Keep on run­ning

Boat break­downs are on the rise, so what can you do to avoid be­com­ing one of the in­creas­ing num­ber of stranded boaters?

Canal Boat - - Technical -

Sur­pris­ingly, there were 4,552 call-outs to River Canal Res­cue in 2016, peak­ing at 144 per week – a to­tal rise of 12.1 per­cent over 2015 when there were just over 4,000, peak­ing at an av­er­age of 140 per week. And if cur­rent trends are any­thing to go by, call-outs for 2017 are likely to be higher. Up to the end of this April RCR at­tended nearly 1,000 call-outs, and in April alone there were 100 more break­downs than April 2016.

The main is­sues in 2016 were fuel (in­clud­ing in­jec­tion pumps, lift­pumps or in­jec­tors), elec­tri­cal, not in­clud­ing bat­ter­ies, cooling, bat­ter­ies, ca­bles (in­clud­ing Morse con­trol is­sues), al­ter­na­tors, gear­box and drive­plate fail­ures, starter mo­tors, al­ter­na­tor belt re­place­ments and fouled pro­pel­lers.

Here are the top five is­sues and how you can help pre­vent them


Con­tam­i­nated fuel due to diesel bug and wa­ter con­tam­i­na­tion ac­counted for most fuel-re­lated break­downs. In its mildest form it ap­pears as black dust or soot, at its worst, it’s a black slime or jelly. Once in the sys­tem it clogs the fuel sys­tem and stops the en­gine work­ing.

The use of ad­di­tives will pre­vent the bac­te­ria from grow­ing and kill any­thing

that might be form­ing in the tank, but more se­vere cases (or when the fuel sys­tem is blocked) will re­quire a diesel bug shock treat­ment.

Blocked fil­ters and fuel con­tam­i­na­tion due to dirt and de­bris in the tank mak­ing its way through the fuel sys­tem also caused a large num­ber of break­downs – that can be eas­ily rec­ti­fied through reg­u­lar check­ing and ser­vic­ing and a num­ber of mari­nas now of­fer fuel pol­ish­ing ser­vices which will clean fuel with­out hav­ing to treat or dis­pose of the con­tam­i­nated fuel.


These is­sues were mainly caused by lack of at­ten­tion to elec­tri­cal con­nec­tions. Wires com­ing away or cor­rod­ing is a com­mon fault, so vis­ually check and look for loose con­nec­tions or dis­con­nected wires be­fore you jour­ney and use a wa­ter-re­sis­tant spray or petroleum jelly to stop damp get­ting into elec­tri­cal com­po­nents such as iso­la­tors and block con­nec­tors.


The most com­mon cause is due to an air-lock in the sys­tem which is sim­ple to re­solve. To check whether this is the is­sue, feel the top and bot­tom of the swim tank; if ev­ery­thing is fine there should be a dif­fer­ence in tem­per­a­ture, if not then both top and bot­tom will be hot or cold. To rem­edy this, un­screw the bolt on top of the ‘swim’ tank which will re­lease any air in the sys­tem. Overheating can also be caused by many is­sues from a coolant hose rup­tur­ing, (look for leaks) a wa­ter pump fail­ing or an al­ter­na­tor belt shred­ding (which drives the wa­ter pump) or, in the worst case, a head gas­ket fail­ing.


Caused by mis­un­der­stand­ings around what bat­tery to use, elec­tri­cal ca­pac­ity and charg­ing. For ex­am­ple, link­ing a leisure rather than a crank­ing bat­tery to the starter sys­tem could leave you with­out power when you need it most.

The two dif­fer­ent types of bat­ter­ies are de­signed for dif­fer­ent re­quire­ments. The crank­ing bat­tery is the same as fit­ted to most ve­hi­cles and de­signed to de­liver a fast, high, out­put. It dis­charges and charges back to full ca­pac­ity quickly. Leisure bat­ter­ies are de­signed to de­liver a lower out­put con­tin­u­ously and will main­tain ca­pac­ity as long as they are charged reg­u­larly.

As a gen­eral rule, each bat­tery in the bat­tery bank re­quires two to three hours charg­ing to get back to full per­for­mance once fully dis­charged, as­sum­ing it’s in good con­di­tion.

If the wrong bat­tery is used, the sud­den surge of power needed to start the en­gine can quickly drain a leisure bat­tery which will even­tu­ally lead to its fail­ure.

Some ‘leisure’ bat­ter­ies sold in the marine mar­ket are mod­i­fied starter bat­ter­ies and their per­for­mance, while suit­able oc­ca­sional boaters, can be un­re­li­able for more fre­quent users. For liveaboard and fre­quent users, it’s worth­while in­vest­ing in true leisure bat­ter­ies.

Each bat­tery cell can af­fect the whole bank, so if one cell’s wa­ter level drops to be­low 50 per­cent, it will af­fect the bat­tery ca­pac­ity and bring the bank ca­pac­ity down to the same level, ir­re­spec­tive of how good the other bat­ter­ies are. This is one of the best rea­sons never to mix and match bat­ter­ies. Al­ways re­place the whole bank of old ones with new ones.

Sim­i­larly, bat­tery ter­mi­nals shouldn’t be for­got­ten – if they’re tight and greased they’ll de­liver a good con­nec­tion. One loose ter­mi­nal will cause en­gine fail­ure and usu­ally the main earth­ing cable (con­nected to the en­gine bed) is the cul­prit.


Cable is­sues are pri­mar­ily due to ex­po­sure to the el­e­ments. They only have a cer­tain life­span which means that if they’re not used reg­u­larly, they’ll rust. So grease the ends of the cable if leav­ing the boat for long pe­ri­ods and al­ways check the op­er­a­tion be­fore set­ting off; if there’s any rough­ness or stiff­ness then it might be time to pick up a new one. When fit­ting, make sure that any bends are as min­i­mal as pos­si­ble as these will be the ar­eas which suf­fer high stress and are likely to fail.


If you don’t un­der­stand the work­ings of your en­gine or fail to ser­vice and main­tain your boat, then it’s likely at some stage, you’ll end up stranded. Lack of en­gine knowl­edge, gear­box/drive­plate fail­ures, al­ter­na­tor is­sues and faulty al­ter­na­tor

belts, starters, pro­pel­lers and cou­plings ap­pear to be re­spon­si­ble for their fair-share of call- outs. In the ma­jor­ity of cases, the ‘emer­gency’ could have been avoided with a lit­tle know-how, by giv­ing the boat a ‘once-over’ or sim­ply car­ry­ing spares.

Know your en­gine – most own­ers be­lieve the only way to turn off a boat’s en­gine when the switch fails (in­vari­ably caus­ing a panic) is to turn off the fuel. How­ever, most ves­sels have a man­ual stop but­ton or lever on the right-hand side of the en­gine, half­way down. Us­ing this in­stead of the fuel shut off will al­low you to restart and con­tinue on your jour­ney with­out hav­ing to bleed your fuel sys­tem.

With some en­gines fail­ing to stop or be­ing ‘com­pletely dead’ and not start­ing is down to a con­nec­tor. To re­solve the is­sue, lo­cate the wiring loom that runs across the top of the en­gine and look for a ‘bulge’. Peel back the rub­ber cover­ing and you’ll find a block con­nec­tor – sim­ply pulling it apart and then putting it back to­gether should rec­tify things.

If that doesn’t work on a ‘dead’ en­gine, it could be the iso­la­tion switches. If they’ve been left ‘idle’ for a while cor­ro­sion can build up, so sim­ply try switch­ing one way and then the other, or spray with WD40 be­fore you set off.

Bilges: if they are full of oil and wa­ter it will be thrown over the en­gine – or into it which can be dis­as­trous – as well as the starters and al­ter­na­tors. It also tends to af­fect drive­plates if the oil/wa­ter mix­ture gets into the bell hous­ing.

Gear­box/drive­plates – If you hit an un­der­wa­ter ob­ject, the drive­plate is usu­ally the first ca­su­alty. The good news is that if you dam­age it, the gear­box is likely to be okay. But gear­boxes do tend to re­ceive a fair bit of abuse, so go easy and ser­vice them reg­u­larly.

Al­ter­na­tors: con­tribut­ing fac­tors to al­ter­na­tor fail­ure range from poor bat­tery con­di­tions re­sult­ing in the al­ter­na­tor work­ing harder to charge the bat­ter­ies, to bat­tery man­age­ment sys­tems that over­work the al­ter­na­tor to keep bat­ter­ies con­tin­u­ally charged. Ul­ti­mately, one of the big­gest is­sues is that al­ter­na­tors op­er­ate in a damp, hot en­vi­ron­ment, which is not healthy for any elec­tri­cal prod­uct.

Al­ter­na­tor belts: al­ways carry a spare, and be­fore set­ting off de­velop a rou­tine which in­cludes check­ing their con­di­tion. Sim­ply twist the belt and if there are cracks or the edges are start­ing to look ragged it’s time for a new one. ‘Squeal­ing’ from an old belt is usu­ally an in­di­ca­tion that a re­place­ment is needed. If it’s from a new belt, it needs ad­just­ing.

Cou­plings: reg­u­larly check that the bolts con­nect­ing the pro­pel­ler shaft to the en­gine are tight; if they work loose any move­ment will ei­ther sheer them off or make the cou­pling bolt holes ob­long, pro­duc­ing a ‘de­layed’ drive. Even­tu­ally the cou­pling will need to be re­placed, and you might even have to change the prop­shaft if the cou­pling has dam­aged it.

Drive­plates take a bat­ter­ing

Check prop­shaft cou­pling bolts

Re­lease this bolt to get air locks out of the sys­tem

Check en­gine con­nec­tors

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.