Sunday, October 4, 2009

"Checking the Engine"

In "checking the engine" a surprising number of cruisers do nothing more than check the oil level from time to time, maybe eyeballing the stopped engine too. This may occur with a certain amount of ceremony: It is announced that before the day's sail commences the skipper is going to Check The Engine, all hands are warned to stay clear, the engine cover is hauled back, and the skipper checks the engine oil level and whatever else, almost as though he knows what he's doing.

It is of course essential to check the engine oil level, and, at the same time, to look at the oil for signs of coolant getting into the oil (resulting in a greyish emulsion in the oil). And maybe a shredding belt will be obvious. But most engine problems start as leaks: coolant leaks, raw water leaks, exhaust leaks, fuel leaks, oil leaks. Coolant, raw water (sea water), exhaust, fuel and oil are all under more or less pressure in an operating engine, and that's why one checks for leaks when the engine is running, not when it's stopped. This is fundamental, but as I said a lot of folks don't do it.

An inspection mirror, a flashlight and ear protection are the tools. The hearing protection is not just a matter of preserving hearing, but so you are comfortable taking your time. Look around the oil filter and each fuel filter, checking behind these parts with the inspection mirror as necessary. Check around the fuel injectors and at each connection - diesel fuel is injected at a high pressure, and a leak can result in a fine spray that has caused many fires. Inspect the raw water pump. Same with the heat exchanger. It is all very loud, and please stay clear of rotating parts, but such an inspection will often give you warning of severe failure.

Here's a boring story: A few years ago I saw that the raw water pump was leaking a little at the shaft. I ordered a new one and when I decommissioned I replaced the pump.

That's the end of the story. I know this story would be more exciting had my raw water pump failed on a cruise, maybe at a crucial moment, but as I said, it's a boring story. May your engine stories be boring too.

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