Most Common Problems in Small Marine Diesel Engine Boats

June 16, 2017


The following list of common marine engine issues targets smaller diesel engines. Granted, they may seem complex on the surface, but the operational principles powering a small marine diesel engine are based on simple mechanics. It's that straightforward engine architecture that makes these boat engines reliable, well, as long as they're properly maintained. Having established that need for maintenance, let's dive into those common diesel engine problems.

Fuel System Vigilance

Before getting grease under their fingernails, marine engine technicians familiarise themselves with the workings of each watery prime mover. There's fluid in the bilge, streaks of oil around the engine housing, and everything's vibrating mightily. The seasoned eye of a well-versed engine expert takes in all of this, but his first glance is reserved for the fuel system. Water and dirt find its way into diesel fuel injectors, at which point the combustion process chokes.

Respiratory Distress

Just like any diesel powerplant, plenty of air has to accompany the injectors so that the compression cycle ignites the fuel. If the air filters are clogged, loss of power is inevitable. If the dirt continues to build in the air filter, simple mathematics takes charge. A low air, high fuel mix causes the cylinders to overheat, the oil seals to fail, and the engine to emit a nasty cloud of black smoke.

Detecting Lubricant Corruption

Oil quality can be a chronic problem. The lubricant isn't flowing properly, perhaps because of a blocked oil filter. Small marine diesel engines work hard. They endure high temperatures and great pressure extremes. A well-maintained oil line is critically important in a marine diesel engine. Otherwise, if left to become an oily "goop," the poorly maintained engine parts won't be properly lubricated. The outcome of this oil-less scenario is a mechanical catastrophe.

Cooling System Woes

Oil problems and fuel injector issues send an overheating thread through this common problems guide. Fortunately, the engine design accounts for excess thermal emissions by incorporating a cooling system. A water intake aperture draws freshwater in, distributes the cool liquid, and uses a heat exchanger to regulate the temperature of the engine. A damaged suction impeller or clogged discharge port attenuates cooling performance. Additionally, the heat exchanger assembly is susceptible to inflowing freshwater debris.

Secondary problems are also common. For example, certain fuel supplies contain sulphur, a compound that readily transforms into sulphuric acid. Furthermore, the temperature and pressure extremes in a small marine diesel engine create stress on system seals, and those gaskets then fail at the worst possible moment. It's worth reiterating the maintenance mantra again, the fact that most if not all of these common engine problems are avoidable when a preventative maintenance program is supervised by an expert repair engineer.

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