CREDIT CRUNCH BLUES
PART I Doing your own engine maintenance
So now its official, we are in recession going into depression and we’ve all got the credit cruch blues. A few years ago, quite a few years ago, Lu gave me a cheer-up card when seven tenths had been damaged in Hurricane Ivan and things looked blue. The card was a whole spectrum of blue hues and said there are different shades of blue, different hues, there is no ‘blue’ blue, and looking at blue demanded something different, something I gueseed to be along the lines of ‘Zen and the Art of Sailboat Maintenance’. So that’s what we are doing, tightening the belt, cutting out the non-essentials, and structuring our cruising to our budget – which is less. For cruisers from the UK sterling has declined against all the major currencies and most of the minor ones, by 30%-40% in some cases. Maybe sterling should enter the currency circles as the North Atlantic peso.
When this happens you need some Bhuddhist calm. Stewie with Corinthian and the keel after Hurricane Ivan in Grenada 2004.
So what to do for this sailing zen. Well quite a lot really. We are cutting back on items that we deemed essential for the New Zealand to Mediterranean trip and which once you make the cut, don’t seem that essential at all. We have always done most of our maintenance, all the winterising, most of the repairs within our ken, and all the day-today-day chores. Below I have listed what we do anyway and which most cruisers, with a little gumption and an oily rag can do themselves. A lot of you do your own maintanance already, though it surprises me how many don’t take engine, sails, running gear, electrics and plumbing and boat cosmetics seriously in as much as it will save money, prevent breakdowns in places where things can’t get fixed (well most of the time), and keep the boat running smoothly through ocean swells and calm lagoons.
So we’ll start this off with the noisy thing that lives under the steps and which can consume much of our time… if we let it. It doesn’t take too much maintenance to keep a diesel chugging along happily and a bit of maintenance now and then is a lot cheaper than the sponduliks an engineer is going to charge you or, heaven forbid, the cost of a new engine.
The basic tenets of looking after a diesel are pretty simple. It needs diesel and air to run. It needs cooling water (usually sea water cooling a closed system with fresh water). It needs electrics for the starter motor and alternator. And you need to make sure nuts and bolts don't undo and hoses don't chafe. Get the torch out and have a look around the engine with the basic manual that tells you where the bits all are. Have a fiddle with it and look for any tell-tale oil leaks or wear that shouldn't be there. Get to love your diesel.
PART I Basic diesel maintenance
From my Mediterranean Cruising Handbook
Before starting check:
1. Battery switch is on engine battery or reserve (non-
2. Oil level.
3. Fresh water coolant level.
4. Raw water cooling inlet is open.
Immediately after starting check:
1. Oil pressure gauge or oil pressure warning light.
2. Raw water is coming out of exhaust (unless a dry
Every week check:
1. Pulley belt tension. Normally belt should depress
14mm (0-5”) at slackest but check with manual.
2. Raw water inlet strainer.
3. Gear-box oil.
4. Inspect fuel filter. If there is water/contamination in
the bowl then run off until clean fuel comes
Rough guide to engine troubleshooting
Engine won’t turn over
Batteries low or flat
• check battery switch is on.
• check battery switch is on engine battery or
• check voltmeter or battery condition meter or
check specific gravity of electrolyte with hygrometer.
• Turn a light(s) on and when you try to start
the engine if the light(s) dims excessively the battery is low.
Starter motor problem
• ignition circuit faulty. Bridge the battery and
switch terminals on the starter motor - if the
engine cranks there is a problem in the ignition
circuit. Check for loose wires or connections.
• solenoid sticking (doesn’t click). Tap solenoid
gently with a small screwdriver head. Don’t hit it
hard as modern solenoids have delicate electronic
• starter motor sticking (solenoid makes a solid
click but starter motor doesn’t turn). Try tapping
starter motor case gently with a small wrench.
Note engine may be seized so be gentle.
· starter motor defective or ring gear worn.
· try to turn a small motor by hand either with
engine starting handle or by pulley belts. If it
doesn’t turn over it is seized. For large engines try
lifting decompression levers and turning over. In
any case of a seized engine seek help. Engine may
be heat-seized, may have a major mechanical
failure, or may have water in the cylinders.
Engine turns but doesn’t start
Engine turns slowly
· batteries low. Turn a light (s) on and if it dims
when you try to start the engine the batteries are
low. Check battery switch is on the engine battery
or reserve battery. Recharge batteries.
· engine cold (unlikely in the Mediterranean Tropics and in the
summer). Follow glow plug procedure if fitted.
• check throttle lever is half or more engaged,
check fuel level in tank. Check fuel tap is open. Some engines like the throttle to be wide open on starting, but throttle right down once started.
• visually check fuel lines and connections for a
• check for ‘diesel bug’ in the tank and fuel filter
(system must be totally purged of fuel if ‘diesel
bug’ is evident in any quantity).
• loosen injector connection nut and turn engine. If
no fuel spurts out check fuel line, filter(s), and
tank for obstructions. Bleed engine.
• check air supply is unobstructed. Often there are
ducts in a cockpit locker or elsewhere that may
have been accidentally covered.
• check air filter. Clean if necessary.
Engine runs but is underpowered
• check fuel lines visually. Check for ‘diesel bug’ or
water in the fuel filter. Clean fuel supply and
• if there is white smoke there may be water in the
· check air supply is unobstructed and air filter is
· check propeller is unobstructed. Plastic or rope
may be fouling the propeller. A bread knife or
other knife with a serrated edge is good for cut
ting away rope or plastic. Engine must be turned
off; ensure no-one goes anywhere near the
• if there is excessive white smoke the head gasket
may be blown.
• if there is excessive blue smoke the piston rings
may be worn or stuck or the valves and guides
may be worn or stuck. Major mechanical repairs
will be necessary to remedy the fault.
• if there is excessive black smoke under normal
loads the injectors, high pressure fuel pump, or
timing may need attention. Try bleeding in case
one injector is out. Otherwise consult for more
specialised attention. Injectors and high pressure
pumps are finely tuned pieces of equipment.
· turn off auxiliary equipment: refrigerator/radar/
lights/radio to take any alternator or mechanical
compressor loads off the engine.
Engine runs but overheats
If water is not coming out of exhaust
• check water inlet. Is the sea-cock open? Is the
hose to the water pump intact? Is the inlet water
strainer clear of obstructions?
• is the water inlet blocked on the outside? Plastic
or weed can easily be sucked onto the inlet and
• water pump. Check impeller. Check pulley if
applicable. Check for other mechanical defect.
Fresh water coolant
• check coolant level.
• check fresh water system plumbing for defects.
Bleeding a diesel
Some engines are self-bleeding and after turning over the engine for a bit the fuel system will bleed itself. Some are not. Check manufacturer’s handbook for advice.
• quick bleed (never recommended but we all do it,
though it doesn’t always work). Ensure throttle lever
is engaged. Back off injector nut (on fuel supply
line) while turning the engine over by hand or on the
starter motor until only fuel comes out (no air
bubbles). Tighten nut while still turning engine
over. On a four cylinder you may get away with
doing only two injectors. Do a full bleed later.
• A lot of modern engines will self-bleed. Yanmars are particuarly good at this. Just turn the engine over a few times and it will probably chug into life. New engines with software controlling the fuel supply can have problems in the hardware or software. On some you can bypass the hardware controlling fuel. We did this for a Volvo in the Cape Verdes where there was no chance of getting the hardware/software problem sorted. It went all the way across the Atlantic to the Caribbean and back up to Maine with the hardware hot-wired.
• full bleed. In order bleed the low pressure fuel
pump, high pressure fuel pump, and each injector in
turn until only fuel comes out. Try not to spill diesel
everywhere by putting rag waste under connections
and in the engine bilge.
White smoke may mean
1. Water in the fuel.
2. Blown head gasket.
3. Air in fuel.
Black smoke may mean
1. Improper injection, timing, or high pressure fuel
2. Overload. It is common for a bit of black smoke on
start-up but once warm the engine should be backed
off from excessive revs which produce black smoke.
3. Air starvation or filter/turbocharger problems.
Blue smoke may mean
1. Mechanical defect, commonly worn or stuck piston
rings and/or valves and guides.
2. Too much oil in crankcase. Check oil level.
Suggested minimum engine tool kit
Complete socket set, metric or imperial depending on
Set of open-ended or ring spanners, metric or imperial.
Large adjustable spanner (big enough for the propeller
nut and sea-cocks).
Medium and small adjustable spanners.
Medium and large mole-grips.
Medium pipe wrench.
Set of Allen keys.
Set of normal and Phillips screwdrivers.
Pliers - normal and needlenose.
Set of feeler gauges, metric or imperial.
Brass bristle wire brush.
Suggested minimum engine supplies
WD40 or equivalent.
Insulation tape and self-amalgamating rubber tape.
Selection of stainless steel jubilee clips.
Silicone sealant. Petroleum jelly. Gasket goo (for emergency gasket repairs).
Suggested minimum engine spares
Top-end gasket set (or at least a head gasket).
Several impellers for raw water cooling pump.
Pulley belts as required for engine.
Injector sealing washers.
O-ring kit (as required).
Spare engine key.
More extensive engine spares kit - add:
Spare injector or nozzle.
Injector liner and washers.
Water pump spares kit.
Lift pump diaphragm.
Winter lay-up engine check-list
1. Run the engine to operating temperature. Drain or
pump out the engine oil. Refill with fresh oil. I’ve tried various oil pumps from the straight pump-out ones (hard work), electric oil pumps (good, but prone to giving up), and vacuum pumps like the one opposite (the best solution I’ve found).
2. Drain the raw water cooling system. Flush through
with freshwater. The easiest way to do this is
usually to stick a hose in the water inlet or remove
the inlet pipe and stick it in a bucket which is
refilled by the hose. Run in 50-50 water-antifreeze
mixture at the end to coat waterways. Drain
system including low spots. Plug the water inlet
with oily rag.
3. Drain freshwater cooling system and replace with
water-antifreeze mixture as per handbook.
4. Drain water-trap box in exhaust. Clean up anti-siphon valve and make sure the siphon hole is not blocked up with crusty salt bits. Plug exhaust with oily rag.
5. Remove and grease waterpump impeller with
petroleum jelly. Leave it out to replace on launching (don’t forget).
6. Check any anticorrosive zincs and replace if nec
7. Clean fuel filters and drain water out if necessary.
8. Grease any appropriate points, not forgetting the
9. Spray WD40 or oil into inlet manifold and turn
engine slowly (without starting) to coat cylinder
10. Turn engine to compression stroke.
11. Fill fuel tank to avoid condensation.
12. Wipe engine with an oily rag or a mixture of
petroleum jelly dissolved in petrol or spray with
WD40, to avoid external corrosion.
13. Clean engine compartment. Be careful not to leave
oil and diesel in the engine bilge.
14. A custom-made winter cover for the deck or the
whole boat will repay the investment by keeping
the sun and dust off the boat while it is laid up. In
many yards there can be a fair bit of dust blowing
around and when it settles and then it rains, the
result is later baked by the sun to a red-clay finish.
The cover will also prevent UV damage to fittings