Used Boat Detective Work: Diagnostic Tools

If you look at a lot of used boats or like to do you your own maintenance, it’s best to have a good selection of tools on hand. (I’ve mentioned compression testing kits here before: The more boat inspections you do, the more sense it makes to invest in one.) If you really like to dig deep, there are a couple of other vital tools that take the guesswork out of diagnosing electronic systems on boats. Rinda Technologies Inc. in Chicago makes a couple of them and Mercury offers the other.

The Rinda TechMate diagnostic tool is pricy, but scans a lot of engine functions.

The Rinda TechMate diagnostic tool is pricy, but scans a lot of engine functions.

The first is the Rinda CodeMate, which will flash fault code sequences on a built-in indicator lamp. You can also use it to set the base spark advance of your ignition timing. It’s cheap at $49, but it’s also limited in its use. It works with GM Delphi MEFI 1 through MEFI 4 applications, which are fairly old-school nowadays. In other words, they only work on early MerCruiser and Volvo Penta engine management systems.

The more versatile tool is the Rinda TechMate scan tool. It costs more at $399, but it will read just about every function that you could care about. It’s not even that difficult to figure out how to use. It also has a function to disable the advance system for you to set the engine timing to factory specifications. Compared to what you could pay for parts and labor at a dealership, the Rinda TechMate could pay for itself pretty quickly.

If you just want a tool to set your timing, Mercury sells an EFI timing tool, which is a little device that plugs into the engine harness and cancels the advance curve. It’s available from your local MerCruiser dealer, part number 91-805747A2. Retail price is $15 or less.

These tools aren’t necessarily for every used boat buyer, but rather for people who enjoy getting their hands dirty as much as they dislike paying for shop labor.