When it comes to cars, who do you consider experts on what causes them to break down? 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 boats. Sure, our engineers and technicians know a lot about why engines or other systems can fail, and how to avoid the most common problems. But, those that “have to come to the rescue” when you are in trouble, know a lot about what got you there in the first place!

So, here in no particular order, are 8 of the most common reasons yachts break down, as accumulated by various “sea tow” operators.


  1. Fuel Issues

Your engines start to sputter to a halt. Believe it or not, one of the most common reasons why is that you have simply run 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. Make sure you fill-up before every voyage, and with the proper marine fuel as specified by your engine’s manufacturer. 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.

  1. Electrical Issues

Another very common reason that a yacht or other boat may break down while underway, and require assistance, is an electrical problem. Electrical issue can be as simple as blown fuses or a loose connection, to major circuit failures.

  1. Overheating Engine

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, failed water pump, or a snapped drive belt. Always be sure your coolant levels are topped off, and check for any signs of leaky hoses. Also, inspect, tighten and dress any belts.

  1. 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.

  1. Faulty Ignition

You have docked and spent the day shopping, eating, or enjoying some other terrestrial pursuits, you return to the boat…and she won’t start! Like their land-bound counterparts, an engine failing to start is one of the most common calls that sea-tow operators get. Most likely this is again some kind of electrical issue – a low or dead battery, or a break somewhere in the ignition circuit. Checking to see that your battery is properly charged and all connections are secure and free of corrosion is the best preventative for a “non-starter.”

  1. Bad Vibrations

Boating may conjure up images of the Beach Boys and “Good Vibrations,” but, bad vibrations at sea are a common cause of break down. If your boat starts vibrating radically, it is usually a sign of a propeller problem, probably a nicked or otherwise damaged blade. Short of replacing the prop with a spare, which is usually impractical, there is not much you can do in this instance, other then maybe slowly return to port if you are not too far out, or wait for tow.

  1. Steering Issues

Your Vessel steers hard, or fails to steer at all. The most likely cause is low hydraulic fluid, which could be caused by a damaged line. But, if your wheel is locked in place and won’t budge it could be indicative of a more serious mechanical failure. Either way, you should be sure to check the steering fluid level periodically, and be sure all mechanical systems are routinely inspected and serviced.

  1. Serious Mechanical Failure

Most of the time when a sea-tow gets called, it is for one of the above reasons on this list, and often they are a quick fix that can be done in the field and you can continue on your way. There are those times however, when you can run into more serious trouble, 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!


Preventive Maintenance

There is an old adage that says, “Fail to plan – plan to fail.”

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 planned 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.


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.