Thursday, May 24

Pre-Start Engine Check

By Andrew Spaulding and John Staniszewski
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To start the season it is important to make sure that you are giving the engine a proper check over before you start it. Further, it is a “best practice” to check the fluid levels, belt condition and engine pan before engine start up. The first two fairly self-explanatory, but why check the engine pan? You want to check it for any signs of leaks, drips, or debris. 

Obviously, keeping the engine pan clean is the key factor to make this check work for you. Any thing under the engine that wasn’t there last time can be a clue to a developing problem. Water, oil, antifreeze, fuel, black dust or soot all point towards the beginning of a problem. By making regular checks of your engine room, hopefully you can identify a situation prior to it causing an emergency.

Water can come from a leak in the cooling system or water ingress through a thru-hull or the shaft log. Oil can come from the transmission or the engine. Black dust can be from the belts and accumulated dust can be an indication of misalignment or other excessive wear. Soot can be from an exhaust leak which can be very dangerous because we think that we can smell the exhaust. However, carbon monoxide (CO) is odorless and it can be a killer in confined spaces. Detecting a fuel leak early is very important since explosive vapor can accumulate in the bilge.

Antifreeze under the engine can be a sign of a cooling system leak or it can be due to overheating. Now, it is important to remember that if you do not have an overflow (expansion) tank for the cooling system, it is likely that you will get some antifreeze to come out of the cap the first time the engine is run for a long period of time after a fluid top off. 

If Crowley’s Yacht Yard has performed an engine start and noted no deficiencies you can be sure the following items have been checked:
  1. Fluids: Engine oil, transmission/saildrive/sterndrive, internal coolant, v-drive oil, power steering pump/hydraulic steering reservoir.
  2. Inspection of flame arrestor / air filter
  3. Batteries charged, alternator output at batteries (volts noted)
  4. Inspection of bilge blower for proper operation
  5. Visual inspection of belts, hoses, fuel lines
  6. Inspection of shaft coupler bolts and set screws
  7. Inspection of stuffing box and jam nut locked
  8. Start engine and check overboard water flow
  9. Check engine control cable operation (shift, throttle, stop)
  10. Run engine to operation temperature; check for overheating
  11. Check all engine gauges and audible/visual alarms
  12. Inspect for fluid leaks
  13. Check engine oil and coolant levels after shutdown
  14. Visual inspection of bilge for excess water/oil
You will find a copy of a form that details this check on your navigation station at your first arrival to the boat. If the form goes missing for any reason, we keep a copy in your file that we can send to you.

Unfortunately, as thorough as this check list is, since we do not run the boat at full load underway it is possible that there are deficiencies that can escape our notice. Probably the most common situation that we do not discover during and engine start is one in which the engine overheats only above a certain rpm. As an engine accumulates operating hours over its lifetime various systems wear and therefore degrade. So, it is possible to have an engine that won’t overheat at 2000 rpm, but it will overheat at 3500. Let us know if you notice that your engine has this condition, so that we can schedule a service call before this becomes a full blown overheat situation.

It is important to remember that even thought Crowley’s Yacht Yard technicians have multiple years of experience and start hundreds of engine every year, you as the owner are the person that most often operates the boat and as such you are the best person to help us identify a problem. All boats are different to us, but your boat is always the same for you. You are our best diagnostic tool so make notes about your boat operates under different conditions. Many off the shelf log books have spaces for this type of information. When variables such as wind and wave conditions, air and water temperature, engine rpm, engine temperature, amount of cooling water discharged, smells and sounds are logged over time patterns develop that can help us diagnose a problem. Something that might feel normal to us might not be to you.

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