The One-Hour Mechanic
Perform these ten quick and simple checks now and increase your odds of enjoying a trouble-free boating season.
Well, it’s that time of year again, when those of us forced by meteorological privation to put away our favorite toys can begin thinking of retrieving them from the alien landscape and putting them back into the water where they belong. Yes, even though it may be cold and white outside, it’s time to think of spring recommissioning.
This is usually where this column launches into a step-by-step explanation of how to get your boat ready for the season. But truth be told, as a Power & Motoryacht reader, you’ve probably been through enough of these exercises that any such exegesis will result in boredom, if not unconsciousness. So, confident in the belief that you know how to recommission your fresh-water system, install your batteries, and touch up your bottom paint as needed (or know someone who does), I’m going to try a different tack this year.
I’d like you to consider a spring launch as the ideal opportunity to do 10 quick maintenance checks that you know need to be done but probably won’t do once fiberglass meets water. Now’s the perfect time to perform these inspections because you’ll be on the boat anyway but probably unable or unwilling to actually go anywhere. I promise the whole lot will cost you no more than an hour, and require neither mechanical aptitude nor special tools—if you can operate an adjustable wrench, nut driver, and flashlight, you’re ready to go. Do them now and you’ll have 10 fewer things to worry about during the season, and if you do find something that needs attention, chances are it can be addressed without cutting into your precious boating time.
1. Engine mounts. Shine your light on them looking for loose or corroded fasteners and cracked or otherwise deteriorated rubber.
2. Drive belts. Push down on them; if they don’t deflect about a quarter of an inch they’re too tight and may cause premature bearing wear; more than half an inch, they’re too loose and may slip. Grasp the belt and twist it so you can see the underside. If it’s shiny or cracked you need a new belt.
3. Zincs. Remove each, and don’t forget those in your marine-gear oil cooler. My rule of thumb is to replace any sacrificial anode that is more than 20 percent gone. I dab red paint on each bolt end to make it easier to locate next time.
4. Through-hulls. Even synthetic seacocks can seize up if they’re not occasionally exercised, so give all of yours a few good swings from full-open to full-closed. If after doing so they don’t move freely, they should be rehabbed by a competent mechanic. If you have bronze seacocks with grease zerks (grease fittings), hit them with a grease gun and then open and close them a few times.
5. Hoses. Coolant hoses have a propensity to fail at the most inconvenient times, so now is when you should check them by looking for abrasion or other damage. Squeeze them. If they’re firm and pop back into shape, they’re probably fine; if not, replace them. Look for signs of weeping or leakage.
6. Hose clamps. Repeated thermal expansion and vibration can cause hose clamps to eventually loosen, and not all clamps are impervious to corrosion. Visually inspect each clamp for signs of oxidation and then tighten it using your nut driver.
7. Fuel-water separator. You check the clear settling bowl in your fuel-water separator every time you fuel up for signs of water and debris, right? No? Well this is a great time to shine your light on that bowl and make sure that the fuel in it has a consistent amber color. If it doesn’t, drain off the crud until it does, and then make a note to check it again after a couple of fill-ups. If the problem repeats, you may have contaminated fuel tanks. Oh, and if the fuel in the bowl is dirty, the separator’s particulate filter probably needs replacement.
8. Exhaust system. A leak in the exhaust system is rare but not unheard of. If you’ve got one you should be able to see clear evidence of it. Repairs are a job for a pro. And while you’re at it, make sure all that shiny heat insulation is intact and in place.
9. Ignition system. If you’ve got gasoline engines, make sure the spark plug wires and boots are clean. I wipe mine down with a rag dampened with clean paint thinner, though any mild solvent will do. If the rag comes away black, it’s a sign that the rubber has deteriorated and the wires need replacement. Pay special attention to the spark-plug boots. If they’re brittle or cracked, it’s yet another sign that the wires need replacing.
10. Shaft seals. Most new boats have dripless shaft seals that are maintenance-free, in theory. Give them a visual inspection with special attention to the water-supply line off the engine. If this line leaks or becomes detached, the bearing will overheat and may seize, while the tube will continue to pump water into your bilge—not an optimal combination.
To learn more about Seamanship check out our Boaters University course, Fundamentals of Seamanship: Navigational Rules.
This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.