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BRINGING A OLD JET BOAT BACK TO LIFE

BKennedy

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I inherited my parent's 1987 Miller Mini-Cruiser jet boat a few years ago. I have been working on getting it back in useable condition and am doing a partial restoration for now. The only thing I'm not doing right now is engine modifications and replacing the interior upholstery. I got that cleaned up fairly well, its still showing its age but its intact so am leaving it for now. The boat has been sitting for at least six years. It was my Dad's pride and joy, and is full of family memories. It was something that brought the family together over the years. I always loved being out on the water in it; the acceleration of that BBC, the noise, the wind in your face, freedom. Its just loud enough that it doesn't invite conversation so you have to sit back and enjoy the scenery. Its big enough to ride very nice on the water, and small enough that it still accelerates like crazy. Most jet boats, like this one, have the driver controls on the left side (the American side) with a accelerator foot pedal like a car. They feel like a old hot rod and are fairly easy to operate as long as you remember that they will not turn unless under throttle.

The boat is a unique one-off as far as we can tell. My parents owned a 1981 used Miller of the same model they bought used in 1983. It had a major issue where the spars rotted out under the fiberglass in 1987. It was out of any warranty, and not owned by the original purchasers but Miller decided it should not have happened and it was their mistake to fix. They offered to build a new hull and transfer everything over to it from the old boat. My parents jumped on that offer, and towed the boat up to Miller in Santa Maria, California. The people there asked my parents if they wanted anything different done to the boat. Mom wanted the backs of the front seats curved so the middle seat passengers could face either towards the inside or to the rear with their feet reclined on the back seats. They did that. They had changed the bow graphics since 1981 and asked them if they wanted the new or old design. Mom looked them over and asked them to do both, so they did that too.
Brochure I found on line;
miller 20ft brochure.jpg


Pictures of the bow of my boat
IMG_20130504_163010_430.jpg

Cruising Lake Havasu

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Pics of the boat as it sat a few months ago when I pulled it out of my parent's garage.
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Sun damage to interior is mostly behind the rear seats and engine cover
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The hull is in very good condition as it was buffed about a month before it was stored. Here are a couple more pics of it on Lake Havasu the last trip my parents went on before my Dad passed.
Dad in passenger seat teaching my daughter how to pilot the boat.
IMG_20130505_130336_481.jpg


On the way out of the Topoc Gorge the wind kicked up and the waves started rolling across the lake. I was in the passenger seat by this time coaching my daughter. I have been driving these types of boats since I was 11-12 years old. I was going to take over, but Dad said she might as well learn how to handle rough water too, so she piloted it back to the boat ramp.
IMG_20130504_163005_541.jpg
 
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BKennedy

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I first went to work getting the engine running. I figured it might just start right up, but I did not want to cause any damage or wear. The engine had been rebuilt with a bunch of internal work right before those pictures of my daughter piloting it in the first post. It's a Hardin Marine 454, which is basically a GM based big block with very thick casting for marine use. Its now around a 502 because my Dad had it rebuilt to outrun a friend of his who has the same hull, but with a Ford 460 engine that had got a bunch of engine work to outrun my Dad. Still runs on regular pump gas.

Jet boats have a engine cooling system that uses the jet drive's pump to push fresh water through the engine. They don't have a water pump. This one has water jacketed exhaust manifolds as well. Water comes off a fitting on the jet drive, through tubing to the exhaust jackets, then into and out of the engine. The water is routed into the jacketed exhaust manifolds to heat it up so as to maintain constant-ish temps, and not shock a warm engine with cold lake water. The water exits back into the exhaust pipes before going out through the transom or rear. The jet drive was freshly rebuilt at the same time the engine work was done, so its all new. I greased all the fittings and checked everything over. Berkley Jet drives are able to be run out of the water because the bearings are greased or in a oil bath and do not come in contact with water, but only for less than 20 minutes at a time because the internal seals are water cooled.
Pic of engine, exhaust and jet drive
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Installed a new battery. I drained the old fuel out of the tanks and dumped in a few gallons of premium with some fuel stabilizer in it. I changed the oil and the oil and fuel filters. Thanks to Dad for installing a oil drain tube off the pan. I added new Lucas 20W-50 hot rod oil through both valve covers to oil both sides. I disconnected the coil wire and fuel line (mechanical fuel pump) and turned it over for several seconds to oil the engine without it running. I hooked the coil wire back up.

Anyways, I hooked up a garden hose to a in line fitting just for the purpose of running the engine out of the water. I shoved another garden hose into the intake grate under the hull. I let it sit like that for about five minutes, then turned it over. It sprang to life after a few seconds of turning over, like it was waiting for me. I let it run for about five minutes then shut it down to check everything over once again. Everything looked fine, so I started it up and let it run for about ten minutes.
Vrooooooommmmm

Little more throttle
 
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BKennedy

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Rick suggested I rebuild the Holley 750 carb before taking it out on the water. If one of the passages is blocked it could cause a lean condition and burn out a piston. Since I know nothing about carbs, Rick volunteered to rebuild it for me. He did that and its on its way back to me. Thanks @Rick. It originally must have had a spread bore carb and the Holley is a square bore. While I had the carb out, I smoothed out / modified the inside of the aluminum carb adaptor/riser plate as there were rough casting marks and the holes didn't line up evenly with the intake manifold.

I was looking into replacing the intake manifold with a modern one, but decided to wait on that after I get it out on the water a few times. Planning on early October to get it in the water, maybe at Squaw Lake near Yuma. It will still be warm, but not lava hot out there like it is now.

On to the interior. I had pulled the engine cover and rear seats to work on the engine. On the vinyl I used several applications of Soft Scrub, then 3M Marine upholstery cleaner, then 303 protectant. I used several coats of all three because the vinyl was dried out a little. Its not perfect, but acceptable for me to use it for a while. Still not sure if I want to replace the upholstery because all the spots, scrapes and fading is from my parent's and family usage and I am sentimental about that kind of stuff.
Looks pretty good for a 34 year old boat.
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Next is the carpet is shot and worn through in a few places. I have been looking for replacements and have samples coming in for that. When I find the right color, or a close enough match, I will be replacing that soon. The cockpit interior on these boats is easily removed as its all bolted down to 1" thick marine plywood floor with lag bolts. Some of the bolts have stripped over the years and are rusted, so will be replacing all of them with stainless lag bolts.

I also need to work on the trailer. I rewired the trailer lights last week because my Dad was real good at engines, but not so good at wiring. I started going through the wiring to fix a short in the clearance lights, and found a hack job repair about every 6". I ended up pulling and installing new wires all the way through. I got lucky in that the wires pulled easily out of the rear tail light recesses since its all inside the frame rails. I was able to attach new wires to the old wires and just pull them through. The rear tail lamps and clearance lights are already LED. I have new side marker LED's to replace the original lights. Trailer doesn't have brakes because it doesn't weigh enough to need them. The boards look good (what the boat sits on). Powdercoating could use a refresh as its horribly faded, but I think its just going to have to stay that way. Its very difficult to do that type of work with a boat sitting on it, and even more difficult to put the boat somewhere else while its being done. I might just mask and paint what is visible when I have the fenders off for more work that is needed.

The trailer fenders are unique to Miller and made out of fiberglass to match the boat. They used to be very pretty, but need some love. I think I can buff them out enough to get them to shine again, but they have become wobbly and weak on the steps. You need to step on them to enter the boat when its on the trailer. It has flat spots front and rear for that and they are reinforced, but are getting weak. When you step on them, they creak and move a little. I have been doing a little research on fiberglass and am confident I can reinforce them by laying fiberglass strips on the inside of the fenders, which are painted flat black. I just need to figure out what thickness of fiberglass sheet to get, how much, etc. They look to be easily removable. I can also reinforce a few spots at the top inside edge of the fenders, and add a few small holes to that area. The fenders tend to float the trailer and its a pain to recover a boat when the trailer is floating out from under it. Couple of small holes to let the air out should take care of that.

Anybody have any suggestions about what fiberglass sheet thickness to use? I have been looking at this kit off eBay;

Pic of fenders (while I was draining the gas tanks). Where its parked, I can't get a good side picture.
20210712_141118.jpg
 
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Rick

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There are a bunch of sites with good info about fiberglass repair. I have only had small jobs and have always used the kit you can get from an autoparts store.
 
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BKennedy

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I have been reading up on it, and the vendor of that kit I posted a link to, says it would work perfect for what I want to do. I sent the vendor another message asking about sheet thicknesses and what would work best. As far as I can figure, the thicker the sheet the less flexible it is, but its stronger and you need less overall layers. I think I would only need a few layers to get those fenders fixed up.
 
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Stic-o

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That thing is sexy! Those Explorer wheels would look great on that trailer. I measured the back space on the spare (should be the same) and it's about 4-1/4" on 15x7 wheel.

*Image is at a slight angle.

20210813_191940.jpg
 
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BKennedy

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I got the carb delivered yesterday. I won't be able to install until I get back from Kingman towards the end of next week.

I have always loved jet boats and this one is special to my family. I am getting excited at the thought it might be back on the water in a few months. Its what my Pop's would have wanted and there is nothing like the sound of that BBC firing off in the morning.
 
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GJarrett

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Brian that boat is completely awesome; did your family ever give her a name? Just a thought, but a boat with that many memories... she deserves/has earned a name.

We are boating people too but are the cruiser "water RV" spend- nights- on- the- hook kind. We have a little framed placard on our living room wall "Memories are made on boating days" that is surrounded by a wall full of photos made on our boating adventures over the past decades.

I noted that you stated you used gas "with fuel stabilizer". Can you get non-ethanol gas where you live? If not, I would suggest taking a very close look at all of your fuel lines and/or replacing them with modern marine lines that can better handle the ethanol degradation. Ethanol is a real problem in today's boating world; especially with older boats.

Congrats on a beautiful boat loaded with irreplaceable memories. I'm jealous; I'd give anything to have dad's old 15ft aluminum runabout with 50hp Mercury that I grew up learning to ski on back in the '60s.
 
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BKennedy

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Thanks for the input. No name, we always thought that small boats didn't need names. If anything I would name it "Baba&Papa" because that's what the grandkids all called my parents. My daughter started it and it stuck.

I have gone boat camping, but with a different boat. Parents have had several boats, but that was mine and my Dad's favorite. Took it up the river to a shaded beach and slept out on a cot. Like car camping, but with a boat. It was a great time. Have always planned on camping on the islands of Lake Havasu sometime. They have small islands in one of the state parks, with picnic tables and flat spots for tents. I am going to do that someday. Maybe when it cools off so there are not very many people on the lake. You can also camp all over the Arizona side of Lake Mohave, its very remote.

You can camp on the California side of Havasu on the reservation, just have to pay the natives when they patrol by, if they patrol by. Lots of coves and beaches on that side. My parents had a lifetime pass with the reservation chief of police because their group helped them take down some tweakers cooking meth in a old houseboat in one of the coves. We used to leave all our chairs and awnings on the beach for the night, came back and they were gone. Those old cops knew just where they might be, on that houseboat. They were going to go get their stuff back, and at the same time a reservation police officer came up on the tweakers by himself. I was 13-14 years old and my dad had me drive the boat full of all his fellow cop buddies while they pulled their guns and boarded like a bunch of pirates. Reservation chief came by and thanked them all for saving his officer. Got all their stuff back too. After that, whenever the group was at Havasu and hanging out on the reservation side, the chief would come by, visit and have a beer. I had a interesting childhood.

The fuel lines all look new, but its a good idea when I pull the interior to replace the carpet to replace the fuel lines. We can't get anything without ethanol in the People's Republic of Kalifornia. I had trouble even getting a fuel pump for the RV generator shipped here. After or before I install the carb, definitely before I start it again, I am going to dump about ten more gallons into each of the two tanks to further dilute any yellow gas that might still be in the system.
 
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GJarrett

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Wow, interesting childhood is right! Enjoy your project and may you have many more years of memory making on the water, my friend.
 
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BKennedy

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Today was mess with the boat day. I got the carb completely installed, but it needs to be tuned (maybe). The seats bottoms basically use friction to hold them in place and they were getting loose over the years. Didn't want to lose any on the highway. I stapled little strips of thin rubber onto the leading edges of the friction points and they are much tighter now. I then took it on a trip to the gas station where I put six gallons in each tank with a few ounces of Stabil. I was going to fill them both up, but if I end up changing out the carpet before I take the boat out, I will also be replacing the fuel lines at the same time. Since the tanks pickup is on the bottom, I didn't want to deal with 16.5 gallons of gas in each tank. Six I can syphon out into gas cans easily, and it will still dilute any remaining old fuel in the tanks and lines when I start it again. I had to reposition three times to put gas in the truck, and both tanks as the fuel pump hoses were too short to reach across the boat. Everything's an adventure nowadays. Should be firing it up tomorrow.

I found the original temp hull number / registration card from when my parents got it in 1987, and the mileage to speed and RPM card that came with the boat. Best it gets is 2.85 MPG at 32 MPH. Good cruising speed, but that's a serious gas hog. I can see why people go EFI on the old jet boats to gain another MPG or 2. Still, that's about a 90 mile range, which is pretty good for a lake / river boat, and as you can see on the card, full throttle isn't that much more fuel usage at 55 MPH. Now I know why my Dad always kept it around 3500 RPM when cruising. I am thinking with the engine work my Dad had done to it should be a little faster top end than what's on the card.


20210821_115507.jpg


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BKennedy

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I decided to see how the boat ran with Rick's rebuilt carb. I pulled the coil wire and cranked the engine for ten seconds like it says to fill the carb bowls to check float level. I checked the float level site plugs and fuel only sloshed out when I rocked the boat, as it should be. It started, but ran like it was totally flooded and would not idle unless I adjusted the idle screw way too far up. I went through a bunch of videos, texted Rick a few times, I was stumped. I walked away from it for a few hours like I learned to do when I get frustrated and there is no real time crunch to get it done. Decided to check the float level one more time and fuel poured out of the site plugs. I adjusted the levels again and cranked it over. It fired up immediately and it runs like a mean big block is supposed to run. Adjusted the idle screw back to where Rick set it and its idling away at 900 RPM. Its a little high, but there is no load on it. I figure when its in the water it will be a little lower. With the cam in that engine, it starts to idle rough below 750 so it might be just right. I shut it off, waited several minutes and started it a few times to make sure everything was working. Sucker fires up as soon as the starter turns. So, if you every find yourself adjusting carb floats, check them again after running the engine for a few minutes.

I have a cleaner wax made for RV gel coats. It works very well on the RV, so I used some on the faded out, beat-up fenders to see if it would help. First coat soaked right in, second brought the shine back. If I go after it with a buffer wheel, I think they will look great besides the 34 years worth of use on them.
Couple pics of the fender, you can easily see the waxed and non-waxed sections
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20210822_165500.jpg


Thanks again @Rick
 
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BKennedy

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Yesterday that shiny spot on the fender got me motivated. I got out the buffer and went to town. Two coats on the fenders knocked about 30 years of age off of them. I said on the last post they were 34 years old, but I forgot the trailer is a 1981 so those fenders are 40. If those Explorer rims fit they will look great on this trailer.
20210823_143336.jpg

Also buffed the bow with two coats of gel coat cleaner wax. All the little scratches and rub marks are gone. Its gorgeous in person. A few of the neighbors came over to look and remarked at how beautiful the boat looks. Still need to do the rest of the boat, but its a start.
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Seeing the boat like this, I wish I had gone over and buffed it when my Dad was still alive. He would really have liked to have seen it looking like a new boat.

I thought it a little telling about what type of neighborhood I live in when I fired the boat up several times yesterday. I live in a canyon in a double cul-de-sac and noise easily carries. Not one of my neighbors came out to check out the big block with 3' of open exhaust.
 
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BKennedy

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BKennedy

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I picked up the Explorer wheels from Stic-O yesterday. Those 235 tires won't even fit inside the fenders, but I knew I needed to get new tires. They are almost 3" taller and 2" wider. The backspacing is nearly one inch deeper than the trailer wheels, but I think they will still clear with the correct size tires on them. The trailer currently has 205/75/14 on it, but it originally came with 15" wheels. My Dad put those on when he got a deal on the tire/wheel package that was less than a new set of 15" tires. The equivalent should be 205/70/15, which should still work with those wheels. I need to get over to a tire store and have them mount one tire of the right size for me to make sure they clear. I think I am going to go with the cheapest car tires that are the correct size. With those fiberglass fenders, I don't want a trailer tire coming apart and destroying them.

If I need to, I can always get some 1" wheel spacers. Since its a two axle trailer with very little weight on it, I don't see an issue with using spacers. It will still be less money than if I got aluminum trailer wheels and new tires, and it will have those cool teardrop Explorer wheels.

While pulling off the tire, I noticed the hub bearings are a little loose for my liking, but I was planning on pulling them to check the bearings and repacking them anyway. They probably haven't been done in 20 years.
 
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BKennedy

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I am having a storage issue with the boat lately. It was almost always stored indoors when it was my parent's boat. The boat has a canvas travel cover on it to keep the dust and dirt off the deck and cockpit. I used to have a vinyl tarp over that, but it traps condensation and the wood floor was constantly wet. Its been raining hard nearly every morning or evening here. Today, the carpet was soaked from the early morning rain storm. Water puddles on the canvas cover, then starts to leak through onto the cockpit. It soaks the carpet, then goes into the ski locker and soaks that carpet. I have had to remove everything stored in the deck lockers. I have propped the hatches open to both lockers to let it dry out. There is also drains in both of the storage compartments so it eventually drains into the engine compartment, then out the stern plug holes. I have to keep the bow raised up with wood blocks under the trailer jack so it drains, which I don't like because it puts all the weight on the rear leaf springs.

I may end up storing the boat for a year outside until my shop is built in Kingman. I am thinking I might just have to suck it up and pay $150 a month to store it inside locally, but that is a lot of money, and its a pain when I want to work on it. I was also thinking of getting one of those HF canopy garages for it, but I have no where to put it because the boat is in front of the RV. I am all out of storage space. I considered moving the Explorer outside for the first time in its life and stuffing the boat in the garage, but it would have to be parked out in front of the house and subject to theft. I don't think anyone is going to try and steal the boat because I have a ball lock, and a chain run through the rims and around the leaf springs on one side.

Any suggestions? Maybe I could figure out how to put the tarp on it and vent it somehow? I'm out of ideas at this point.
 
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Rick

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Waterproof boat cover? They've got to make them.
 
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