Just because your boat is less than 500 feet, lacks four gas turbines delivering about 108,000 horsepower, doesn’t run easily at over 30 knots, and isn’t outfitted with Tomahawk and Harpoon missiles for deck gear doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be worried about oil contamination.
Of course, those with the most to worry about operate boats in the Gulf of Mexico, but if oil swings around the tip of Florida and starts floating up the East Coast, then the class of concerned boat owners becomes even larger.
Oil and dispersants in the oil are most likely to affect anything rubber — hoses, gaskets, seals, impellers — and cooling piping.
In a recently released service bulletin from Caterpillar, owners of Caterpillar engines — and this would apply to diesels other than Caterpillar — are advised that the following components are at risk: pumps, heat exchangers, aftercoolers, seals, hoses, and any other component in contact with the polluted water.
Outboards have some of the same problems. A bulletin to Mercury Marine repair centers listed things to be concerned about after running through oil contaminated water: thermostats, water strainers, and coolant passages can be blocked by oil; water pump efficiencies are reduced with an oil-water mixture; an oil-coated cooling system leads to higher than normal engine-block temperatures.
About those rubber-based components — hoses, impellers and engine mounts. Mercury says they can absorb oil and swell. That means less rigidity and strength, followed by possible failure.
What to do? Well, Mercury advises you to monitor the cooling system and when you are back at the dock then flush out the cooling system with 150-degree water for 10 to 15 minutes with the prop removed.
For its inboard engines, Cat says to check fluid levels, inspect for leaks and monitor coolant temperatures, inlet air, and the exhaust. Additionally you can monitor the flow rate of seawater by measuring the pressure drop across pumps or coolers.
For cleaning operations, Cat says to refer to the owner’s manual.