Pontoons aren’t all fun and games.
Sometimes, ‘tooners bump into problems.
And these are often engine problems.
Engines are more mysterious, and they require more knowledge to understand and fix.
Yet, they’re very important to us ‘tooners. We ought to know about them.
For example, did you know that grime build-up on the bilge pump is one of the most common causes of boat sinking?
The Pontoon Problems You Should Watch Out For
Boat engines are faced with the elements, from corrosion-causing saltwater to fierce winds, sun and rain. Not only this, but when the drain scuppers become obstructed with leaves, there’s a big chance you might not stay afloat when embarking on your next sea voyage.
However, these aren’t the only things you ought to pay attention to when maintaining your vessel.
The average life expectancy of a marine diesel engine is 5,000 hours, but this can drop to significantly less if you don’t take it upon yourself to troubleshoot pontoon engine problems. Essentially, failure to maintain your engine could result in your pontoon turning into a submarine!
While you might not be able to completely protect your boat from Mother Nature, there are a few things you can do to navigate safely on the water and prevent pontoon problems from arising.
A top reason for boat breakdowns, engine failure could go unnoticed for weeks or months if you aren’t aware of how to identify and resolve an issue. Loss of power, a sputtering engine, difficulty starting the engine, unusual vibrations and a shifter that’s failing to engage the transmission are just a handful of boat breakdown causes.
These are all engine problems that you should be prepared to identify and solve.
Many notable maritime disasters occurred throughout the 20th century, including the Harta Rimba. February 7, 1999 was the fateful day on which the ferry sunk. After days of the vessel being carried along water with engine difficulties, a colossal wave wiped out the Harta Rimba and it sunk beneath Indonesian waters without a trace. Had the boat engine been maintained properly, the 313 victims might still be alive today.
Your nautical adventures need not end in such a way. By familiarizing yourself with different types of pontoon problems and determining the solution, the chances of boat engine malfunction occurring will lower substantially, not to mention how much the boat is actually going to cost you in the long run.
How to Identify and Solve Pontoon Engine Problems
Common sense boating all starts with the right approach to maintenance. A well-maintained vessel will have a longer lifespan and will encounter fewer engine malfunctions, if any at all.
The craftsmanship that has gone into constructing an engine will also have an immense impact on mechanical longevity. You can easily solve a wide range of pontoon problems without hiring professional assistance if you can solve the puzzle. By this, I mean accurately determining which complication corresponds with which particular warning sign.
On that note, read the following indications of pontoon problems and how to solve them if you want to avoid hefty repairs:
- Loss of Power — When a pontoon engine is running out of power and making whining or gravelly-type noises, this is an indication that the filter is faulty. Solve this problem by replacing the in-line fuel filter or draining any water build-up. The engine box should be vented thoroughly and possibly, a fuel stabilizer fitted, so as to prevent future problems. Keep in mind that filtration will be an added requirement for pontoons with older tanks.
- Overheating Engine — Pay attention to the engine temperature gauge and, if it appears to be increasing, the cooling loop is likely lacking water. Failure to deal with an overheating engine can result in the engine breaking completely. Track the cause of the problem from its source. Often, the cause will be a blockage near the engine. Solve the problem by removing any plastic or weeds that could be causing the engine to overheat and make a habit of frequently inspecting the exhaust risers to avoid further temperature problems.
- Engine Won’t Start — Perhaps one of the most common (and frustrating) pontoon problems related to the engine is when it won’t start. Electrical issues might be to blame, such as ignition circuit breaks or battery faults. Solve the problem by checking the kill switch and tightening up any screws that have become loose. Should the problem continue, charge/replace the battery or look for loose connections.
- Engine Has Gone Dead — If you haven’t run out of fuel then corrosion, a loose connection or electrical failure could be the cause. In many cases, an engine will go dead because a lanyard key has become loose. If problems persist after fiddling with the key, examine the ignition switches for unstable connections. In the event that corrosion is the culprit, protect the components with an anti-corrosion spray like Corrosion X.
- Gases Emitting from Exhaust — Pay attention to gas color. Black smoke is a warning sign of fuel injector failure, inadequate air supply or an overworked engine. Conversely, white smoke indicates water leaks or atomized/unburned/dirty fuel. If you notice blue smoke spewing out of the engine, take it as a sign of broken oil seals, an overloaded air filter or broken valve guides and/or piston rings. Solve the problem by making sure the engine oil level is sufficient, which means not too low or high. Replace the oil if it appears to be contaminated.
When to Contact a Mechanic to Solve Your Pontoon Problems
No matter how well you maintain your boat engine, you’ll have no choice but to replace it if the problem is ongoing.
Continuous overheating, changes in fuel economy, repeated problems and signs of stress on other boat parts are just a few indications that your pontoon engine has/is coming to the end of its life.
Diagnostic assistance from a professional boat mechanic will make you fully aware of any potential underlying problems that (if they haven’t already) might result in engine failure, should they go unnoticed.
Note: If you made the wise choice to acquire a pontoon directly from a respected brand, the cost of mechanical labor and/or engine replacement should be included in your warranty coverage plan.
How to Prevent Pontoon Problems
Although it’s advisable to get in contact with a boat mechanic once you’re aware of pontoon problems, it wouldn’t hurt to do a bit of maintenance.
Prolonging engine life is entirely possible when you create a maintenance schedule.
Since some pontoon problems are straightforward to fix, you could save a lot of time and money by practicing the following scheduled maintenance steps:
- On a daily basis, check the cooling system coolant level and engine oil level.
- Once or twice a month, spray the engine’s parts lightly with WD-40 to keep it lubricated.
- On a weekly basis, perform a walk-around inspection to confirm the condition of driven equipment, V-belts, etc.
- Every 250 running hours, check battery electrolytes, change the primary fuel filter element and check the air cleaner.
- Change the gearbox oil every three months and hire a boat mechanic to inspect internal parts (at least) once annually.
- Make sure the fuel tanks are topped up, filters are changed regularly and problems are detected/resolved, should you smell a fuel leak.
To complete the above maintenance steps and to keep things clean and shiny, you’ll want to keep the following products on board your pontoon (click the names of the items to check pricing on Amazon):
- Corrosion X
- Fuel stabilizer
- Microfiber towel
- Parts cleaning brush
- Quality boat engine cover
- Hose (to rinse the engine out with fresh water)
Final Thoughts on #PontoonProblems
Remember, you get what you pay for when you build your own pontoon boat or buy a boat from a dealer.
Furthermore, seasonal maintenance will enhance fuel efficiency and longevity. Seek out a reputable boat dealer and refrain from replacing worn parts with knock-off parts.
Something that’s brand manufactured is much more likely to stand the test of time than an unoriginal product. Get in the habit of shielding your engine with a plastic cover or canvas when the pontoon isn’t in use.
Even if you’re not a mechanic, side-stepping pontoon problems will be a breeze if you flush out the engine after every trip, inspect the water pump for adequate water flow and examine the engine for leaks.
Keep the basics on board, and keep an eye on that engine!
Bethan Rose is a full-time wanderluster, traveler, and digital nomad with 7 years of experience in the freelance writing world. Based in Bali, she can be found using hammocks as an office for content curation when she is not cruising around Indonesian waters on surf and power boat charters.