Why would a sailor take a diesel marine engine course?
My husband booked us on a Diesel marine engine course after we decided to trade our 6 bedroom house for a floating 56′ home. Upon hearing news of the course I thought, isn’t it more important to learn how to sail better, but then I remembered surviving engine failure and thought it was prudent. (See my article Experiencing engine failure and living to tell the tale)
Eventually I became quite excited about the course. Not only was I interested in knowing how to properly service an engine, but I also wanted the ability to keep an eye on any contractors working on our engine.
I hate feeling like I’m being ripped off.
Below I’ve listed my top 10 interesting tid-bits that I learned during the course, but let me give you a wee bit more background. Previous to our course, my knowledge about diesel marine engines was limited to checking the water level, using the oil dip stick, ensuring the belt was secure and that’s about it. I had absolutely no idea how engines really worked.
During our 4-day course, there were 10 of us that completely dismantled a huge Rolls Royce Diesel engine. I personally took off the exhaust manifold, starter engine, injectors, alternator and water tank (how cool do I now think I am?) It was so interesting to see all the parts coming off. During the 4 days our teacher took us through all the systems.
We followed the paths that the coolant, oil, fuel and exhaust took.
In between playing with the engine we learned about the various parts and how they worked. Crankshaft, flywheel, camshaft, pistons, cylinders, injectors, pumps, turbo chargers, exhaust and on and on. It was so helpful to actually take a camshaft out, touch it and then look at how it worked! I felt as if I was learning by playing and sometimes that’s the best way! It also helped that our teacher, Paul Bennett, was excellent. There’s nothing this guy doesn’t know.
Throughout the week I kept notes – listed below are the my top 10 interesting tid-bits that I learned over and above the ‘basic’ engine concepts. How many of them did you know about?
But before we get to my top 10 marine engine course tid-bits…
…have you looked at my guide titled, Checklists for Sailors – Passage Planning, Sailboat Maintenance, Cleaning, Medical and more . This guide is a boaters must-have checklist reference guide. When you’re first starting out you don’t know what you don’t know! These checklists are really good for knowing what to check on a marine engine and when you should be checking it.
Top 10 interesting tid-bits about a diesel marine engine
- Fuel quality varies greatly. You can get good clean fuel or you can get very dirty and potentially engine damaging fuel. Before fuelling up, you can visit the fuel pontoon, request a sample and check it for the presence of water, dirt and fuel bugs – yes there are bugs that live and grow in fuel and you do NOT want them in your engine! The bugs can get in there, multiply and if left alone will eventually turn into a pile of black sludge that needs to be emptied with a shovel! By simply being proactive and putting a capful of Biocide in your tank while fueling up you can ensure that any bugs are killed.
- The primary and secondary fuel filter often look exactly the same – only the part number is different. One filter removes larger particles and the other removes smaller particles. It’s very important to put the right filter in the right place when changing them! (The old, less knowledgable me would think they were the same and just pop one into each filter not paying any attention)
- Continuous exhaust smoke indicates one of three issues depending on the color. White smoke is water in the combustion process. Black is too much fuel combusting and blue is oil in the combustion chamber. All three are a problem and need to be solved! 4.Water cooler units need to be taken out, remove o-rings on either end and soaked in acid overnight. After soaking use a pipe cleaner or riffle brush to clean out all of the tubes. Contractors say that they clean the cooler but they often leave it in the engine and just jam the debris inside the unit. It’s a real laborious job, but needs to be done correctly at least once a year. Put new o-rings and lots of lube on when putting the cooler back in.
- Engine belts. Always change in pairs (if they come in pairs) – never change just one of them. A quick trick for slipping belts, if you’re in a bind, is to spray some hairspray on them; this will cause them to stick.
- The exhaust creates a concoction of chemicals and one of them is Sulphuric Acid. Oil is high in ph and that helps to counter balance the effects of acid. Over time, however the Ph effect of the oil is reduced and that is why we need to change the oil. After a certain amount of time the oil can’t cancel out the acid. Always change it when recommended!
- Oil quality does not vary. Oil is oil whether it’s branded a name brand or not. You pay more for big name brands and the oil is no different than the one without branding. You just need to make sure to match the SAE or API number that your engine requires. Tip: Add the API number to the cap that holds the oil so you never go wrong.
- Alway smell your oil when checking the dips stick. If you smell fuel there’s a serious problem that needs to be sorted before starting it! To test, put a splodge of oil on a coffee filter, if it stays a splodge, then no fuel is present. If however, a halo effect appears that indicates the presence of fuel. There’s fuel leaking into the engine and that needs to be sorted.
- Copper washers. New and old, need to be heated until they’re red hot and then dropped into a cup of water. When they’re ready to use they look pink. Using them without doing this may cause a poor seal.
- Check your seacocks. The most important thing you can do on a boat is check the seacocks every weak – open and close them. Use a silicon based grease on them and always carry spare handles as they can easily break off. I know this has nothing to do with engines but it’s one of those things we boaters know about but fail to do. Our boat has 35 seacocks so I’m not looking forward to that job 🙁
- Cool down. After a long trip using the engine, it’s important to let the engine cool down. If you’re in port, the engine is ticking over in neutral and there’s too much exhaust coming out (and suffocating the crew), just increase the rev’s a bit. This will reduce the exhaust smoke coming out.
I SERIOUSLY am interested in any tid-bits you have to offer too! Please leave a comment so we can all benefit. Also, you might be interested in a very handy Diesel Marine Engine Pre Start Checks Checklist. You can print it off, laminate it and store it in your navigation table. Every time you or someone does the engine checks you can use a wipe-erase marker to tick the tasks as you do them.