As most of you who regularly read my columns, I work in a boat store. Among a great many other things, we sell a variety of engine parts, such as starters, alternators and fuel filters.
It will come as no shock to any of us boaters that prices always seem to be rising. This year, more than in prior years, I am hearing customers say, “that’s a standard Chevy engine, I’ll get the XYZ part at the auto store”.
Now, most of the engine blocks that Mercruiser and other marinizers use come from the automakers. That’s where the similarities end. A properly marinized engine will be equipped with parts that meet all current United States Coast Guard requirements as well as ABYC (American Boat Yacht Council), CE or UL standards appropriate for the marine use.
In many cases, the part in question will look almost exactly like its automotive counterpart. However, there is a difference, the marine part, if electrical, will be ignition protected. That is, it will not produce a spark that might ignite gasoline vapor.
The Coast Guard was given the responsibility for formulating rules and regulations concerning recreational boats, and gasoline powered boats especially, due to the many problems with early gasoline powerboats. Early gasoline powered boats had a distressing habit of blowing up, hence the requirements for ignition protected electrical devices, bilge blowers and the like.
The automotive parts won’t be so equipped. Other parts are also certified and rated for specific uses. For example, see-thru bowls on fuel/water separators are limited to diesel fuel use, gasoline filters on inboards and I/Os must have metal bowls.
For more detailed information about these standards, you can access the Coast Guard’s web site and look at the online Boatbuilder's Handbook:
(Side note: I often have customers give me SAE J1171 as a part number for an electrical part. That isn’t a part number, it is the Society of Automotive Engineers test standard for ignition-protected devices.)
The parts must also be installed properly. I recently had a customer who wanted to install a canister type fuel/water separator in his fuel line and just leave it hanging there. Standards required that type of filter to be permanently mounted.
There is also more than meeting the regulation involved here. If you replace a component with a non-rated one and an accident ensues, guess what happens to that boat insurance you thought covered you? Yup, it is null and void.
Non-standard parts and installations will also come back to bite you when you go to sell your boat. Most buyers will want a pre-purchase survey or need an insurance survey. Guess what the surveyor is going to say about that automotive part you saved money on? It will go on the list of things to be corrected, at your expense, before the sale is finalized.
Now this isn’t a plug for a specific boat store, it is a plea to use the right parts in the right places, install them properly and maintain them. Sure, it’s a little more expensive than that part in the auto store, but those regulations were established for a reason, they are there for your protection.
(The Capt’n steps down off the soapbox and carefully puts it away.)