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Changing Your Boat's Oil

by Tim Harrington, Madison Marine and Boat Maintenance Specialist

Think about your boat as an investment. The investment you make upon purchase comes with many hidden costs to keep your boat running. Boat owners know what it takes to keep their boats in running condition and what marina and maintenance costs can be. As a boat repairman specialist, I see many repetitious problems that if left unattended, turn into major repair bills. A boat is not like a car it needs more attention.

The biggest key to success is your maintenance program, which as the boat owner you control. Water is a very harsh environment, especially salt water, and even though you may always be in fresh water, your maintenance program should not deviate, fresh water is just a little more forgiving. By keeping up with maintenance that you are capable of doing yourself, you will see at least two benefits over the course of a few years. Breakdowns will be kept to a minimum (remember, your boat seldom breaks down at a dock), and you get to keep more of your hard earned money.

This article discusses lubricant or oil, and how to change it in most inboard gas engines and I/Os. This may be one of the most significant things you can do to increase the life of your engine. I do my maintenance schedules based on use and manufacturer recommendations. This is usually done by hours or break-in time if your boat is purchased new. If you are a new boat owner, keep to your warranty times to protect your new purchase. To maintain your equipment, stay ahead of your pre-scheduled maintenance and inform your dealership well in advance of your intention to bring your boat in. This will give your dealership time to perform the work and keep your boat out-of-the-water time to a minimum. For older boats, there are manuals for just about everything that will act as a guide for the owner. Another source of information is the "tech-pub" (technical publication) for the maintenance you intend to perform yourself.

On with the oil change! Most procedures to do this are quite easy and will help in the longevity of your boat. Most gas inboards or I/Os will take anywhere from 4.0 to 7.0 quarts of oil and in some cases more. Check on the capacity of your engine from the owner's manual or tech pub.

To begin the oil change process, start your engine and let it warm up for 5 minutes or more. Shut your engine down and remove the keys from the ignition. What you have just done is to thin out the viscosity of the oil to make it easier to siphon your oil. Also prior to this you should have checked to make sure you have the correct oil filters for your engine.

Now that you are ready to remove the oil, you need to use some sort of siphon. There are many different kinds of equipment to do this, ranging in price from $25 to over $200. These can be found at www.americanboating.org/products.asp. The difference in price is that some are manual and some are electric, working off of 12-volt DC current on the boat. I use a hand siphon for most boats up to 35 feet. If you elect to use an electric pump and it operates in a pump and siphon modes, check the mode prior to siphoning! Most electric pumps are attached to a 5-gallon bucket and if old oil or residue is left in the bucket, and you are in the wrong mode, you will introduce it into your system.

The next step is to use CLEAN rags or preferably diapers placing them in the bilge beneath the engine. This is for two reasons - one is to absorb any moisture in the bilge, and second is to catch any oil that may make its way to the bilge. The next step is to siphon the oil out. This is done in most instances by running the provided tube down your dipstick access. You have warmed the oil so most of the oil should be drawn out of the block area, plus while you were prepping to do this; your oil should have drained down to this level. Once this has been done take your oil and place it where you will not be in danger of knocking it over.

Now remove the oil filter. This is where you may have some overflow of oil. This is one of the reasons for the diapers and it helps to have a small plastic container that is larger than the oil filter to catch the overflow and to put the filter in. Now that you have removed the filter, it is time to put the new one on. Take a finger and put a little oil on the gasket side of your filter. Once done, spin the filter back on, being careful not to cross thread the filter. TIGHTEN by hand until snug making sure contact is tight.

As I said earlier, not all engines take the same amount of oil. If the engine I am servicing takes 7 quarts of oil, I would at this time put in 6.5 in. The oil filler cap usually on the valve cover and will likely show the type of oil that you should use. At this point I start cleaning up and date my filter and if the boat has an hour meter the hobs time on the filter for maintenance tracking and initial it.

Now it's time to turn the key and cycle the lubricant through the system. While doing this, watch your temp and oil pressure. If there is a problem, shut the engine down and check to make sure everything is tight and nothing is leaking. If there are no problems, shut the engine down and wait 5-10 min. and check the dipstick for the oil level. Adjust the quantity to maintain the full line. Do not overfill.

The job should be coming to a close. Pick up the diapers that were put in the bilge. Try to clean the bilge at the same time that you are picking up. The reason for doing this is so you can do a visual check for potential problems before you leave the dock. It is always easier to fix something before it becomes a problem! Checking the belts for corrosion while you are right there is a good idea.

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