Narrow boat breakdown pt. 1 - the basics

A break down can really make your canal trip turn sour. The following series of articles will help you avoid breakdowns. The following guides will also help you locate and fix problems if they should arise.

Regular maintenance of your narrow boat

It's vital you develop regular maintenance routines and complete these before your journey, particularly if the boat's been sitting idle for a long period.

  • Check the oil (especially important if you're a new owner as you need to identify oil usage), and keep the engine clean (it'll be easier to identify any new problems developing).

  • Look for leaks, if fuel's seeping out, air will be getting in which will cause problems like erratic running and high engine vibration.

  • Check the bilge pumps are working and that you have enough to do the job effectively (RCR recommend installing one in the bilges for the living area - it can prove essential if you get a hull leak or a pipe for your domestic system fails). Also is there any water in the bilge? Find out why.

  • Check the battery and top-up with de-ionised water.

  • Check if the fan belt is loose, worn or even still there?

  • Look for any loose bolts/pipes (particularly the engine mounts and propeller shaft).

  • Scrutinise cables and control equipment for signs of wearing/fraying and tighten linkages etc., replace or grease where necessary.

Owners who live aboard their craft appear to have far fewer call-outs because of the routines they already have in place.

Tool box essentials

Don't confine your tool box essentials to the garage - a canal boat is equally as likely to require the same level of care and attention you give your home and vehicle.

The following are useful to have on board;

  • A multi-meter (battery tester)

  • PTFE tape (for dealing with unexpected domestic leaks)

  • Adjustable spanners

  • A flat head and multi-faceted Phillips screwdriver

  • Pliers

  • A hammer

  • Spare lengths of electrical wire/ insulation tape

  • A socket set

Don't forget the spares, such as; morse cables for steering, throttle and gear selection, fan belt, impeller, spark plugs, fuel filter, bulbs, bolts and fuses, plus a supply of oil and 'and stop leak' or putty for those unexpected hull breaches.

Before you make that emergency call

Below are some common scenarios which may help you solving the problem before making that call;

If you are losing propulsion and the propeller is slow-moving, put the engine in reverse. The prop may be covered in weed or leaves and this can help release it.

If the engine cuts out when in gear, check the propeller for obstruction.

If the engine cuts out when revved, check the air filter - it may be blocked with dust (can be removed and run without it in an emergency). Alternatively check for blocked fuel filters (Vetus has a small fuel pump filter that is usually overlooked).

Is the engine overheating? It could be an air lock in the cooling system. Resolve it by unscrewing the bolt sitting on top of the water tank - this will release the air.

If the boat won't go into gear, check the cable is moving the selector arm on the gearbox, if it is then the cable is fine. Check the oil in the gearbox.

Engine won't turn off? Know where the manual stop button or lever is situated, usually on the right hand side of the engine

A word of warning - bio diesel

Whilst River Canal Rescue is yet to collect conclusive proof, the firm has gone from replacing two injector pumps a year to 28 in 2012. It is feared bio-diesel which is known to corrode rubber seals and cause internal rusting is resulting in the increase in injector pumps failing. RCR is monitoring the situation and will report back on trends, however in the meantime, the use of a fuel treatment additive like Marine 16, to help lubricate the system is recommended.

Read more on narrowboat maintenance:

Preventative maintenance
Batteries and electrics
Fuel and breaking cables
Cooling systems and alternators

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