Clean To Inspect – Boat maintenance

Side by side Ford Lehman Diesel

Side by side Ford Lehman Diesels

Your safety on the water can be dependent on your engine working.  Sure you can radio in and get help, but you don’t want to be waiting as your boat gets closer to the rocks, or goes sideways to the waves in bad weather.

Clean to inspect is a process I learned during my years of working as a manufacturing engineer.  It’s part of a good maintenance program.  The idea is to clean your machine and in the process inspect it.  In boating life, this mostly applies to the engine, but it can be applied to any equipment or even a house.  When you run your hands over the equipment as you clean you will notice things like loose nuts and bolts, worn and loose belts, and the integrity of hoses.  With vibration is not unusual for hose clamps to come loose.  This is a good time to check your hose clamps and tighten them.  We use double hose clamps most everywhere.

Look for:

  • Leaks
  • Broken parts
  • Worn parts
  • Missing parts
  • Abnormal movement in equipment

Listen for:

  • Vibration or shaking
  • Unusual sounds
  • Unusual smells or discoloration

Tips for inspection:

  1. When it comes to cleaning grease and oil, I like using blue shop towels.  Regular paper towels are too flimsy.
  2. Make sure to check for worn pulleys, loose belts, clogged filters, grime on sliding surfaces, and any other problems that can cause premature failures.
  3. Do all gauges and sight glass work correctly, and are their functioning ranges clearly marked?  Gauges can be marked with sharpies to show typical ranges.  If you have two engines, compare one engine against the other.
  4. Find sources of air and oil leaks.
  5. Check the levels and color of fluids.
  6. Don’t stop at what we can see. Look for loose hardware, slight vibrations, higher than normal temperatures (don’t get burned), and other problems that can be detected by touch.
Pad was clean, and you can see there's a few new drops of oil.

Pad was clean, and you can see there’s a few new drops of oil.

After cleaning place clean oil absorbent pads under the engine.  Run the engine again for a few hours, and then check the pads for leaks.  After the engine cools go over the engine again and check for signs of problems.  Look for dust from misaligned belts.  Sometimes during the first inspection there’s so much oil and dirt that it can be difficult to locate the source.  You’ll find that in the low light of an engine room it can be easier to feel the oil than to see it.  Using a clean shop towel will help show where fresh leaks are.  Run the towel over everything a second time.  It goes much faster than the first cleaning and inspection.

Always be aware of loose nuts and bolts.  When you find a nut or bolt out of place, always try to figure out where it came from.

Our engines aren’t in production anymore, not to mention the fact that the engines are one if not the most expensive part on the boat.  So make cleaning part of your maintenance program.  It will pay off in safety, reliability and help you solve problems while they’re small.