Five Simple Habits That Make Your Boat Engine Last Longer

Everybody is looking for ways to make things last longer, whether it’s our cars, appliances, baseball games, or yes, our boats. What if I told you there were a few simple things you could do that would prolong the life of your boat’s engine — – inboard or outboard, and cost you next to nothing?

Too good to be true, right? Nope, not this time. And I had to say “next to nothing” only because one of these tips does cost a few bucks, but hardly anything in comparison to other maintenance expenses.

It's tempting to hit the throttle early, but resist the urge and let your engine warm up to operating temperature first. Enjoy the view for a while at a nice, slow idle. Doug Logan photo.

It’s tempting to hit the throttle early, but resist the urge and let your engine warm up to operating temperature first. Enjoy the view for a while at a nice, slow idle. Doug Logan photo.

Run it regularly

We’ve all had those seasons where we don’t get out on the water enough. That’s hard on the psyche. It’s also not very good for your engine. Oil drains away from internal components and back into the pan, but running the engine every so often, even when you don’t have a chance to really use it, helps keep things in working order.

Running the engine “on the hose” gets the gas moving so it won’t just sit inside your fuel system and create varnish. Keep the hose and “earmuffs” handy and fire up the boat once a week to keep things loose. I also like to run fuel stabilizer all summer long — not just during winter storage — to keep the fuel from getting gummy.

Warm it up

As much as we hate long idles from the boat ramp to open water where we can get on plane and open it up, those long idles are actually good for our engines. Cold oil doesn’t flow well compared with warm oil. That resistance to flow isn’t as good at protecting engine components, and believe it or not, that resistance actually puts a strain on things like the oil pump and the mechanisms that drive it. Avoid premature wear by letting the engine warm up to operating temperature before you hammer the throttle — even if there’s open water available right away.

A simple set of earmuffs and a freshwater rinse every time keeps salt and corrosion away.

A simple set of earmuffs and a freshwater rinse every time keeps salt and corrosion away.

Flush it religiously

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been so tired after a day of boating that I didn’t feel like flushing the motors. It’s a chore. It’s a bore. And yes,  it’s necessary.

Salt deposits in an engine wreak a lot of havoc inside , but flushing an engine at operating temperature every time you use it in saltwater will help keep interior corrosion to a minimum. This helps maintain gasket integrity, among other things. Let the motor run until you can’t taste salt in the exhaust stream. That sometimes takes a few minutes, which will give you the opportunity to flush the trailer brakes, too.

Prolong engine treatment

It’s not often I recommend a product, but Prolong engine treatment has gone into all my engines for the last 10 years. I was sold on it when I poured it into the crankcase while the car was running and the idle speed increased by about 200 rpm. That was on an old carbureted car, and I physically had to back the idle screw out a turn or so to get it back to normal.

Prolong somehow bonds to the metal surfaces inside the engine and makes things a lot slicker. That means things stay slick even when the oil drains back into the pan. It’s more of a metal treatment than an oil treatment. One of my automotive heroes, NASCAR hall of fame crew chief Smokey Yunick, swore by the stuff, and if there were ever a curmudgeon who would tell you when a product wasn’t worth a darn, it was Smokey.

 Cruising speed is your friend

We all love to pin the throttles and boogie back to the docks flat-out, right? We get home quicker, and everybody wins. Well, if you could avoid that late-day sprint — leaving sooner would do the trick — and drive back to the docks at cruising speed, your engine will last longer.

Typically, cruising speed is where your boat is at its best and least stressed. The engine is making good power and the boat’s trimmed out, nice and free from the sticky water. Adding throttle adds rpm, which doesn’t log any more time on the hour meters, but it does make those hours more stressful. Keeping it at cruising speeds as often as you can is a great way to prolong the life of your engine and related components.


An earlier version of this post appeared on Boat Trader in August 2015.

 

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