-Cost Alternatives and keep trying:

Don't just head into the marine store and buy the new gear. Every time you have to put your hand in your pocket, think about how you could do it alternatively.

Bellinghams - a low-cost alternative
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For instance, do you really need original paper charts? If you have a long voyage in mind that can get VERY expensive. Bellinghams, for instance, have been reproducing quality black and white navigational charts for over 36 years. This alone will save you heaps.

Online, you simply might astonished at what's available as low-cost or even free alternatives. Take the time for some online searching and talk around. Here are some examples being used by many crafty, thrifty sailors:

Never buy tide and current tables any more. They're free online. Search for what's available for your area, but there are some programs that cover the complete world.

Most weather is now free online - just make it a favourite in your iPhone or computer.

Diy repairing the headsail
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Tip No. 5. Join a forum:

Start talking to other sailors online, particularly where they are talking about gear. Cruising sailors are the most helpful collaborative sailors in the world, and always ready to share their information. As you go on you'll learn all sorts of ways to get gear cheap or do projects yourself.

Most groups are open to new members, and many have searchable archives of past messages. If you're new to all this, it's simple just to join, monitor messages for a few days, and then query the group about where to find used or cheap gear.

Sometimes even Googling the problem that you have, eg. 'autohelm sticking' or 'cheap windvanes' ot whatever is the short version of the particular challenge you want to overcome.


Tip 6. Be a bower bird:

If you're a minimalist you're going to hate this tip - Never throw boat stuff away. Save every stainless steel screw, bolt, nut, and washer you remove from old gear. Save the wire cords from old electronics. Save every fitting, fixture, and scrap of teak or plastic from things you’re dissembling or replacing. It doesn't have to be chaos.

Organize everything in cheap storage boxes or shoeboxes, labelled if you like. Over time, this stuff will save you heaps of money and time and that frustrating trip to the marine store for the right size bolt or piece of wire.