Saturday, July 18, 2009


We launched the new dinghy to get beneath the drives with the boat on the lift

Removing the upper unit cover of the outdrive exposed the shifting mechanism.

The sacrificial zinc anode will be replaced to cut down on corrosion.
Home in Port Charlotte
High of 93; brief late day shower
A week ago I had great intentions of taking the grandtwins fishing on the boat. I woke up early, checked the tides and found them favorable for a launch; took the boat off the lift; fired up the motor to ensure it would start after sitting for three weeks and I ran up to the bait shop and bought live shrimp. I even renewed my Florida salt water fishing license. By the time I got home Kathy had the boys fed and the gear loaded on-board.
I gave the boys a quick safety briefing, fitted them in vests and prepared to shove off. Kathy gave us a good push off the dock and I put the boat in gear. . . . . .nothing. I moved the throttle back to neutral, then forward and . . . . . .nothing. Motor runs but boat won't go into the gear. Great.
Now we are drifting amid the outgoing tide. I needed to act quickly if I was to get the boat back to the dock. I grabbed a dock line from a cabinet and after two tries I lassoed the boat lift as we floated by. After tying up outside the lift I tried troubleshooting the issue. I determined that the button I push, on the throttle to engage neutral and rev up the RPM, was stuck in. I worked the throttle lever back and forth to no avail. With the tide falling I figured I would be best served by getting the boat back on the lift while there was still enough water in the canal to do so. I fashioned two dock lines together and tossed it to my waiting wife on the dock. She pulled us to the dock and we worked together to get the vessel back on the lift. I recalled the last time I used the boat; three weeks ago before going to CA/AZ. It seems that after I flushed out the motor I had left the neutral lock button pushed in, with the throttle in the forward or high RPM position. It must have seized up in this position.
With a couple of dozen live shrimp in the bait well and a couple of grandtwins ready to fish I decided the mechanical issues would take second fiddle. The boys and I spent the day fishing the canal right in our own backyard. They had a blast, even though I landed the only fish of the day. I let them pose with it above, a nice but undersized mangrove snapper. That's the first time I landed a snapper out back in the canal.
During the past week I worked the Sarasota/Bradenton area and spent my evenings researching boat transmission trouble. I learned that mine was a fairly common problem among not just Volvo Penta owners like me, but Mercruisers as well. The solution would be found in either a broken shift cable or a siezed shifting mechanism.
One day I completely dis-assembled the throttle lever and found the stuck neutral button. The problem was I couldn't get it un-stuck. I used a pair of needle nose pliers to pull on the metal shank that engages neutral but it wouldn't pop loose.
I had a brief moment of panic when the safety kill switch fell into the console side wall and seemed to be lost. I went into the cabin and pulled the electrical panel off the bulkhead wall behind the helm dash assembly. Peering in I saw daylight from where I had taken the throttle assemble off the wall of the console. I reached my hand inside and found the kill switch assembly and fed it back through to it's original location. That was a dodged bullet. I would have had to cut a hole in the wall and covered it with a sub-woofer or something.
After work on Tuesday I stopped off at the marine service shop where I had the boat serviced last October. The service manager was very nice and brought me back to discuss it with one of his Volvo Penta mechanics. He said he has seen the problem before in the form of a stuck cable at the throttle arm. He suggested I firmly work the lever back and forth, slamming it back to neutral and see if the button pops out. Good idea but it didn't work for me.
More research on the Internet revealed many people who have solved it by either replacing their shift cable or simply lubricating the shift mechanisms and manually breaking it loose. I found a great diagram of my boat model's shift assembly. What I didn't know was where on the boat to find the shift assembly. My buddy Jeff told me the Mercury models would be in the engine bilge but he didn't know about Volvo Penta. Back to the Internet. I found a Volvo owners discussion group with a topic called Stuck in Neutral. They indicated the shift assembly would be found by removing the upper unit cover of the outdrive. The only way for me to do this would to get in the water.
About a month ago we bought an inflatable dinghy just for this purpose; doing boat maintenance with the boat on the lift. I assembled and aired up and launched the dinghy, aided by my dock boy and mechanic's assistant, nine year old grandson, Devin. He worked the boatlift and got it to the right level for me to work from the water. I removed three bolts from the upper cover and found the shift assembly, pictured above.
The cable was intact but there was a fair amount of vi sable corrosion. I was unsuccessful in manually manipulating the shifter arms. I used an aerosol corrosion blocker spray and lubed the heck out of the whole unit. Still unable to get movement by hand, I had Devin work the throttle arm back and forth. Nothing. I used my socket wrench to tap on the rocker arm a few times and saw some ever so slight movement. I also noticed I was chipping the paint of the rocker arm by banging on it with the wrench. I decided I needed a rubber mallet or something less abrasive. As I moved the dinghy away from the prop and the exhaust unit I heard a loud pop and the sound of air rushing out of the inflatable dinghy. OH CRAP! Like a rocket sled on rails I got the hell out of the water. (In case you don't know...there's some seriously teethed critters in this canal and we don't exactly swim in it).
Thankfully the hole in the dinghy only affected a small pontoon type air chamber on the lower port side and the boat came with a patch kit. The damage was caused by a jagged edge of the exhaust system where the former owner had banged into a dock a broke a piece off the exhaust.
We were able to launch the dinghy again. Without a rubber mallet I used a small hammer and some rolled gauze bandage to tap on the rocker arm. It moved pretty good. I used the wooden handle of the hammer to pry the rocker arm up. Tap down, pry up. Down, up. Down, up. I then called out to Devin to move the throttle lever at the helm. Wooohoooo!!!! It works! Try reverse. It works! Again and again he was able to shift from drive to neutral to reverse and back again. I continued spraying anti-corrosion lube into all moving parts. I'm not sure who was more excited; me or Devin. He asked me to trade places with him so he could see it move. He took the dinghy and I took the throttle of the boat and it problem seemed to be solved.
We hooked up our dock hose to the boat motor and started the engine with the boat well out of the canal water. With the engine running I shifted forward and Devin called out that the propeller was moving. I shifted back to neutral and found the button had popped out on it's own. Now that's a great sign. We ran the boat for about 10 minutes in forward, neutral, reverse and had no problem. I was even able to engage the neutral lock button; rev up the RPMs and return to neutral with the button popping back out just as it should. I was convinced we had fixed it. I will add this anti-corrosive treatment of the shift assembly to my routine maintenance twice a year.
My next major project is to repaint the outdrive. The drive paint is beginning to flake away due to the corrosive salt water and salty air from coastal living. This is also a sign that I need to replace the sacrificial zinc anode on the drive. I used launched the dinghy again and found the zinc. With Devin's help as the tool runner, I was able to remove the zinc and as you can see from the photo above it it toasted with corrosion.
I priced the anti-fouling primer and paint at West Marine and found it to be $30 and $37 a can, respectively. I priced it on the Volvo Penta website and found it for $12 a can. Nice. I ordered primer, paint, new zinc with new bolts and even ordered new Volvo Penta Duoprop decals to make the drive as good as new after I paint it. My total was $62 for parts and $10 for ground shipping. I will complete the job after returning from my next business trip.
The dinghy paid for itself many times over, today. One pleasant surprise, while underneath my raised boat, was to see what great shape my hull is in. Not only is there no damage there but it is much cleaner than I expected it to be. I don't have bottom paint because the boat has been lift kept since it was new. I do have some light staining at the chines, where the waterline ceases under normal operation. I will be able to wax and buff that out now that I have the dinghy.
A few nights ago Kathy noticed the dock light that Dad and I installed last November had gone dark. I checked all of the electrical connections and found them to be fine. I pulled the high pressure sodium bulb and it had black spots but seemed okay. We were both surprised to think it could have burned out in 9 months, as it was a 25,000 hour bulb. Today we bought a new bulb for twenty dollars and tonight it is burning brightly once again.
Sunday afternoon I fly to DC for a week of teaching First Aid/CPR classes. By the time I get back, my boat supplies will have arrived and I can complete the projects. I hope to get those grandboys on the water before they have to return home for school in the middle of August.
NOTE: I appologize for the poor spacing on the blog lately but blogspot seems to be having technical difficulty. I double spaced the paragraphs when I drafted the blog but it doesn't turn out that way when you read it. I have tried editing it and tripple spacing it but it doesn't work.

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