S hhh… of you listen closely, you can hear her talking. She’s trying to tell you something. Yes, your boat does have the power to communicate with you—but only if you’re willing to listen.
Squeaking noises coming from a place where two pieces of molded fiberglass are joined is a sure sign of loosening fasteners. When you hear these squeaks, identify the exact location or seam where they’re created. Then check screws, through-bolts, and other fasteners for tightness.
The same is true of T-top legs where they meet and are affixed to the deck or console. Finally, if your boat has a cabin you may hear the same telltale squeaking from cabinetry that’s loosened and is rubbing at the joints.
Howling sounds coming from the propeller are your boat trying to tell you the trim is set too high, and the prop is sucking air. Ventilation (as opposed to cavitation, which causes vibration as well as an audible noise) makes a very distinct sound that’s louder and deeper than the engine’s usual hum.
It’s important to listen for this, too, because ventilation can cause a drop in speed, your engine to overheat, and/or a loss of power and control in sharp turns. When you hear that howl, take the trim down a notch.
Engine whines that come and go in different RPM ranges may be bad belts—just like in your car or truck. But listen closely when you can just barely hear that sound, especially at very low (vibration-rich) RPM ranges, because there’s another possibility with rather serious repercussions. The bolts and washers securing the steering arm to the actuator on some outboards can make a quieter but very belt-like sound when they come loose, and parts start rubbing back and forth against each other. Use your ear to pinpoint the whiny parts, and address the issue immediately.
Surging that you hear from your engine (while the throttle remains static) is often a fuel problem. A restriction in the lines, clogged filter(s), a closed or plugged tank vent, or a virtually empty fuel tank can all cause that sound. Note: if there’s water or contaminants in the fuel there usually won’t be a surge, but instead a sudden shut-down. So ensure a steady supply of gas, when you hear that surging.
Pitter-patters from above on your hard top or T-top can mean any number of things: an antenna may have fallen down, the radome may have lost a bolt, or perhaps a wire to the running lights came free and is tapping the top.
Whatever the cause, when you hear a sound from above you need to stop and investigate. Since the top of a hard or T-top is out of sight and out of mind, it’s common for things like backed-out screws or corroding connections to go unnoticed up there—that sound you hear may be the only way you’ll ever know something’s wrong, until something fails to work.
Every modern outboard manufacturer uses audible alarms, and when they go off, obviously, you need to listen up. In this case, however, you’ll also need to use your eyes to determine the issue.
Large, expensive motors usually display alarm data right at the helm. Many smaller outboards use audible beeps combined with the speed or number of times a light flashes, to communicate the specific problem. If you don’t know what those beeps and flashes are trying to tell you reach for your smart-phone, because the answer can almost always be found on Google.
A gravelly rattling or grinding noise coming from below deck probably means you have a pump that’s about to go kaput. Isolate the issue by shutting down everything with a pump, from your raw water wash-down to your livewell to your bilge pump. Then turn them on, one by one, until you hear that sound once again.
In the case of pumps with external strainers, the issue may be a stray pebble or piece of plastic that got sucked in and blasting them out with a hose may do the trick. But if the pump is contained or if a blast from the hose has no effect, get ready to replace that pump—complete failure is probably not far away.
Keep your RPM up, if you hear your outboard engine stall whenever it’s in neutral and you shift back to idle speed. If it will keep running at elevated RPM—yet stalls right back out when you go to neutral to shift into gear, quite often the AIC valve is the culprit.
These tend to get clogged over time, and while the engine will otherwise run just fine, at idle it will stall every time. To get home, keep RPM up at around 1,800 or 2,000, then shift back to neutral, straight into forward gear, and right back up to 2,000 or so RPM in one swift motion.
Yes, this is hard on the transmission and you certainly don’t want to make a habit out of it. But this technique will keep the engine running so you can make it back to the dock.
Sudden over-revving of the engine is obvious to the ear. If it’s the result of wake-jumping, your boat is telling you that you’re going too fast for the conditions.
What if you hear a sudden over-rev while traveling on calm waters? It could be the result of “spinning out” the hub of your propeller. When that rubber insert inside the hub gives way, RPM often shoots through the roof. In some cases you may be able to back off on the throttle, let the rubber get a fresh grip, and then get moving again.
But if you get this lucky, don’t push it and try to go fast. Instead, go home slowly as you count your blessings. Once that hub spins out, it almost always happens again soon.
Email Lenny Rudow at [email protected]