Preventativespring maintenance for marine engines

Published on Thu, Apr 29, 2004 by ack Kintner

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Preventative spring maintenance for marine engines

By Jack Kintner

“Boats live in a harsh marine environment. Preventive maintenance always helps, but in the end, the salt will always win.” But Blaine Marine Services director of operations Pat Scarboro doesn’t want this dismal assessment of the future to keep boat owners from doing what they can do to extend the lives of their engines.

One thing that Blaine Marine Services, owned by Bob and Susan Brooks of Blaine, has done is to hire experienced marine mechanics who have seen virtually all the problems it’s possible to have with salt water engine operations. The Brooks’ have the only large scale marine engine maintenance facility in the immediate area, and can deal with everything from small trolling outboards to the 600 h.p. Cummins Marine diesel that powers the recently launched 70-foot steel-hulled Georgia Lee, built at Westman Marine just a few blocks down Marine Drive.

Brian Forsyth, office manager for Westman, said “We work cooperatively with Blaine Marine Services, since we do mostly structural work and they do mostly engines. It’s not only a good deal for both of us, but there’s not much we can’t offer between us.”

If you run a fishing boat or large cruiser, Shorty Grimshaw is likely the mechanic at Blaine Marine Services you’ll be working with. Grimshaw, 68, began repairing marine engines in 1964 for the Jones brothers at the old Gooseberry Point Marina, and has also operated his own shop.

When asked about the most common mistakes boat owners make, Grimshaw said that “Hoses and belts are the most commonly neglected engine part that will fail on you,” he said, “because they’re quick to become brittle and crack in a salt-water environment, and that can leave you stranded.”

The tried and true method of dealing with the ravages of salt water is to flush your engine, “preferably after each use for about 20 minutes at a minimum,” Grimshaw said, “especially if you regularly take it out of the water where the salt water residue dries out more quickly.”
He added that many customers rinse out their outboards just for the few minutes’ running time it takes to empty the gasoline out of the carburetor. “That’s a good idea,” Grimshaw said, “to run the carb dry after use, but thoroughly flushing an engine takes more time than that.”
Different kinds of engines require different kinds of maintenance. Older outboards that run in salt water often have problems with their impellers, rubber-bladed water pumps often located in the lower unit that are used to pump water into the cooling system. “Modern outboards have impellers made of more salt-resistant materials,” Grimshaw said, “but many have aluminum pump housings or other parts that will react quickly to salt water, especially if the motor is not washed off and flushed out when still damp.” Flushing out an engine soon after retrieving it onto a trailer prevents a build-up of the residue that’s otherwise left behind, something that may not show up until the following year. Grimshaw said that it’s this residue, mostly comprised of scaly salt water brine deposits, that can plug up some of the tiny orifices inside an outboard motor.

Exhaust manifolds are the weak points on inboard installations, Grimshaw said, especially where cast iron fittings are used. “Salt water attacks different metals in different ways, but with cast iron, often used for the elbows that connect hoses in the exhaust system, it produces more scale.” Flushing the system as often as practical is still the best way to prevent damage according to Grimshaw, “hopefully when it’s still wet after you pull it out of the water.”

“Lots of people don’t think about engine maintenance until the last minute,” Grimshaw said, “but think of it as taking a little time and spending a little money now so you don’t have to spend as much time or money later.”