manufacturers typically recommend an oil change every 100-200 hours, and at least once a year. Even if your engine manual
allows for a longer interval between oil changes, changing the oil more often will extend the life of the engine.
For some reason engine manufacturers
are very liberal with oil change intervals while most marine technicians agree that shorter intervals of say at least every
100 hours, is especially important for boaters who use their engines for short trips or only a few hours per outing. Dirty
oil sitting idle becomes destructive to the internal surfaces of the engine. If your boat will be idle for a while-over the
winter, for example-it is imperative to remove the contaminated oil and fill the engine with clean oil.
Unfortunately regular oil changes are
more often the exception rather than the rule, mainly because changing the oil in a boat engine can be a difficult and messy
job. While it takes only a minute to drain the oil from an automobile engine, the oil drain plug in a boat is most often either
out of reach or non-existent. And even where the plug is accessible, there is usually inadequate space beneath the engine
for a container to catch the draining oil.
The trick to hassle-free oil changing
is to find a method that works for your engine installation. Here are some possibilities.
Run the Engine
Before you begin an oil change, the engine
should be hot. Warm oil is easier to suck through a rubber hose or copper straw, but the reason for running the engine is
more essential than that. You are changing the oil because it is contaminated with abrasive and chemical impurities. But the
dirt in oil is just like dirt in water; leave it undisturbed and it settles to the bottom. Suck out the cold oil and much
of the dirt stays behind, immediately contaminating the fresh oil and defeating the whole purpose of the oil change. Run the
engine and get all of the contaminants in suspension so they come out with the oil.
If you are pumping out the old oil, the
most convenient receptacle is probably a plastic milk jug. The small opening will keep the outlet hose under control, and
the capped jug is convenient for transporting the old oil to the reclamation receptacle in the marina or at a nearby service
station. If your pump isn't mounted to a bulkhead, wrap a thick towel around it to keep from burning your hands when you start
sucking hot oil through it.
Through the Drain Plug
For all practical purposes draining the
oil via the plug on the bottom of your oil pan "almost" never works. Boat builders usually put little or no thought into engine
servicing, their only thought is to make it fit in the boat. However, if you are one of the lucky one's who has good access
to the bottom of the oil pan and room for a container to catch the hot oil, just make sure your container will hold all the
oil in the engine. Spread an oil-absorbent cloth beneath the container to catch the inevitable splash or spill.
Replacing the drain plug with a hose
fitting and a length of hose allows you to "decant" the oil into any container you can get lower than the engine sump. Kits
containing hose and fittings are available, or you can assemble your own with a threaded hose barb and oil-resistant hose.
Be sure the threads on the barb are the same as on the plug. Clamp a second barb to the free end of the hose and fit it with
a cap (or a plug). Rig a hanger to keep the end of the hose well above the oil level, except when you are draining the oil.
Where space lower than the engine is
inadequate for a container, use a similar hose connection between the drain plug and a brass piston pump to pump the oil out
of the engine. Mounting the pump permanently to an engine-compartment bulkhead makes oil removal as easy as giving the handle
a few strokes. If you don't object to the expense, substituting an electric pump-one intended for hot oil-reduces oil draining
to flipping a switch.
Through the Dipstick Tube
Many marine engines simply don't have
a drain plug, or it is too inaccessible even for a hose connection. Draining the oil from these engines requires a pump to
suck it out through the dipstick tube.
On some engines the dipstick tube is
threaded. The supplied oil-change pump screws directly to the dipstick tube and the oil is removed with a few pulls on the
handle. This works fine where there is good access. Otherwise, you can mount the pump to a convenient bulkhead and connect
it to the dipstick with a hose with threaded fittings-essentially a very short garden hose. Mount a short length of PVC pipe
fitted with a male hose adapter next to the pump to provide a place to "park" the hose when not in use.
Where the dipstick tube is not threaded,
you have to use a pick-up tube inserted through the dipstick tube to extract the oil. Most pick-up tubes furnished with oil-change
pumps are unnecessarily small. Replacing them with 1/4-inch (ID) copper tubing changes this common method of oil removal from
agonizing to amazing. Be sure the tube is long enough to reach the bottom of the engine oil pan, and connect it to your pump
with a length of rubber hose. Again, mounting the pump to a bulkhead eases the process. Also mount a length of PVC pipe, capped
at the bottom, to sheath the pick-up tube.
Change the Filter
Regardless of manufacturer's recommendations,
change the oil filter every time you change the oil.
Virtually every other filter you will
encounter sits vertically so the fluid it contains does not spill when the filter is opened, but for some reason that totally
eludes me, engine designers mount oil filters at an angle, horizontally, even upside down. You can guess what happens when
you open them. For all but the upside down variety, you can contain the spilling oil by slipping a freezer bag over the filter
and unscrewing the filter inside the bag. Bag it before you break the seal.
Most oil filters are the "spin-on" variety.
You need a strap wrench to remove them. Strap wrenches grip the canister when pressure is applied to the handle. If the wrench
slips, take it off the filter and reverse it; it only works in one direction. Coat the gasket of the new filter lightly with
oil before screwing it in place. Hand tighten it until the gasket makes full contact, then tighten it another 3/4 of a turn.
Some older engines are equipped with
cartridge type oil filters. A center bolt typically holds the filter housing in place. Release the bolt and remove the canister.
Empty it and discard the old cartridge. Clean the housing with diesel fuel (or kerosene) and insert the new cartridge. If
a separate sealing ring is included with the cartridge, carefully pry the old seal out of its seat by pricking it with a straight
pin. Coat the new seal with oil and push it into position. Reinstall the canister.
Pour in Fresh Oil
The last step in every oil change is
pouring in the fresh oil. Your engine manual will give you the viscosity and API rating for the oil recommended by the manufacturer.
Screw-top containers make it simple to pour the oil into the filler opening on top of the engine, provided there is ample
room to turn up the container. If not, you can avoid a lot of irritation by using a funnel and a piece of hose and to get
the oil from the container to the engine.
Make generous use of oil-absorbent pads
when draining and filling engine oil. Remember that even a sheen on the water from your bilge pump discharge can cost you
Last but not least, now that you have
cleaned up and wiped down the engine you need to check for leaks. Start the engine and run at idle speed while checking for
oil pressure. Now check for any oil leaks, particularly at the oil filter that you just replaced. If all looks good, pat yourself
on the back and happy boating!