Yacht engine checklist

One of the most common reasons for a lifeboat callout is mechanical breakdown, this is for both motor and sailing vessels. This is why we believe it’s good practice to check your engine daily and ensure that your engine is serviced as per manufacturers recommendations. Below we will discuss our yacht engine checklist in more detail.

All students get taught the same ‘wobbles’ acronym.

W Water
O Oil
B Belt
B Bilges
L Leaks
E Electrics
Start Engine


This section of the check should include checking the sea strainer / trap and ensuring that there is no blockage or anything that may cause a blockage. We also look at the coolant levels and make sure they sit between the minimum and maximum levels.

Ensure the coolant level is between min and max.

Check that the sea strainer is free from any blockages or items which may cause a blockage.


This is self-explanatory. Use the engine’s dip stick to check the oil level. Visually inspect to ensure it’s not emulsified, dirty e.t.c. I choose to check the viscosity by touching it and rubbing it between two fingers but not many people do. In addition to this you can check the gear box level. This is a weekly for me, but you won’t do any harm by checking daily.

Ensure the oil level is near the MAX [but not over].

Check visually to ensure oil hasn't emulsified or has dirt in it.

Check the viscosity by touch.

Check gearbox oil level.[specialist oil normally required]


The belts on the engine should also be checked daily. They can prove to be a disaster when they fall off. As a general rule of thumb a quarter turn equals the correct tension.

With the above being said – be careful. This changes from engine to engine and to assume this is the case for all vessels would be foolish. For example: The last vessel I was on had a Volvo Penta and the 12V belt tension should been a 1/4 turn and the 24V belt should been 1/2 turn. So it’s not one rule for all.

If you are unsure, consult a marine engineer or refer to the owners manual.

Ensure that the engine belts are at the correct tension and in good general order.


The bilges are the lowest point of the vessel where water and general filth tends to collect. As part of this check we want to check that our emergency bilge pump is in working order. We also want to make sure there is no water or dirt in the bilges.

I ensure that the bilges are cleaned every day for two reasons:

  1. I see them as a potential health hazard if left untouched. Plus I don’t like to live in filth.
  2. By removing the water each day I am able to monitor the rate of which it’s getting in and therefore will be able to identify if it’s getting worse before it becomes a problem.

Function test the bilge pump if practical to do so.

Remove water from bilge daily.

Clean the hair, pubes, skin and food from the bilge daily.


As you’ll quickly learn, marine engines are leaky and can sometimes be run for years with a minor oil leak. It’s extremely likely that at some point your engine will spring a leak and it’s down to you to work out if it’s what you’d consider ‘normal’ or if it’s a potential issue.

This is why we look daily for leaks. This way we can identify new leaks and monitor existing ones.

Check on existing leaks to ensure they are not getting worse.

Identify new leaks if any exist.


Electrics and water are not a great combination, which is why they are looked at daily. We look for general corrosion and the condition of the batteries. If you find something you’re unsure about it is important you consult a electrician as soon as possible.

Check for general corrosion and condition of the batteries.


Our last step is to function test the engine by starting it. If you have successfully completed the above checks then:

  1. Ensure your seacock for your salt water intake is open.
  2. All oil & coolant caps are secure.
  3. Check you have fuel – there’s nothing more embarrassing than running out!
  4. There are no lines in the water
  5. The engine is secured or crew are clear of moving components.
  6. Start the engine.
  7. Check the exhaust for water flow (if you have a wet exhaust).
Yacht engine checklist
Yacht engine check
Yacht engine checklist
Yacht engine checklist
Yacht engine checklist
Yacht engine checks

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