Almost every tender or chase boat on the water today is different somehow in shape, handling, capacity, and so on. And yet, we treat them similar to a pre-departure engine check and follow a simple formula that can be applied to any watercraft you may find yourself at the helm of.
Driving a boat is truly where you’re engaging with the elements: weather, currents, tides, and conditions that can change at the drop of a hat. It’s your engines that are doing all the work; you’re merely directing them. Look after them so they look after you. A great acronym for pre-departure engine checks is WOBBLE:
- Look around (visual engine bay inspection)
- Exhausts (exhaust issuing from the vessel)
Water is the seawater used by the heat exchanger to cool the engines. If operating outboard engines, there’ll be the easily visible spout (above-waterline) ejecting from the body of the motor. Observe that it’s clear, consistent, and doesn’t taste of anything but seawater. For inboards, check that the seacock is open, the strainer is clear, and coolant is at the appropriate levels.
Like you’d check your car’s oil, locate the dipstick with a clean cloth in-hand. Pull it out, wipe it, and reinsert it, ensuring it’s fully seated into the holster. If you’ve got some heavy gear or other companions on board with you, be sure the boat isn’t listing, as this’ll affect where the oil marks the dipstick. Many dipsticks may have different cold and hot oil level marks (depending if your engine has been running recently or not). You may have to remove some housing if checking on outboards.
Your drive belts power all your auxiliary systems from the main engines. With keys out of the ignition, feel them. Replace excessive cracking or wear. They shouldn’t move more than a half inch when you push with your finger.
Depending on the make, most marine batteries should typically read around 13.2 to 13.4 volts if the engines aren’t running. But it doesn’t hurt to check the batteries for specifics and that the connections are nice and clean. If the unit has undergone a few cycles, you’ll need to clean off the buildup of sulfate, which forms around the connections.
Look around for anything that seems unusual. Peculiarities may include unusually high bilge levels, out-of-place components, and new signs of wear. Don’t forget to listen as well as look while you’re underway — an engine will complain to you in the form of new, different sounds, should it require some maintenance and attention.
Finally, happy with how the engine(s) fared in their WOBBLE test, fire her up and look at the exhausts, ensuring an unusual amount of fumes aren’t being discharged.
With the engines in order and ready, you’ve done your part in keeping them happy, healthy, and humming away.
This article originally ran in the January 2022 issue of Dockwalk.