How to make your pods last for­ever.

PODS ARE THE NE PLUS UL­TRA OF PROPUL­SION, BUT IT COSTS A LIT­TLE EX­TRA TO KEEP THEM SPIN­NING. ARE THEY WORTH IT? BY MIKE SMITH

Power & Motor Yacht - - CONTENTS -

In the past decade, high-tech pod drives have changed the face of power­boat­ing, and for the bet­ter. Con­trolled at low speeds by a joy­stick rather than wheel, shifts, and throt­tles, pods take most of the angst, the ap­pre­hen­sion, and, some­times, the sheer ter­ror out of close-quar­ters ma­neu­ver­ing. (Have they also re­duced the dock­ing-re­lated divorce rate among power­boat­ing cou­ples? Maybe.) Pods run qui­eter, cleaner, and more ef­fi­ciently than tra­di­tional props. The down­side is pod drives are way more com­plex than con­ven­tional propul­sion sys­tems; con­se­quently, pod­pow­ered boats cost more to buy and main­tain. But how much more, and how com­plex is pod main­te­nance? And once the num­bers are crunched, are pods worth it? Let’s have a look.

Volvo Penta of­fi­cially in­tro­duced IPS (In­board Per­for­mance Sys­tem) pod drives at the 2005 Mi­ami Boat Show; Cum­mins and ZF Ma­rine fol­lowed, one and four years later, with their own ver­sions. For the first few years pods ap­peared mostly on com­pany demo boats tested by mag­a­zine writ­ers, and re­ceived lots of press cov­er­age, most of it ex­tolling their han­dling ad­van­tages. But not many boat own­ers ponied up the cash to switch to pods. Then for­ward-think­ing builders (Tiara, Cruis­ers, Re­gal, and Sabre among them) re­designed their boats for pod power and the tech­nol­ogy be­came main­stream. To­day, pod-pow­ered boats are com­mon in any yacht yard, and qual­i­fied ser­vice and re­pair tech­ni­cians are easy to find along the wa­ter­front.

What About Main­te­nance?

Ten years ago, many old-timers pre­dicted that com­plex pod sys­tems, with their com­puter-man­aged guid­ance, fly-by-wire con­trols, and in­ac­ces­si­ble drive units tucked un­der the hull, would need con­stant re­pair and main­te­nance. And hit­ting some­thing hard at speed would strip the pods off the bot­tom as neat as you please. Okay, the last bit is true—as if run­ning over a sub­merged jetty or ground­ing hard on a shell bank wouldn’t dam­age con­ven­tional props. (And when the struts rip out, they can take parts of the hull with them, some­thing that prob­a­bly won’t hap­pen with pods.) But the rest? Not so. Pods from all man­u­fac­tur­ers have proven re­li­able and trou­ble-free, when main­tained cor­rectly.

That’s not me talk­ing—it’s Bob Pet­zold, who has as much ex­pe­ri­ence as al­most any­body sell­ing, ser­vic­ing, and re­pair­ing pod drives. He’s pres­i­dent of Pet­zold’s Ma­rine Cen­ter ( pet­zolds.com) in Port­land, Con­necti­cut, a dealer for both Sabre and Re­gal, two boat­builders that moved into pods early in the game. Pods have been “pretty darn fool­proof,” he said. “Don’t com­pare them to stern drives.” There aren’t many ex­ter­nal me­chan­i­cals, no rub­ber bel­lows or other com­po­nents to fail, he added. “Pods are ro­bust.”

Pet­zold said the most com­mon prob­lem he sees with pods is own­ers not main­tain­ing the cor­ro­sion pro­tec­tion. Although pod hous­ings are built of cor­ro­sion-re­sis­tant bronze rather than the alu­minum al­loy used for stern drives, it’s still crit­i­cal to main­tain the an­odes. Check them just like you check zincs on a shaft, Pet­zold said: Swim down and have a look. (Depend­ing on the pod, there might be in­ter­nal an­odes, too. Read the owner’s man­ual.) Plan on re­plac­ing the an­odes at least an­nu­ally, us­ing the cor­rect al­loy: Most pods use alu­minum an­odes, not zinc. “Don’t cheap out on an­odes,” Pet­zold ad­vised. Whether you have pods or con­ven­tional props, if your an­odes have short life spans, have a pro check for stray cur­rent, prob­lems with the ma­rina’s shore power, etc. Cor­ro­sion can cause ex­pen­sive dam­age, and quickly, too.

Change and Check the Oil

Other than check­ing an­odes, Pet­zold said the most im­por­tant thing to do is change the flu­ids per the main­te­nance sched­ule,

and use the rec­om­mended gear oil, or oils. “Volvo uses only one oil, while Cum­mins uses three dif­fer­ent ones in Zeus drives.” While the main­te­nance sched­ule varies some­what among pod builders, it’s essen­tially the same. Change the flu­ids an­nu­ally, or ev­ery 250 hours of op­er­a­tion. It’s bet­ter to do it at haulout, when the oil can be drained by grav­ity, rather than suck­ing it out with a pump. Drain­ing re­moves al­most all of the dirty oil, while a pump of­ten leaves too much be­hind. Some pods re­quire drain­ing. (A com­plete main­te­nance sched­ule, in­clud­ing an­nual and longert­erm items, is in the owner’s man­ual, so pay at­ten­tion to it.)

Most pods re­quire ser­vice af­ter a short break-in pe­riod at 25 hours or so. That means a haulout to re­move the breakin lube and re­place it with the nor­mal lu­bri­cant. Make sure to do this, and if buy­ing a used boat, make cer­tain the first owner did it, too. Run­ning the boat for too long on break-in oil can shorten the life of the pod’s in­nards. Ask to see the ser­vice records for the boat’s first year.

One is­sue that early pod adopters dis­cov­ered, usu­ally to their fi­nan­cial sur­prise, was the ne­ces­sity of check­ing the shaft seals reg­u­larly, and re­plac­ing them on a sched­uled ba­sis—ev­ery five years is about right for most folks. A failed shaft seal lets wa­ter into the pod, with un­for­tu­nate and ex­pen­sive re­sults. Check the con­di­tion of the seals by in­spect­ing the drained oil for wa­ter; the best way is to have the oil an­a­lyzed, said Pet­zold. “We have, on oc­ca­sion, sent oil out with no vis­i­ble sign of wa­ter, but it showed up on the test.” Oil anal­y­sis is in­ex­pen­sive—usu­ally un­der $200—and worth do­ing at ev­ery change; find­ing a bad seal early will save thou­sands of dol­lars in re­pairs. (Chang­ing en­gine oil at least yearly is a good idea, too, even if you don’t hit the hour limit.)

Pet­zold pulls the props an­nu­ally to grease the shafts, and to re­move any fish­ing line or other for­eign mat­ter on the shaft or wedged into the seal. Over time, fish­ing line will dam­age the seal, and it can score the shaft, too. (Do the same with out­boards and stern drives.) Once he’s in­spected ev­ery­thing and put it all back to­gether, Pet­zold paints the pod. “It’s im­por­tant to main­tain good an­tifoul­ing.” Pods have wa­ter in­takes, ex­hausts and other places that are invit­ing to ma­rine crit­ters, and keep­ing them out is im­por­tant. Pet­zold uses Prop­speed, or some other an­tifoul­ing paint for­mu­lated for un­der­wa­ter met­als.

The Bot­tom Line

I’ll bet ev­ery­one who’s read this far is ask­ing, “How much does all this cost?” Main­tain­ing pods is a lot more in­volved than main­tain­ing con­ven­tional run­ning gear, and there­fore more ex­pen­sive. What does a shaft-type propul­sion sys­tem re­ally need? Zincs ev­ery year, cost­ing a few bucks, a new Cut­less bear­ing ev­ery once in a while, and a cou­ple of brush­fuls of paint for the struts and rud­ders. Pods, on the other hand, need an­nual TLC, and this means skilled work. Es­ti­mat­ing the yearly cost isn’t easy ei­ther, since yard rates vary and some pods need more up­keep than oth­ers. Also, you don’t know how of­ten the shaft seals will need re­place­ment. For a ball­park num­ber, I’m de­fer­ring to a well-re­searched ar­ti­cle writ­ten by our late friend, Capt. Richard Thiel, in Fe­bru­ary 2014. Richard es­ti­mated an av­er­age an­nual cost of about $2,500 for sched­uled main­te­nance on twin pod drives. Pet­zold said he thought that was about right, even al­most four years later.

I’m a pes­simist, how­ever, and be­cause of this I’d bud­get $3,000, quite an up­charge from just re­plac­ing zincs. But who cares, re­ally? What’s another three grand, com­pared to the cost of a boat big enough and up­scale enough for pod drives? A cou­ple of tanks of fuel? Sea Ray sells the 460 Sun­dancer with twin 550-horse­power Cum­mins diesels, with ei­ther V-drive or Zeus drives; the Zeus op­tion adds $113,333 to the $1,004,768 price, ac­cord­ing to Sea Ray. How many buy­ers do you think re­con­sider up­grad­ing to pods be­cause of the ex­tra main­te­nance cost? I’d guess none.

In­deed, we’re ap­proach­ing “if you have to ask” ter­ri­tory here, and although a mag­a­zine writer like my­self has about as much chance of buy­ing a pod-driven any­thing as he does scor­ing a date with Sofia Ver­gara, I still think the ben­e­fits of pods far out­weigh the ex­tra ini­tial and main­te­nance costs. If I could af­ford ’em, I’d get ’em. We only go around once any­way, so pay the money, grab the joy­stick, and have some angst-free en­joy­ment. It might save the cost of a divorce on cru­elty-while-dock­ing grounds, too, a way big­ger bud­get-breaker than pod drives.

Joy With­out Pods

Pod per­for­mance has in­spired out­board and stern-drive builders to de­velop sim­i­lar con­trol sys­tems that can be retro­fit­ted to ex­ist­ing boats, some­thing not prac­ti­cal with pods. And there are com­puter-con­trolled, straight-shaft sys­tems that can jug­gle shifts, throt­tles, and a thruster or thrusters with a joy­stick, too, us­ing tra­di­tional split-shift tech­niques. It’s a whole new world of boathandling out there, one all of us can en­joy.

Out­boards are, in my opin­ion, the most in­ter­est­ing. It wasn’t so long ago that a pair of 250-horse­power out­boards was as much power as any non-race­boater could hang on the stern. To­day, 250s are mid­dle of the road: Triple and quad 300s are com­mon, and 400s built for ev­ery­day use are avail­able, too. Heck, Mer­cury’s Ver­ado 400R comes with a two-year warranty, even though it’s got “Rac­ing” painted on the cowl. A rac­ing motor with a warranty? And joy­stick pi­lot­ing? What’s go­ing on here? If that ain’t enough, Seven Ma­rine builds a 557- or 627-horse­power small-block V-8 con­fig­ured as an out­board motor. Joy­stick con­trol? Goes with­out say­ing: It’s got ZF Smart Com­mand 5000 drive-by-wire. Okay, the mo­tors cost about $80,000 and $90,000, re­spec­tively. And if you have to ask about price, you re­ally don’t need one.

The bot­tom line is, while pods are dif­fi­cult or in many cases im­pos­si­ble to retro­fit, the boat re­ally has to be de­signed for the pod from the begin­ning, although some V- and stern-drive boats can han­dle pods, too. Out­boards are easy. Just add a bracket and bolt them on, in­stall the dig­i­tal con­trols and joy­stick and you’re set. You get sim­i­lar han­dling ad­van­tages to pods, but with less main­te­nance—and it’s easy to find a me­chanic cer­ti­fied on Yamaha, Ev­in­rude, Mer­cury, and other brands. Only thing is, out­boards burn gas, and more of it than diesels of sim­i­lar power. But then out­boards are more pow­er­ful and more eco­nom­i­cal than ever. If you don’t like the look of out­boards, hide ’em, like Pur­suit does in its SC 365i Sport Coupe, with twin out­boards con­cealed by a tran­som hatch. Out­boards give you the pod ad­van­tage, but with­out the es­o­teric tech­nol­ogy. Sounds like another good op­tion to me.

All diesels need TLC, but pod sys­tems need a bit more.

The aft place­ment of pods has added to us­able space on board.

So­phis­ti­cated di­ag­nos­tics go with ev­ery en­gine now.

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