ATV boating, wet tech tips and drown-out cures By the “sink or swim” staff of Dirt Wheels
DO ATVs FLOAT?
A question ATV riders have been pondering for decades is, “Do ATVs float?” Joe Lepore of Loxahatchee, Florida, claims his FourTrax Foreman 400 not only floats but can actually motor along in the local canals with a rider on board! He even has the photos to prove it. Joe did, however, have to perform a major waterproofing job on the entire machine, as well as add a snorkel air-intake extension up to the handlebars.
“Whatever you do, don’t turn the engine off when you’re floating,” says Joe. “Water will go right up the vent tubes.” That sort of answers our other quads-and-water question: “Can you ‘walk’ an ATV across a deep stream?” Yes, as long as you keep the engine running and hold it upright high enough to keep the air intake above the waterline. Your chances of success with that method, of course, depends on the ATV model.
WHICH ATVS FLOAT?
“We’ve found that the Foreman is one of the best floaters out there,” says Joe. “My pals and I have set up several of these Hondas, and we have a blast.” We asked him about the practice of sticking rubber balls up under the frame for extra flotation. “They aren’t the magic bullet,” he explained. “That puts the center of flotation in the middle and makes it more unstable for sitting on. Some people also try boat buoys, and they don’t do much, either.”
But, we also wondered how a sport quad, such as the Mojave 250 (one of the best sport quads in 1998), would react in deep water. To give it a sporting chance on running in the water, we added two basketballs—one in the front bumper and one under the rear grab bar.
Our plan was to slowly lower it into a swimming pool, without a rider but with the engine running, to see if it could stay afloat and continue to run. As quickly as it hit deep water, the front end dropped straight to the bottom as water filled in all the air spaces and killed the engine.
Then the machine did something quite unexpected: it turned completely upside down on its own and floated wheels up around the pool. We righted it several times, but it kept flipping over like a scared possum.
Even with the basketballs removed, the machine would not completely sink due to the flotation from the tires. Contrary to what you might think, adding more air pressure to the tires doesn’t give them more floating power and, in fact, just makes them heavier.
WHY SOME ATVs DON’T FLOAT
So, after a few surf rides on the upended Mojave, we had quite the job ahead of us clearing out all the water from the fuel tank, float bowl, airbox, muffler and engine block. As is the case with major drown-outs like this, the engine oil had to be changed several times before the telltale milky coloring went away.
So the answer to the question, “Do they float?”, is some models not only float but can actually be ridden with a few modifications, while other quads, though they never completely sink, certainly aren’t rideable.
TECH TIPS TO KEEP YOUR QUAD ALIVE
Most of today’s stock quads are designed to handle really deep water and mud. There are, however, plenty of potential mechanical troubles that can crop up when you spend too much time “boating.” The following are some tips to keep your quad up and running when you are tackling deep water.
• Before riding in mud and/or water, grease every moving part you can. One of the best lubes to use is mining-grade industrial grease; it’s really sticky and gooey and won’t wash out. Something that might be easier to find is boat trailer wheel bearing grease, which also resists water and mud.
• Don’t run an airbox with holes in it or with the lid off! Aftermarket airboxes aren’t good for deep water, either.
• If you will be doing a lot of mud and water riding, your best bet is to run an O-ring chain. If you have a non-O-ring chain, make sure it gets lubed every time you go riding.
• Make sure the stator stays dry by checking to make sure the gasket is in good shape, and then seal off the cover with silicone.
• Anywhere there’s wire penetration into the cases, seal it off with silicone. If there’s a rubber boot at the base of it, secure it with a small zip-tie. Zip-ties can also be used on the rubber boots on the handlebar controls to keep mud out.
• On all electrical connections, use high-electrolyte silicone grease. This keeps moisture and dirt out and the O-rings pliable. This includes spark plug caps as well (an unsealed spark plug cap will result in a missing engine after a dunking).
HOW TO RESTART A DROWNED-OUT ATV
If you will be playing around in really deep water, the day will eventually come when you drown out your engine. There can be just one cause (such as a wet stator) or, in most cases, a combination of a whole bunch of things (e.g., water in the airbox, cylinder and exhaust). By taking a methodical step-by-step approach, you can eliminate each of the troubles and get going again.
Step 1: Pull the ATV out of the water. Pop the lid off the airbox to see if that’s where the trouble originated. If that’s the case, pull out the spark plug, dry it off and set it aside. Dry out the spark plug cap with a dry cloth if possible. If the air filter is soaked, remove it and wring it out.
Step 2: If it’s a four-stroke, turn off the ignition and kick it through, then watch all the water blow out the cylinder and exhaust. If water keeps coming out of the exhaust, stand it up on the grab bar and let it drain out. If your machine is a two-stroke, turn the ATV on its side and kick it through to get the water out.
Step 3: Drain the float bowl. If you suspect that water got into the gas tank (you really have to sink a quad to do that), let the machine sit upright for a few minutes so the water can settle to the bottom. Then turn the fuel petcock to reserve and drain some gas out (reserve takes fuel from the very bottom of the tank). (Editor’s note: Do not start a four-stroke that has milky oil. Tow it home and drain and change the oil before running the engine.)
Step 4: Once all the water is out of the system, replace the dry plug and air filter, pull on the choke and try to start it. It will probably blubber and sputter, but don’t hit the throttle to try to dry it out! Just let the engine idle. If you rev an engine with water in it, you can cause serious internal damage. After a few minutes of idling, the engine should start drying itself out and sounding better. If it isn’t running at all, proceed to step 5; otherwise, skip to “When You Get Home.”
Step 5: If none of the above has worked, either an electrical connection or the stator has gotten wet (the CDI boxes are usually sealed completely). If you have the tools, remove the flywheel cover to see if the stator is wet. If it is, dry it off. If not, start blowing out all the electrical connections. If your quad still won’t fire, and it’s beginning to get dark, start pushing!
LAST BUT NOT LEAST…
When you get home after a drown-out: check all fluids (i.e., crankcase, tranny, shaft, front four-wheel drive). If any of the oil is milky, change it. Clean the air filter. Grease the heck out of everything you can (if you have Zerks, blow out all the old grease completely). Lube all your cables with a light oil (don’t use chain lube). Disassemble, clean and lube just about every part you have time for. Pull the flywheel cover off and spray down the stator with contact cleaner or WD-40. The next time you ride, check all the fluids again when you are done; the oil may still be milky from water left in there. In that case, change the oil again.