marina boat

Have you ever wondered what is going to come back in the survey when you go to sell your boat? Seemingly you’ve spent thousands on the boat, but was it on the clear covers or the mechanical components?

Over the past few years I’ve hundreds of hull and engine surveys. With experience, you start to see a trend of common problems found. Because a fair amount of the vessels being inspected are between 10-20 years old, a lot of the issues are the same. I’ve written this article with bigger boats in mind – over 30 foot and shaft driven with diesel engines, although some points are relevant to all boats.

1. Sea Cocks
When left untouched, these will cause you trouble. Sea cocks are valves fitted on the inside of a vessel skin fitting, and are used to stop the flow of water. Because of the salt water environment and barnacle growth, they can become stuck. Now this doesn’t present a risk immediately, but if you have a hose blow you may want to turn it off real quick. Operating them every few months is usually enough to keep them serviceable – but if left for years at a time they can seize and then snap off when attempted to be operated.

2. Shaft Seals
Shaft seals that are original with the age of the boat have a tendency to leak only when under load. So this means unless you’re getting down into your engine room while the boat is underway, you may never know they’re leaking – and better yet, spraying salt water around your engine room. Depending on the make and model they’re often water cooled, and the cooling fittings need to be checked to be sure they haven’t become brittle or corroded. If one of the shaft cooling fittings snaps and goes unnoticed on a trip, you risk overheating your seal and essentially blowing your bellows and seal to bits – leaving no barrier between the ocean and the inside of your boat.

water cooler

3. Salt-Water Cooling System Service
Saltwater service, meaning anything related to cooling the engine, is often overlooked and found as an issue on many surveys. Things such as the after coolers, heat exchangers, and oil coolers all need removal and inspection at certain intervals (as advised by the manufacturer). This ranges from 2-5 years, and majority of owners aren’t aware of this. To avoid disappointment, I suggest every buyer budget for this NOT being completed in their offer, as giving up a deal for 10k worth of service work, only to find the next boat needs the same work, is a waste of time. Some owners claim the manufacturers recommendations are excessive, but as a bare minimum you want to know when it was done in your ownership and then you can decide if the risk of not doing it is worth it.

4. Bilge Pumps and Float Switches
Electric bilge pumps that are nearing 10-20 years old are starting to wear, and often become intermittent. Maybe there is a dirt build up, or maybe they work one day and not the next. Often they’re found not secured, or even worse, not connected. Sometimes they appear to be working but the impeller is snapped. For the few hundred it’s worth, it can be a boat-saver paying to have them replaced.

5. Sea Pumps
Classified as part of the cooling system service – it is very common going to a boat finding it riddled with leaks, the main contender being the sea water pump. For the 5 minutes it takes to check – it’s well worth getting down into the engine bay before you decide to sell your boat.

6. Hydraulic Steering Cylinders
After 10 years of hydraulic pressure behind the seals, it’s relatively normal to find air in the steering system. Most people jump to the conclusion that it just needs to be bled, but the truth is it will often need a new seals or a steering cylinder replaced to stop a continued leak.

7. Ice-Maker / Fridge
If you’ve got over 10 years out of your ice maker, you’re doing well. Often the arms inside the component get stuck, or it stops cooling. They take a few hours to drop a cube, so even if it’s getting cold its easy to believe it works, and then find out leaving it on overnight still hasn’t produced any ice.

8. Low Water Pressure
Nothing worse then a shower with low water pressure! By year 10 its not uncommon to find a leak has developed somewhere in the system, a damaged mixer, or a snapped fitting. It is less common to find the water pump has failed, but it does happen. Before you jump to a conclusion – check if there is any water in the tank. Sometimes a tap gets left on somewhere out of sight (think transom shower), and it drains the entire contents of the tank. If this is the case, you will likely hear your pump continually cycling trying to draw water to bring the system up to pressure.

9. Worn Cutlass Bearing
Below the water line, your propellor is supported by a cutlass bearing. If, at any stage your engine is out of alignment with the propellor, you will wear through this bearing ever so quickly. The cutlass bearing can be checked when the vessel is out of the water by moving the propellor shaft around by hand and inspecting for play. The propellor shaft and bearing should be a snug fit.