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The Most Common Boat Breakdowns, Part 2

The Most Common Boat Breakdowns, Part 2

We have published the first part of this guide to the most common breakdowns in boats recently. This part deals with some additional common problems.

If you’ve missed the first part of our guide to the most common boat breakdowns, you can find it here. San Diego ship repair experts here at Propulsion Controls Engineering (PCE) talk about boat breakdowns they encounter regularly.

Broken Drive Belt

This problem is common with inboard engines. The regular engine noise will probably drown out the sound of belt snapping, but you will soon be aware of the problem. Your overheating light will go on and the voltmeter will tell you that the alternator is not charging.

This is a serious problem and it can stop you in your tracks quickly. Not only does your alternator not work, but you lose the water pump as well.

How to Fix It?

People can be quite resourceful when they need to be. There are so many tutorials on how to create a makeshift belt out of fishing line or some pantyhose. However, it won’t work as well as a replacement belt would, and it may not work at all. The best option is to keep a spare on board.


Before you head out to sea, make sure that you check the belt. If it needs tightening, do it before you start. Another thing which can save you a lot of trouble later on is to check the surface of the pulleys. If they are corroded, their surface can become rough and quickly damage the belt. If you change the belt without cleaning the corrosion, the fix can be short lived. 

Starting Problem

If you are fortunate, the only reason you can’t start is that you accidentally flipped the starter switch. If that’s not the case, you’ve got an electrical problem. Depending on the seriousness of the situation, there can be something you can do.

How to Fix It?

There’s a chance that the ignition mechanism got loose in its fitting. In that case, the whole mechanism turns instead of just the key. You simply need to tighten its fitting, and you’re good to go.

However, if that’s not the problem, chances are that you’ve got an empty battery. If you drained the battery while the engine was off, it is quite likely the source of your problem. Another related issue could be a loose connection to the battery. In that case, you need to tighten the connection cables and you’re good to go.

The worst case scenario is if the wiring is faulty. There’s not much you can do about it out at sea, so you may need to call for help.


The best option is to perform regular maintenance, as well as other types of maintenance if needed. You can also install an additional battery if you tend to spend a lot of electricity when the engines are off. 

Steering Problem

Any issue with the steering system is an understandably worrying problem. When you try to turn, the rudder does not respond, or even worse, it’s locked in place. The most likely culprit for the first issue is the hydraulic system. It is either low on hydraulic oil, or it has a leak somewhere in the line.

If your steering is firmly locked in place, you’re looking at a mechanical problem; most likely a loose connection of the steering arm.

How to Fix It?

Add the necessary fluid to the system as the first step. Next, try to figure out where the fluid went. Check the lines for leaks. If you don’t find a leak, look at the fittings. If you notice fluid leaking, tighten the fittings and that should fix the problem.

If the steering’s jammed, you will need to find the problem manually. Follow the steering until you find where the problem area is.


Check your hydraulic oil levels before you leave port, and periodically while you are at sea. You should also keep all the mechanical parts well lubricated.

Breakdowns in the middle of the sea are no laughing matter. That’s why you need to know a little about the possible problems before you start.

However, to maximize your boat’s safety, you need to perform regular maintenance. If you are looking for a San Diego ship repair and maintenance facility, look no further than PCE. With over 40 years of marine experience, we can meet all of your needs. Contact today for more information.

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