I’ve owned and/or operated a wide range of vessels for the better part of my life. It started with a 12 foot aluminum rowboat powered by a trusty Minn Kota, and over the next 30 years progressed to manning the wheel of a 100 foot Lydia Yacht—a party fishing vessel well ahead of her time designed to accommodate 30 anglers plus crew on extended canyon expeditions. She was something special.
One thing all of these boats had in common was the occasional loose screw. I’m not talking about anything major like hatches and doors falling off their hinges, but rather the occasional loose screw found here and there. If left unattended, loose screws turn into loose hinges and loose fittings and that means potential water intrusion in unwanted areas. Loose parts also result in unnecessary noise and vibration. Truth be told, the problem is not the manufacturer’s fault, quite the contrary. Most builders do an exceptional job investing tremendous time and effort to ensure your boating experiences are as safe and as worry-free as possible. The root of the problem is actually your own fault.
This level of abuse and vibration would embarrassingly dismantle even the best-built automobile in mere minutes.
Take our own Tournament Edition 37 Strike for example. This boat is built super tough, like an M1A Abrams tank, and when I consider what I’ve put this hull through, it’s amazing the only issue is a couple of loose screws. Boats endure a severe pounding and smashing directly into and through unforgiving waves. They slam, rattle, roll and get abused from every direction for extended periods of time. This level of abuse and vibration would embarrassingly dismantle even the best-built automobile in mere minutes.
As a rule, twice annually I spend a Saturday morning doing nothing but inspecting and tightening screws. I start at the bow and work my way to the transom, and I highly recommend you do the same. Call it preventative maintenance, call it OCD, I don’t care what you call it…just do yourself a favor and do it. Above and below deck inspect every screw on every hinge, spring, handle, rod holder, hose clamp, everything. Ninety-nine percent of the fasteners will be perfect. However, every so often you’ll run across a loose or stripped screw that needs attention.
A majority of the time a screwdriver is all that is needed. However if a screw is stripped or missing altogether, you have some options. If the application permits, you can try using a slightly larger screw so the thread bites into raw material. I would be careful though, as a slightly larger screw could easily crack the material surrounding the existing hole.
If the application allows, you could substitute the existing screw for a through bolt with washer and locking nut. This would resolve the problem once and for all, providing you have adequate access and this solution works for you.
The most popular solution for a proper repair is to drill out the hole and fill it in with a quick hardening two-part epoxy like Marine-Tex® or something similar before inserting a new 316 stainless steel screw. Remember to drill a slightly larger hole than the fastener you intend to insert. The slightly larger hole will help remove any soft or deteriorated material.
After thoroughly removing any remaining debris, use a syringe or toothpick to fill the hole with the properly mixed epoxy. The syringe or toothpick is a must; otherwise you may have a surface repair with an air pocket behind it leaving the hole susceptible to future failure. You only have a few minutes of working time with fast-drying epoxy so prepare accordingly and work quickly.
Once cured, drill a small pilot hole with a tiny drill bit, then apply an adhesive sealant like 5200 to the screw threads and complete the repair. Once fully cured your connection should be tighter than a frog’s butt.
Not All Stainless Steel Is The Same
Stainless steel screws and fasteners are typically used where both strength and corrosion resistance are required. By definition, stainless steel screws do not stain, corrode, or rust as easily as ordinary steel or other, lesser expensive metals, but not all stainless steel screws are 100% stainproof and not all stainless steel screws are 100% corrosion resistant. It’s important to note that there are different grades of stainless steel to suit the environment the alloy must endure. In our world, type 304 stainless meets virtually all requirements for many uses, except repeated exposure to corrosive saltwater. Type 305 stainless also meets virtually all requirements and while it has more resistance to corrosion than 304 stainless steel, it is still not the best choice. For the harsh marine environment, screws manufactured of 316 stainless steel should be your only choice. Grade 316 stainless steel contains more nickel as well as 2% to 3% molybdenum, giving it extreme strength and superior corrosion resistance. When replacing screws, settle for nothing less.