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Disappointment after buying a narrow boat


Till Hoffmann
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My partner and i recently bought a 55ft narrow boat which we are going live on. Because it was the first time we were buying a boat, we thought we'd make sure everything was checked out by professionals and used a broker. In particular, we ordered a full pre purchase survey which showed up some minor problems which didn't seem too worrying. The vendor agreed to fix any problems arising from the survey which were related to the safety of the boat (BSS). We also got the engine serviced professionally.

 

We now feel rather disappointed (and a little bit cheated) because the broker told us (1) the boat had been blacked last year, (2) the engine was serviced last year. The boat looked like it needed blacking and the person we asked to put three coats of paint on the boat told us "there is no way this boat was blacked last year". It turns out the engine was serviced by the owner rather than professionally.

 

A few points were raised that had to be fixed for the boat to be BSS compliant. The vendor asked an engineer to ensure the boat complied with the BSS. Both the broker and the surveyor confirmed that the work had been carried out adequately. We have now started moving onto the boat and found that some of the work had not been carried out or had been done badly (e.g. just drilling big holes through the floor to fit a cable). We also found that the survey missed some defects (such as a leaky accumulator).

 

Finally, on our first trip, our gearbox (PRM 120 mechanical) was destroyed by the drive plate because the drive plate that was installed wasn't compatible.

 

Do we just have to accept all these problems, suck it up, pay to fix everything and move on, or is there something else we can do? Is this a common problem with brokers?

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Blacking - if a boat is used frequently, then there is likely to be a massive variation in the wear compared to a boat not used frequently. So its quite possible. Its hard to prove one way or another really......the boatyard worker could only guess really.

 

Engine serviced by boat owner - canal boat diesel engines aren't complicated and an owner can do just as good a job as anyone else really. Especially if they are an engineer? Non issue.

 

BSS work not done well - there's an example of a boatyard cutting corners, not the owner.

 

Missed accumulator - not sure if its worth bothering over. Dodgy driveplate - not sure how that can be found except by disassembly.

 

 

Was the surveyor truly independent or was he recommended by the broker??? How did you choose the surveyor?


Also, can you let us know the age of the boat and the price - it has a bearing on the amount of work likely to come up and the condition of the boat etc. For example, if you paid £18k for a 40 year old boat, it would be expected that some things need attention; but if you paid £50k for a 3 year old boat you'd expect little/nothing wrong.

  • Greenie 1
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I'm inclined to agree with Paul, the problems you outline are all either trivial, or impossible for a surveyor to have spotted in advance in the case of the drive plate failure.

 

You've been generally diligent and there is nothing much more you could have done to protect yourself. It's just life. There are plenty of far more majpor things that sould have gone wrong but didn't.

 

So far...

 

;)

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Blacking - if a boat is used frequently, then there is likely to be a massive variation in the wear compared to a boat not used frequently. So its quite possible. Its hard to prove one way or another really......the boatyard worker could only guess really.

 

Engine serviced by boat owner - canal boat diesel engines aren't complicated and an owner can do just as good a job as anyone else really. Especially if they are an engineer? Non issue.

 

BSS work not done well - there's an example of a boatyard cutting corners, not the owner.

 

Missed accumulator - not sure if its worth bothering over. Dodgy driveplate - not sure how that can be found except by disassembly.

 

Was the surveyor truly independent or was he recommended by the broker??? How did you choose the surveyor?

Also, can you let us know the age of the boat and the price - it has a bearing on the amount of work likely to come up and the condition of the boat etc. For example, if you paid £18k for a 40 year old boat, it would be expected that some things need attention; but if you paid £50k for a 3 year old boat you'd expect little/nothing wrong.

 

Thanks for your thoughts, Paul.

 

The surveyor was indeed on the list of surveyors recommended by the broker. We called about 20 different surveyors and the one we chose was the only one who could do the survey within the next 14 days (which was the agreed timescale after having our offer accepted). Maybe that should have been indicative. We were surprised that the surveyor signed off the points he had previously raised as having been completed despite that not being the case.

 

The boat was built in 2005 and we paid £29k.

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But seriously, owning a boat is more like owning a car than a house. Expect a steady flow of things going wrong as you use it. Boat maintenence means keeping on top of stuff that goes wrong.

 

Fair point. We expected to have to do some maintenance (which is admittedly part of the fun) but having to replace the gear box and drive plate on our first trip was unexpected. But, as you said earlier, it's just life. Hopefully the parts will last a bit longer once the proper ones have been installed. :)

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Finally, on our first trip, our gearbox (PRM 120 mechanical) was destroyed by the drive plate because the drive plate that was installed wasn't compatible.

 

 

This bit warrants closer examination. Destroyed by the drive plate not being compatible? This sounds implausible. An incompatible drive plate usually simply won't fit. I can't imagine it 'destroying' a gearbox. Either the box was shagged before you bought the boat, or someone is having you over and flogging you a new box that might not be necessary.

 

Tell us what happened. What makes you say the box was 'destroyed'?

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You have hit a 'bad patch' - it will get better.

 

Unfortunately if you read the Surveyors report you will see (probably) a couple of clauses something like :

 

1) I have no responsibility for anything that I could not see.

2) I have not inspected anything that required the use of tools, opening of doors or lifting of hatches and / or carpets.

3) The survey is only applicable for the instant that I have completed it, do not come back to me in 1 weeks time complaining I have missed something.

 

How do I know this - I tried to take a surveyor to court when he 'missed' over £25,000 of work that needed doing. I bought the boat on the basis of his report.

 

You have actually got away quite lightly compared to some of the horror stories.

Despite a good survey (from the brokers recommended surveyor) and any necessary rectification work done by the broker. Boats have actually been reported as sinking as they have left the brokerage and turned 'left for London'

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You have actually got away quite lightly compared to some of the horror stories.

 

 

^^^^This^^^^

 

And getting a boat only 11 years old with so few faults for only £29k seems a bit of a bargain to me!

 

even so, tell us more about this weird gearbox failure. It makes no sense...

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My thoughts are that £29k for a 2005 55ft boat is cheap/a good bargain. Depending on spec and assuming average condition, I'd expect £35-40k as a reasonable price.

 

Driveplate issue is definitely worth looking into further - there may be a warranty on the job done if it were in the last 3 months or so. I am guessing they selected the wrong driveplate, forced it to fit, then this area has become loose and chewed something on the gearbox input?

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This bit warrants closer examination. Destroyed by the drive plate not being compatible? This sounds implausible. An incompatible drive plate usually simply won't fit. I can't imagine it 'destroying' a gearbox. Either the box was shagged before you bought the boat, or someone is having you over and flogging you a new box that might not be necessary.

 

Tell us what happened. What makes you say the box was 'destroyed'?

 

We were going into a lock and the engine wouldn't go into reverse to stop the boat so we killed the engine. We hit the lock gates but fortunately both the boat and the gates are still intact. We roped the boat out of the lock and started some basic diagnostics. We called the engineer who serviced the engine for us and he mentioned the cable controlling the gear box may have frayed and got stuck in its sleeve. So we detached the cable from the gear box and verified that it was still moving fine. However, the lever on the gear box (white in the picture here) can no longer be moved. An engineer from the Canal and River Rescue stopped by (unfortunately, we had not yet signed up) and was able to move the lever with a large amount of force but concluded the gear box was damaged. They sourced a refurbished gear box and wanted to install it when they found that the drive plate was also gone. They believe the problem arose because they drive plate wasn't suitable (I believe they said it was too "hard" and we needed a "softer" one--although I don't know what that means). Pictures of the drive plate are attached. The engine is an Isuzu 35.

 

IMG 1224

IMG 1219

Thanks again for your help!
Edited by Till Hoffmann
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This is a helpful warning for me as i would have taken the surveyors word that the boat was ok and that a professional person looked at the engine.

It doesn't seem fair when you pay a person to do a job and you end up with problems which should have been spotted :(

 

So who can a newbie trust?

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This is a helpful warning for me as i would have taken the surveyors word that the boat was ok and that a professional person looked at the engine.

It doesn't seem fair when you pay a person to do a job and you end up with problems which should have been spotted :(

 

So who can a newbie trust?

Someone you know, someone on here who offers, or youself. Read and learn. Threads like this are good schooling. If in doubt walk away, there will be a better one.
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You can never be 100% sure that a boat will not have immediate problems, even when you use a surveyor or someone "in the know".

 

As stated surveyors don't usually remove anything, so a lot of the boat remains hidden (although the one I used, Craig Allen) removed part of the skirting to show me the insulation. However the boat was advertised as having rock wool (it actually has Thinsulate), and I was concerned that this may have wicked up moisture, so I mentioned it to him prior to the survey.

 

Things like the drive plate will only be picked up by a surveyor, or indeed anyone else if they make a noise or vibration.

 

With regard to blacking, we used to have shareboats and after 1 year they have virtually no blacking left, because of the hard use they get. Same for hire boats. Of course if the blacking is poorly applied (not unusual if you don't do it yourself) it won't last long anyway.

 

Main thing is to learn to do as much as you can yourself, and only use recommended people for the things you cant.

 

RCR do courses on engine maintenance and boat electrics. They even do one where you pay £150 plus parts and show you how to service your own boat. A wise investment if you are not sure what to do.

 

Best to put this experience behind you a d get on with enjoying your own boat.

 

Remember BOAT meant " Bring Out Another Thousand" :)

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It's not clear from your post whether you have now let RCR source a replacement gear box, and fit it with a new drive plate.

 

Like others, I'm kind of struggling to see either how a "wrong" drive plate would come to be there in the first place, or how it would easily result in the not being able to move the gear lever syndrome.

 

There are many stories about RCR, some hugely positive, but others unfortunately far less so. Some of this may be down to what engineer they use on the day, as I believe they both have their own, but also subcontract much work to others.

 

If you haven't already paid them to do the work, it could well be worth seeking another opinion elsewhere.I would also want to know what "refurbished" mans in respect of the replacement, and whether the saving is worth it over a new one. From memory a new one can be ha for about £800, I think.What do they charge for a refurbished one?

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Thank you Cuthound. I'm stealing your post and putting it in my 'Boat Book'

The course is a very good idea and for what it offers is very cheap.

 

The only engine i ever worked on was a CZ motorbike and that only involved kicking or praying

  • Greenie 1
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We were going into a lock and the engine wouldn't go into reverse to stop the boat so we killed the engine. We hit the lock gates but fortunately both the boat and the gates are still intact. We roped the boat out of the lock and started some basic diagnostics. We called the engineer who serviced the engine for us and he mentioned the cable controlling the gear box may have frayed and got stuck in its sleeve. So we detached the cable from the gear box and verified that it was still moving fine. However, the lever on the gear box (white in the picture here) can no longer be moved. An engineer from the Canal and River Rescue stopped by (unfortunately, we had not yet signed up) and was able to move the lever with a large amount of force but concluded the gear box was damaged. They sourced a refurbished gear box and wanted to install it when they found that the drive plate was also gone. They believe the problem arose because they drive plate wasn't suitable (I believe they said it was too "hard" and we needed a "softer" one--although I don't know what that means). Pictures of the drive plate are attached. The engine is an Isuzu 35.

 

Thanks again for your help!

 

 

OK, basically you have identified four issues;

 

1) Drive Plate Failure

2) Gearbox Failure

3) Engine not professionally serviced

4) Query over when last blacked

 

Let us look at this from a few angles;

 

A - Should the surveyor have spotted these things?

 

I would say that in respect of the Drive plate and Box, no he shouldn't. A gearbox and driveplate may well show no symptoms of impending failure, and you can't expect a surveyor to strip them down to report on them.

 

Engine servicing. Again no. The surveyor will offer general comments about the state of the engine, but he isn't going to tell who has serviced it.

 

Blacking. Assuming that this was an out of water survey, the surveyor should have commented on the state of the blacking.

 

B - has the seller conned you

 

Driveplate and box - like the surveyor they may not have known.

 

Engine service - boat engines don't have diagnostic ports where a professional can plug his computer into the ECU. It is entirely reasonable for a boat engine to be serviced by the owner.

 

Blacking - the owner should know when the boat was blacked, but I would be mystified as to why the surveyor didn't pick up on the blacking if it was actually bad.

 

C - have those you have dealt with subsequently done anything wrong.

 

Driveplate and Gearbox - I am massively unimpressed by the explanation that you were given about a wrong driveplate wrecking the box. Far more likely that the box had an issue and that as you tried to go into reverse, it failed to disengage forward, jamming the box solid and breaking the driveplate.

 

Clearly the driveplate needs to be replaced, but I do wonder whether your RCR man has really considered whether this is just a stuck cone clutch that would be a relatively cheap repair before moving to the "replace the box" option.

 

Engine Servicing - You know how tradesmen suck their teeth and say "which cowboy..." It is in the nature of things that somebody who services engines for a living will criticise amateur efforts.

 

Blacking - You know how tradesmen suck their teeth... The vendor says it has been blacked. The surveyor doesn't dispute this. The man you get to apply more blacking criticises the existing blacking. Suddenly you feel that the money you spent with him was worthwhile. He's telling you how it is, and you'll be back.

 

I think you've had bad luck here with the box, but it really is just how the cookie crumbles.

 

On the question of Hard/Soft driveplates, I would suspect that the plate that failed was the original from new, as fitted by Isuzu.

 

A driveplate exists to absorb the shock of drive engagement. As you go into gear, its a bit like your foot slipping of the clutch in a car, and the clutch engaging suddenly. It can tend to put a lot of load on the engine until the gearbox rotates.

 

The driveplate acts as a shock absorber. You engage gear, and suddenly the engine is faced with a stationary gearbox. The big plate continues to rotate as before, but the small (gearbox end) plate lags slightly to allow the gearbox to get up to speed.

 

Too hard a drive plate means less give, and harsher gear engagement. Too soft a drive plate means that the available "give" is fully used in engaging gear and you get harsh gear engagement. The ideal is that the right driveplate will almost reach its limit when you engage gear.

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Clearly the driveplate needs to be replaced,

 

Well, yes. If I found a driveplate like that I would recommend replacing it. And there will be a great many boats with driveplates like that and worse working perfectly fine.

 

Those R&D driveplates have about three levels of redundancy in them with the refinement reducing with each level. The spiders going like that is very common and not catastrophic

 

Richard

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OK, basically you have identified four issues;

 

1) Drive Plate Failure

2) Gearbox Failure

3) Engine not professionally serviced

4) Query over when last blacked

 

Let us look at this from a few angles;

 

A - Should the surveyor have spotted these things?

 

I would say that in respect of the Drive plate and Box, no he shouldn't. A gearbox and driveplate may well show no symptoms of impending failure, and you can't expect a surveyor to strip them down to report on them.

 

Engine servicing. Again no. The surveyor will offer general comments about the state of the engine, but he isn't going to tell who has serviced it.

 

Blacking. Assuming that this was an out of water survey, the surveyor should have commented on the state of the blacking.

 

B - has the seller conned you

 

Driveplate and box - like the surveyor they may not have known.

 

Engine service - boat engines don't have diagnostic ports where a professional can plug his computer into the ECU. It is entirely reasonable for a boat engine to be serviced by the owner.

 

Blacking - the owner should know when the boat was blacked, but I would be mystified as to why the surveyor didn't pick up on the blacking if it was actually bad.

 

C - have those you have dealt with subsequently done anything wrong.

 

Driveplate and Gearbox - I am massively unimpressed by the explanation that you were given about a wrong driveplate wrecking the box. Far more likely that the box had an issue and that as you tried to go into reverse, it failed to disengage forward, jamming the box solid and breaking the driveplate.

 

Clearly the driveplate needs to be replaced, but I do wonder whether your RCR man has really considered whether this is just a stuck cone clutch that would be a relatively cheap repair before moving to the "replace the box" option.

 

Engine Servicing - You know how tradesmen suck their teeth and say "which cowboy..." It is in the nature of things that somebody who services engines for a living will criticise amateur efforts.

 

Blacking - You know how tradesmen suck their teeth... The vendor says it has been blacked. The surveyor doesn't dispute this. The man you get to apply more blacking criticises the existing blacking. Suddenly you feel that the money you spent with him was worthwhile. He's telling you how it is, and you'll be back.

 

I think you've had bad luck here with the box, but it really is just how the cookie crumbles.

 

On the question of Hard/Soft driveplates, I would suspect that the plate that failed was the original from new, as fitted by Isuzu.

 

A driveplate exists to absorb the shock of drive engagement. As you go into gear, its a bit like your foot slipping of the clutch in a car, and the clutch engaging suddenly. It can tend to put a lot of load on the engine until the gearbox rotates.

 

The driveplate acts as a shock absorber. You engage gear, and suddenly the engine is faced with a stationary gearbox. The big plate continues to rotate as before, but the small (gearbox end) plate lags slightly to allow the gearbox to get up to speed.

 

Too hard a drive plate means less give, and harsher gear engagement. Too soft a drive plate means that the available "give" is fully used in engaging gear and you get harsh gear engagement. The ideal is that the right driveplate will almost reach its limit when you engage gear.

I agree with C 100% I have seen drive plates that fail with age and they look nothing like that, bits everywhere

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Firstly, thanks again to everyone for their very helpful comments. Here are some replies.

 

@alan_fincher, yes, we have asked the RCR to replace the gear box and the drive plate. They are charging us 460 for the refurbished box but I don't know what their definition of refurbished is.

 

@Richard, I like the idea of being able to get the cones unstuck but I think at this point, it is beyond our ability (maybe after an engine course :)).

 

@junior, we are at the junction between the Grand Union canal and the Stratford upon Avon canal.

 

@mayalid, thank you for your comments. In particular, the explanation of the difference between soft and hard drive plates. I think it may be too late to convince them to attempt to repair the box as they've already brought the parts. Should have asked on this forum a bit earlier.

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Point of order Dave...

 

I think that's not the only function of the drive plate, or even the main one.

 

As an engine rotates, its angular velocity varies as it progresses though the 720 degrees of rotation comprising the full cycle of a four stroke engine. Each combustion event speeds up the flywheel, and each compression stroke slows it down. This all happens very rapidly but the effect becomes more pronounced at low engine speeds and tickover.

 

The principle of inertia means the gearbox, shaft and blade attempt to rotate at a constant speed. However, the engine would be constantly trying to speed them up and slow them down if rigidly coupled to the flywheel. The drive plate is elastic to smooth out these rapid changes in angular veloctity of the engine flywheel, to save rapid and constant reversing of stress on the gearbox gears and drive train components that would otherwise result, I suggest.

 

This is the reason they now fit dual mass flywheels to many car engines too, I suspect. (Although Dave - DMR may know otherwise!)

Edited by Mike the Boilerman
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@Richard, I like the idea of being able to get the cones unstuck but I think at this point, it is beyond our ability (maybe after an engine course smile.png).

 

I doubt it. I repair gearboxes for a living, unsticking those cones is a challenge.

 

This sudden failure of a PRM120 is very typical. When the end comes, they either stick in gear or slip because all the lining falls off. You get no warning of either of these beforehand

 

Richard

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