Engage in Engine Preparedness

Posted: April 1, 2014

Don’t waste that first unexpected great boating day.

By: Grid Michal

Have you ever noticed the first perfect boating day comes completely unannounced? It’s 40 and cloudy. It’s 40 and cloudy. Add 22 more days of 40 and cloudy. Then, on a Thursday: sunny and 72! “Boss, I’m (hack, hack) sick. I’ll be in Monday, for sure.”

Your boat was nicely winterized. What could go wrong? Before 8 a.m. you’re in the garage, yanking the winter tarp off the boat, moving the wheel chocks, raising the garage door, hooking up the truck and rolling out the driveway headed for the ramp. No way this day’s gonna escape you.

As you pull out of the drive onto the street, there’s an awful sound: You slam on the brakes, get out and find you neglected to tilt the engine up. Now the skeg is bent, but not a lot. The prop is also bent, but not a lot. Two “not-a-lots” make one spectacular “awful,” trust me. Blocking the morning commuters, you try to tilt the engine, but there’s no response from the cowl button. Up into the boat, off with the console cover — no key. Back to the battery, where you discover you disconnected the negative cable for the winter. You hook it up quickly, turn the battery switch to ON, tilt the engine, turn the battery switch to OFF. You wave at all the late commuters, and off you go.

At the ramp — it’s Thursday, remember — there’s no traffic. You swing a big arc and back down the ramp as though you’re a big-rig trucker. As soon as the bilge pump kicks on, you’re grateful you haven’t released the winch, because you have to haul the boat back out to install the drain plug. Back down the ramp, release the boat, tie it to a pier post and watch the single loop on the bow cleat pop off. Retrieve the boat using a branch, retie it, toss in your safety-gear bag, park the truck and trailer, run back to the boat, jump in, tilt the engine. It won’t. Battery switch! You switch it to ON, the engine tilts ever so slowly down.

When you turn the key on, the voltmeter shows 8 volts. You call and ask your wife to swing by the nearby auto-parts store to get you a new battery on her way to work. She does. You yank the old one out, install the new, turn the key to ON. Still 8 volts. The engine barely cranks over. She got a bad battery, obviously. You jump in the truck, blaze to the same store, swap batteries, go back to the boat and hook it up. Still 8 volts. Then you notice the corrosion on the negative cable, so you scrape it clean, reattach it with a star washer and voila, 13 volts.

You turn the key again — nothing. The gauge doesn’t move and a warning buzzer beeps. The safety lanyard is dangling free! Reattach it and the beeping stops, but the engine won’t turn over. The battery connections are fine; you rechecked. It’s 10 a.m. now, and the day is waning. You study the gauges; you turn the key. Nothing. The shift lever is in forward. Did you bump it? Move it into neutral. Aha! The engine cranks over with alacrity. You’ve already expended more energy than you would have at work, so you might as well enjoy the day.

In another scenario, everything happens the same until the point where the “engine cranks over with alacrity.” It doesn’t. You squeeze the primer bulb, engage the primer, crank the engine over. God love it, it tries to catch and run, but it’s not happy about it. The combusted fuel smells awful. You remember reading on the stabilizer can — the one you poured into the tank when the boat was in the garage, just before you put the winter tarp on — that it would preserve fuel for two years. It’s only been six months, for cryin’ out loud! You take the engine cover off, shoot starting fluid into the air box and the engine starts. And quits. Repeat effort, repeat result. The gods are not with you today. You dejectedly float the boat onto the trailer, snug the winch, tilt the engine, haul it home and bemoan losing a day’s wages without a suntan to offset it.

Want to avoid these scenarios, which I see a half-dozen times a year? Last things first: Fuel stabilizer does the engine components no good unless it’s run through the engine before it gets stored. If you have a 50-gallon tank that you add stabilizer to, it will take over a day for the stabilizer to become miscible with the fuel. Then you need to run the engine to get the treated fuel through the carb jets or EFI components. Otherwise, whatever you have in the fuel system will be garbage by springtime, and nothing helps my (taxable) bottom line more than rebuilding powerheads where aged, untreated fuel was expected to function. Fuel-system rebuilding is lucrative, too.

Make a checklist for yourself. Don’t even think of leaving the driveway until your voltmeter shows a full 12 to 14 volts (your gauge isn’t exactly precise) and your warning check buzzer works. You can tilt the engine up and down. With a flush attachment on your garden hose, you can start and run the engine, bring it up to normal operating temperatures, check for functioning thermostats and a smooth-running engine. Make sure the gas fill cap is on and tight. Look for abnormal leaks coming from anywhere around the engine. Check that the boat drain plug is in, the battery cables are clean and tight, you have an up-to-date safety kit on board, the engine is in its trailering tilt position and the battery selector switch turned to OFF.

Enjoy your day off next time, Ferris.

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