The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association

Quick Fixes

Barb Peck & Bjarne Hansen

Hoku Pa'a
Niagara 35
January 25th, 2021

Who doesn’t like a quick-fix? There’s a lot of satisfaction in discovering a problem, and then finding a solution almost quicker to do than to describe. Here are a couple of problems we’ve encountered, and how we dealt with them.

Unclogging a Through-hull

If your boat is in the water long enough, marine growth will likely clog your through-hulls, reducing or even stopping the water flow. It’s annoying with your galley seawater, and potentially catastrophic when it plugs your engine intake.

Is there a solution other than hauling out, or diving down to poke out the growth? You can disconnect the hose from the through-hull and use a screwdriver to dislodge the blockage from inside the boat. However, this carries the risk of dousing yourself and your boat with seawater as soon as the through-hull is clear.

If you close the through-hull, disconnect the hose, and attach a longer hose whose end is held above water-level, then you can poke away with impunity – water won’t gush in any higher than the outside water level. You’ll just need a long pokey-tool: a plumber’s snake works, but instead we carry several pieces of 316 stainless-steel welding filler-rod. These are usually about a meter long, come in various diameters, and are sold inexpensively by weight at welding suppliers. A 2.5 mm diameter filler-rod makes a nice long and stiff pokey-tool.

As a bonus, filler-rods are also dandy for seizing rigging turnbuckles (thanks to Brent at Blackline for showing us that tip).

Stopping a Shaft Oil Leak

We had been monitoring for several years a slow oil drip from our transmission. The oil is conveniently red-coloured for easy identification, resembling blood. Fortunately, this wasn’t a large hemorrhage, less than a teaspoon every hour of engine run time. Investigation showed that it was coming from the shaft seal of the gear-shift (not the prop shaft, happily). Since we were out cruising, it would be difficult to order, receive, and then install a new seal. So we put up with the leakage.

A month ago we had run the engine for a longer period – almost 24 hours continuously. Our daily check revealed that we were now about 100 ml low on transmission oil, so we decided something needed to be done.

Knowing that transmission oil is not under pressure (unlike the engine’s lube oil), we figured that it wasn’t being pushed out with a lot of force. More likely it was just oozing out after being splashed on the shaft inside the transmission housing. Our quick-fix was to slide an O-ring onto the shift-lever shaft between the transmission housing and the shift arm. The O-ring is kept compressed against the housing by the reinstalled shift arm.

This fix has now been in place for 80 engine hours, and there has been no leakage at all. We’ll keep monitoring it, but the O-ring seems so effective we’ll likely postpone replacing the seal until we have some other reason to dismantle the transmission.


  1. Ricky Picanço says:

    Those are both great tips. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Shawn Wright, SV Callisto says:

    I’ve used both of the first two tips, thanks to some SS rods being found on the boat when we bought it (and already in use on the turnbuckles), but the third tip is also a good one. Near the end of last season, I noticed some transmission oil, but haven’t traced the source yet. If it turns out to be the shifter shaft, I will give the O-ring trick a try!

  3. Robert Warren says:

    Hi guys

    I’m between meetings and just took 5 minutes to read this article. I love these sorts of tips. I know you have tons more.

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