(During a resent engine check, in ruff water, I was reminded to change your motor mounts every ten years)
Embrace Engine-Room Checks
Posted: January 1, 2012
There's A Lot To Learn From Being Diligent
By: John Torelli
While some people view hourly engine-room checks under way as an interruption of the fun of cruising, my wife, Maria, and I actually embrace the activity. Boating’s enjoyment comes with responsibilities that we do not take lightly, including ensuring that all systems are functioning properly. The last place we want to deal with mechanical issues is 25 miles offshore. To help us minimize this possibility, we always adhered to a detailed preventative maintenance schedule on Maria Elena (we are between boats right now) and made hourly engine-room checks to help us spot potential problems long before they became major issues.
Our hourly checks started in the pilothouse, recording date, time and GPS location followed by the basic engine instruments, including the hourmeter, oil pressure and temperature, engine temperature, voltage, rpm and speed. After that information was recorded, I walked downstairs to the engine room for visual inspections and temperature readings. During this time, Maria stayed in the pilothouse and kept watch. Prior to entering the engine room, I always looked through the small glass window in the engine-room door to make sure there were no signs of smoke or fire.
Upon entering the engine room, I conducted audio and visual inspections of the main engine. You can learn a lot from listening to your engine. Our Lugger diesel engine had its own unique rhythm that didn’t change except when the rpm did. Visual inspections included the transmission, the fuel valves and lines, the hydraulic system and the propeller shaft coupling for appropriate dripping. After all of the visual inspections were complete, I used our infrared heat gun to record temperature levels — 10 different readings of all of the vital systems on board.
Once the readings were recorded, I returned to the pilothouse, compared the new data to previous inspections and looked for unfavorable trends. Diesel engines take a little time to reach normal operating temperatures, and understanding their temperature in relation to running time and rpm is important to avoid potentially serious damage.
Another critical system that requires timely attention is the main engine propeller-shaft stuffing box. The stuffing box can overheat in just 30 minutes of running time if it is adjusted too tightly. We took temperature readings at both the coupling and shaft to ensure we were running at the correct temperature based on engine rpm, water temperature and duration of the cruise.
After our trip, I entered the handwritten data on an Excel spreadsheet and plotted the data on a graph by system. The graph provided us with a nice visual, showing trend data that we saved and compared to other cruises. Some interesting observations we gathered from the data included the effects of running with and against the current, a clean vs. dirty bottom and variation in water temperature.
One additional bonus to maintaining good records was when it came time to sell the boat. Being able to show prospective buyers this level of detail on the operation of the boat provided them with a good sense that we cared for and maintained the boat to the highest standards. It also helped the new owner understand what was normal and abnormal with all major systems.