Flares are an important part of our vessel safety equipment and are required by law.
For boats under sixteen feet you are required to carry 3 day and 3 night flares or 3 combination day / night flares. For boats sixteen feet and larger you are required to carry three hand-held or floating orange smoke signals and one electric distress light or three combination day / night red flares; hand-held, meteor or parachute type. All Coast Guard approved flares and pyrotechnic signaling devices are stamped with an expiration date. If your flares are expired or will expire during the boating season they will need to be replaced! While 3 day / 3 night flares are the minimum it is suggested and prudent to carry more. After a few years of boating this can add up to a significant cost.
Weems & Plath a leader in manufacturing technical and navigational instruments has developed an electronic alternative to pyrotechnic flares and signaling devices that is US Coast Guard approved, easily activated, eliminates risk of accidental burns and fires and can be attached to the boat and left unattended while you work to fix what ever problems the boat is having or assist you passengers. The SOS Distress Light is waterproof, has a floatation ring to keep the strobe light above the water, runs for 60 hours on 3 C cell batteries, and can be seen for up to 10 nautical miles. The best part is you don’t have to pay to replace expired flares year after year. The only ongoing cost associated with the SOS Distress Light is replacing the batteries yearly or as needed and carrying an spare set of batteries on the boat. The light comes with an orange SOS distress flag for day time use to meet requirements for day time signaling.
Some interesting features of the SOS Distress light are it comes with a lanyard that can be hoisted up a mast or tied to a railing, the handle fits perfectly into a standard rod holder, it works in all weather conditions, it’s so simple to operate even an untrained passenger can turn it on and it floats and keeps flashing even in the water unlike a flare that may not fire after an extended time in the water.
I bought one of these as soon as they came out and were Coast Guard approved. I kept my expired flares on the boat but marked them as “training use only” in order to avoid issues with the Coast Guard safety inspections. It’s never a bad idea to have a back up when it comes to your life or someone else’s. I’m pretty happy with the construction of the light and operation of the light. The only thing I would like to see is a mount sold for it. It takes up about the same amount of space as a small flare kit but it is an awkward shape and doesn’t lay flat or fit into an emergency bag easily. Since it fits into a rod holder you can repurpose a rod holder to store it. This makes a great addition to your Coast Guard approved safety kit.
In order to winterize your sterndrive inboard-outboard boat you will begin by filling the fuel tank then treating with a fuel treatment like Star Tron, Star Brite Ez-Store / Ez-Start or Stabil marine fuel treatment. Many experts agree that new ethanol gas blends “suck” water vapor from any air in the fuel tank. By filling the tank completely you remove most of the air and water vapor from the tank. Also treating the fuel prevents the gas from gumming up the fuel lines and carburetor over time. This is a great time to replace any fuel filters you may have. This step will help ensure a smooth running engine for your spring commissioning!
It is very important to bring the engine up to operating temperature while flushing! Otherwise antifreeze will not fill the block and result in freeze damage to the engine block!
Start by attaching the muffs over the inlet holes on the bottom of the sterndrive and attaching the garden hose. Remove the spark arrestor from the carburetor and set it in a safe location. Turn on the garden hose and verify good water flow to the outdrive. Once you have verified water is going to the outdrive start the engine and allow it to reach operating temperature. This is the temperature that the thermostat opens and allows water to circulate through the engine block. You may notice while watching the temperature gauge at the helm that the needle starts dropping, this is when the thermostat opens and lets cooler water circulate. Once the engine is at operational temperature disconnect the garden hose from the muffs and connect your winterizing kit or 5 gallon bucket to the muffs. Fill the kit or Bucket with marine antifreeze, place it higher than the engine, turn on the valve to let the antifreeze flow to the muffs and start the engine. You should see the antifreeze being “sucked” out of the container and through the cooling system. After seeing antifreeze coming out of the boats exhaust system for 20-30 seconds you can begin to fog the carburetor. To fog the engine spay the fogging oil directly into the carburetor until the engine bogs down and stops. (some high horse power engines will not stop and will sputter and miss instead.) Fuel injected engines typically do not need to be fogged. In either case check your owners manual to see specific instructions. Replace the spark arrestor.
I recommend using marine antifreeze that is rated for -100 degrees F and has anti corrosion protection. Some people like to use a cheaper antifreeze that has -50 or -25 degree protection but regardless of how you fill and flush the engine there is always a possibility of a water pocket in the cooling system that will dilute the antifreeze you put into the engine. By using -100 degree antifreeze you are protecting yourself from minor dilution.
We will continue the winterization process in part 2 discussing how to change the engine oil and what tools are needed.
In the first part of this post we’ve talked about flushing the engine, filling with antifreeze and fogging the engine. You didn’t think it ended there did you?! We still have a few more items to take care of to make sure your boat is shipshape for the upcoming winter.
While the engine is still warm, it’s a great time to change the engine oil and filter. You will need a way to remove the oil from the engine, new oil and filter. Tools needed will be an oil filter wrench and an oil extractor. You can use either a manual extractor like this one or a 12 volt pump extractor such as this jabsco pump.
Follow the instructions that come with the oil extractor to remove all of the oil from the engine. Typically this involves inserting the correct size tube down the dipstick tube connecting it to the extractor and pumping it a few times to create a vacuum to remove all of the oil. The manual extractors will normally have markings along the sides to show how many quarts of oil have been removed. If your oil filter is remotely mounted i.e it’s upside down on top of the engine or off to the side wrap a towel around the base of it to catch any oil that will leak out of it before removing it and poke a small hole in the top of the filter to allow the oil in the filter to drain while the extractor is sucking the oil out of the engine. Once all of the oil is removed you can remove the extractor tube and the oil filter taking care not to spill any oil on top of or under the engine.
Replace the engine oil with the correct weight oil, check your owners manual or the engine manufactures website for the correct oil specifications. Most mercruisers will be happy with mercruiser 25W40 oil. Mercruiser also has a synthetic version of the 25W40 if you prefer synthetic oil. As always check your manual to confirm you are using the correct oil.
Replace the oil filter with a new one lubing the gasket on the filter with oil and hand tightening the filter into place.
In part 3 of how to winterize your stern drive boat we will talk about changing the outdrive oil and inspecting the outdrive.
In the first and second posts we discussed flushing the engine, winterizing the engine with antifreeze, treating the fuel for winter storage and fogging the engine. This post will talk about servicing the outdrive, checking and changing the outdrive oil in a mercruiser alpha 1 outdrive.
Remove the prop and inspect the prop shaft for any damage and for things like fishing line wrapped around the shaft. If line is wrapped around the shaft inspect the shaft seal after removing the line for damage or leaks. If a leak is found have the seal replaced and pressure check the outdrive. Grease the shaft and replace the prop.
Locate the vent and drain screws on the outdrive. The vent screw will be on the upper part of the drive leg and the drain will be near the bottom close to the water intake holes. Place a catch pan under the drive and place the drive in the full down position. Remove the bottom screw then remove the top screw. Inspect the oil! If it has white streaks or is the color of coffee with milk remove the drive and have it pressure tested by a mechanic. If it is dark black you waited to long between oil changes. The drain plugs are magnetic inspect them for metal shavings an inspect the oil for metal shavings. If metal is found have the drive inspected by a professional. If the old oil has a foul smell or is dark grey this indicates overheating or an internal failure of the drive and will require professional help.
Once the oil has drained from the drive attach your oil pump to the bottom drain hole. The pump has a threaded connector that screws into the drain hole. I find it easier to attach the connector to the outdrive before you put the pump into the bottle of gear oil. Attach the pump to the oil bottle and pump oil into the drive until it flows out of the top hole. Replace the gasket on the top hole screw and screw the plug back into the drive. This will create a partial vacuum and let you quickly remove the oil pump from the bottom hole and place the bottom screw with a new gasket back into the drive. A small amount of oil may leak out before you can fully tighten the screw and this is ok. Using your shop towels clean up any oil that spilled on or down the drive leg.
Inspect the bellows and shift cable along with the water intake hose. If it’s been a few years since they have been replaced or if there is any dry rot or damage to the bellows have them replaced. A leaky bellows will sink a boat in record time! Here is a link to a decent alpha 1 bellows kit.
The only alloy proven to protect your boat in fresh water
It is not recommended to use magnesium anodes in salt or brackish water .
The result may be an accelerated corrosion rate, which may damage the metal parts of your boat and leave you with no anode protection in a short period of time.
A Special Note on Magnesium Anodes for Fresh Water… Essentially, fresh water is a much less conductive environment than salt water, therefore magnesium anodes are your best choice as they are much more active (less noble) than zinc or aluminum anodes
The result is increased efficiency thus superior protection for your underwater metal components
There are many types and models of outdrives. Some have a remote oil reservoir and will require addition steps to change the oil. This is a basic guide for mercruiser alpha 1 drives though the steps are generally the same for other brands such as OMC and Volvo.
Store the outdrive in the down position. This keeps water from collecting in the prop hub and possibly freezing and damaging the hub. It also reduces stress on the bellows and shift cable.
So you’ve read our multi part series on how to winterize your sterndrive boat and you noticed I mentioned using a 5 gallon bucket to winterize in place of a premade kit. A premade winterizing kit will cost about $40. You can make your own for a fraction of that cost.
Using your 1 1/2 inch hole saw drill a hole in the side of the bucket near the bottom. Be careful to not drill through the bottom of the bucket. Once your hole is drilled take the bulkhead fitting apart and insert the male threaded part of the bulkhead fitting through the hole you drilled from the inside to the outside. Make sure you have a gasket on both sides of the bulkhead fitting then screw the female threaded nut onto the male threads sticking out of the side of the bucket.
Take your Hose bib and wrap a few wraps of teflon tape or use pipe dope on the threads. screw the hose bib into the bulkhead fitting. You should have bought a 3/4 hose bib and a 3/4 inch bulk head. The products I have linked in this article are all compatible.
That’s it! If you bought the products linked here you spent about 20 dollars and will have a winterization bucket that will last you for years. I use mine to winterize the water system, engines and generators.
One of the hardest things is knowing the correct name for things. When I first built my bucket I didn’t know the name for the bulkhead fitting. I spent way to much time wandering around the store looking for something I couldn’t name. I hope this article helps you in your boating journey.