Engine conked out on a lee shore - SailNet Community

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  #1  
Old 08-19-2008
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Engine conked out on a lee shore

My wife and I are the new owners of a 1984 Hunter 34 with a 20 HP Yanmar 3GMF (with about 1400 hours on the clock). We are new to sailing and just picked up the boat in the spring of this year. She is in relatively good condition but has needed enough maintenance to keep me busy. Our broker told me that if the diesel was going then all was good. Itís been running well all summer so I hadnít done much to it except clean the exterior and compartment before this past weekend when things suddenly went badly. We were heading out with the kids and had just decided to turn around because the wind and waves were picking up fast when the Yanmar quit and would not restart a few hundred metres off a lee shore. Essentially, we got towed back in quickly and safely but the high adrenaline experience scared the hell out of our daughters (3 and 5 years old).
Here is what I did. Using the Yanmar manual and Don Caseyís maintenance bible I went through the checklists. I was able to turn the engine over manually (big relief). I changed the oil and oil filter (the oil was black and on the low side but there had been no indication of low pressure while motoring out), cleaned some seaweed out of the raw water filter, cleared water and black gunk out of the primary fuel filter, bled the air out of the secondary fuel filter and tightened the nuts on one of my batteries (there are three, all were engaged). After all this it still would not start. At first it would not turn over. The solenoid engaged but the engine didnít turn. This had happened a few times earlier in the summer but it had always started on the second or third try. After a few tries it began to turn consistently but still did not engage. I retried several times over 20 minute intervals as I consulted the manuals. Finally I tried to bleed the fuel lines at the injectors. After this, the engine started on the third try. Heaven to my ears. After letting it run at varying speeds for a half hour or so I shut it down and tried again. It started right away. Again, big relief. What I am wondering is, have I left anything out? Clearly I need a regular regimen for clearing the fuel lines and I am replacing the filter elements, but my wife and kids are nervous now and I need to assure them that the engine is reliable. If anyone can recommend any actions or checks I have missed then please let me know. This experience has helped me to understand the diesel a lot more than before, but Iím still a novice. Any advice will be greatly appreciated.
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Old 08-19-2008
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Sounds a lot like the sea state you were in loosened up some gunk in the fuel tank and clogged up the filter, and that once you went through your steps and in flat water it was flowing well enough to restart. The first thing I would recommend is changing the filter. You also need to address the gunk in your fuel tank. (I haven't had to do that yet, so I'll let more knowledgeable folks address that)

You should always carry a least a couple of extra filters and the tools to change them and bleed the system. Something that should be well practiced in benign conditions, so you're able to do it when the seas are rougher (as that is when it usually is necessary).

Usually whenever you hear the engine start losing revs, the filter is clogging up.
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Old 08-19-2008
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Thanks for that suggestion, John.
I should mention that the engine quit very quickly. I did not notice any gradual loss of power. Does this still sound like a clogging issue?
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Yes, it could still be a filter issue. I'm sure there will be others with more experience chime in with some further suggestions.
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Old 08-19-2008
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I'd give that fuel tank a good checking over, sounds like it may have some water in it. Check the water separator frequently. Keeping the tank full will help reduce this problem. If it sat empty for a long period before you purchased it there could be considerable water build up in the tank.
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Old 08-19-2008
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Not knowing the kind of filter assembly you have, but you might want to invest in one which has a glass or see through bottom, so if this happens again a quick look will tell if there is a problem, as such some filter assemblies would come with a primer also a good aid. If your wishing to assure the family, you could also show them by making the engine shut down, and show them that you can fix it quickly to start again. Then they will have more confidence in the fact you can handle the problems and make them feel safe.
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When you bleed the engine, always bleed the whole system to the injectors. It is the only way you are sure you have purged air from the entire system.
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Old 08-19-2008
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I'd recommend you clean your fuel tank and polish the fuel... since the black gunk and water in the fuel filter tends to indicate you've got crap growing in the tank and some water at the bottom of it.
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Maybe practicing with that family what you would do if the engine stops would make everyone feel more secure. On my boat our 3 and 6 year old have a specific place they are supposed to sit during docking, tricky maneuvers, or during an emergency. They know to sit and wait for instructions. If my engine quit and I couldn't quickly get some sail out, I would put my wife on the helm and go forward to drop the anchor. I think practicing this would help everyone remain calm since they would know what to do. If they remain calm they will probably realize they are not in grave danger.

It sounds like you have more work to do. The starter not engaging properly should be fixed. It's totally unrelated to the engine stopping, and in my opinion is a safety issue itself.

While working through a maintenance checklist is a good idea for general upkeep, it's not a great approach to trouble shooting. You would be better served knowing why the engine stopped in the first place. That way you can be sure the problem is fix and wont return. A contaminated fuel tank is a good theory here, but you need to further investigate the tank and see if that's true. If so it needs to be cleaned. Also, you could install a vacuum gauge on the primary fuel filter. That way you would know for sure when it's getting dirty or clogged.

If you have a borderline fuel connection somewhere and your filter clogs, you likely will pull such a vacuum on the system that you will start sucking air and the motor could just quit suddenly. If your connections are top notch, you may notice a low power condition before it quits.
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Old 08-19-2008
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sailingdog View Post
I'd recommend you clean your fuel tank and polish the fuel...
Is polishing done with an additive, Sailingdog?
(btw thank you all for the informative posts)
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