There are five words that no boater wants to hear from their marine mechanic: “We’ve got a big problem.”
That can be an expensive phrase, and one that can mean your dreams of boating all summer have turned into the reality of waiting for parts.
The best way to banish those words and prevent big problems? Treat them while they are still little problems.
“Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, a big issue doesn’t start out as a big issue,” says Adam Pederson, who co-owns Eleven North Marine with Nicole, his wife. “Motors don’t just fail for no reason. Lower units don’t just seize without a cause. Those things usually happen because something small went wrong and wasn’t fixed in time.”
The problem with fixing the small problems, though, is just that: they’re small. It takes careful attention to detail see them, and an in-depth knowledge of where to look in the first place.
Start with maintenance
Banishing big repairs starts by having your boat maintained regularly. This may seem blindingly obvious, but Adam says it’s amazing how many boaters skip it.
“You get people who have their boat winterized and think that’s all that’s needed,” he says. “But winterizing is just that – ensuring the boat can endure sub-zero temperatures. It’s not the same as a proper maintenance package.”
The level of maintenance to be done each winter depends partly on how you use your boat in the summer. At the very least, you should have the oil and some of the fluids changed every winter.
Oil and other fluids will break down over time. Some will become more acidic; others will pick up tiny particles of grit or will just lose their viscosity and become less effective at lubricating the thousands of moving parts.
“Boat motors run faster and hotter than cars do, so the fluids break down faster” says Adam. The oil needs to be changed every 50 to 100 hours – about once a year for a typical boater. However, if you’re running your boat more than that, a mid-season oil change may be a good idea.
That doesn’t need to mean pulling the boat out of the water, though. “We have service vehicles – including a service boat on Couchiching and Simcoe,” says Nicole Pederson. “We can come to your home or cottage and service the boat while it’s at your dock or in your boathouse.”
Oil and fluids aren’t the only things that need to be replaced. Over time, various components will begin to wear as a simple matter of course. Flexible parts like hoses, lines, belts, and cables are particularly susceptible to breakage.
In many cases, avoiding an issue is simply a matter of conducting a thorough visual inspection – usually while the boat is being serviced. Anything that looks worn should be replaced before it breaks.
Not everything is as easily checked, though. “Valve springs, for example, can look fine and then snap without warning,” says Adam.
That’s where the expertise of your maintenance team really comes into play. “Some motors need new valve springs every 50 hours. Others are good for 600 hours. You need to know which boat needs what.”
Valve springs are just one example: there are dozens of other components that should be checked or replaced, and each engine will have a different schedule.
To complicate things further, the same manufacturer can have different problems from one year to the next. “Over time, you learn that this model of boat in this given year was prone to having a particular issue,” says Adam. “So, when you see that boat come into the shop, you know that you should check for that problem, or just routinely replace that part because it will fail sooner than it should.”
“Adam’s been working on boats his entire life,” says Nicole. “I’m still constantly amazed at how much he knows about them.”
One of the best things a boat owner can do to keep their boat running well is to communicate with their mechanic. “Communication can really help us to spot small problems before they become big,” says Adam.
When you bring the boat in for winter storage, let the team know what kind of boating season you had. Was it a summer of tubing and wakeboarding – which puts a lot of stress on the boat – or were you mainly cruising slowly? Were you pounding across the lake in rough water or did the boat only go out when conditions were calm?
Keep notes of any issues that occur, even those that seem minor at the time. Was the boat hard to start on cold mornings? Did you hear an occasional noise you’d not heard before? Make a note in your phone so that you remember to have it checked out when you bring the boat in for the winter.
After all, fixing the small things in the winter is the best way to ensure you get to enjoy a full boating season each summer.
TEXT A. WAGNER-CHAZALON | PHOTOS ANDREW FEARMAN