Until it Breaks?

We have had a number of discussions with boat owners recently about out maintenance practices, especially around our generator, and I have been surprised by what I heard.

The Issue

What we were discussing was one of the scheduled maintenance items for our Onan generator. Onan’s recommendation is to replace the shaft bearing every 5 years. Onan’s reasoning is while this is a sealed bearing that is “lubricated for life” the grease used gradually dries out and loses effectiveness. Catastrophic failure of this bearing would likely cause a lot of collateral damage and could destroy the generator. Because of this, the maintenance schedule for this task is based strictly on calendar time, and not operating hours.

There is no question that this is a major job. The entire guts of the electrical side of the generator need to be removed to access the bearing. An intimidating job for the mechanically naive, and a major one even for an experienced mechanic. Because of this, many, maybe most, people have chosen to just ignore this item on the maintenance list.

Our Approach

In our thinking, if we take care of our boat, she will take care of us. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will know we are constantly working one or another major, or minor, project on our boat. The thing that is important to note, is that VERY few of our projects are in response to an item that failed unexpectedly. All (well, almost all!) of our big projects are either preventive, or in response to an incipient failure we are heading off at the pass.

The idea of ignoring a recommended maintenance item and hoping that it will not matter is anathema to us. We routinely take our boat to remote and isolated places. We need to have confidence that all of our critical systems will support our plans.

Take it Apart!

One of the really important parts of the care for our boat is the philosophy: Just take it apart. If you roam around the boat, and on a regular basis you just disassemble and reassemble something it has a number of useful results. Maybe most important, is you learn how to do it, and gain a better understanding of the key parts and how they work and wear. You will find problems before they stop you in your tracks. You can be sure that you have all the tools you need to repair critical systems. You can compare your spare parts inventory to what you see needs work.

Different Strokes

Now, to be sure, different boats have different needs. A boat that spends almost all its time in close reach of supplies and professional mechanics can have a less stringent maintenance program than one that spends time crossing oceans or in remote places. For us, and for the way we use our boat, the “plan” of “run it until it breaks” is just not an option.

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1 Response to Until it Breaks?

  1. James says:

    Bill, As seems to very often be the case, I think that you are making a good point and are on target with this one! Preventive maintenance not only helps to preserve the component you are working on, it can also preserve the rest of the boat and her crew if this item is critical in nature. I actually enjoy working on my own boat so long as other regular work is not overwhelming. After battling to remove our bow thruster the first time (who knows how long it had been since it was last serviced!) , I remove the unit at each haul out, change the oil to check for water etc. even when we are only sailing seasonally. This project takes very little time so long as everything is greased up so why not? So yes, take care of the boat and she can take care of you!
    Best, James

    Like

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