Are You Ready?

The first launch of the season should be a happy occasion, not a disaster in the making.

In the automotive world, “CID” stands for “cubic inch displacement” — e.g., the GM 5.7L engine is 350 cubic inches. It means the same thing in the marine industry, too. Come each spring, however, for mechanics, CID stands for “Customer Induced Disasters.” Two of the best examples of the alternative CID when it comes to outboards are starting and steering.

Dad lines up the boat at the ramp while Mama and progeny stand aside and let the driver show his skill. Generally that skill evidences itself in either dropping the trailer off the side of the ramp or off the end of the ramp. Same thing: somebody’s gonna get wet. The boat gets launched and pulled over to the pier where the guests board. The skipper lowers the engine and cranks it, but the battery is too dead to be effective. He borrows a jump-box, hooks it up backwards and blows the main fuse. Meanwhile, Mama’s thinking, Somebody in this boat sure ate a bunch this winter, because the boat seems lower than last year.

Dad comes back with a new fuse and rearranges the jumper cables, which are barely effective because the battery posts are white with corrosion. Somehow, it starts. It won’t continue to run, but by golly it sure starts nicely. Keeping the key pushed in to engage the primer, Dad engages reverse and turns the steering wheel, which doesn’t turn. Mom comes forward to keep the boat level. Dad puts the same pressure on the wheel that he uses on his childproof medicine caps, and sure enough, the wheel turns. But the engine doesn’t.

Back to the pier where everybody exits while dad goes to get the car and trailer. While he’s gone, Mama and the kids watch the boat sink to the bottom. Adding insult to injury, the Game & Inland Fisheries officer gives the owner citations for life jackets still in containers, no fire extinguisher, wet flares and blocking a public launch ramp (with a sunken boat). If you think I’m kidding, spend a few Saturday mornings at a public launch ramp.

What could have prevented this sadly laughable event? First, Dad should not have bowed to pressure. He should have mandated that anybody who wanted to boat that weekend could help prep the boat. In the scenario just presented, the owner forgot to install the drain plug. Worse than that, over the winter snow and rain built up in the bilge and froze. The automatic bilge pump kicked in and stopped trying to pump when the vanes broke on the impeller. Then the bilge pump ran until the
battery was dead.

If the owner had angled the stored boat up higher at the bow and let the water run out, the bilge pump would not have been affected at all. The removed drain plug should have been tie-wrapped to the ignition key.Capture

The previous year, the owner’s steering had been getting more difficult and he didn’t deal with it. Like knees, shoulders and hips, these things do not get better by themselves. This time, wrenching down on the steering wheel exacerbated the problem, not helped it. If the owner had separated the steering ram from the steering tube last fall, ground out the rust in the tilt tube and lubed the ram, stuck steering would have been a non-problem. For real prevention, one of those greasenuts that screws on the tilt tube would have prevented all that nonsense.

Why was Dad having difficulty starting the engine? The connections at the battery terminals were making it impossible to carry the 12 volts from the battery to the starter, because even though the owner had installed a new battery the previous year, the terminals had wing nuts on them, loosening enough to leave room for corrosion, dirt, fish goo and oil to seep between the cables and the posts, which created a loss of connection. When that happened, the starter brushes burned, the starter ceased operating and he added another $600 to his Visa statement. The battery cables should have been tie-strapped POS and NEG before removal from the battery, then each wire or cable end sanded (to remove any sand residue) — ditto for the posts and nuts with lock washers, or lock-nuts, installed when reinstalling the wiring.

The last tank of fuel run through the engine should have had a proportionate amount of Seafoam run through it before the boat was put away for the winter. In addition to the aforementioned mechanical preventions, keeping the fuel system clean is paramount to turning a day in the water to a great day on the water.

If you didn’t take time to put the boat away properly, then take the time to fix everything before the first launch. I don’t care who it is, boat owners aren’t lucky enough to have a good beginning to summer without preparation.