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Old 07-09-2016, 09:04   #1
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Onan or Northern Lights?

My Onan MDKWB 9.0 kw generator is 20 years old and giving me some problems. I'm considering replacing it with either a new Onan or a Northern Lights. Does anyone with experience with these generators have a specific reason to prefer one over the other? Any cautions about either one?
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Old 07-09-2016, 09:45   #2
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Re: Onan or Northern Lights?

I guess it would depend on your main engine, it is really nice not to have to carry two different oil filters. I have a Yanmar main engine and a generator based on a yanmar engine , They use the same filters .


By the way , how many hours do you have on your generator ?

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Old 07-09-2016, 14:07   #3
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Re: Onan or Northern Lights?

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Originally Posted by typhoon View Post
I guess it would depend on your main engine, it is really nice not to have to carry two different oil filters. I have a Yanmar main engine and a generator based on a yanmar engine , They use the same filters .


By the way , how many hours do you have on your generator ?
The engine is a Perkins, but I'm not concerned about matching the filters. I'm practically carrying a chandlery with me now. The generator does not have an hours meter on it, but I would estimate 4500-6000 hours.
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Old 07-09-2016, 14:22   #4
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Re: Onan or Northern Lights?

I have an Onan with less than 2500 hours on it that is a piece of Sh$&. I would not recommend an Onan to anyone. If I had $12K for a northern lights I would have it in a heartbeat. The rubber drive coupling has failed twice and caused significant damage both times. About $1K in parts and if I didn't do the work myself about $1500 in labor. The second one lasted only 700 hours. I've looked at the NL and it's a serious machine and much easier to service. It takes me over an hour just to remove the sound enclosure to get at the drive belt. The northern lights has no drive belt (big Plus) and all 5 sides of the sound enclosure open easily.
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Old 07-09-2016, 14:38   #5
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Re: Onan or Northern Lights?

No experience with Northern Lights so can't compare, but Kohler also worth a look.

Very, very simple and truly heavy duty.

Mine had only 160 hours on it when I bought my boat, and now approaches 2000. Not the slightest problem with it which was not caused by my own mistakes (failing to change heat exchanger anode because I didn't know it even had one ). Very easy to service and all components are very accessible, and from one side. Yanmar three cylinder tractor engine. Self bleeding. Very clean electrical power, far cleaner than any shore power I've ever had.

It's one of the really good pieces of equipment on my boat -- it JUST WORKS.


I suppose Northern Lights are even better, but I know this only from hearsay.


One tip for extending generator life -- use a charger inverter with "power boost", and limit the current taken from the generator to 85% or 90% of maximum.
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Old 07-09-2016, 14:53   #6
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Re: Onan or Northern Lights?

In my neck of the woods, the Northern Lights has the best rep., but you do pay for them, but maybe you get what you pay for?


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Old 07-09-2016, 15:29   #7
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Re: Onan or Northern Lights?

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In my neck of the woods, the Northern Lights has the best rep., but you do pay for them, but maybe you get what you pay for?
Over here, Northern Lights are not more expensive than Kohler or Onan, if you compare like for like (heavy duty with heavy duty -- Onan also make high speed intermittent duty ones). 6 - 7 KW for about $10k ex VAT.
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Old 07-09-2016, 19:37   #8
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Re: Onan or Northern Lights?

I would recommend NL for a few reasons:

You have a wide network dealership in North America

They have a great relationship with commercial fishermen and have fine tuned reliability and ergonomics from their many years of feedback.

My own 10kw NL Gen is now 18 years old and other than chronic failures of the ceramic seal on the saltwater pump.....it has operated flawlessly.

I really like their exhaust separator which completely silences outside exhaust noise.

Have specified many on Super yachts for continuous use and the Engineers preferred their low smoke emissions over any other brands.

Feedback over the years was always positive.

Personally, I hate sound shields on Generators squeezed into small engine rooms. I removed mine and upgraded noise and vibration materials in my ER.

That is the best way to look after any Generator!
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Old 08-09-2016, 05:13   #9
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Re: Onan or Northern Lights?

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. . . They have a great relationship with commercial fishermen and have fine tuned reliability and ergonomics from their many years of feedback.. . .
That sounds like a really strong argument to me
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Old 08-09-2016, 05:18   #10
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Re: Onan or Northern Lights?

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Originally Posted by Dockhead View Post
Over here, Northern Lights are not more expensive than Kohler or Onan, if you compare like for like (heavy duty with heavy duty -- Onan also make high speed intermittent duty ones). 6 - 7 KW for about $10k ex VAT.

That is why I said in my neck of the Woods, I have no idea about the rest of the woods
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Old 08-09-2016, 05:22   #11
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Re: Onan or Northern Lights?

By the way, the Onan MDKWB is a high speed, light duty rated genset. All Oyster yachts I ever saw from the '90's through 00's I ever saw have these, or the smaller two cylinder version. Why in the world did Oyster specify these? I have no idea.

The OP will be EXTREMELY happy if he changes to a low speed, heavy duty generator like the Northern Lights (or Kohler, or Onan MDKBK series). The difference in longevity and reliability is very great, but even better is the improved noise and vibration. Heavy duty low speed three cylinder gensets just lope along with a pleasant hum, with none of the hysterical thrashing of the high speed ones. The difference is really night and day.

I literally cannot tell whether my generator is running or not, from the cockpit or on deck, ever since I made the engine room fan manual switch only, and it can barely be heard below.
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Old 08-09-2016, 06:04   #12
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Re: Onan or Northern Lights?

No contest, the Northern Lights is a substantially better product. But if I was going to buy a new generator and planned to keep my boat long term I would get the best. This company
BOLLARD MG SeriesĀ*| MER Equipment
makes bullet proof commercial grade generators that last 20,000 - 50,000 hours between overhauls, and they have engineered all of the typical faults out of their units. Most companies cut corners and build in a short term failure rate to guarantee parts sales. If you look at the generators used by commercial boats to run ice machines and peripheral equipment they are all continuous duty rated and they are definitely not using Kohler, Onan, or Westerbeke. Why go to the trouble and expense to install a new generator which is pretty much guaranteed to fail in 5 or 6 thousand hours if you are lucky.
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Old 08-09-2016, 06:35   #13
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Re: Onan or Northern Lights?

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Originally Posted by rourkeh View Post
No contest, the Northern Lights is a substantially better product. But if I was going to buy a new generator and planned to keep my boat long term I would get the best. This company
BOLLARD MG SeriesĀ*| MER Equipment
makes bullet proof commercial grade generators that last 20,000 - 50,000 hours between overhauls, and they have engineered all of the typical faults out of their units. Most companies cut corners and build in a short term failure rate to guarantee parts sales. If you look at the generators used by commercial boats to run ice machines and peripheral equipment they are all continuous duty rated and they are definitely not using Kohler, Onan, or Westerbeke. Why go to the trouble and expense to install a new generator which is pretty much guaranteed to fail in 5 or 6 thousand hours if you are lucky.
But the heavy duty Northern Lights and Kohler generators ARE continuous duty rated. I don't know about the Onan low speed ones, but I guess they are also suited for prime power. Are you confusing with the high speed ones such as Onan sells? But Onan also make low speed heavy duty ones.


That Bollard generator looks very nice, but in what way is it categorically different from a NL or a Kohler heavy duty unit? It uses the same 3-cylinder tractor engine you find in other heavy duty generators, run at the same 1500 or 1800 RPM speed. The generator head looks just like the one on my Kohler. I don't know about in the U.S., but Kohler generators are very popular on commercial fishing vessels in Europe. They make them up to 125kW, all rated for prime power.
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Old 08-09-2016, 09:10   #14
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Re: Onan or Northern Lights?

I paid $8,400 in 2015 for a new NL 6kw. Retail at time was around $11+.
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Old 08-09-2016, 09:29   #15
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Re: Onan or Northern Lights?

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