yacht in trouble

When it comes to cars, who do you consider experts on what causes them to breakdown? Mechanics, for one, of course, but if you really want to get some good feedback on what makes cars die “in the field,” ask a tow-truck operator!

The same is true for luxury motor yachts and other powerboats. Sure, our engineers and technicians know a lot about why engines break down, and what you can do to avoid the most common problems. But, in addition to our engine service technicians, we have compiled this list of the 6 most common causes of engine failure, by speaking to various “sea tow” operators and hearing about the reasons they usually get called out for a rescue.

1. Electrical Problems

Hands down, the highest percentage of rescue calls sea tow operators go out for have to do with an engine not starting, or “cutting out,” due to an electrical problem. They tell us the cause is almost always water in the bilge. The best preventive medicine, is to be sure to keep the bilge dry.

2. Fuel Flow Issues

The next most common call out is a problem with fuel. Many times it is as simple as just running out of gas! Of course that can be easily avoided, yet you would be surprised at how many rescue calls are for running out of fuel. Then, there are the more complicated problems relating to fuel lines, and adequate fuel flow to your engines. Filters can get blocked. There is also a common problem with a “bug” that forms in diesel engines and can block fuel lines. Additives can destroy the bug, and routine maintenance is the key to keeping fuel lines and filters clear of debris and clogs.

3. Overheating

Overheating is another common engine problem. Our tow operators have told us the two most common reasons they get called out for an overheating engine has to do with fouled impeller intakes from garbage in the water, or a failed water pump. Always be sure your coolant levels are topped off, and check for any signs of leaky hoses.

4. Fouled Propellers and Drives

Just like garbage in the water such as plastic bags, fish nets and the like can block your intakes causing overheating, debris can also foul the actual propellers or impellers of the drive, causing a real problem. This problem is hard to avoid, and all you can do if it occurs, is try to clear the foul, and hope that the propeller was not damaged in the process.

A fouled Prop

Wrapped Line

5. Drive Belts

Most marine engines use external drive belts of some sort. Tow operators tell us they have been out to calls where these belts have slipped or snapped. Before going out, look for slack in your belts, or for any sign of wear like “belt dust,” around the engine compartment.

6. All out mechanical failure

At the bottom of the list as to why most sea tows get called is for a serious mechanical failure. While it does happen, most of the time, the call is for something that is relatively minor, and can be fixed in the field, or have been avoided in the first place through proper preventive maintenance. However, such “serious calls” have included problems such as broken camshafts, blown valves, or cracked cylinder heads. If any of these occur, you are looking at a tow back to dock, and a serious repair bill!

Yacht Engine Room

Preventive Maintenance

It is good to understand the most common reasons why your yacht may break down. It is even more important to understand, that a good many of these reasons, whether serious or minor, can be avoided by proper routine maintenance.

Scheduled maintenance is one of the main advantages of being part of a charter income program, and/or signing up for On Demand yachting.

marine engine repair


Operating a motor yacht can be costly. You can reduce your expenses, and avoid costly repairs by keeping her well maintained. On Demand yachting from FYM can help. If you would like to learn more, or if you have any questions or comments about this blog post, do not hesitate to contact our Yacht Management specialists, or call us at (954) 900-9968.