Repowering, Part 1 – The Decisions
Repowering, Part 1- the decisions
By Don Launer
Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 5, Number 5, September/October 2002.
New engine or rebuild? And should you install it yourself?
Chances are your boat
is like a member of the family. You could no more dispose of it than sell
your only child. But, inevitably, the day arrives when you realize that
your power plant is on its last legs, and there are some important decisions
to be made.
Some boatowners go
to the boatyard, write a check, and say effortlessly, “Call me when
it’s ready.” For most of us, however, it’s a traumatic
moment. After all, repowering an inboard auxiliary sailboat is a lot more
involved than simply dropping a new outboard onto the transom.
For diesel engines,
the symptoms begin to develop years before things become critical. Whereas
your brand-new diesel would start within the first turn, now the cranking
takes longer — and, if the weather is cold, much longer.
When Rudolf Diesel first patented
his engine in 1892, it was a revolutionary idea. His engine used the principle
of auto-ignition of the fuel. This idea, based on the work of English
scientist Robert Boyle (1627-91), was that you could ignite the fuel from
the heat produced by compressing the air in the cylinder. If this compression
were great enough, the temperature in the cylinder could be raised enough
to ignite the fuel-and-air mixture. In modern diesel engines, this compression
ratio is between 14:1 and 25:1, which raises the temperature of the air
in the cylinder to well above the burning point of the diesel oil that
is injected into the cylinder (about 1,000 degrees F).
is the key to a successfully operating diesel. But when a diesel is up in
years, cylinder walls and piston rings are worn and fouled with deposits,
so they no longer make a good seal. Valves and valve-seats have also become
pitted and fouled and don’t seal properly. Thus, it becomes much more
difficult to get the compression necessary for ignition, especially when
the engine block is very cold and rapidly saps away the heat of compression.
Biting the bullet
When the day finally arrives for you to bite the bullet, there are two
options: get the engine rebuilt or buy a new one. If the horsepower of
the old engine was perfect, if it pushed you through heavy winds and waves
when they were right on the nose, and if that engine has always been freshwater-cooled
and has not had other serious problems, rebuilding that old engine might
be more compelling. Certainly it would be less expensive.
But if your present engine is very old and has had raw saltwater cooling,
chances are that having it rebuilt will not be practical. There will be
rust, frozen bolts, parts to replace, and probably great difficulty in
getting those parts. Even though the cost of rebuilding an old engine
is typically about half that of a new engine, you may very well be throwing
money away on a rebuilding venture. And if you have always felt that you
could use just a few more horsepower to get you through those nasty conditions,
now is a good time to upgrade.
Remember that when you decide
to go with a new engine there are many more costs involved than just the
price of the engine itself. Engines today, which provide the same horsepower
as your old engine, are usually lighter and smaller and rotate at higher
These smaller dimensions in
width, height, and length make it almost certain that your engine bed
will have to be rebuilt to accommodate the smaller engine, since its mounts
will probably be closer together.
It’s also important to
know the type of transmission on your new engine. Basically, there are
three different types:
- Parallel is a transmission whose propeller-shaft coupler
is in line with, or parallel to, the engine’s crankshaft.
- Angle-Drive is a transmission whose coupler is at a downward
angle to the crankshaft.
- V-Drive is a version in which the transmission is forward
of the engine and makes a V-turn to drive a propeller shaft leading aft.
Each of these configurations
presents its own problems when rebuilding the engine bed.
The smaller fore-and-aft dimensions will probably also mean that you’ll
need a new and longer prop shaft unless you can set the new engine farther
aft on the beds. Having a new shaft is probably a good idea anyway. After
the old engine has been removed and the old shaft has been slid out of
its stuffing box, you’ll probably see rings of wear in the shaft
where the stuffing box (and sediment) have created grooves. If your old
shaft is more than a decade old, you’ll probably find that the flange
coupling is so frozen onto the shaft with rust that it’s impossible
to free it without further ruining the shaft.
Also, if you didn’t previously
have a flexible coupling or Drivesaver, now is a good time to add this
item, which will help protect your new transmission in the event of the
propeller picking up a piece of wood or a heavy line. If you’re
already using a flexible coupling between the engine and the shaft, chances
are that the bolt holes in this flexible coupling or Drivesaver will not
match your new engine’s coupler, and a new, matching, flexible coupling
will have to be purchased.
As for the propeller, there’s
a 50-50 chance that the new engine may rotate in the opposite direction
from the old engine. (If your present engine turns the prop shaft counterclockwise
in forward gear, as seen from the stern, you now have a left-hand prop.
If the new engine has a clockwise rotation, you need a new prop.)
Even if the direction of rotation
of the new and old engines is the same, chances are that the engine speed,
the horsepower, and the transmission gear ratio of the new engine will
be different from the old. This will probably mean a new propeller of
different pitch, diameter, or number of blades, making your old prop obsolete.
Most engine installation manuals give charts showing the recommended prop
for your particular displacement and hull configuration, and most propeller
manufacturers provide a free consultation service to determine the type
of new prop you’ll need when repowering. Michigan Propellers, for
instance, has a Pleasure Boat Prop-it-Right Analysis Form, which will
suggest the correct propeller for your new engine.
On some boats, the engine and
propeller shaft are deliberately installed at a slight angle off the fore-and-aft
centerline of the boat. This may have been done to offset the tendency
of a single engine to push the stern to one side or the other or to allow
the shaft and prop to be removed without removing the rudder. If your
boat has an offset driveshaft, repowering with an engine whose shaft rotates
in the same direction as the old engine may be preferable. (We have an
offset shaft on our C&C 30. We repowered with opposite rotation and
are satisfied with the outcome. It seems like this should have mattered
more than it did. —Ed.)
The smaller proportions of
a new engine and the rebuilding of the engine bed will also mean that
your present oil drip pan beneath the engine will no longer fit, and a
new pan will have to be fabricated and installed.
There is one complication of
a physically smaller engine that may be overlooked. If you’ll be
using your engine to supply hot water through a heat exchanger, the water
connections on the new engine might well be lower than on the previous
engine. If the heat-exchanger water lines from the engine to the hot water
tank slope upward, an air-lock can develop in the heat-exchanger coil
in the hot water tank that will prevent water flow and, consequently,
One way to overcome this problem is by installing an expansion tank at
the highest point in the water lines at the hot water tank. The pressure
cap on this tank should match that of the one on the engine, and filling
the water system can be done through the filler cap of the new tank.
With diesel engines there’s another thing to consider. Some diesels
had just one fuel line going from the tank to the engine. Most modern
diesels, however, also require a fuel-return line from the engine to the
tank (often called the overflow fuel line). Depending on an engine’s
design, the amount of fuel returned to the tank via this line can vary
If you had an engine
with a single fuel line, the chances are that you don’t have a fitting
on top of the fuel tank(s) for this new fuel-return line. This problem
can usually be solved by removing the current air-vent fitting at the
top of the fuel tank and substituting a T-fitting. One side of this T
can then still be used for the air vent while the other side can be used
for the fuel-return line. This problem also will be encountered when changing
from a gasoline engine to diesel.
It’s also likely that
with a new engine, the water, fuel, and exhaust systems may have to be
rebuilt or re-sized. Even if this isn’t the case, when the old engine
is removed is a good time to replace those old hoses.
If you are considering selling
your boat within the next few years, it might be tempting to believe the
value will increase enough to offset the money you have put into a new
engine and its installation. But although a boat will be worth more with
a new engine, the increase in value will probably not equal your investment
when you sell your boat. The same caveat is true if you convert from gas
to diesel. But here we are discussing repowering your boat because you
want to use it for many more years, not with the idea of selling it.
Do it yourself?
Most owners will hand over the repowering project to a knowledgeable,
qualified, and reputable installer. Still, it’s valuable to know
the potential problems along the way. If you have decided to have the
job done professionally, there are several preliminary steps to take:
- Only accept bids from installers who have actually examined your
- Consider the reputation of the installer and the yard.
- Ask whether they have installed this type of engine before.
- Ask for references from owners of boats similar to yours who have
had the same job done.
- Make sure that all associated work is specified on the proposal.
- Be sure that the final installation will conform to American Boat
and Yacht Council (ABYC) standards.
Some boatowners will want to
tackle the job themselves. If you do your own installation, there are
much greater benefits than saving money. You will end up with an intimate
knowledge of your new installation. This, alone, is a great incentive.
If you decide to do the job
yourself, it’s still a good idea to have a professional in your
corner, someone who is a dealer for your new engine or who has done engine
installations, and whom you can trust, talk to, and order parts from.
If you’re doing your own work, the closer the yard is to your home,
the better. And if you don’t want to tackle the whole job yourself,
you may elect to do just the engine rewiring, the exhaust system, the
water system, or the fuel system, after the new engine has been installed
on its bed and aligned.
Whether you do it yourself
or have the engine installed by a professional, the job requires engineering
judgment and good mechanical skills.
We were fortunate that for
years there was an engine mechanic near us who would give us excellent
and detailed advice whenever we had a do-it-yourself engine job to tackle.
Tom Dittamo, owner of Harbor Marine Engines, in Lanoka Harbor, N.J., has
his business in a marina less than 15 minutes from our home. Tom is also
a Yanmar dealer, so we chose that yard, Laurel Harbor Marina, in Lanoka
Harbor, for our haulout and engine replacement.
We bought our new engine from
Tom six months before beginning our project. He stored it in his shop
at the marina during this time, which allowed me to go in for all the
necessary measurements whenever I needed to. This enabled us to plan well
ahead for our project and purchase all the ancillary gear necessary. (This
early engine purchase, which was suggested by Tom, also saved us 5 percent
on the manufacturer’s price increase that went into effect shortly
after we ordered the engine).
Changing inboard engines is not a simple project. If you are very adept
at major projects, if you are a good mechanic, if you have lots of time
and patience, and most of all if you enjoy working on boats and this type
of challenge, then you should start doing your homework and putting together
a loose-leaf notebook.
Begin buying the necessary
parts months in advance. I started buying my conversion gear six months
before the start of my project, and that was not too soon. I discovered
that the delivery of a new prop would take six weeks and the longer prop
shaft would take almost as long, even though it was always: “I’ll
have it for you next week.”
It’s important to learn
as much about your new engine as possible before you start the project.
There are many engine distributors who offer one- or two-day seminars
specifically targeted at owners of auxiliary engines. Mack Boring &
Parts Company, which sells Yanmar engines and parts, has one- and two-day
owner seminars on Yanmar engines that are invaluable. These classes are
given at Mack Boring locations in Union, N.J., Wilmington, N.C., Middleborough,
Mass., and Buffalo Grove, Ill. The classes cover the theory of operation,
explain all the parts of your new engine, cover routine maintenance, and
include a hands-on session that gives participants the opportunity to
do routine maintenance on the engine they will actually own, including
adjusting and bleeding it.
Incidentally, one item that
is invaluable in setting up the placement of a new engine on the rebuilt
bed is an engine jig, which can usually be rented from the engine distributor.
The jig consists of light-weight metal framework that locates the proper
position of the engine mounts and shaft alignment. It copies the exact
size and angle of the real engine and can be aligned with the prop-shaft
coupling, revealing whether there has to be any change made in the engine
bed or mounts long before the engine is swung into position.
The alternative to
the engine jig uses another type of alignment method that will be discussed
further in Part 2 of this series, which will
run in the November/December issue of Good Old Boat.
Nearly all engine manufacturers have comprehensive installation manuals
that are essential for the do-it-yourselfer. These manuals, which should
be part of your repowering notebook, have step-by-step installation instructions,
including alignment procedure; wiring diagrams; engine specifications,
dimensions, shaft and prop recommendations; and fuel, water, and exhaust-hose
requirements. It’s also a good idea to purchase a service manual
for your engine. It will be a handy reference for the future, and it gives
some installation information that isn’t necessarily shown in the
New engines come with their
own instrument panels. If you have an instrument panel recess in your
cockpit, especially one that is molded into a fiberglass boat, make sure
that the new engine’s instrument panel will fit into the old recess.
If it won’t, it might be tempting to try to use the old panel with
the new engine, but this usually is asking for a lot of headaches, including
replacing the tachometer, oil and temperature gauges, and wiring. Some
manufacturers have several panel options of different sizes. Yanmar, in
their GM series for auxiliaries, have three control panels of varying
sizes and options.
Repowering a boat from a gasoline
engine to diesel power needs extra consideration. Diesel engines of equivalent
horsepower are usually physically larger than their gasoline counterparts.
You may find, however, that the Atomic 4 in your boat has much more horsepower
than the diesel you will replace it with. Many smaller boats were powered
with an A4 and a direct-drive transmission. Only half the engine speed
range, and thus roughly half the horsepower, was used. These direct-drive
boats were equipped with very small props.
Even if you’re sure an appropriate diesel will fit in the engine
compartment, you’ll probably need to rebuild or modify the engine
bed. Consider the maximum-diameter prop that can be fitted to your boat
and still have the required tip clearance. Match this against the prop
that the new engine will need. Not all gasoline tanks and fuel lines are
compatible with diesel fuel and, as mentioned previously, a fuel-return
line will also have to be added. The primary water-separator/ fuel filter
will also need to be replaced. In some cases, the prop shaft may have
to be increased in size which, in turn, means a new stuffing box.
Most of us have a pretty good
idea how much power we need, based on the performance of our previous
engine. The old rule-of-thumb for auxiliaries of 2 hp for every 1,000
pounds of displacement is usually pretty good. If you really want to get
into the calculations, then consult Dave Gerr’s Propeller Handbook
or Francis Kinney’s Skene’s Elements of Yacht Design. Another
source of information is at http://www.boat diesel.com on the
web. This site, which provides a wealth of information on diesels, charges
a $25 membership fee. If you click on Propeller/Power/ Shaft Calculations,
you can find the proper shaft size, the power required for a given hull,
and the recommended propeller specifications.
Be sure to check the alternator
options available for your new engine. If your electrical consumption
is high, as is the case with a refrigeration system or a watermaker, be
sure to specify the appropriate alternator when you order the new power
Engines for an auxiliary must,
above all else, be reliable. When selecting the manufacturer of your new
engine, do your homework. Talk to other sailors who have had an engine
replacement recently and get their opinions. Get information from various
engine companies and local marine mechanics, check out these engines at
boat shows, and talk to the manufacturers’ reps.
When you’re finally back in the water with a new engine, you’ll
feel much more inclined to take that long cruise you’ve been delaying
for years, safe in the knowledge that you have a new power plant of high
reliability for which parts are readily available.
2 of Don’s repowering series, with a focus on installation,
will appear in the November/December 2002 issue of Good Old Boat.
Resources for engines, information
Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC)
Harbor Marine Engines
Laurel Harbor Marina
Michigan Wheel Corporation
Volvo Penta of the Americas Inc.
Westerbeke Corporation / Universal
Yanmar America Corp.
Propeller Handbook, by Dave Gerr
Ask BookMark 763-420-8923
Good Old Boat Bookshelf