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Diesel Dan

Straight Talk from Diesel Dan: Engine Guru's Advice for Long Life
By David Blacklock

With the arrival of the new sailing season, owners are taking their boats out of wraps, and yards are in launch mode as vessels stored for the storm season are dropped into the water.

We asked diesel guru Dan Durbin of Parts and Power what you should look out for and what needs to be done before you drop your yacht into the wet.

“From the preventative viewpoint, the best thing you can do is pull out your owner's manual and look at the list of things you're supposed to do every year and go do it. If you didn't do it after you hauled the boat, you need to do it before it goes back in. If you don't know where your owner's manual is, call the people you bought the engine from, or whoever the local dealer is—they'll run you off a copy.”

“The biggest thing people don't do but should is to get their through-hulls serviced. Because if you've launched the boat and started the engine and you find you have a leak in the system and need to shut off your seacock and it won't shut—you've got a big problem. Because then you've got to re-haul the boat.

“The other big problem area is making sure the batteries are charged. You launch the boat and find the engine doesn't crank. So then you've got to go find batteries somewhere.

“One time we had a $400-500,000 boat, and the guy launched, and right away he took off—he was in a hurry to get to his slip. He called us pretty soon because he lost his engine—it overheated and died. He didn't have an anchor because it was out being polished. He didn't have a dinghy because it was being patched. He just took off with nothing. So we had to go out and transfer a mechanic and all his tools onto his boat while he's sailing around. The guy complained because none of the men in the yard looked to see if he had seawater coming out his exhaust. We just looked at him and said, ‘Who's the captain here?’


“Another issue is when you launch your boat and something goes wrong and you need a mechanic. He's not going to work on a hot engine. Sometimes it's better to arrange to have a mechanic with you when you launch, so if something does go wrong, he's there on the scene and can fix it. If you're coming in to get some work done, come in the night before and let the engine cool down so the mechanic's got half a chance of getting it done right. If you've never had your valves set, you need to have them done. If you've never had your injectors checked, they need to be done, too.

“Bear in mind: A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my par t. Engines need service, just like everything else. And remember your generator probably needs service more than your main engines, since you run it for longer hours, usually. The proper way to run a diesel engine or generator is to star t it up and wait to see you have proper oil pressure, then let it run 3 to 5 minutes before you throw a load on it with your main engine that's pretty easy because by the time you finish doing the things you need to do it's pretty well warmed up. Same thing when you're shutting it down—by the time you're getting into the dock and you're tying your lines it's idled for a few minutes. But the generator needs to have its warm-up period too when the pistons expand and the block expands—everything star ts equalizing. If you put a load on it too fast then what's happening is the cylinder's warming up but the block hasn't got there yet or the bearings haven't gotten oil yet. At least wait until you've got oil pressure, because when oil's cold it doesn't flow very well. If you can lengthen the life of your engine, you're saving money.


“People ask me, what's the one thing they should do but they don't? Probably being too easy on their engine. Diesel engines need to run. When you're under way, run your engine up to full throttle and see if it's doing the RPM it's supposed to—if you don't know, check the owner's manual! Whatever that number is, back it off 10% to 15% and that's where you should run. So if you've got an engine that's rated at 3600 RPM, then continuous operation should be 10-15% below that. That's your maximum cruise limit. Now if you can't get the engine up to its theoretical maximum, you might have a problem—a fouled hull or a dirty prop or gummed up filters, so you know you need something serviced. If you can't get to full RPM and there's no smoke coming out the exhaust then you know that your filters may be plugged or you may have air in the fuel. If it smokes, you've got a problem with the air, a problem with the injectors or a problem with the valves. You want to operate it safely until you get it to someplace it can be fixed. If it smokes, you want to operate it at an RPM where it doesn't smoke. If it seems okay but it won't run at the RPM it's supposed to, then run it at 85% or so of whatever RPM you can get to, until you get someplace to have it serviced. That way you can avoid any catastrophes.

“When we survey boats, the ones that show up best are char ter boats and fishing boats—two groups you'd think would be really abused. Fishermen run like hell out to the fishing site then they circle around picking up their nets or their pots and then they run like hell coming back home. Same with charter boats—for all the ones who do as they're told and motor around gently there's always some guy who runs it hard for a week and saves it. Then you get the gentleman who's been very easy on his engine and trying to take care of it and he's only been operating at half throttle all the time. He's the one that's going to need attention.”

Dan Durbin is Service Manager at Par ts and Power in Tortola. With 40 years experience in the marine engines business, Dan's the man to see. Email: [email protected]

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