Autumn Narrowboat Maintenance Checklist

Regular narrowboat maintenance is essential to ensure that you operate your vessel safely and, as autumn is upon us, it’s a good time to complete those seasonal maintenance tasks.

Even if you plan to ‘winterise’ your narrowboat, the autumn can be one of the best times of year to cruise the waterways. The UK weather can be calm and still, and not too cold. The canals are less crowded than during the summer months and the British countryside can look spectacular with beautiful autumn colours. Therefore, it’s important to stay up to date with your maintenance to make the most of your cruising opportunities before the winter sets in, to stay safe and avoid any expensive repairs.

This is, of course, in addition to your daily maintenance checks, such as checking the engine oil and coolant levels, bilge levels, etc. It is not an exhaustive list, but a general guide to help you plan some of your maintenance tasks.

Depending on your level of experience, you may want to have some of the tasks carried out by professionals, or enlist someone to help you with them.

Autumn engine maintenance

Regular maintenance of the engine is important to keep it running safely and efficiently. Ensure all bolts are tight and that moving parts of the engine are greased.

Check fluid levels in the gearbox and for any signs of leaks or corrosion.

Check the condition of the drive belt. Any signs of cracks or weakness, or that it is loose, could cause the belt to fail. Also if you notice it making an unusual noise, then check and adjust it as soon as possible. Always carry a spare drive belt and if you are in doubt, replace it, as a failure could lead to expensive engine repairs.

Tighten the bolts that connect the propeller shaft to the engine. Vibration can cause them to work loose, which will result in a loss of propulsion. It also increases the risk of them shearing off. Also check that the coupling is not damaged. Replace it if necessary and check that there is no damage to the propeller shaft.

Fuel system – replace the filter and add fuel conditioner, which will to help improve the performance of diesel engines, increasing its fuel economy and reducing emissions. It can also help to prevent the growth of fungus or bacteria in the fuel tank.

Coolant system – check coolant levels and for leaks. Bleed any air from system.

Narrowboat battery maintenance

Before attempting any battery maintenance, disconnect it and wear appropriate protective clothing and rubber gloves. Inspect the terminals, remove any dirt or moisture and coat them with petroleum jelly. Top up the battery fluid, if required.

Bilge pump maintenance

Check that there is not an accumulation of water in the bilge and that the bilge pump is working correctly. If you find that there is a mixture of oil and water in the bilge, then remove it manually and dispose of it safely ashore. Do not discharge it into the canal or waterway as it is a pollutant. It’s worth investigating the source of the oil to ensure that there aren’t any leaks from the engine or fuel tank.


Ensure that all ropes are tidy and check them for any signs of wear and tear. Replace any that are frayed.

Remember that this is only a brief guide and that this list is not exhaustive.

Keep a schedule

It’s a good idea to keep a maintenance schedule for your narrowboat. Prepare a checklist of jobs to do daily, weekly, monthly, in the spring, summer, autumn and winter. Then note down when these maintenance tasks are completed and keep receipts/guarantees (and take photos if appropriate) when you have worked carried out by professionals.

Autumn is also a good time to give your narrowboat a thorough check over and think about whether any bigger maintenance jobs need to be done over the winter months. Arranging for your boat to go into a dry dock for maintenance work is not something that you want to be doing at short notice.

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