Boating Advisor: You Have Questions, We Have Answers

I enjoy trying to diagnose mechanical issues, and so does the rest of our crew. To tell the truth, though, the best place to get mechanical questions answered is on our forum. We look at our forums daily and would really enjoy having a chat with you all there.

AprilBlogFuel

I get a lot of mail at Boating and enjoy going through it. Sometimes, readers want to gripe about a story—which is OK—at least then I know they read it! Sometimes they want to tell us about their boat and sometimes they want to ask a question about why it won't run. Mechanical questions are the ones I found the most fun to help diagnose and often, the answer was already on the tip of the reader's tongue. Like me, you may just need a little positive reinforcement to go after the problem.

We don't get all the answers right. It's not possible when somebody can only say my boat makes this screeching noise when I do this thing. Many times, boaters aren't aware of what happened just before the screeching noises started. There's a great checklist of questions you should answer before you go to your mechanic at boatingmag.com/outboard911. If you answer them as best you can, you'll be able to give him the info he needs.

I enjoy trying to diagnose mechanical issues, and so does the rest of our crew. To tell the truth, though, the best place to get mechanical questions answered is on our forum. We look at our forums daily and would really enjoy having a chat with you all there. Truth is, if you've got a boat problem, its very unlikely that it is unique. You may be able to learn a bunch from other readers' experiences as well as the edit staff of Boating. Check out our forum at boatingmag.com/forums.

I had the pleasure of e-chatting with a reader the other day. You might get a kick out of how the dialogue went, so, having changed the name to protect the reader’s privacy, I included the string below.

From: Smith, John J.
Date: Tue, 30 Mar 2010 23:41:41 -0400
To: Boat Doctor (Boating)
Subject: My outboard and Fuel problems??

Q: I have a 1997 200 hp Evinrude EFI on a 24’ 1983 Grady White Tournament. About 6-7 years ago the engine began smoking and the local mechanic swapped out the VRO (the device that mixes the gas and oil). There wasn’t any smoke after the new VRO was installed, but a year later the smoke returned on startup. I use a fuel saver called Stabil with every fill up.

In addition, for the past couple of years, when I cruise for about an hour, the water/fuel separator seems to fill up and I hear the alarm telling me that not enough fuel is getting to the engine. When I hear the alarm, I swap out the separator with a spare I keep on board. I dump the contents of the separator (it seems to be mostly water) at a local recycling center, so I don’t keep buying new separators. However, this is messy and annoying. Will adding a second separator increase the time between changes? Is there something else I can do besides swapping separators or adding a second separator?

Thanks,
John Smith

From: Randy Vance [mailto:randy.vance@bonniercorp.com]
Sent: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 8:11 AM
To: Smith, John J.
Subject: Re: My outboard and Fuel problems??

It isn’t abnormal for your engine to smoke on start up and that wouldn’t worry me so much, but you obviously have a fuel tank full of water. Some of that could come from condensation and some could be leaking in somehow. In some cases, water stands around gas fill cap and seeps in when it is not tight or when the O-ring fails. Some boats have been known to scoop water up in their fuel vent while underway, but I doubt that is the problem unless something has changed since you got it. Another point to consider is that your tank has a hole in it and runoff is getting into from the bilge or draining in from the sole. I’ve seen tanks surrounded by fiberglass bulkheads that actually hold water around the tank causing corrosion and leaks. But, my bet is, the culprit is simply condensation has collected in the tank. You may be able to find a fuel polisher who will pump the tank through filters and then back into your tank. I see them here in Florida around boating communities. You are smart to use Stabil or other fuel stabilizers, but if you are leaving your tank empty or half-empty for long periods of time, you are still going to have condensation form in your tank.

From: Smith, John J.
Date: Wed, 31 Mar 2010 17:05:48 -0400
To: Randy Vance
Subject: RE: My outboard and Fuel problems??

Thanks Randy. I checked the fuel cap and the o-ring is cracked. Couldn’t find a replacement for the o-ring, so I ordered a new cap. I had a service come out before to try to get rid of the water, but I don’t think it did much. I’m debating whether to dump the entire tank and start fresh. Thanks again, John

From: Randy Vance [mailto:randy.vance@bonniercorp.com]
Sent: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 5:08 PM
To: Smith, John J.
Subject: Re: My outboard and Fuel problems??

Well, they might not be able to pump it dry; that’s the problem. What did they do to try to get rid of the water?

BTW-- You could take your gas cap to the hardware store and get an o-ring there. I have to change mine. Mybad.

From: Smith, John J.
Date: Wed, 31 Mar 2010 17:16:50 -0400
To: Randy Vance
Subject: RE: My outboard and Fuel problems??

The service came and pumped the fuel through a recycling machine they said was made to remove water. All I remember was they showed me a long, sock-like filter that did accumulate some debris, but not excessive.

From: Randy Vance [mailto:randy.vance@bonniercorp.com]
Sent: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 5:19 PM
To: Smith, John J.
Subject: Re: My outboard and Fuel problems??

Well, if you are still getting water in the gas, there is still water in the tank. They didn’t get to the low point. You may have no choice but to continue to change fuel filters in your separator. But, doesn’t your filter have a glass bubble at the bottom to view the contents? You could just drain the water from it every so often.

From: Smith, John J.
Date: Wed, 31 Mar 2010 17:26:30 -0400
To: Randy Vance
Subject: RE: My outboard and Fuel problems??

Thanks for all the feedback! I’ve been reading you in Boating, but never thought I’d get to talk!

I agree the water is still there. If I remember correctly, the boat did run somewhat better after they came. The boat is on a lift and they removed the sender unit towards the aft end, so they got pretty low. They removed about the first 5-10 gallons and took that away since it was mostly water.

My fuel separator doesn’t have a bubble, it’s a closed unit that I spin on/off and dump the contents. I’m not sure how many times I can reuse them. I had two last summer that I swapped out continuously. I’d like to avoid doing the same thing this summer. I’ll start with changing the o-ring, but dumping the fuel is expensive, so I’m searching for alternatives.

From: Randy Vance [mailto:randy.vance@bonniercorp.com]
Sent: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 5:19 PM
To: Smith, John J.
Subject: Re: My outboard and Fuel problems??

Maybe have them pump it again. Maybe the gas cap is the issue. I am worried about the same thing in my boat.

By the way, since you do have an outboard, you could put in a Racor fuel separator that has a sight bowl, a clear plastic bowl with a drain in it. Then you could just open it from the bottom and drain out the water. The one you have in your boat is usually used in sterndrives. ABYC regs don’t let builders put sight glasses in filters near inboard gas engines.

Talking to me is no big deal, just ask my wife!