Major causes of breakdown
The major causes of breakdown for powered vessels are:
- engine failure
- fuel shortage or contamination
- mechanical failure
- battery failure.
Some of these can be easily avoided or fixed. It's recommended that you learn how to:
- change the filter and primer bowl
- clean and change spark plugs
- check the spark plugs are sparking
- check and replace fuses
- change the propeller
- check the battery.
It's also recommended that powered vessels are professionally serviced every year.
If you break down, stay in one position by anchoring your boat, if possible. If your personal watercraft (PWC) breaks down, stay with the vessel and do not try to swim to shore.
Toolkit and spare parts
Check you have a toolkit with at least the basic items. Make sure you have spares for parts that can be easily replaced.
|Spare part||Outboard powered vessels||Inboard powered vessels||Yacht|
|Fuses for motor and radio||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Shear pins for propeller / spare nuts and bolts||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Roll of waterproof electrical tape||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Spare fuel line||Yes||Yes|
|Tool||Outboard powered vessels||Inboard powered vessels||Yacht|
|Small metal file||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Hacksaw and blade||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Water displacement spray||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Spark plug spanner||Yes||Yes|
Registration number and safety label
If your vessel is registered, check the registration number is clearly displayed.
All recreational powered vessels (not including sailing boats with an engine or PWC) must display a safety label where everyone on board can see it. PWC must have aPWC Behaviour Label (PDF, 109.23 KB)
For all powered vessels, check:
- spark plugs, and make sure you have spares
- gearbox for leaks
- propeller is working, and make sure you have a spare shear pin
- cooling water circulation is working by checking if water is squirting from where it's meant to when the engine is running.
For PWC, check:
- engine compartment for fumes – vent any fumes before starting the engine
- engine hood cover is securely latched
- throttle is in working order.
Before using any switches or engines, check:
- there are no petrol or LPG odours
- fuel and filter lines are clear and in good condition – filters can become clogged and lines can harden with age and exposure
- you have enough fuel and water – plan to use a third of your fuel for the trip out, a third for the trip back, and have a third in reserve for unexpected events
- there are no leaks in fuel lines, fuel or oil tanks or the exhaust system
- there are no faults in the electrical system and all components are clean
- the boat is well ventilated to prevent carbon monoxide build up from exhaust systems.
If your boat has not been used for a while, replace old fuel with new fuel.
LPG cylinders and appliances
If your boat has LPG burning appliances, check:
- cylinders and appliances are suitable for marine use
- cylinders have been inspected and serviced by a licensed gasfitter
- equipment and hoses are in safe working order
- gas storage bottles are located in a well-ventilated space.
Bilges and pumps
- bilges – if there's more bilge water than usual, find out why and fix it
- self-draining holes are clear
- you have the bung and it's in place.
Replace the engine water pump if you've been out in the shallows stirring sand or mud, or if you have not used the boat for a while.
For a PWC, check that the pump or intake area is free of debris.
Check your navigation lights are in working order and that the lenses are clean and clear.
Ropes and lines
Check ropes and lines are in good condition and stored ready for use. Consider rigging lifelines in open areas so that children have enough handholds.
Check steering cables and connections are in good working order.
If your boat or PWC is fitted with an engine kill switch, make sure you have the correct lanyard.
Check the battery:
- is the right strength to operate electrical equipment and start the engine
- has clean and secure terminals that are charged and has fluid at the correct level
- can start the engine more than once – batteries can fail after not being used for extended periods.
Check you have the right anchors on board and that they are properly rigged, stowed and ready for use.
Some marine engines are capable of using biofuels. The 2 most common types of biofuels used in NSW are ethanol and biodiesel. Biofuels can affect the safety and fuel management of powered vessels.
Powered vessels with petrol engines
Generally, ethanol-blended fuel is not recommended for boats with petrol engines. This is because ethanol readily absorbs water and may separate from the petrol and cause engine failure.
Ethanol is a solvent. This may cause problems for carburettors and fibreglass fuel tanks. It can also damage rubber fuel lines, fittings, seals and filtration systems, particularly in older engines and non-standard engines.
To avoid ethanol-blended fuel, use either higher octane fuel, which does not contain ethanol, or regular unleaded petrol.
Powered vessels with diesel engines
Biodiesel has poor oxidation stability and can grow microbes. These factors cause the fuel to break down. This can speed up engine wear. It can also cause engine lubricants to break down and oil and fuel filters to block. Its solvent properties can cause damage to engine components, including seals and hoses.
Diesel blends of up to 5% biodiesel do not require labelling, so always ask before you fill your tank.