TROUBLE SHOOTING ENGINE FAILURE ON THE WATER
Problems with your I/O or sterndrive engine? Here’s what you can do to get running again far from shore.
The only situation that is worse than a broken down engine is a broken down engine on the water. Your plans are replaced with trouble shooting, determining the solution – and if it’s an issue beyond fixing right then and there – finding a tow back to shore. Even though a malfunctioning engine may leave you bewildered, trouble shooting and finding the fix is sometimes easier than you realize.
“A lot of the times when customers call us when their engine won’t start, it’s something very basic,” says Rylan Pfob, Marine Service Manager for Malibu Marine in Kelowna, BC. “We walk through a standard trouble shooting procedure over the phone and a lot of the times, it’s less serious than what they thought.”
Some of the Most Common Trouble Shooting Tactics Include:
• Ensure the Throttle is in Neutral. If it is, move it into gear and back to neutral. Sometimes gears don’t set properly.
• Is the Safety Lanyard Connected. A safety lanyard can disconnect due to a lot of movement and once it is, you’re not going anywhere.
• Check the Fuel Level. Fuel burns fast during watersports or long cruises. Ensure there’s enough to last the day and monitor the fuel gauge.
• Inspect the Battery Connection. Ensure the connections are clean and tight. If there’s corrosion between the terminal lug and battery, remove the lugs and scrub it with a wire brush. Also, inspect the terminals on the back of the battery switch.
• Make Sure the Gauges are Working: If the gauges are not responding, it usually means there’s no power getting to the dash or key switch. This could mean a blown ignition fuse, a bad circuit breaker, a loose harness plug, or malfunctioned key switch. With a little digging, inspect the main harness plug on the engine. Sometimes, the pins in the socket don’t make contact. Clean the pins and socket holes.
• Do a Visual Inspection. If you’re lucky, the problem is staring right at you. Check all electrical connections, hoses, and belts to make sure everything has a firm fit.
Beyond the basics, it could be any number of serious failures (which also means a tow) such as the fuel pump, raw water impeller, a broken belt, or an electrical failure, to name a
few. What’s more, it’s pertinent to become familiar with your engine and its performance. This means studying the user manual(s), running the boat regularly and recognizing problems early such as lack of engine power, backfiring or not achieving top RPM.
“We catch a lot of things during annual service calls and it’s worth the scheduled maintenance,” says Pfob. “For instance, if we detect water in the drive oil, we are able to fix the issue for a few hundred dollars. Yet, if it goes undetected and a gear blows, it could cost around $10,000. It may seem like a high cost initially, but you will save a lot of money and headaches in the long run.”
Pfob explains that some of the common problems are after winter storage – when a boat and engine have been idle for several months. So, spring maintenance is essential. Poor running characteristics, water leaks, faulty electronics, worn or damaged components are all common items that can be detected early in the season.
“A boat commonly goes through an odd cycle as it’s used constantly through the summer, then sits for months in storage,” says Pfob. “Issues also arise from not running the boat enough and even though they are not used, engines and components still endure wear.”
Potential Problems Might Include:
Dead battery(s): Even with battery isolator switches, a battery can lose all power even with the switch off as the bilge pump still operates to get rid of excess water from common leaks through hull fittings, worn hoses, or rain water. The pump automatically turns on if the water gets too high and if the boat is left long enough it will drain the battery.
Overheating: If an impellor is not used enough (and left in a stationary position in the pump housing) the impellor veins deform and won’t operate properly, thus limiting the amount of water required to cool the engine.
Corroded Electrical Engine Components: Boats are typically in a humid environment and if starters, alternators, or relays are not operated regularly, they can corrode and fail to operate.
Water in Fuel: Today’s fuels typically have some percentage of ethanol, which absorbs moisture, which then accumulates in the fuel tank. Over time, it can cause poor engine performance and shorten the life of the fuel filter or injectors.
“It all comes down to understanding your engine’s operation,” says Pfob. “We recommend doing an oil change once a year and staying on top of the general maintenance by having a qualified marine mechanic work on the engine or address issues as they arise.”
Engine issues also arise from not running the boat enough. Even though they are not used, engines and their components still endure wear.
“We catch a lot of things during annual service calls and it’s worth the scheduled maintenance,” says Rylan Pfob, service manager of Malibu Marine in Kelowna, BC.
Establishing a scheduled maintenance routine may save a lot trouble throughout the season.
Maintenance at your local marina or dealer also includes drive inspections.