December 5, 2013

Keep that outboard warm

IT’S BEEN COLD around here for the past few days.  Down at the marina there’s a thin layer of ice floating on top of the salt water. They let the freshwater faucets run slowly, day and night, to stop the pipes freezing up.

And when I look around I am always surprised to see scores of outboard motors hanging off the sterns of boats. Why, I want to know, why don’t they freeze the water that’s left inside them and suffer damage every time the air temperature drops below 32°F?

I have always been very cautious with my outboards.  I have always taken them home and stored them in the garage for winter. But perhaps I have been making unnecessary work for myself, because no one else seems to bother.  They just let their outboards hang there off their sterns and leave them to their own devices.

I know that some of them will have salt water in their innards, and it takes a lot more to freeze salt water; but then, when we get those icy blasts coming down the Frazier Valley from Canada the temperature can drop down to near zero, which should be enough to inflict damage, even if it is only for a short period.

And some more conscientious owners will have flushed their outboards with fresh water before abandoning them for winter.  That’s to cut down on corrosion on the engine’s insides, but it also means that it’s certain the water that remains will freeze, and expand, and cause enough havoc to bring joy to the lives of the people who repair outboard motors.

I have had owner’s manuals that say you should lower the engine in a saltwater berth when there’s ice around.  They’re never specific about the purpose of this, but I presume it’s because the non-frozen salt water will distribute some warmth (or comparative warmth) up the metal shaft and prevent the innards from freezing up.

If the manufacturers are concerned about the possibility of damage in freezing weather, why are the owners of outboard motors so cavalier in their approach?  I know this is a very rich country, but few people can afford a new outboard every season.  Besides, I feel aggrieved that the ones I see around me don’t seem to suffer winter damage.  By rights, owners who don’t have the nous or the energy to remove their outboards and take them home ought to be made to suffer like the few of us who happen to be blessed with common sense and a mariner’s awareness of thriftiness.

Just wait till spring. It will be very rewarding to see them going red in the face and sweating as they try to start those neglected outboards. Serves them right, I say.

Today’s Thought
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire,
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
— Robert Frost, Fire and Ice

“Why so happy?”
“Somebody complimented me on my driving today.”
“That’s nice.”
“Yeah, they left a little note on the windshield. It said, 'Parking Fine.' ”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Jack said...

that cold air comes down from Alaska! It happens to have to pass over Sunny B.C.
We Canucks do our best to warm it up for you boys south of the 49th but you guys bought it off the Ruskies as the Brits were too tight to put their hand in their pocket...... Hang on, you're a born Brit, and so am I, but that's for another entry... Jack

John Vigor said...

So you think it's a self-inflicted wound, eh Jack? Well, the talk around here today -- it being 15°F (minus 9°C)-- is that it's colder down here than it is in Alaska, and that the Canucks are responsible for our deep freeze, all the way from the NW Territories and Alberta.
Anyway, we don't complain. We suffer in silence. You never saw such stiff upper lips.


John V.

Jack said...

Typing from the comfort of my home in South Devon where it's a balmy 11 degrees centigrade(52f) at present, I recall my first Canadian winter. It hit -52deg C(-61f) on Boxing day and stayed -45c for two weeks, considering 6 months previous I left work in the Middle East in +50 dec C (134 f )weather I wasn't too sure I had made a good choice.
If there's one good thing the cooler weather keeps the beer left on the deck or the cockpit good and chilled... and that can't be all bad !
Seasons Greetings, Jack