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Salts in the oil

7297 Views 73 Replies 25 Participants Last post by  tankersteve
Here I sit in a marina in France BR's engine in pieces. Why, you ask? Salts in the oil.

Prior to the trans-lant last summer I re-powered the boat. Out went the 18 yr old 55 hp Nanni, in came the new 110 hp Yanmar. (Note the boat's designer indicated we needed at least 90 hp, so the first owner obviously underpowered her.)

As we will sell the boat sometime in the next 5 yrs or so I decided to have an oil analysis done with each oil change. I took a sample at the 50 hr oil change in Newfoundland, and another when I laid up the boat in Scotland last September at 280 hrs. I forgot to take the samples home with me and the first opportunity to send them to the lab was in the luggage of a departing crew member several weeks ago.

Lab reports came back: first oil sample had small amounts of sodium and potassium in the oil. The lab was curious. The second sample (taken at 280 hrs) showed a very large increase in the amount of sodium (5200 ppm) and a similar increase in the potassium. Lab said -- no doubt something is leaking into the oil. They said it could be seawater, or it could be coolant. "Find the leak" was their recommendation. Salts in the oil were causing accelerated wear of critical bits of the engine -- and the metal content of the oil samples was also well above normal.

I'll stop here for an important digression: without the oil analysis I would have never known this was going on. The engine runs perfectly, aside from a bit of soot on the transom. I would have continued motoring along (when not sailing) fat, dumb and happy and, because I plan to sell the boat, it would have been the next guy's problem because the excessive wear of bearings, etc. would probably not shown up as a real problem for a while. But I do have the oil analysis and so it's my problem. :(

So, the question is what to do?

First step was to call the Yanmar guy here in Brest, France. He's a nice man in his late 50's (that's good -- means he's experienced), and he speaks some English (that's also good because I have only high school French and a copy of "French for Cruisers").

He comes aboard last week and the first thing he does is take another oil sample. His examination of the oil on the dip stick and inside the valve cover suggests to him that it's not water. He said, "The oil is beautiful". First time I've heard someone call dirty 150 hr engine oil "beautiful", but this is France and things are different here.

So far we have removed the oil cooler and pressure tested it on the bench at 80 deg C. It's good, no leak there. The oil analysis requested last week came back today and we continue to have sodium and potassium at elevated levels. So there's a leak somewhere.

The question I have for the gathered mechanical cognoscenti is what course of action do you think we should follow from here? What are the potential sources of a leak of either seawater (minimal probability) or coolant (likely) leaking into the oil.

All though I have confidence in Philippe, our local Yanmar guy, your sage advice will be welcome.

I will conclude by saying that it's true -- cruising is defined as working on your boat in exotic places. While Brest isn't exactly "exotic" the food is very good, the cheap wine very good, the bread excellent and the cheese very smelly. What more could you ask for? :D

PS -- I forgot to mention: we had an overheating incident at 10 hours when the main alternator belt came off while motorsailing. Engine was shut down immediately (like within 10-15 seconds of the alarm), but the temperature gauge indicated 250 deg F / 120 deg C. Motor has worked flawlessly ever since. And I should add, we have had no over-cranking incidents -- the engine starts immediately, as a very expensive Yanmar should.
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Definitely agree that some sort of baseline testing would be helpful but salt air is likely the reason for a trace of salt in the oil. With the great number of cu' of sea air sucked in through an engine, it should be no surprise that some of that molecular salt gets into the oil. There should be some data on this kind of contamination. I would not be surprised if it's one reason for the frequent oil change interval of a marine motor. Similar industrial engines run more hours before recommending oil changes. I would keep an eye out for any sort of discoloration and look in the obvious places like pin holes in the riser but would really question an actual leak until there was more evidence. Both ends of marine engines are open to salt saturation all the time, even when sitting idle. That's why it's wise to plug both intake and exhaust when in storage. Salt air will corrode the inside of a marine engine quickly as well as rust your car out in a hurry.
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While my exhaust has a flapper gizmo, I don't believe these are at all effective in a following sea. I made up some tapered foam plugs for the exhaust with an eye bolt through them that can be stuffed into the exhaust for an offshore passage. I actually bought a shut-off that I was going to install right at the transom but decided I would almost certainly forget to open it at some point in time, or in an emergency, blowing apart the exhaust piping. The foam plugs will just pop out if the engine is started. A string attached to the eye bolt keeps them from getting lost.
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Fuel vent is on the stern about 2 1/2 ft above the waterline. Possible, but no water has shown up in the fuel water seperators (there are two between the tanks and the engine fuel filter) and the water alarm in the engine fuel filter has not gone off.

Re quantities of salt (sodium):

Sample 1 with 63 hrs on the oil was ~ 250 ppm
Sample 2 with 215 hrs on the oil was ~ 5200 ppm (end of season, after the crossing)
Sample 3 with 85 hrs on the oil was ~ 840 ppm

First two were by Blackstone, the third by a French lab.
Trying to picture a graph of that, it seems like a large increase from 85 to 215 hrs., more than twice the slope of from 63 to 85. Maybe that's a clue. Is there a normal sodium content of new oil? Is there an acceptable level?
here is some good info on how to read oil analisis reports:
Stateline Marine Surveyors, James T. Seith, SAMS® AMS® , Winthrop Harbor, Illinois, USA - Understanding An Oil Analysis Report

have you by chance been adding an oil additive? abusing stuff like zddp can and will show up on oil reports and also do damage if used excessively

the height of the vent btw does seem a bit low for the size if your boat....2.5 feet isnt that high up

just a thought

ps. here is a basic answer to your question...

something happened in that second analyis thats a huge spike

almost like you got a big splash in your exhaust and or fuel etc...

you also say its after the crossing which makes perfect sense, a combination of things will get that huge exhaust tube, vent too low...air intake to close to a source of heavy salt ladden air.

again just a thought
Am getting an "Account Suspended" message screen on the first link.

Right about additives. I know some top oil co. engineers who advise against any additives. Their contention is that the stuff has already been engineered by scientists that have been doing it for decades and have added all the ingredients needed to optimize its function.
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