Spending good money on bad motors makes a boater broke

Shiny new Yanmar diesel turns a sows ear into a silk purse.
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Forget slow horses and fast women. Ask any boat broker what makes a boater broke, and they’ll tell you in six succinct words: 'Spending good money on bad motors.'

In my boat-selling days I saw engines catch fire, cook themselves, conk out at critical moments or resolutely refuse to start.

They belched smoke in myriad hues of white, black and blue, and oozed oil like a pizza addict’s pores.

In one memorable gearbox failure, the reverse mechanism failed just as the boat entered its marina pen, and the bow struck the concrete walkway at four knots. Try selling a boat that’s suddenly 60 centimetres shorter to buyers who are lying dazed across the deck…

There’s no greater passion-killer for resale value than mechanical mayhem.

The salesman sees fear of the unknown in the buyer’s eyes. They see the buyer’s beloved leaping over the lifelines and beating a hasty retreat towards their car.

Some owners don’t see anything, however. Whether love is blind or stubbornness is plain dumb, they persevere well past the point of no financial return.

One owner I know spent $1500 investigating an overheating problem only days after buying his Cuddles 30 cruiser. On the delivery trip home, the gearbox disintegrated, necessitating a police tow and another $8000 investment.

The parts were presumably delivered by stage coach and, judging from the bill, were installed by a neurosurgeon at the Hilton.

Alternator issues, injector dramas, more overheating problems and finally a rebuild were to follow.

When advised to cut his losses and install a new motor, he slammed his fist and cried, 'I’ve spent 20 grand on this $#@ motor, I’m not giving up now!'.

That’s the dilemma. At what stage do you draw the lines between a repair, a rebuild and a full repower?

Any money spent may, one day, save the boat and lives, because marine engines must, above all, be reliable, especially when the crew’s ability to deal with breakdowns is limited.

A well-maintained diesel should run for at least 8000 hours without major overhaul and, since the average recreational sailor logs only 100 to 200 hours per year, it should, theoretically, last the lifetime of the boat.

If small problems aren’t addressed, though, they generally turn into big problems.

Consider the conditions in which yacht motors operate – hot, damp, cramped with salty bilges, intermittent use and irregular maintenance. What they really need – cool and dry air – is rarely what they get. Nor do they have the benefit of long running times, as a powerboat engine may.

Repairs will keep you going, but eventually weak links appear in the chain. When it comes to rebuilding, parts can be expensive and hard to find, plus you need a skilled mechanic to do the job.

Rarely are the older, raw-water cooled engines suitable for rebuilding as the internal water passages in the block and head are corroded beyond salvation.

Ultimately, a rebuild can cost money that’s better invested on new technology. As a rule of thumb, don’t spend more than 40 per cent of the full cost of a replacement.

You can sell or trade your old engine if it hasn’t totally given up the ghost, but it needs to also be kept in mind that the outlay on a new installation will rarely be offset by a rise in resale value. You do it because you want to enjoy trouble-free use of your boat and to limit future expense.

Reliability comes at the turn of a key with this newish Volvo
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And what price do you put on instant starting, increased reliability, quieter running, lower emissions, efficient charging, superior performance and fuel economy, longer service intervals and warranty support?

If the naval architect has factored engine removal into the equation, it’s generally a case of lifting the block out through the cockpit hatches.

The mounts and installation requirements are likely to have changed, even when swapping like-for-like in terms of engine brands. There’s nothing that can’t be fixed, it just adds cost and complexity.

A common mistake is to duplicate the old exhaust system, which results in a new engine being installed to an outdated standard. Again, the replacement may be more compact and have a low-slung exhaust.

Ventilation is another consideration, as many new high-speed engines use more air, especially those with turbos. That means larger vents are needed.

While you’re at it, compare the location of service points between old and new. It’s useless if the oil filter, for example, is mounted in a different location to the original and difficult to reach.

When you really think about it, hull design and construction have somewhat stagnated, whereas new motors are significantly evolved. If you reckon there’s life in that old seadog of yours, then you can teach it new tricks.

New motors are so much lighter and more compact for their horsepower output.
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It's a great opportunity to clean and paint the engine room
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Having served its useful life the old engine lifted straight out the cockpit hatch.
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