Most people think they are taking good care of their engine if they flush it out after using it in salt water and take it to a trained professional once in a while. But because marine engines operate in such a harsh environment, a more proactive approach is needed. In other words, don’t wait for something to break before you know there is a problem.
Prop Check on Aisle 5
Pull your prop once in a while and check for fishing line wrapped around the shaft, which can cause damage to the seal and reduce performance. Inspect the prop itself for visible damage, but also check the rubber hub to see if it looks twisted or melted by friction. To see if it’s a spun hub waiting to happen, mark the hub and the prop with an indelible marker line that matches up, then take your boat for a short ride. If the lines no longer match when you get back, the hub is spinning. Take it to a shop to have it rehubbed.
Peek Under the Hood
Owners of four-stroke outboards and inboard/outboard engines should routinely pop the cowling off or look under the engine hatch to check the oil level. But don’t stop there. Everyone should routinely perform a more thorough visual inspection of the engine (including two-strokes). Even if you’re as mechanically inclined as a Swartzentruber Amish girl, you are still capable of noticing things. And what you are looking for is anything out of the ordinary — but to know when something is wrong, you should be familiar with what it looks like when things are right. It helps to inspect your engine after it’s been running.
For outboards, a special area of interest is water intrusion. If water is present, a bad seal or a loose cowling latch could be the problem. Next, check anything made of rubber: Belts, hoses and wires should be checked for cracks or signs of excess wear. Track down oil or water leaks using the residue they leave behind.
A Quart Low No Mo’
If your mechanic is the one to notice the engine’s fluids are low, you’ve fallen asleep at the wheel. There is no more critical task than checking your lubricant and coolant (for closed cooling systems) levels. You might not think you can learn much by checking the oil, but there’s more to it than just its level. Smelling the oil and looking at its color in bright sunlight can tell you if it’s old or if there is undue friction happening inside. When you change the oil, look for excess metal shavings at the bottom of your drain pan or on your magnetized drain screw. And do you know the proper level for your engine oil? If you answered “to the top of the line” and you own a Yamaha, you’re wrong. Engineers at that company say it should be one-third to a half-quart low, because overfilling is a bigger problem than being a little low. The motto: Read your manual.
Book It, Dano
Few boaters actually keep a detailed record of their boat’s maintenance, opting instead to “wing it.” Get a yearly planning calendar, then sit down with your owner’s manual and write down when you should perform the various service items throughout the year. Also write down anything that is done to the boat, and you will have a plan for taking care of the most important thing in your life … oops, sorry, dear, didn’t see you … I meant your second most beloved thing.
Beauty Is Skin Deep
Many boaters give their outboards a quick hose-down at the end of the day and call it good enough. Every so often, depending on how exposed to the elements it is, give the outer surface a good wax and buff with carnauba-based wax. Don’t forget the lower unit, but don’t wax the prop unless you plan to never untie your dock lines. Use touchup paint to fix nicks, and pay special attention to bolts, because different metals such as stainless and aluminum can corrode when in contact. Lubricate the tilt ram pistons, and raise the motor up and down a few times to make sure it is functioning properly.
What do racing teams do when they want to see if everything is tip-top? They take the boat for a ride and check the performance numbers. After filling your fuel tank (to keep the weight constant), take a ride with a notebook, a GPS and a stopwatch. Measure the boat’s time to plane and to 30 mph, and then run it up to its top speed and note the rpm. Why? There is no better barometer for your engine’s health than getting some measurables to gauge your boat’s performance. When you go for top speed, trim the boat up until you hear it ventilate, then trim down slightly to get the best number. Keeping a log will tell you if performance has been reduced, which could point to something being amiss and might allow you to correct a small problem before it becomes a big one.