Ask Capt. Gary
There comes a point in every boat owners life when it becomes apparent that the old girl — your boat that is — ain’t got the get up and go she once had, and is, in fact, taking much too literally the adage about holes in the water and money. Freshwater cooled gas engines will last — in recreational service — around 1500 hours; saltwater cooled boats approximately 1,000 (these are industry rules of thumb; figure an average use of between 20 and 30 days a season for three to four hours a day), and you start to get an idea when your boat’s engine will start showing its age). So —in some cases — 10 years of hard use could see your engine reaching the end of its life.
New Boat or Repower
It would be nice if a choice didn’t have to be made and we could run out and spend a half-mil or so on our next favorite toy, but not all of us inhabit such lofty perches. Other reasons may mandate repower as well. Perhaps you fell in love (and got a great deal) on older classic. Maybe you noticed that last year you were inexplicably happy with the way your craft was physically set up — for the first time.
Whatever the reason, repowering— assuming your craft is rock solid to start with — will be cheaper than buying new. There are parameters that must be observed, however, and we won’t go into the gas versus diesel debate.
However, those parameters are important and include all of the following and more … and honesty is important. Taking a 1962 wooden cruiser and making it into a go-fast ain’t gonna’ happen. New engines will breathe life into an old or tired boat but they won’t do the proverbial pigs ear-silk purse trick.
What engines are replacing the stock engines? Will the new engines weigh within the boat’s design parameters? Will transmissions and underwater running gear (struts, shafts, props) match up or have to be replaced? How easily will the new motor or motors fit in your engine bay? Are there parts on your engine that can be salvaged? Are the transmissions still solid? Will the new engine need a longer shaft (unless it’s a straight swap it will undoubtedly need new props)? These are some of decisions to be made before you start looking for engines. Homework will never be more important than when it comes to repowering.
One of the most important considerations is the choice of who is going to perform the transplant and how familiar the person is with the type of engines you’ve chosen. Someone your wife’s sister’s cousin knows over in the Valley who has an impeccable reputation for rebuilding quarter midgets and will give you a good price may not be the most apt person to take on this exacting job. Repower specialists may suggest specific engines for your craft and one of the reason they may prefer a Crusader (a highly respected repower choice) to a Volvo or MerCruiser is that they are most familiar with the brand. Can they put your engine of choice in? Yes, but if you have your heart set on a specific brand, look for an installer who specializes in that brand.
Another thing to consider when looking for an installer is reputation. Good repower shops and/or people are specialty shops, and have followings. Ask around the yard, the dock, marina, etc., and the shop/tech should have no problem providing references.
As for died-in-the-wool DIYers; as Detective Harry Callahan noted in the movie Magnum Force, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” There’s an awful lot of money wrapped up in this project — I’ve seen prices for a new Merc 350 MAG MPI installed from 10 to 14 grand, and that includes a lot of asterisks — as well as time, and it’s not just skill with engines. Undoubtedly, unless it’s a straight swap; i.e., a new or rebuilt (if you’re going the repower route with a gas engine, I’d opt for new) engine of the same make and model for a blown one; there will be fiberglass and wood work to be done, you need to be savvy about electrical harness wiring, safety issues, exhaust and intake alterations, never mind alignment with existing drive gear, etc. Is this a DIY project? Not if you expect to be back in the water for this season. For those with the requisite skill, a lot of money can be saved by DIYing. One suggestion: make sure that you have a repower specialist available when the inevitable questions arise.
One last source of information can be classroom programs. While diesel manufacturers generally put on seminars about their equipment, it’s rarer to find ones by gasoline engine makers. Good sources to see if a class that deals with repowering exist in your area are Sea Grant programs, local marine trade associations and sometime even the repower shops themselves. A little knowledge can go a long way in helping you make the correct decisions that will be coming at you as your repower project moves along.
A fair amount of money can be saved by doing a lot of the “non-technical” work yourself. Draining gas tanks (inspecting and replacing if necessary is a good idea at this time) and coolant systems, unhooking engines from everything (except the mounts), unrigging the wiring assemblies, hoses, etc. If a deck has to be unscrewed or otherwise removed, take it off yourself. The easier access to the engine bay, the cheaper the installation. You want to make it as simple as possible for the old engines to come out because that equals less time spent by the installer, meaning saved dinero.
THE BOTTOM LINE
• Repowering a seaworthy craft is worth both the effort and money and you will recoup the cost of the installation.
• Start investigating the subject at marinas, repower shops, people who have repowered, parts shops, the local Popeye-like character. Don’t ask open-endedly for opinions. Ask specific questions.
• Choose your installer carefully and wisely. Money — while certainly a concern — should be the least concern at this juncture.
• Do what work you can yourself, but don’t bite off more than you can chew.
• If it’s a saltwater cooled powerplant go for new engines, not a rebuild. Freshwater may be rebuildable.
• Be aware of the cost of everything that will have to be changed, rebuilt or replaced. Motor mounts, shafts, props, transmissions, plumbing, electrical. Leave no stone unturned.