You can salvage your submerged boat

The spoil banks of Louisiana’s marsh hold more than their share of bushytails.

It was just a little over three years ago when Louisiana was dealt a horrific one-two blow from Katrina and Rita. Now, thanks to Gustav and Ike, boat owners in Louisiana are facing many of the same problems that existed back then.

After Katrina and Rita, boat-insurance companies were proactive in totaling their customers’ boats if they had been sunk during the storms. Effectively, the insurance company was buying the boat from its customer, and then disposing of the water-damaged rig at auction. The customer received a check, and was free to shop for a new boat to replace his damaged rig.

Unfortunately, not everyone had boat insurance. There was so much property damage that most boats had to wait for the more-important things like flooded houses and automobiles to be taken care of. This waiting period basically was a death sentence for any engines that had been submerged in the storm.

Salvaging a storm-submerged boat and engine is a very difficult, but not impossible, task. When a storm such as Gustav or Ike comes ashore in your area, the waves churn up sand, silt, mud and a lot of other contaminants. All of these items are in suspension in the water — the same water that your boat was just submerged in.

If your engine had just sunk in a small pond where the water was clean, you could probably get by with just flushing the engine out and running it with extra lubrication.

Unfortunately, water that was stirred up by these storms is far from being clean. Much of that contamination has made its way inside your engine, where it was deposited when the water drained out.

There are many tiny places inside your engine where these contaminates can hide. It is virtually impossible to simply flush all of the contamination out of your engine. You may be successful in getting the engine partially cleaned and it will start up and run, but those hidden contaminants will eventually loosen up and find their way to one or more of your engine’s vital components like a crankshaft or piston pin bearing.

When this happens it is highly likely that your engine will have a major failure, and at that time you will be left stranded and hoping that some good Samaritan will come along and tow you in.

The key to salvaging a storm-submerged boat is to take action as soon as possible after the storm to begin the process of preserving your rig. The first thing is to wash out as much of the dirt and contaminated water as possible from your boat and engine.

If your engine was submerged you will need to preserve the internal components quickly before any rust begins to form. You will need to remove and disassemble the electric starter, and dry out all the internal components. You will probably have to replace the battery and cables.

Remove the spark plugs from the engine and use the starter to crank the engine and blow out as much water as possible. Pump oil into the engine through the carburetors and the spark plug holes in the head. Crank the engine several times to make the oil flow throughout the interior of your block. This is a very messy process, but it is necessary to prevent any residue water from causing rust on your engine’s vital parts.

The next step would be to disassemble the engine power-head. Once you disassemble, you can then wash out all of the internal components using a mild solvent such as mineral spirits.

You will need to pay particular attention to the bearings, and watch for any hidden crevices inside the engine block. Just a small amount of sand or grit left inside your engine can spell trouble later.

Inspect all of the engine components, and replace any parts that may be worn. Reassemble your engine power-head, and move on to the other parts of the engine that may have been damaged by the water.

Carburetors will have to be disassembled, cleaned with a chemical carburetor cleaner and reassembled.

The ignition components of the engine must also be thoroughly tested. Usually when a boat is submerged, the wiring system of both the boat and engine are damaged. Water can enter the insulation of the wire, and will begin to corrode the wire from the inside. It is usually best to replace all of the wiring in order to prevent nagging problems in the future.

Engine lower units and power-trim systems are usually sealed and designed to operate underwater. You should not have trouble with either of them, but you would be well-advised to thoroughly check both of them. You should remove the lower unit from your engine, and replace the water pump. This pump could have sand or other contaminants, which may restrict the flow of cooling water to your engine, cause the engine to overheat and damage one or more pistons.

If your boat was also submerged, it too will need a lot of tender-loving care. As with the engine, your boat’s electrical system will need a lot of work.

First, all wiring should be replaced. Then any switches, fuses, circuit breakers or other electrical components that were submerged should be replaced.

Bilge pumps and livewell pumps are designed to be submersible, so they would not need replacing, but radios, lights, depth finders and GPS units should all be checked thoroughly.

It may sound funny, but you should also consider changing your steering cable, and throttle and shift cables. If these items were completely underwater, there could be water trapped inside their casings, which will cause trouble later.

Salvaging a storm-submerged boat and motor involves a lot of man-hours. Sometimes the cost can actually exceed the value of the rig. Before starting this project, you may want to check the blue book value of your boat, motor and trailer so that you can have some idea of how much money you want to spend. If you have a computer with internet capabilities you can log on to, and click on to boats, motors and trailers to get your value.

If you have any questions about your boat, motor or trailer, you can drop me a line at