We can handle most of our outboard's routine maintenance-the simple stuff like oil changes, replacing filters and such, but where do we take the boat when it needs professional help? There are no easy answers to this one, just a few things to consider as we're seeking someone to heal our ailing vessel.
A local factory-authorized, factory-trained sales/service dealership is your best bet, especially if you bought the boat from them. The technicians should know what they're doing, be familiar with the most advanced repair procedures, and their training certificates ought to be current. Talk to the service writer or shop manager and ask about the technicians' level of proficiency. A certified dealer will be proud to present the shop's credentials-certification is a big deal in the marine industry.
A factory certified facility will usually maintain a reasonable inventory of Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts, potentially expediting the repair process. Certified technicians working on your boat should provide top-notch service the first time, adding to your confidence level in the quality of the repairs. Another consideration is that factory-authorized dealers may perform warranty repairs, should the need ever arise.
Many independent shops (those not officially affiliated with any manufacturer) are quite competent, and capable of repairing nearly any brand of outboard. In addition, these shops may be a good resource for taking care of older engines.
Another type of marine mechanic is the freelance technician. These techs could have full-time jobs as certified technicians at a dealership, and take on side jobs to supplement their income, or be independent contractors who work for themselves. The beauty of freelancers is they'll often come to your place to work on the boat in the driveway, during timeframes that suit your schedule. As with any other boat repair situation, ask for references, certifications/experience and what, if any, warranty is provided for the service.
Assorted Service Tips
If you're new to boating (or from out of town), ask the locals hanging around the docks, launch ramps, and bait shops where you can find the best marine repair service in the area. Or, jump on the engine manufacturer's website to find the nearest dealer. For instance, to locate a Yamaha dealer, go to www.yamaha-outboards.com, click on Care and Maintenance, then select Service from the drop-down menu.
Do document the boat/motor's symptoms before taking it to the shop (I feel a vibration at 3500 rpm, the boat doesn't have the oomph to pull water toys, the engine is hard to restart on a hot day). The more information you can give the service writer/technician, the less time it'll take to diagnose and repair the problem. DON'T be vague when you drop off your boat (geez, it's not running right; this thing's a piece of junk, my buddy has the identical rig and his boat is faster than mine). The technician will usually spend a lot of time (charged to you at the shop's hourly rate) trying to figure out what's wrong and fixing it.
A sharp service writer/technician will not only make sure your boat/motor is repaired to cure the problem you brought it in for, but will note on the service order other potential items/issues that will need service in the future. Be an active participant in the upkeep of your boat and motor; it'll increase the longevity of both and save you money in the long run.