Thursday, May 31

Boating In-Season Check List

By Andrew Spaulding, Editor Lakeside Story

Well, by now most of you have your boat in the correct marina (thanks NATO) and the boating season has started. Proper maintenance of your boat is a 12 month process which in the summer means keeping track of your equipment and systems. Identifying issues before a failure will often lead to repairs so we can help you save an important weekend trip or vacation later on in the summer.

What to check? There is a long list of things to check, so I like to break the list down to manageable bit size lists. Each owner will have a personal preference of how to break there boat up into sections which is fine. After all the object is to make easy so that you will do the chore. I usually breakdown the things to check by system (fresh water, cooling water, electrical, air conditioning, hydraulic, black water, grey water, etc.) and by section of the boat (forward cabin, heads, port main cabin, starboard main cabin, navigation station, helm station, cockpit, main deck, etc.).

When each one of these areas comes up on the list, I inspect it thoroughly and make notes regarding any issues found or things noticed. Divide up your list so that you make the whole round trip though the list twice each season. Notice that each section of the boat will hold a portion of a system or two and each system is found in more than one area of the boat. So if you get through the list twice, you have actually checked that area multiple times.

So, we have a list and we know when we are going to check the list…great…what now? I give you a few examples (please do not consider this a complete list in any way) of what you are looking for when you are checking a system or section of the boat. If you haven’t done this before, the first time through the list make sure that you have your manuals and owner instructions in a logical place. In the front of your notebook or system manual make notes of equipment model and serial numbers and the number of operating hours if applicable. This is the start to proper system maintenance.

Fresh Water System: Start at the tank(s). If your tank has an inspection port, open it and inspect the inside of the tank for sediment, mold and odor. Make sure the hose clamps are tight at the tank fittings. Check the pump and hose connections. Tighten the pump mounting bolts. Most small boat water pumps vibrate loosening mounting hardware over time. Check faucets, shower heads, and washdown stations for drips and leaks.

Electrical System: Measure the battery voltage at the batteries with a multi-meter. Standard electrical panel dial gauges can be significantly off. I had one once that was a whole volt off that led to all sorts of problems. Check grounding straps, the electrical panel for loose connections, battery switches, test any 120VAC GFI outlets, test CO and smoke alarms. Check all the lights and other electrical switches. 

Air Conditioning: Check the cooling water inlet valve and strainer tighten hose clamps; inspect hoses for chafing as the pass through bulkheads and stringers. Clean any air filters. Check the unit for icing and make sure there are no kinks in the outbound cooling water hoses.

Sections of the boat: Check all the stuff that you cannot see. Check for evidence of leaks, cracks, bad odors, tighten hose clamps, exercise through-hull seacock valves, Check for chafe on wires and hoses; also check them for kinks or bends over sharp edges. Make sure wires at secured and wire terminal are clean of corrosion. Check terminals for broken wire strands and missing wire insulation. Clean up any dirt and debris that you find, so that on your next inspection of this area it will be easy to notice any changes.

Of course, with such a big topic I cannot cover all of the things to check on your boat. Hopefully, my few examples will be enough for you to make up your own check list. I am available for an onboard consultation where we can go through your boat stem to stern to make your checklist. Email me at to set an appointment.

Thursday, May 24

Pre-Start Engine Check

By Andrew Spaulding and John Staniszewski
Email: and

To start the season it is important to make sure that you are giving the engine a proper check over before you start it. Further, it is a “best practice” to check the fluid levels, belt condition and engine pan before engine start up. The first two fairly self-explanatory, but why check the engine pan? You want to check it for any signs of leaks, drips, or debris. 

Obviously, keeping the engine pan clean is the key factor to make this check work for you. Any thing under the engine that wasn’t there last time can be a clue to a developing problem. Water, oil, antifreeze, fuel, black dust or soot all point towards the beginning of a problem. By making regular checks of your engine room, hopefully you can identify a situation prior to it causing an emergency.

Water can come from a leak in the cooling system or water ingress through a thru-hull or the shaft log. Oil can come from the transmission or the engine. Black dust can be from the belts and accumulated dust can be an indication of misalignment or other excessive wear. Soot can be from an exhaust leak which can be very dangerous because we think that we can smell the exhaust. However, carbon monoxide (CO) is odorless and it can be a killer in confined spaces. Detecting a fuel leak early is very important since explosive vapor can accumulate in the bilge.

Antifreeze under the engine can be a sign of a cooling system leak or it can be due to overheating. Now, it is important to remember that if you do not have an overflow (expansion) tank for the cooling system, it is likely that you will get some antifreeze to come out of the cap the first time the engine is run for a long period of time after a fluid top off. 

If Crowley’s Yacht Yard has performed an engine start and noted no deficiencies you can be sure the following items have been checked:
  1. Fluids: Engine oil, transmission/saildrive/sterndrive, internal coolant, v-drive oil, power steering pump/hydraulic steering reservoir.
  2. Inspection of flame arrestor / air filter
  3. Batteries charged, alternator output at batteries (volts noted)
  4. Inspection of bilge blower for proper operation
  5. Visual inspection of belts, hoses, fuel lines
  6. Inspection of shaft coupler bolts and set screws
  7. Inspection of stuffing box and jam nut locked
  8. Start engine and check overboard water flow
  9. Check engine control cable operation (shift, throttle, stop)
  10. Run engine to operation temperature; check for overheating
  11. Check all engine gauges and audible/visual alarms
  12. Inspect for fluid leaks
  13. Check engine oil and coolant levels after shutdown
  14. Visual inspection of bilge for excess water/oil
You will find a copy of a form that details this check on your navigation station at your first arrival to the boat. If the form goes missing for any reason, we keep a copy in your file that we can send to you.

Unfortunately, as thorough as this check list is, since we do not run the boat at full load underway it is possible that there are deficiencies that can escape our notice. Probably the most common situation that we do not discover during and engine start is one in which the engine overheats only above a certain rpm. As an engine accumulates operating hours over its lifetime various systems wear and therefore degrade. So, it is possible to have an engine that won’t overheat at 2000 rpm, but it will overheat at 3500. Let us know if you notice that your engine has this condition, so that we can schedule a service call before this becomes a full blown overheat situation.

It is important to remember that even thought Crowley’s Yacht Yard technicians have multiple years of experience and start hundreds of engine every year, you as the owner are the person that most often operates the boat and as such you are the best person to help us identify a problem. All boats are different to us, but your boat is always the same for you. You are our best diagnostic tool so make notes about your boat operates under different conditions. Many off the shelf log books have spaces for this type of information. When variables such as wind and wave conditions, air and water temperature, engine rpm, engine temperature, amount of cooling water discharged, smells and sounds are logged over time patterns develop that can help us diagnose a problem. Something that might feel normal to us might not be to you.

Wednesday, May 16

Galvanic Corrosion

Editor Note: This is a complicated subject in the marine industry with lots of people speaking and writing about corrosion incorrectly. I will try to ease into the subject here as an introduction to a process that causes millions of dollars worth of damage every year. Look for additional articles dealing with this issue in the future. Please send in any questions regarding marine corrosion that you have and I’ll try to address them in future newsletters.

Time to replace this anode
In the recreational marine business, corrosion prevention is serious business. We only get to use our boats 6 months of the year in Chicago, if we are lucky. The worst situation is one that takes our boat out of commission during the season. The second worst situation is if our winter repair invoices are much higher than anticipated. Galvanic corrosion can lead to both of these situations. 

The other corrosion causing condition that we see is electrolysis. Electrolysis and galvanic corrosion are sometime difficult to tell apart and the process by which they destroy metals is similar. However, the reasons behind the destruction are different; therefore, the solutions are different. Electrolysis is a reaction between metals that is the result of current from an electrical source. Galvanic corrosion is a reaction between metals that is the result of two dissimilar metals being connected electrically to one another.

Galvanic series of common
marine metals
For galvanic corrosion to occur between two metals a few conditions must be present. One, the metals must be separated on the galvanic series chart. The further they are apart the quicker the more noble metal (top of the list) will destroy the other metal. Two, the metals must be electrically connected. And three, the metals must be immersed in electrolyte. An electrolyte (for the purposes of our discussion) is a liquid that will conduct electricity. The fresh water of the Great Lakes has enough dissolved particles in it to allow it to conduct electricity, although much less so than salt water.

As you can see on the galvanic series list, lots of the metals that find themselves under water on a boat are here…and separated on the list. So what is the solution? One, we can break one of the three requirements. Coating the underwater metals with a non-reactive substance effectively takes them out of the electrolyte. Or, we can electrically isolating them from one another. Two, we can provide a sacrificial piece of metal that is more reactive than the metal we are trying to protect.

The piece of metal that we sacrifice (or the metal lower on the galvanic series list) is called an anode. The other end of the galvanic couple (the metal higher on the list) is called the cathode. Typically, sacrificial anodes are made from zinc or magnesium, since they are the lowest on the list they can work to protect the rest of the under water metals from the ones higher on the list no matter which two become the galvanic couple. Magnesium is very reactive and so isn’t used in saltwater applications. The anode is electrically connected to one of the metals to be protected.

Galvanic corrosion starting to take hold on this sterndrive
Some issues to think about that can take the under water metals in and out of a galvanic couple. If you have a raw water cooled engine and the raw water pump is made from bronze, the two dissimilar metals are already in electrolyte with each other (the raw cooling water connects them) so if the pump and the engine block become electrically connected galvanic corrosion will start. They can become connected electrically by any number of seeming unrelated situations including a chaffed wiring harness.

This type of situation can be repeated all over the boat. Copper-based bottom paint on the hull can come in contact with an aluminum stern drive when the coating on the drive is scratched or the bottom paint is applied too close to the drive. Changing from aluminum to stainless steel propellers is a huge change on the galvanic series list which can have dire consequences to an inadequately protected stern drive. I am sure that if you give this a few minutes thought while looking at the galvanic series list you can come up with additional scenarios yourself. Most of the problems that start all of a sudden are the result in a maintenance failure…chaffed wires, deteriorated sacrificial anodes, swapping a bolt made of one metal for another, etc.

The one way of protecting against galvanic corrosion that we haven’t mentioned is active protection. This is a process where a device in the boat emits a very low voltage which counteracts the desire for metals to corrode. MerCruiser uses a system called MerCathode that actively protects the drive. According to MerCruiser it is a solid-state device that operates off of the boat’s 12-volt battery and provides protection by impressing a reverse blocking current that stops the destructive flow of galvanic currents.

Wednesday, May 9

Volvo Penta Dealership

By Andrew Spaulding, Crowley's Yacht Yard

Volvo Penta D6 attached to a Aquadrive

Through specific training this past winter we were able to add the Volvo Penta D4/D6 engine line to our Volvo Penta dealership. We are now factory certified to service including warranty work on the Volvo Penta D4 and D6 engines which power larger yachts. Crowley’s Yacht Yard is now the only service yard in Chicagoland factory certified to perform this work. This certification is a welcome addition to our Volvo Penta dealership which includes factory certification to maintain and repair IPS pod drives. 

Volvo Penta’s D4 and D6 engines use recent advances in diesel technology to improve power output and reduce harmful emissions. Common rail fuel injection, 4 valves per cylinder, double overhead camshafts, a turbo charger and intercooler are some of the features that allow the D4/D6 diesel engines to be compact and light weight for their output. The D4 engine line covers inboard diesel engines from 180 to 300 crankshaft horsepower. The D6 engine line covers from 330 to 435 hp.

One of the most interesting recent innovations in engine control units is Volvo Penta’s Electronic Vessel Control (EVC) unit. The EVC allows the engine functions to display on certain NEMA compatible electronics. Since Volvo Penta IPS pod drives steer the boat electronically through adjustments to the pod angle, EVC can hook an autopilot directly to the IPS. Now that the electronics can speak with the engines (and vice-versa) and smart phones can function as electronics, I’m looking forward to the day when I can text my boat to meet me at my favorite riverfront watering hole.

Volvo Penta IPS
Well over 100 yacht manufacturers worldwide use Volvo Penta IPS drives to power their new yachts. Many of these installations are done with the D4 and D6 engines. As Chicagoland yacht owners purchase new boats, they can be sure that Crowley’s has factory trained technicians available to service and repair their new engines and drives. Volvo Penta IPS offers significant advantages over traditional shaft and prop configurations. IPS makes a huge difference when it comes to performance, emissions and onboard comfort. Lower fuel consumption and higher top speeds are two performance characteristics that are significantly improved when compared with standard shafts on planing hulls.

Here at Crowley’s Yacht Yard our history working on Volvo engines goes back decades. Many of the boats in the yard over the years have had Volvo engines. Our technicians have experience going back to the Volvo MD series from the 1970s, through the 2000 series of engines to the modern D1, D2, and D3 series of engines. Many people don’t know that Volvo Penta also makes a line of gasoline powered engines that are typically paired up with the Volvo Penta Aquadrive sterndrive units. This along with saildrives gives Volvo Penta a comprehensive product line to serve any customer.

Our continued commitment to training our technicians allow us to take care of any Volvo Penta engine, IPS or Aquadrive warranty or standard service. Let us know if you have any questions regarding Volvo Penta recreational marine products.

Thursday, May 3

Engine Overheating Q and A

By Andrew Spaulding, Crowley's Yacht Yard

Q: What do I do if my engine overheats?

A: Continuing to run a marine engine that is overheating is bad…worse than running it in a car. Due to the location of marine engines – enclosed in a boat – there is little air flow to help cool the engine after the combustion air is sucked into the engine. This means that a marine engine will overheat to extreme temperatures very quickly. An extreme overheat can warp the engine heads, crack manifolds, and do other serious permanent damage to the engine. So, if your engine overheat alarm goes off, shut it down as soon as possible. One, this will minimize any damage. Two, this will allow it to cool down as quickly as possible which will facilitate the troubleshooting process.

The engine cooling system on your boat is one of two kinds. If your engine is “raw water” cooled, the water that is used to cool the engine is pumped directly through the engine’s water jacket (voids in the engine block that allow the passage of cooling water). If your engine is “fresh water cooled”, the cooling water goes through a heat exchanger that cools the antifreeze that runs through the engine block. This method of cooling is the same as the one in your car, but instead of an air-cooled radiator to keep the antifreeze cool your boat has a water-cooled heat exchanger.

Either way, the cooling system in your boat has several components that allow it to work properly and a failure of anyone of these can lead to an overheating condition. Since we are discussing a system, it makes sense to start at one end and go to the other. Once any water restrictions are resolved, test the system by starting the engine and making sure that you have proper cooling water flow. Run the engine up to operating temperature and check that the engine doesn’t overheat. Do this before getting underway again. Remember, many times overheating issues are caused by more than one water flow restriction, so don’t get discouraged if fixing the first restriction you find doesn’t solve the problem.

Cooling water (or raw water) enters the system through the hull of the boat, either through a thru-hull and seacock valve or a under water drive unit. The incoming water can be reduced by marine growth, mechanical failure or floating garbage, so the first troubleshooting step is to make sure enough cooling water is entering the boat. My rule of thumb is when you pull the hose off on the inside of the boat to check the flow, the amount of water coming in should be scary…if it dribbles in you don’t have enough. more bit of advice; before you do this make sure your bilge pump works!

On most boats the next component of the cooling system is the raw water strainer. Often the strainer can get clogged with plastic bits or marine growth. Before you open the strainer to clean it, shut the seacock to stop the incoming water flow. Clean the strainer basket out and reassemble the strainer. Once you reopen the seacock, check the strainer for leaks, and tighten the lid or basket housing if necessary.

After the strainer, the cooling water flows to the raw water pump. Typically this pump is a neoprene vane impeller type of pump. Remove the cover plate and inspect the impeller for damage or missing blades. Also, there is a cam in one side of the pump housing that compresses the vanes as the impeller rotates. This is what causes the rotating impeller to pump water. A worn cam can cause the pump to push an inadequate amount of cooling water without any other visible signs of trouble. 

If there are missing blades (this is typical result of overheating even if this wasn’t the original cause of the overheat), it is important to track down the missing blades in the rest of the cooling system. The torn blades can be in small pieces which can lodge themselves in the cooling plumbing causing additional water restrictions. Be sure to check in the pump itself since we’ve seen blades stuck everywhere including in the pump inlet. Even if the broken blades are not causing a restriction at the moment, it is likely that they will move in the future with engine vibrations and water flow to a spot where they will cause a problem. This can happen months or even years down the road. 

Once any missing impeller blades are accounted for it is on to the heat exchanger if you have one. There are many small tubes in the heat exchanger and they can get clogged over time from corrosion or marine growth (or impeller blades). In some heat exchangers the tubes are so small that they can get clogged by mud and/or sand (careful running the engine in very shallow water). Some tube bundles can be removed for cleaning and some have to be cleaned in place.

Before and after the main heat exchanger, it is possible that the cooling water runs through additional heat exchangers (transmission, for example) or other parts of the engine so be sure to check the flow at each hose connection as the water flows in and out of various components. Once the job of the cooling water is done and it is on its way out, it goes through the mixing elbow where the cooling water gets mixed with the exhaust. Water flow through the mixing elbow can be reduced by soot and/or corrosion. 

From the mixing elbow the water flows out of the boat through the exhaust on boats with a “wet exhaust”. Some boats have “dry exhaust” systems where the water is removed from the exhaust or in some applications the water is never mixed with the exhaust. In these cases, you should be able to follow your boat’s plumbing to the cooling water exit. 

Hopefully, one trip through the system gets you back underway. If not, it might be time to call in the experts. As always, we are here to help…call anytime.