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How to Choose a Marine Mechanic

A Marine-Mechanics Institute (MMI) student

Alan Estuesta, Marine Mechanics Institute (MMI) student inspects one of the new training aids.

Choosing the Right Marine Technician
Means Getting Marine Engine Repairs Done Right the First time.

No matter whether or not you like to work on your own boat. Sometimes it just makes more dollars and sense to pay the boatyard to do marine engine repairs. A good marine mechanic, no matter how lofty the shop rate, will save you money, frustration and lost cruising time. This makes it wise to invest a few minutes in a background check. The four criteria to judge a marine mechanic's worth is: Education, equipment, shop cleanliness and integrity.

So inquire whether or not the mechanic is up to date on your specific engine. When was the last time he or she attended a service school? How many years of experience are under his or her belt? Ask to see diplomas. Naturally it follows the best certification marine technician can boast to have recently attended a service school sponsored by whoever built the engine. Notice we said "recently." No matter whether talking inboard engine, outboard motor or stern drive a marine engine technician needs to attend an advanced course every couple of years in order to keep up-to-date on modifications, problem-plagued components and troubleshooting methods. The tech who takes the time to keep abreast of new technology is miles ahead of the ho-hum guy who just barely maintains certification.


David Voorden, Mercury Marine’s 2018 Technician of the Year Australia/New Zealand.

Attitude is important. A competent marine mechanic is proud of his expertise. His diplomas and other certificates will be prominently displayed. Clean clothes and shined shoes indicate pride in himself--which is not to say that there aren't some scruffy master mechanics on the docks.

Special tools and diagnostic equipment is especially important. If an engine isn't running right the remove-and-replace breed of technician will nickel and dime you to death and still may not find the cure for a nagging problem. However, if your man plugs in electronic engine diagnostic gear he'll know right away the condition of the module, spark plugs, wires and sensors. Armed with this knowledge only the faulty or marginal components will be replaced. This is a vastly different scenario from an incompetent's routine of:

Remove suspected old part
Replace with new.
Test run the engine.
Problem gone? Nope.
Remove and replace another part.
Test again.
And on and on.

And you can be sure you'll pay for all the parts and labor whether you really needed the services or not. With this in mind, be sure to include a discussion of computers, electronic diagnostics and electronic fuel injection in your interview. Sadly, some technicians are dinosaurs, distrusting of and unfamiliar with the latest microcomputer technology. Antiquated approaches are time consuming and costly in the end, even if they're cheaper up front. A more expensive, but more competent, technician gets the job done quickly and does it right the first time.

Remember how we said a good shop will be outfitted with engine analysis? Similarly, a competent marine engine technician will always read engine compression before attempting a tune-up. That's because if compression is uneven from cylinder to cylinder, or extremely low, an engine will never run smoothly or develop full power. The result is that even after a tune-up was properly executed you won't be satisfied with the performance.

One certain sign of competence is how well someone cleans up after working on your property. For example, when crankcase oil is drained and refilled, no matter how much care is taken there's bound to be at least a drop of two spilled onto the valve cover. The top of the engine is easy to clean with a few swipes from the shop towel. A pro will take the time.

No doubt you've heard that it's wise to ask for all the parts that have been replaced. the logic being that you can be certain what you've teen told was installed actually was. Wrong. An honest marine mechanic will replace whatever needs replacing and charge fairly for the parts and labor regardless of whether or not an accounting is expected at the other end. On the other hand the rip-off artist has a ready supply of ignition and other used engine parts left over from Mr. Jones' overhaul and they'll look just dandy in a brown paper bag handed to you with a whopping repair bill. Take heart. These black-hearted pirates usually don't last long in the business. Word gets around just as surely as if the red piping stitched above their shirt pocket spells out the word: T H I E F. And finally, don't ignore intangibles like your gut reaction to a person. First impressions count. It's important to get along with people you're working with.

Things to Tell
Your Marine Technician

One of the forgotten aspects of the mechanic-client relationship is your responsibility. When you roll in for a tune-up, provide a list of ailments that spells out the symptoms. Be specific about the things that have been wrong. e.g. No power about 40-mph, the engine bogs down under acceleration, shifts hard into forward gear, takes forever to get up onto plane.

Also important, include the five senses:
I can small gasoline,
I feel vibration in the deck
I can small electrical smoke.
I can small electrical smoke.

Taking the time to accurately detail the malady helps the technician diagnose the trouble. But be forewarned not to outsmart yourself. Relay the symptoms, but don't confuse the issue by diagnosing the problem. In other words, don't say the carburetor needs rebuilding, instead say the engine is hard to start and bogs down on acceleration. That's because the carburetor might actually be in good shape but the engine bogs down because the spark plugs gap has worn too wide.

Another big help is to keep a detailed maintenance log kept with either pen and paper or on the computer. Bring along a printout of the records for the shop's perusal.

Be considerate. It's not reasonable to ignore a stalling engine for months and then expect a shop to turn it around on a Saturday morning with time enough to spare for you to salvage most of the weekend.