Your boat is talking to you. Listen to the noise.

Some problem noises are obvious. Some are not.

Get into the habit of listening to your boat’s noises. Critical components- things like the fresh- and raw-water pumps, alternator, transmission, all have a distinct sounds.

  • A gravelly noise from a component with bearings can indicate that the bearings are about to fail. The alternator and recirculating pump are prime suspects when you hear this. A belt that’s too tight could hasten either of these failures.
  • Change in tilt-lift motor noise on an outboard could be a sign of pump failure or air in the tilt motor fluid. It could also indicate drop in voltage that could indicate fault in the charging system, corroding connections, or wiring.
  • Variations in the engine noise, called “hunting,” could indicate impurities in the fuel, an air leak in the suction line, a clogging filter, a failing fuel pump, or a failing injector pump.
  • A “thunk” when you push the starting button means problems, even if your engine then seems to start normally. The “thunk” could be caused by a hydraulic lock.(resulting from water standing on top of a piston)
  • If you hear a lighter “clunk” in the starter, it may be a bad solenoid, engagement gear, or starter.
  • A squealing noise could indicate a loose V-belt, but it could also be a clue that one of the components it is turning, such as the alternator or fresh-water recirculating pump, is freezing up. Bad bearings could be causing this. Overload or deteriorating internal parts could cause this in the alternator.
  • Unusual cracking or creaking sounds when hitting seas, running at speed, or otherwise stressing the hull could indicate de-lamination, or structural bonds failing between bulkheads. Bad news is the impending transom detachment, or other serious problems.
  • The bilge pump running more often than usual means you should start looking for a leak. Some less obvious sources of water in the bilge include the propeller shaft seal, the freshwater system, the cooling system, the pop-off valve in the hot water heater, and the hoses on the engine.
  • Unusual noises in the transmission usually signal a problem developing that could require professional help very soon.