Posted: September 1, 2012
Seal the deal between the bilge and the sea.Since the year 2000, most new boats have come equipped with shaft seals that require no packing, but inboard-powered boats built before then have traditional stuffing boxes with packing.
All stuffing boxes work on the same basic principle: Rings of special wax-impregnated flax packing are wrapped snugly around the prop shaft and stuffed into a hollow packing nut that is screwed to the outside of the stuffing box housing. Tightening this packing nut squeezes and compresses the packing material around the shaft to form a watertight seal, even when the shaft is rotating. And except for a slow drip, the seal is watertight. A locknut screws around the housing and is tightened against the packing nut to keep it from loosening as a result of vibration.
When a stuffing box starts to leak excessively, you should tighten the packing nut until the leak stops. This may be all that is required, but each time the nut is tightened, it squeezes and compresses the packing further, forcing it tighter around the shaft. As the flax packing compresses and the flax wears away, the chance of shaft damage increases. The packing hardens and can eventually do damage by wearing a slight groove in the shaft.
Once the flax packing wears down, it’s time to replace it. You’ll need some wax-impregnated flax packing, which comes in rolls or strips and is square in cross section. Its width measures from 1/8 to 5/8 of an inch. The size you need depends on the space between the shaft and the inside of the hollow packing nut.
Start by loosening the locknut. Then loosen the larger packing nut, and slide it away from its housing, so you can get at the packing inside. Dig out all the old packing with a thin screwdriver or a bent piece of stiff wire, but work carefully to avoid scratching the shaft. Make sure you remove all the layers of packing.
Cut a piece of new packing just long enough to wrap snugly around the shaft with no overlap. Stuff this ring of packing carefully into the hollow packing nut, then cut a second piece of packing the same length. Wrap the second length around the shaft, and stuff it in against the first layer, staggering the joints in each layer. Add enough additional layers to fill the packing nut completely, and then screw it onto the threaded sleeve of the stuffing box. Tighten firmly by hand, and then use a large wrench to give it an extra half turn.
Start the engine and put it in gear. Let it run for two minutes to see if the box leaks. If it does, give the packing nut another half turn and check again. Repeat the procedure until the stuffing box no longer leaks, and then tighten the locknut to hold it in place. You will need two wrenches for this: one to hold the packing nut in position and another to tighten the locknut.
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Title: Replacing Shaft Packing CAUTION
This is done while the vessel is OUT-OF-THE-WATER!
Posted By: On: 9/7/2012
Use a short length of dowel or other rod material the same diameter as your shaft to cut the packing rather than trying to do it while contorted in your boat's bilge space.
Cut the new packing at a 45º angle rather than at 90º to create a better seal in the packing nut.
When checking for leaks after replacing the packing, allow 1-3 drips per minute with the shaft engaged to help lubricate the shaft.