I have been an IPS owner since 2007. It is truly a wonderful technology since it makes docking
such a simple procedure. When this system was first introduced there wasnít anything like it on the market and the additional benefits of better performance and better fuel
economy made it sound like an absolute winner.
boat still has IPS; in fact it has three such units. So over time is this system worth the extra money
? Because this is a really expensive technology.
Today you can get similar docking
solutions using joystick controls that combine the twin engine
control with bow and stern thrusters. It works the same and makes docking a simple operation just like the IPS.
Much can go wrong with this system because the IPS system is basically a gearbox
, much like an outdrive, that hangs below the water
line and any leaks
will immediately render the drives unusable, needing a complete rebuilt. Looking at the user manuals
, that came with the boat, there is no mention of any specific maintenance
recommendations for the IPS (other than oil
changes and anodes replacements), no mention of how long the drive seals
would last and when it they would need to be replaced.
Well, I learned that the hard way. My boat was purchased new in 2009 but was actually built in 2008. So by 2014 my drive seals
were six years old. I keep my boat in the Caribbean
and have always kept it in the water
. I would haul it once a year for a bottom clean, paint
and propspeed treatment. Well in 2014 I hauled the boat. Insurance
companies love that solution, especially when your boat is located in a hurricane
zone. I hauled my boat late May and launched it again early November. We did the usual complete service
of the engines, as described in the manual. That included replacing the gear oil
in the IPS and replacing the gear
oil filters. The most important is to make sure to replace all the outside anodes protecting the IPS drives. The anodes are made of aluminum
and there are two per drive plus two regular zincs for the boats other equipment
protection. We also replaced the engine
block anodes. Pretty standard stuff that was part of the recommended preventive maintenance
as described in the Volvo
Excited about a new season in the Caribbean
we took the boat out for a cruise
. As always I check all oil levels and inspected the oil before any trip. When we arrived at our destination
and before we were ready for the next leg of our trip I checked all the oil levels once again. This time I found the oil in all the IPS drives looking "milky" a sign of water getting into the gearbox
. I decided to return home and haul the boat. After some pressure testing it appears we had a leak around the shaft seals (and possible also on the upper seals) on EACH of the three drives. And since we have evidence of water in the oil in ALL three propulsion
units itís clear that the seals on all units have failed ALL at once. Now how can that be?
We contacted Volvo
for some guidance. That was the first sign of things to come. Volvo was completely unresponsive. I called them and emailed their customer solution center. NO response. Then I started talking to authorized Volvo technicians, guys with many years in the business. Well they basically told me that all the drive seals should be replaced every five years or you will have a complete failure. Now I understand why itís not in the manual or why Volvo wouldnít reply. This is pretty expensive and very intensive work. I would have been a hard sell to reveal this information up front before I bought the IPS drives.
Now comes the fun part. In order to completely rebuild
these drives because as soon as oil gets in the drives they have to be completely disassembled and all gears cleaned, seals replaced, clutch
packs replaced and everything realigned and pressure tested. Now only a certified Volvo technician can do the job and for this job there are dozens of specialized tools that only they have. These tools are extremely expensive and so are all the parts
so needless to say this job cost a small fortune. To make matters worse they were no reliable Volvo technicians available in the Caribbean. I reside in BVI and the other IPS boats on the island gets maintained by Florida
Volvo technicians which are hard to get and expensive to fly down. My technicians flew down from Annapolis
where I live in the summer. They spent several weeks getting the drives rebuilt, re-aligned and tested. Of cause all the specialized tools and parts
had to be flown down there and back. So at the end we were looking at a bill in excess of $30K to fix.
Looking at an average use of the boat of 100 hours a year (which is high) and saving maybe 20% in fuel
there is just no way this technology can pay for itself and is worth it.
Volvo finally did get back to me because my dealer contacted them and told them too. They didnít do a thing and were completely unwilling to even admit that these seals should be changed and at what frequency. I think the fact that I hauled the boat for six month may have made the situation worse (because of the heat). But even when asked if I could store the boat on land for six month in the Caribbean they just said they didnít see why not.
My plan is to get rid of this boat and the technology. I want the old prop and shaft solution and with some help of a couple of thrusters and the new computerized joystick solutions I will have a far better and cheaper solution for the future. At least I can find someone to work on my boat without the need for expensive tools and training.
IPS is very cool solution, but it is an over-engineered solution to a pretty simple problem that has worked very well for many many years; prop and shaft.