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Old 02-19-2002
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Leaking Stuffing Box

The stuffing box on my 1972 Columbia 30 continues to leak in port even after having been re-stuffed. How can I stop the drip?

Tom Wood responds:
Getting a packing gland adjusted so that it drips a little while underway, but stops when the shaft isn't turning, can be an exercise in frustration. So remember, a wee drip in port is usually not objectionable on most boats.

There are numerous reasons why a packing gland continues to weep. First of all, breaking in new packing, especially the old-fashioned flax type, takes some time. Usually after re-packing a gland I find that have to adjust it two or three times over the first hundred hours of operation as the new packing wears and "seats" against the shaft and the inside of the gland. Newer Teflon-impregnated packing seems to have less of this problem.

Beyond that, here are other things that can continue to cause problems:

1. Wrong size packing.
2. Too little packing.
3. Ends on packing rings not properly beveled or staggered.
4. Engine out of alignment.
5. Drive train vibration due to worn cutless bearing, bent shaft, out-of-balance prop, or improper shaft overhang.

Also, one other major cause is scoring of the shaft at the packing gland, and on a 28-year-old boat I might suggest that it wouldn't hurt to pull the shaft and inspect it for indentation or damage in that area. Years of revolving inside the packing, especially if the gland was ever over-tightened, can wear grooves in the shaft that no re-packing will ever overcome. Is it expensive? Sure. A new shaft should always be matched with a new cutless bearing and re-packing the stuffing box (again). But it may be the only way you'll ever stop the drops from falling into your bilge. Good luck to you.

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