Discover the engine checks you need to in order to keep her ticking over nicely

Regularly checking your engine is a key job for any boat owner. After all, the last thing you want is to be left stranded out at sea because of a problem that could have been easily prevented.

Carrying out these simple and regular checks will help to flag any problems early on and hopefully reduce the risk of your engine from failing when you’re halfway across the Channel. Our three helpful hints at the bottom could also mean the difference between needing to contact the local coastguard or not.

To avoid such scenarios, there are several checks you need to complete every time you use your boat.

Before you set off

Sometimes it can be exciting to jump onboard and head out to wherever your heart desires but it’s important to give your engine a quick once over in order to avoid any problems further down the line.

1. Start by checking the bilge and engine for any oil leaks or an excess of water

2. Give the cooling water piping a quick once over for signs of perishing, corroded or weeping hose clamps

3. Check the fuel level – a number of rescues occur because there isn’t enough to begin with

4. Check the fresh water coolant level

5. Remove the engine’s dipstick and check the level of lubricating oil. If you’re running low, make sure you top it up before heading out

6. Before starting the engine, make sure the throttle controls are all in neutral

Starting the engine

Once you’re happy with your pre-departure checks, there are a few more to complete once you’ve started the engine.

1. Ensure your cooling system is circulating correctly. If your exhaust ports are above the water line then it is fairly straightforward to do, if they’re below the waterline, it can be a bit trickier. If your water strainer in the engine room is partly transparent, you can check it for signs of water movement. Placing a floating object, such as a ping-pong ball in this will make it easier to tell if the water is moving.

2. Check your engines hoses, cooling and fuel systems and make sure you can’t see any leaks

3. Finally, listen. If your engine doesn’t sound right or is making unusual vibrations then it could be a sign that there is a problem under the hood. It’s wise to keep an ear out throughout your trip and make sure there isn’t a change in engine note between when you start and finish.

4. During your journey, keep an eye on gauges and warning lights onboard. Your engine’s oil pressure should stay around 60psi when moving, while your voltmeters should be around 13V or 26V depending on whether your engine has one or two voltmeters respectively. Once your engine is warm, the temperature should be showing between 80-85°C.

Switching off

Before turning your engine off at the end of using it, let it run in neutral for a few minutes, as this will enable the cooling system to dissipate the build-up of heat.

Other helpful tips

  • Should you run into any problems when using your engine, a good user manual will advise you on the best course of action to take so make sure you keep it on you
  • Carry spare engine parts such as filters, hoses and gaskets on board
  • Keep an engine toolkit onboard so you can do any simple repairs yourself without having to call for help
  • Finally, get to grips with how to deal with common engine problems so you’re not left completely unprepared should anything go wrong

There are plenty of practical guides on the jobs, including these helpful videos form Motor Boats Monthly.

  • Bill Lionheart

    One or two voltmeters? Did they mean 12 or 24v system. Makes no sense as it is. Also “isn’t enough in the engine to begin with” hopefully most of the fuel is in the tank not the engine. This web site needs a copy editor by the look of it!