Inboard Engine Machinery Checks

A prudent mariner will always do some basic marine engine check before proceeding to sea.

A few minutes in the shelter of the dock is better than hours out at sea trying to fix a minor problem out at sea because of a problem that could have been easily prevented “a stitch in time”!

Carrying out simple and regular checks will help to flag any problems early on and hopefully reduce the risk of your engine from failing when you’re out at sea in rolling waves.

Before you set off

Run the engine room air blowers for a few minutes to clear away any explosive gasses that may have accumulated from leaked fuel etc.

Open sea cocks – water cooling valves etc.

Check the bilge and engine for any oil leaks or an excess of water. Look for something that should not be there nornmally and find out where it came from.

Check cooling water piping for signs of perishing, wear or heat damage.

Check for pipe and cable damage – rodents can get on board and create havoc.

Check for corroded or loose hose clamps

Check condition and correct tightness of fan and drive belts.

Check the fuel level – sludge and rubbish lingering around in the bottom of fuel tanks can quickly clog up filters in rolling seas – especially old and low levels of fuel.

Check fuel filters and oily water separators – drain any excess water showing in the “glass bowl” section of the filter / separator

Check the coolant levels.

Remove the engine’s dipstick and check the level of lubricating oil. Cappuccino like moose on the dipstick indicates water has got in yo the oil system somehow – investigate before going to sea.

Check the smooth operation of throttle and gear controls, do they sit properly in neutral?


After starting the engine

After completing pre-departure machinery checks, here are a few more checks to complete once the engines are started.

Ensure your cooling system is circulating correctly.

If your exhaust ports are above the water line then it is fairly straightforward to do, if they’re below the waterline, it can be a bit trickier. If your water strainer in the engine room is partly transparent, you can check it for signs of water movement.

Is the water cooling system working properly?

Check the exhaust “smoke” for normal colour and smell.

Placing a floating object, such as a ping-pong ball in this will make it easier to tell if the water is moving.

Check your engines hoses, cooling and fuel systems and make sure you can’t see any leaks

Listen – if your engine doesn’t sound right or is making unusual vibrations then it is time to investigate.

It’s wise to keep an “ear” on the engine and boat noises throughout your trip. Know what sounds right  and then make sure there isn’t a change in engine note between when you start and finish.

Keep an eye on gauges and warning lights during your journey.

Your engine’s oil pressure should stay around it’s normal level – usually 60psi when underway.

The voltmeters should be around 13V. Many new engines will not restart if the voltage is below what the “computer engine management system” requires.

Once your engine is warm, the temperature should be showing between 80-85°C.


Switching engines off

Let the engines run in neutral for a few more minutes – this will enable the cooling system to dissipate the heat.

Have a good look around the engine bay – for anything that may have become loose during the voyage.

Close sea cocks of leaving the vessel.


Helpful tips

A good user manual will advise you on the best course of action to take so make sure you keep it handy.

Carry spare engine parts such as filters, hoses and gaskets on board
Keep an engine toolkit onboard so you can do any simple repairs yourself without having to call for help

Get to grips with how to deal with common engine problems so you’re not left completely unprepared should anything go wrong. There are some simple things that you can do – if you have the right tools and some training.

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