This Article is By Roger Olsen, author of Plot Your Course To Adventure, available for sale at his website plotyourcoursetoadventure.com
The following only applies to Fiberglass hulls and some wooden parts.
Where applicable, I refer to a page in my book: Plot Yourself to Adventure, How to be a
Generally aluminum masts are painted with a two-part linear polyurethane. This
is a durable paint and will last many years without problem. The problem occurs when
there is a dissimilar metal used to fasten hardware or where there may have been a pin
hole in the spray paint job. Normally, the problem you will see is only cosmetic and can
be resolved by sanding and the effected area and re-painting that area.
- Look for blistering around the fasteners. Remove the fastener and bed it in lanolin grease of commercial bedding compound for aluminum
- Look for any sign of a “kink” or “dimple” in the mast or boom. This could indicate a possible weak spot.
- Look for massive corrosion around the mast base. This indicates saltwater setting around the base of the mast
- Look for any signs of cracks in any welds.
- Check to see if there is any sign of fatigue where the spreaders meet the mast.
- Check that all sheaves work freely
- Look for cracks where the clevis pin passes through the mast tang for the standing rigging.
Normally the standing rigging is stainless steel wire. The places of concern are the chainplates and the wire terminals
Chainplates: The most important thing to look for is that the line of pull on the
rigging is directly in line with the chainplate. That is, if the chainplate comes
vertically up and the pull on that plate is at an angle, there is going to be a
problem with fatigue. Also, look for any signs of fatigue where there are bends in
the chainplates. (Page 137)
Terminals: There are many different types of terminals. Normally they are of
little problem. If the wire is swaged or any of the “apply yourself” type, look for
hairline cracks at the top of the terminal. If it is Nicro Press then look for broken
wires at the bottom of the thimble. (page140)
Wire: Most standing rigging is made of 7 X 19 Stainless steel wire. The wire
rarely goes bad but it can fatigue where it passes into the terminal. It is rare if
ever that a wire will break anywhere along its length. So look for a broken wire at
the terminals (Page 138)
The running rigging on a boat is difficult to determine if it is in good
condition or not. Since it is not an expensive item, I would not put a lot of concern in this.
However, look for frayed ropes where it passes over a block or hard spot.
Sail material will outlast the thread used to sew it together. So the first thing you
look for is broken stitching. Many times there may be a thread that is broken due to
rubbing or catching on something. This is not bad stitching. If you see places where
there are breaks in the stitching, apply a little pressure under the thread further away to
see if it breaks easily. Do not do this close to where it is broken because you may simply
pull out the thread from where it is broken.
Fiberglass hulls come from a female mold. Most molds on quality boats are finely
fared so there are no bumps or dimples in the mold. If there are, every boat manufactured
by that company will have the same dimples or bumps.
- Look for unusual ripples, bumps or dimples, even small that would indicate repair. Also look for different colors in gel-coat in localized areas.
- Osmosis is the most serious problem on fiberglass hulls. These can be serious or only cosmetic, depending on the type of osmosis.(Pages 109-120).
Minor Osmosis: This type of osmosis is often referred to as gel-coat osmosis. If
the bubble is removed, there should not be any actual fiberglass cloth or material
showing beneath the blister. This is not structural and can be individually
repaired if it is not severe or all the gel-coat can be removed and epoxy applied.
Note that a common problem that occurs is when a boat is epoxy coated over the
polyester resin gel-coat and the sanding is not perfect. The epoxy barrier coat can
separate from the gel-coat in spots. This type of problem is usually localized to
areas or widely spaced.
Major Osmosis: A more serious type of osmosis is large blisters, usually the size
of a plate. When these are ground open there is actual lamination exposed. This
is a result of improper lay-up of the hull. This type of blister, if extensive, can
actually affect the safety of the hull.
Keel or Ballast
If the ballast is internal, there is little to be of concern. However,
if it is external or bolted on, be careful. (Page 94-98). The main concern is to
inspect the keel bolt so see if there is any weeping of water around the nut or any
excessive amount of rust. Also look for separating of the keel from the full
indicating hitting something at speed. Unfortunately, this can only be inspected
while in the water or when hanging in a sling because the boat sets on the keel
when out of the water.
There are two type of through hull fittings, Standard thru-hulls
where the valve is fastened to the hull by the threads on the thru-hull tube. The other is
an actual Seacock where the valve is bolted through the hull before the thru-hull is
installed. (Page 374)
1. The Thru-Hull should be a seacock. The reason is it is impossible to break off
from inside the boat. The standard thru-hull is supported only by the thickness of
the thru-hull wall after the threads have been cut. If the boat has standard thruhulls,
consider replacing them with seacocks.
2. On all thru-hull fittings outside the boat, look for bright spots that would indicated
electrolysis taking place. The problem is, cheap boat builders may use brass
under the water which has zinc in it and will fall apart if there is any electrolysis.
3. The Valve. The valves themselves are usually ball type of gate type. The ball
type is closed by a lever turning at 90 degrees. The gate valve is close by turning
a knob like a water faucet. Ball valves are superior to Gate Valves because Gate
Valves usually have brass parts in it that will freeze or fail.
Deck: Most fiberglass boats have fiberglass decks with a core to give it rigidity (Page
126-130). The real concern is if the core gets rot in it. This can be serious but not
necessarily structural danger.
1. Using something small and hard like a large pocket knife or small hammer, tap
the hull where there is a possibility of rot or separation of the fiberglass from the
core. A definite hollow sound will indicate a problem. If the are is localized it
can be repaired easily. If it is a large area, the top layer of decking fiberglass may
have to be removed to repair.
2. Places to look for rot or de-lamination: Look where any screw or through bolt has
been installed. Look are areas where the windlass is installed, the mast passes
through the deck, where cleats are installed through the deck
Wooden Areas: Wood on a boat can have dry or wet rot. This can be serious if the boat
has structural parts made of wood or it can be minor if the wood is cosmetic. The best
way to discover rot is to use an ice-pick to see if the wood is soft. However, this will
cause a hole and permit water to enter the wood. A non-destructive method is to tap the
wood with a handle of a screwdriver. If there is a hollow sound, check to see if the wood
is soft by applying pressure on the spot.
Places to look for rot:
1. Check anywhere there is a screw or bolt installed in the wood. This would
include cleats, leads, tracks, etc.
2. Look where any water could possibly stand like in corners.
3. Look under port lights and windows for water that could have entered under the
4. If the boat has bitts or Samson Posts, check the wood where it passes through the
deck and under the deck.
The Engine and Shaft:
Most diesel engines have definite signs that there is a problem.
If these signs appear then you should consider finding a mechanic to properly check out
the engine. Diesel engines are made to run for ever so the number of hours it has been
run has little to do with its condition. It is more important that the engine oil and filter
are changed regularly and a good diesel additive is used to keep the fuel and injectors
Look for the following conditions:
1. If the engine starts quickly is a good sign that the injector and injector pump is
working properly. If it takes a long time to start does not necessarily mean
something is serious but it does mean that it should be checked out by a mechanic.
2. Before running an engine make certain the engine pan or area under the engine is
clean. After running the engine for awhile, look to see if there is water or oil
under the engine. Again, this is not necessarily serious but it should be looked at
to find the problem
3. When a diesel engine first starts, there will be some smoke because of the
excessive amount of diesel used to start the engine. Diesels are made to run warm
so until the engine is up to running heat (usually about 150 to 170 degrees) there
might be some smoke. Also when there is a sudden burst of throttle, there might
be some smoke because of excessive fuel entering the cylinder before the engine
can fire and gather RPM. So after the engine is warm, run her up to near full
RPM to see if you get smoke. If you get a little white smoke, it could be dirty
fuel. If the smoke quickly disappears it could be steam. If the smoke is black
then it is burning oil.
4. Check to see if there is plenty of water coming out the exhaust. There might be a
little white smoke which is normal. If there is excessive steam, then the engine is
overheating because the water is getting too hot to cool the engine.
5. If an engine has the occasional knock is not necessarily serious. This can be
caused by something in the fuel or even water in the fuel. However, it the knock
continues, then there could be a problem. However, most knocks are from
improper burning of fuel or bad fuel. Regardless, a good mechanic should
6. Excessive vibration at idle could indicate too low of an idle adjustment or bad
7. When the engine is in gear, try to look at the shaft to see if it is wobbling or is
8. When the boat is out of the water, shake the shaft where it enters the hull. It
should not move about. If it does, the cutlass bearing needs replacement. This is
a minor problem.
9. On a trial run, add speed gradually to see how the engine sounds and vibrates at
different RPM’s. If there is anything other than expected, there could be a
10. Check to see if any water is dripping or entering the boat where the shaft enters
the inside of the boat. This is not a serious problem but something that should be
11. Check to see of all the hoses are in good shape. You can usually tell this by
squeezing them along the length to see if there are any definite soft spots.
12. Look for rust around host clamps that could indicate a leak in the hose or the
Most electronics either work or they don’t work. There is no way of telling
how long it will work properly. I would like to mention that today’s electronics are built
to last a long time. The primary problem that occurs on a boat is a bad connection.
Many expensive electronics have been replaced when only a good cleaning of
connections could relieve the problem.
- Roger Olsen