Spring Sailboat Engine Prep

Depending on where you are in the world, the Spring boating season may be just around the corner. I’ve just begun getting Wanderlust ready and I wanted to share some of the stuff I try to do every year before lift-in, specifically on inboard diesel engines.

Sailboat engines, are often overlooked but a little TLC a few times a year and a small diesel can easily last 30+ years. The owners manual for most engines seems to be a distant memory, so here’s what I do in the Spring (and continue throughout the summer) in hopes of keeping this going for many years to come:

  • Take a general look around the engine and transmission paying particular attention to any staining, liquids or odours. Staining around any seal such as rust staining around the water pump is indicative of worn seals/gaskets.
  • Look over all the hoses and tubing looking for excessive cracking, cuts/gouges, loose fittings or obvious signs of leaks such as staining, petroleum odours or sheens. Make sure the fittings and clamps are in good condition too as these are often a low grade stainless and quickly corrode in the salt.
  • Look over all the piping especially any high pressure lines for signs of splitting or loose fittings. While most tubing is either stainless or copper, be on the lookout for any rusting steel tubing – the thin wall can rust through easily.
  • Check the belts for wear – frayed edges or belts that constantly need adjustment are both signs of impending failure. Always keep replacement belts on board.
  • Replace all fuel filters – there’s often two (particle and water), and if they haven’t been replaced recently then now is a good time.
  • Visually inspect the motor mounts for cracked bushings. You can also try to shake the engine on the mount. Whenever the motor mount is worn or cracked you’ll have terrible vibrations resonating throughout the boat when under power.
  • Charge and test the batteries – most auto parts stores will do this for free. The combination of salt water, deep cycling and cold winters really kill batteries and the high compression of a diesel means you need all the cranking power you can get.IMG_0417
  • Inspect the manifolds for any localized discolouration which can be caused by a localized internal corrosion which thins the metal and results in hot-spots.
  • Clean or replace the air filter (if equipped).
  • Change the engine oil and filter. It’s best to change the oil at the end of the season before winter storage but if life got in the way back then do yourself a favour and change it now. I usually also change the filter again midway through the season – it only takes 5 minutes and goes a long way towards keeping particles out.
  • Check the other fluid levels (transmission, hydraulic, PTO, coolant) and top-up if required. The replacement schedule is usually in the 5-7 year range so it’s good to have some plan for their replacement.

While this is geared towards an inboard diesel, almost everything is applicable to any style of engine including inboard gasoline/petrol engines. Whenever you’re using a gasoline engine, it is absolutely critical that you regularly check the bilge/enginebay blower is working along with the gas alarm.

If I forgot anything reach out and let me know in the comment section below.

Happy sailing!


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