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.

Suncruiser Okanagan - - CONTENTS - BY STEVE FEN­NELL

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.

Pre­ven­ta­tive Main­te­nance

“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.

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