Say you just bought a used boat. It needs work, but you got it for a song, so you can afford to sink some money into it. Good thing, because little did you know the gimbal housings are corroded and leaking water. (I mentioned this possibility in a recent blog, Finding Leaks in a Boat.)
OK, how much are gimbal housings, you ask? How about $1,500 each? And the labor is another $1,200 or so, because the engines have to be pulled to remove the gimbal housings.
But there’s a less expensive way to repair the gimbal housing. The GHR Kit from Tune Up Specialties and Marine is a slick way to get the job done for about one fifth the price of a new gimbal housing.
Devised for professional use, the kit comes with instructions, epoxy and a thickening agent, a brush with an extension to reach all the way down inside the bellows boot, plus clamps and a PVC repair ring already installed inside the boot.
Apply the epoxy on the outside of the boot flange, then tap the ring and bellows onto the flange and down to the factory stops with a long drift pin or the cheater’s version—a half-inch socket on an extension. Don’t tap it on with a screwdriver because you can pierce the bellows boot. Once you get the boot and ring tapped into place, spread the remaining epoxy on the inside of the ring where it was corroded.
“So, as you take the epoxy that you mix up and you brush it in here, you’re going to seal that all up,” said GHR Kits president and inventor, Ed Hamlin, adding that thoroughly cleaning all components is key to a successful repair. “There’s no way water is going to get in, no matter what. And not only that, but it’s also going to lock it in place.”
In temperatures above 60 degrees, the epoxy takes 24 hours to cure. Below 60 degrees, allow 32 hours’ cure time. Either way, the epoxy provides about 90 minutes of working time before it gets too hard to spread with the brush. Sure it takes a day to cure, but the repair still takes significantly less time than pulling two motors and drives. In fact, if you’re working on Bravo One drives, you won’t even have to lift the hatch.
Shortly after he brought the kits to market in 2000, Hamlin had a couple of issues with the gimbal rings chafing the bellows boots. Because the boot is stretched over the ring, the diameter is a bit larger than stock, so the bell housing could rub the bellows boot as the drive pivoted from side to side—particularly if there was some slop in the gimbal ring. The solution was to reshape the bell housing pivot-point bosses with a grinder.
“You’re not taking a tremendous amount off,” he said, adding that the kit comes with illustrated instructions and a plastic template. “You just reshape it a little bit. Even if the gimbal ring gets loose, it’ll still clear.”
You might be thinking, “What about the gimbal bearing? What about when I have to replace the bellows again?” Well, before you install the GHR Kit, change the gimbal bearing, but don’t lubricate it until after the epoxy cures. The grease won’t bother cured epoxy, so periodic maintenance from then on is the same.
When it comes time to replace the bellows—the factory interval is six years—pull the drive apart and remove the boot. Then, where the original corrosion occurred, give the PVC one good shot with a hammer and screw driver, and that piece of it will snap. Once it does, you just walk the hammer and screwdriver around breaking pieces off. The epoxy still will be stuck to the aluminum, but an approved, high-speed wire wheel on a die grinder will remove it. Then install a new kit. Even after installing two kits, you’re still several thousand dollars ahead.
GHR Kits are available for virtually all MerCruiser Alpha and Bravo drives built since 1973. Bravo One kits retail for $340. Alpha drive kits sell for $310.
“We sent one to Texas last summer for a guy with 42’ Sonic with staggered motors,” Hamlin recalled. “He called me on a Wednesday and said, ‘I have to have the boat ready for the poker run by Saturday.’ I said, ‘No problem. I can overnight you a kit and if you have it by Thursday, it’ll be done Friday. Bolt the drive on and go.’ That guy was ecstatic. The only other thing he could have done was pull the interior, pull the motor, pull the drive, and get a housing.”
If that all sounds a bit confusing, there’s a helpful video on the GHR Kits website that demonstrates the entire process.