I just returned from Orlando where I attended an industry trade show
called Boating Week 2000. Each year the boating industry puts on this show which is the largest exhibit of the latest and greatest marine products and services. There were over 700 exhibitors
displaying boats, trailers, engines, motors, marine equipment, electronics and other marine products. One thing that helps make this show so good is the Innovation Awards that are presented
each year. The awards recognize innovation and excellence in boating products. Qualifying products must be displayed at Boating Week's New Product & Innovation Expo for the first time and
have been introduced to the marine market during the 2000 – 2001 model year.
There were approximately 100 products submitted for consideration in the
awards competition. The field of 100 was narrowed down to 23 finalists in 11 categories. The finalists were all extremely interesting to see but one in particular really excited my interest.
The product is called Gimbal Housing Repair Kit
. This kit was developed to repair damaged Mercruiser gimbal housings. Over the years I have had the very unpleasant duty to inform many Mercruiser owners that the rubber bellows which
protects their universal joints and gimbal bearing from seawater has been split or torn and water has caused damage to the protected components. In many of these cases the water has gone
undetected long enough that the water has allowed corrosion to eat away the gimbal-housing surface that the bellows seals to. When this happens you can no longer properly seal the bellows and
the gimbal housing needs to be replaced. The replacement gimbal housing will usually cost over $1000.00 for just that one part. The engine has to be removed from the boat, the entire transom
plate removed and disassembled to replace the gimbal housing. Labor for this job will usually cost another $1000.00. Most of these jobs are done on older boats so there is usually salt-water
corrosion to deal with and many of the other parts may also be damaged in disassembly because of the corrosion. In most cases the entire job can cost over $3000.00. Many older boats may not
be worth the cost of the repair.
On September 15, 2001 Tune-up Specialties and Marine Inc. announced a low
cost solution to the high cost of replacing a Mercruiser gimbal housing. It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. In this case Ed Hamlin, owner of Tune-up Specialties and Marine,
found himself facing that very same necessity. Ed's Mercruiser powered boat had a damaged gimbal housing and he too was facing a repair bill in excess of $3000.00. He began checking the local
docks and repair shops to find what other boaters with similar situations did to solve their problem. No one had any acceptable answers so Ed began experimenting on his own.
According to Mr. Hamlin the Gimbal Housing Repair Kit consists of a tapered PVC ring that is designed and tooled to a precision fit and will bond to the transom shield perfectly. Sealed to the ring is a standard Mercruiser universal joint bellows. Also included in the kit is a space age waterproof epoxy that bonds ultra-tight to the aluminum gimbal housing. The bellows is installed onto the bell housing just as you would do in a normal bellows replacement procedure. The gimbal housing should be cleaned and sanded to a bright aluminum finish. The waterproof epoxy and special thickener is mixed and coated over the gimbal-housing surface. The bell housing with the bellows installed is pressed in place on the gimbal housing and tapped into place. Once the glue dries the seal is complete and water proof. If you should be a little messy with the glue and drip some on areas where it should not be you can easily remove it with a small die grinder. The entire job will take very little more time than a normal bellows job takes. The real beauty to the whole process is that the cost of the kit is under $300.00.
Over the years I have seen many boats sent to the scrap heap because of
the extremely high cost of replacing a gimbal housing. Now there is a cost effective alternative. As Ed puts it, boats are an investment as well as a way of life. Frugal boaters should not
have to put up with such a major expense for a relatively simple repair.