A lot of us have neither the time nor the expertise to keep up with things under the engine box. One option is to retain the services of a mobile marine technician. Our company ski boat needed servicing so we contacted Li’l Bull of Bull’s Inboard Marine Power (BIMP), Orlando, Florida. Guys like Bull show up in your driveway, or in some cases, can diagnose the problem over the phone. “I don’t charge then,” says Bull. “Most symptoms point to a specific problem the clients may be able to fix themselves, or at least I can give a firm estimate if the job turns out to be what I diagnosed. ” This sort of specialization also means that with only a certain number of makes of engine to work on, he’ll almost always have a required part in the van with him. “I won’t touch an outboard motor, and on an I/O, my work stops when I get to the transom.”
Ordering a specialist to come and work on your boat may seem somewhat extravagant, but consider this: Bull told us his average ticket for what he considers a major tune-up is about $385 for parts and labor. You’ve invested $20,000-$32,000 in purchasing your boat. If all is running well and a general tune-up is all that’s required once a year, that’s $32.08 per month to protect your $30,000 investment!
Bull has seen just about every kind of problem that can develop on just about every type of skiing inboard ever made. Beyond the utter disregard some people have for running and maintaining their boats’ engines, not much surprises him anymore – except the rats and snakes. “Up under that cover it’s a critter’s paradise, especially for rats. I don’t know why, but they just love to get at the boat’s wires and chew ‘em up.” Another good point: When storing the boat for an extended period of time, make sure the cover is lashed down tight.
“Proper maintenance can make all the difference in the world,” Bull told us. “One boat I regularly service down by Kissimmee, Florida has logged over 4,700 hours and it compression-tests as good as anything right out of the crate. Probably the worst thing you can do is a dry start – you know, running the motor while the boat is out of the water. Without the benefit of cooling water circulating around, the almost instantaneous heat buildup, no matter how slight, is damaging to so many parts.
“Even the best-tuned, best-maintained engines should be started gently, when the boat is in the water, and then allowed to warm up completely before you even crack the throttle past idle. Oil pressure needs to come up and bathe all those expensive-to-repair internal components. Water needs to circulate freely through the cooling system and purge out all the air that interferes with keeping things cool. Even if something is going to break, it’s best it lets go at a low speed so collateral damage is kept to a minimum. When parts break at high revs, the shrapnel goes flying everywhere, multiplying the damage and, of course, the repair bill.”
Sometimes, all it takes to keep your boat in tip-top shape is a small matter of common-sense prevention and a practical approach to tracking down problems – exactly the sort of thing that separates the experts from the rest of us.