Friday, January 27, 2012

Boat Maintenance PT I

A Dirty Dozen for your Fishing Boat PT I

I have seen plenty of service and maintenance items that most of us might think aren’t really all that important.

We would, of course, be wrong. I have assembled a series of things that can sometimes be taken for granted and overlooked for annual service. We’re not talking about dings in the gel coat, torn upholstery, broken livewell pumps and stuff like that, we’re talking about things that have a tremendous potential impact on your safety, reliability, fuel-economy and trouble-free operation.

Let's call it the “Dirty Dozen” – and today, let me share a half-dozen with you.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind


If you do not have one, get one, NOW! Many boaters do not even know if they have one on their boat or not. Many dealers commit a monumental travesty to their customer by not recommending or installing them on delivered boats. Clean fuel is the lifeline of today’s technologically advanced outboard engines. Contaminated fuel is the number-one single service problem that we find in our shop. The sensors monitoring the fuel delivery system on your fuel-injected outboard go haywire when water gets introduced into the mix.

Many boat owners seem to have the belief that if a fuel/water separator filter is mounted on the boat that they are good to go and protected forever. Not true! These filters need to be serviced and inspected on a regular basis. They do filter water out of your fuel but they also capture it while doing so. Once that capture capacity is reached any additional separated water goes directly into your engine. At that point you no longer have any protection from water entering your fuel system.

We recommend that you replace these filter elements yearly or sooner, especially if the exterior of the element is rusty. It is an easy do It yourself Job. During the boating season, we recommend that the filter be inspected monthly, removed and the contents dumped into a quart Zip Loc freezer bag so that you can get a visual snapshot of your fuel condition. Turn the bag 45 degrees to form a corner. Any water will now be readily visible; you will see a clear line of separation between the two liquids as they separate due to their different viscosity. If there is no water or contaminants present, put the contents of the bag back into the filter element and screw it back on to the filter head assembly.

Just like an oil filter, a little oil should be applied on the rubber seal prior to re-installation. If the fuel sample is contaminated, dispose of the bad fuel and put fresh fuel into the filter before it is re-installed. When working on a fuel filter we recommend that you pre-run your engine prior to performing any work. By doing so you will be assured that your fuel delivery system is fully charged. A fully charged fuel system will allow the engine to run long enough after the canister element is replaced for the vacuum of the fuel pump to refill the canister element. Tech Notes: Please exercise caution and good sense when working with gasoline and dispose of it properly.

If you have one of the new style “clear bowl” filter elements manufactured by Racor you do not have to remove the filter element to inspect for water. Any water that this filter separates is instantly visible in the clear inspection bowl on the bottom of the filter. It has a handy twist drain on the bottom which allows for the water to be removed into a small jar or zip loc bag. These units cost a little more, but are well worth the cost as they are the “state of the art” in fuel filtration. They can be purchased as a kit that will retro fit most standard fuel filter head assemblies. This is money well spent because the consequences of not having a good quality filter are far outweighed by the benefits.

Flares – Be sure to check the expiration date, they only have about a 3 year service life. Even though your outdated flares may be in good working condition you will still get a citation from the Marine Patrol if they are expired. Replace with new ones but save the old ones in your emergency supplies kit. We hope you never need them but they have saved many lives. If you venture offshore be sure to get both handheld flares and aerial flares.

Fire Extinguisher – Check to be sure it is fully charged. If it is not it will not pass Marine Patrol inspection and you will get a ticket. Buy a new one before that happens because the ticket is a heck of a lot higher than the $15 to $20 you will spend at our ship’s store. If you are ever in the situation where you have to discharge one, you would pay many times that amount. It’s prompt use in an emergency situation can save you and your boat.

Water Pumps – Should be changed out at least every 2 years minimum. Yamaha now recommends changing them yearly and our recommendation is to do so if a lot of your boating involves running your engine in sand and muck. Impellers also develop a “set” over time and will not pump as much volume to the engine. A failed water pump is the #1 reason for a total stranding as documented by our service department.

Thermostats – Should be changed when you change out the water pump impeller. Today’s outboard engines are finely tuned machines and the temperature they operate at is critical for proper performance and reliability. In fact, some of Honda’s newer engines run at 3 different temperatures as part of their design. Marine thermostats are similar to what you find in automobiles with one exception; around here they run in saltwater and suffer the consequences of early deterioration and failure. This means they must be changed much more than those in your automobile.

The fact that today’s fuel injected outboards depend so much on a clean fuel supply for their proper operation is an issue not taken lightly by the engine manufacturers. Most manufactures provide additional protection to their engines within the design of their fuel delivery system. Most of these filters are not readily changeable and are buried deep in the bowels of the fuel system. There can be filters on both the low and high pressure sides and they can require some disassembly to access. A savvy do it yourselfer can perform most of these tasks but if you do not trust your skills take it to the dealer. We stock most of these filters and we will be glad to provide you with a parts breakdown to assist you in your efforts. Check your maintenance manual for the schedule for changing out these filters on your boat. If you run offshore a lot you should spend special attention to the maintenance of these filters, their failure can leave you stranded a long way from home.

We often find that these filters can become a cause of failure when engines start to get increased operating hours on them. Age in the field also has a lot to do with it. Typical failure is a collapse of the element as the filter media becomes so clogged that it can no longer pass fuel. They can fail prematurely if the onboard fuel/water separator filter system on the boat is neglected or non-existent. The engine mounted filters then do a job they were not designed for and this can lead to premature and often catastrophic failure. This is another reason that you MUST HAVE a good quality fuel/water separator system on your boat and it should be properly maintained. Are we sounding like a broken record here? Good!

Please pay special attention here as we consider this a safety issue. Have your hydraulic steering system bled and inspected yearly. Air is man’s best friend but a hydraulic steering system’s worst enemy. Air in a hydraulic steering system diminishes performance, response and can lead to a total loss of steering. Today’s hydraulic systems are very complex with a myriad of hoses connecting autopilot pumps, power steering pumps and even liquid tie bars. All of these create extra connections where leaks can occur that can lead to decreased steering performance.

Also pay attention to your steering cylinders that are mounted on your engines. Occasionally inspect the outer seals where the chrome steering bar exits the cylinder. If you notice fluid here you have a problem that must be addressed immediately. After a day on the water, be sure to clean these chrome rods with soapy water to remove any salt residue that might lead to pitting and premature failure of the seals. Make it part of your regular boat cleanup routine. You will want to carefully inspect the back of your steering helm for leaks, as well as all of the connector fittings.

A properly bled steering system is a tight steering system, when you push on your motor it should barely move, if it moves more than a little you are probably a candidate for a steering re-bleed. You can bleed your steering system yourself but we recommend that you bring it to a dealer who has a Power Purger which is a machine that pumps fluid into the system and removes air at the same time. A single station rig can be bled in less than half an hour. The addition of power steering pumps and autopilots on some boats require a more complex bleeding sequence and for these setups we only recommend the Power Purger system.

Water, water everywhere! Except in your batteries. What’s with that? The water level in your batteries must be checked on a regular basis. Check them even more often if you have them hooked up to any kind of automatic charging system. Regardless of what the charging system manufacturer advertises, check your water! Improper electrolyte levels are the #1 cause of early battery failure.

Battery connections on most marine batteries are usually made with the wing nuts. The problem with wing nuts is that most people think they are sufficiently tight when they cannot tighten them any further. That is when you get the pliers and tighten them yet again. If you can remove your battery wing nuts with your fingers, they are too loose. Plier Tight Please! You cannot believe how many boaters come in here thinking they need a starter when all we had to do was tighten the battery connections. Tech’s Note: If you remove your batteries be sure to bundle the wires together with a twist tie to be sure they go back on the same way and that polarity is verified before reattachment.

In our next Post: The Dirty Dozen, Part II.