The most common boat breakdowns are often the ones that are easiest to fix. That’s no real comfort, however, if you find yourself out on the water about to paddle back to port. Some people turn to towing insurance providers like AAA or Sea Tow to help them out of a tight spot, while others pack spare parts and a complete tool kit to use in an emergency situation. Prevention and thinking ahead can still go a long way toward keeping the summer season trouble-free, so use this list of common breakdowns to make sure your boat is in the best shape possible before setting sail.
1. Dead Battery
Boat batteries spend a lot of their lives just sitting around, especially during off-season storage. If not kept on a trickle charger that constantly keeps them topped up, it’s easy for them to lose their ability to hold a charge. Because of this, dead batteries end up leading the list of the most common boat breakdowns, which means you should take your battery to be tested at the beginning of the season and verify that it’s still safe to use.
2. Contaminated Fuel
Contaminated fuel can take a few different forms. If you get “bad gas” from the pump, it usually contains water or some other contaminant that can foul your spark plugs through incomplete combustion. Another common boat breakdown is caused by old fuel tanks that accumulate sediment and corrosion, which then circulates through your fuel lines and clogs your fuel filter, starving your engine. Check your plugs and fuel filter periodically for signs of trouble, and make sure not to store fuel too long without adding stabilizer.
3. Faulty Electrical Connections
It’s easy for electrical connections to get wet on a boat, which means corrosion is always lurking in the background, ready to short out your plans for a fun afternoon on the lake. Inspecting your fuses and wiring is something you have to make a habit of to avoid common boat breakdowns related to electrical problems — not to mention ensuring that components are protected from being yanked, stepped on or soaked.
4. Snapped Belt
When an engine suddenly stops, a snapped belt should be one of the first things that you check for. The sound of a belt snapping can be difficult to hear while at full throttle, but you can take a close look at the condition of any engine belt prior to heading out to see if there are cracks, dried-out areas or stains that indicate it may have been exposed to coolant or other chemicals that can shorten its lifespan. Carry a spare belt with you to avoid being stranded.
Running your engine wide open for an extended period of time on a bright and sunny summer day can lead to overheating. Sometimes, the cause of overheating is a blocked water intake, while other times a hose problem can leak water onto the engine itself while also reducing cooling. If you see the temperature needle on your motor start to rise, back off of the throttle and let it cool down before disaster strikes.
This list of common boat breakdowns is a great place to start your yearly maintenance so you can enjoy a fun and safe summer on the water.
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Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time. I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.