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Boat Maintenance Replacing Hoses – Pay Now, Or Pay Big Latter

My friend Jeff Chesser owns and operates Harbor Diesel in Destin, Florida, and he told me about a client that ended up with a $20,000 rebuild because of a $20 hose that blew out.

This really got me thinking about my own boat. My Cat 3208TA diesels are now 20 years old and while I maintain them to the best of my abilities and budget, I never had a good picture of everything on the outboard sides of the engines. When they built my boat, the diesels were shoehorned in next to the fuel tanks, leaving very little space to properly maintain the engines. Jeff, knowing my boat well, told me we would need to cut the floor out to properly access everything. A huge undertaking, but a new carpet was on the wish list anyway so we decided to give it a go.

Jeff’s rule of thumb is to replace all of the hoses and clamps every five years on the main engines and generators. That means every hose — no matter how hard they are to get to.

When the engines are running, cold water is pumped though the hoses and heat exchangers. The engine room gets hot as you run the mains, but when you shut the engines down it takes a long time for the engine room to cool down. The hot and cold temperature changes effect the hoses, and over time the hose will age and weaken. Hose damage is not always visible, so Jeff recommends the five-year rule.

Always install a top-quality hose. Blue silicone hoses are excellent, easy to work with and made with strict quality control. Aircraft stainless steel hose clamps cost more but are way better than your standard marine clamps. You can really crank down on them without fear of the clamp cutting into your new hoses, making the extra investment well worth it.

Once we tore up the salon floor, we were extremely pleased to find that the previous owner had replaced every hose within the last few years. We still found plenty of surprises, but my hose fear was put to rest. We decided to replace every hose and clamp anyway. Knowing exactly what we had in the engine room gives me peace of mind that’s worth the investment.

Water in Water Out

I learned heaps about my systems as I went through them with Jeff from start to finish. There are lots of pieces to this puzzle — between seawater being sucked into a through-hull to being blown out the exhaust.

We removed every sea strainer on the boat, and soaked them in a vat of Barnacle Buster. We wire-wheeled the brass, used new gaskets and of course installed new hoses and clamps. The strainers not only looked better, they now operate like new.

Barnacle Buster is one cool product that can save you time and money in various ways, both at the shop and on board the boat. I saw what a great job this stuff did on my strainers and decided to give the tube nests from my heat exchangers a 24-hour bath.

Barnacle Buster will clean away any build up and it won’t harm the gaskets or hoses, it will however eat the zincs up, so keep it away from any zincs. If you spill a bit in the bilge it won’t cause any harm — try that with sulfuric acid! Using the Buster you can treat systems onboard your boat, a huge cost cutting move since you don’t need to pay someone to remove everything.

Next up were the water pumps. I had spares for both of the main engines and the gen-set, but they were all used, and I really had no idea on their true condition. We shipped the pumps and parts of four Cat pumps and three Westerbeke pumps to Depco Pump Company in Clearwater Florida (727-446-1656). We asked them to build two new pumps for the Cats and one for the gen-set out of what we sent to them and to turn them around as quick as they could. We had the pumps back in three working days and the total bill was $520, including parts, labor and shipping. boat maintenance replacing hosesThat’s about the price of one new Cat pump. I really like these guys!

Jeff told me one of the largest over-looked items of the cooling system is the reduction-gear cooler. Treating this unit can make huge improvements to the efficiency of the whole system, which controls what temperature your engines run at. With the raw-water system tuned up and cleaned, the amount of water flow out of the exhausts increased more than 30 percent.

Salt water is very corrosive stuff so you really need to fix any leaks you find in the cooling system, even little drips. The two major issues we had to deal with were both due to saltwater damage. The first one we knew about, the second one was a surprise we found when we dug into those hard-to-get-to spots on the fuel tank sides of the engines. Both leaks occurred long before I owned the boat, but it was a good lesson about paying close attention to what is happening in the engine room.

The damage done to the exhaust manifold and valve cover on the backside of the port engine was probably the reason the old owner had all of the hoses replaced. When the manifold was removed we realized that the rust layer was the only thing keeping it from blowing out. The other problem I knew about when I purchased the boat — at one time water leaked from the water pump on the generator engine mount. With labor and parts it cost me about a grand to fix. That’s an expensive leak!

When I fished commercially in Alaska we had two highly trained engineers onboard and a shore engineer based in Seattle. They had a weekly maintenance plan that they followed to the letter. With tens of thousands of dollars at risk every time the boat broke down, preventive maintenance wasn’t just an option, it was a necessity. With our sport fishing boats that risk isn’t of the same scale, but we all have a lot of money invested in our boats, and putting together a solid service plan just makes good sense.

Every time you change your oil, you should also pull your zincs, clean the air blankets and check the impellers on the raw-water pumps. Keep a good eye on your Racor filters. If you see any debris, pull the filter and inspect the O-rings.

boat maintenance replacing hosesThese are just a few basics, but I am surprised at how some boat owners can let these small things mount into bigger issues and bigger repair bills.

Keeping a good engine room logbook can also be a valuable tool. If you do need to call in your local mechanic, you’ll have good records to show him, which can make trouble shooting easier. Logbook records provide solid reference data on how old the parts are, and when you need to change them out.

We all have emergency shut-offs and gauges on the helm to monitor, but nothing beats a visual engine-room check. Take 10 minutes out from looking for fish to take a peak in your hot engine room two or three times a day. Show up half an hour early and check all the fluids and look for leaks.

Just think about that $20 hose that cost that guy $20,000.

We all take things for granted at times, but your engine room should be one place that never is.

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Capt. Mark S. “Corky” Decker is an IGFA-certified captain, freelance writer and a proven world-class billfish guide. He grew up commercial fishing on the East Coast, prior to quitting college and relocating to Alaska to cash in on the booming fisheries of the 1980s. After almost 20 years of incredible success, it all suddenly came crashing down with a looming federal lawsuit for illegal fishing practices that changed a whole way of life — not just for him but for commercial fishermen in general.

 At age 40 Corky ran away to the South Pacific to start over, fishing for marlin and writing about the sport. Today, Corky's home port is Destin, Florida, where he lives with his New Zealand-born wife, Maggie. Corky recently completed his first novel To See A Green Flash and is currently working on a sequel to his personal memoir A Hardway to Make an Easy Living. In the Spring of 2012 Corky came full circle yet again and purchased a Maine harpoon boat to pursue the fish of his youth — giant bluefin tuna. He fishes out of Perkins Cove in Ogunquit, Maine, during the summer — where his passion for fishing began. To find out more about Corky and order one of his books, visit corkydecker.com.