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Old 03-06-2010, 11:43   #1
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Car vs Boat

I'm still a couple of years away from affording the boat of my dreams and in the meantime I want to learn as much as I can about maintenance so that I can be prepared to do my own work when I actually have a boat. I'm pretty landlocked right now so I'm still working on finding someone to teach me general boat maintinace. In the mean time though I was wondering how well knowing about car engines would translate into taking care of a boat engine. I know absolutly nothing about engines right now, but I have friends who know cars and want to know if it would be worth the time to learn about car engines in an effort to make learning boat engines easier. Thanks!
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Old 03-06-2010, 12:10   #2
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I know absolutly nothing about engines right now, but I have friends who know cars and want to know if it would be worth the time to learn about car engines in an effort to make learning boat engines easier. Thanks!
Up to a point, sure. But the boat of your dreams will likely have a diesel engine. A marine diesel is a remarkably simple device compared to a modern automobile engine. For example, the electronics involved in modern automobile ignition/emission control systems are complicated, but learning about them helps you not at all because marine diesels don't have ignition systems.

Get a book called Marine Diesel Engines by Nigel Calder.
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Old 03-06-2010, 12:13   #3
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The basic engines are the same, they tend to be tuned differently and have different cooling system setups. Since boats can have diesels, inboard gassers and outboards, do you have an idea of what you will be getting?

Modern gas cars are all EFI which is a very different system to work on than a carbureted engine. The tuning principles are the same but how you physically do it is very different.

Modern diesels in cars are all common rail whereas diesels in boats primarily use a mechanical injection pump but there are some common rail engines and some engines with other fuel systems even. Troubleshooting is similar although the specifics of it are different. If you get an older diesel vehicle, then it will be more similar (some had similar fuel systems as recently as 2002).

Knowing the engine itself is only part of it. Marine drivelines are very different than automotive ones. However, learning the basic troubleshooting skillset will be good experience. It certainly wouldn't hurt to buy something like an old VW TDI and do all of the work yourself, you will learn a ton. Personally, I got started with engines working on them in trucks and heavy machinery and then started working with marine engines.
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Old 03-06-2010, 12:29   #4
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I wonder if there might be a pre-vocational diesel mechanics course in your landlocked region?

Could give you enough to get the cut and thrust of engines
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Old 03-06-2010, 12:34   #5
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Thanks for quick replies! I'll definitely see if I can find that book. I'll probably learn some basic diesel upkeep on a car, but now that you've highlighted just how different boat engines can be I'll work harder toward towards learning about them specifically. Oh, and I don't know if I'll end up with a diesel or a gas engine but it will almost definitely be inboard for the size I'm looking at.
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Old 03-06-2010, 12:40   #6
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I don't know if I'll end up with a diesel or a gas engine but it will almost definitely be inboard for the size I'm looking at.
You will end up with a diesel engine.

I have never known or heard of anyone with a gas (petrol) engine in a sailing boat exceept for outboards.
I have heard some have them (from this forum) in the USA but one would think its a pretty old idea.

No new or near new sailing boat large enough to go cruising would have one.


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Old 03-06-2010, 12:54   #7
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I know absolutly nothing about engines right now, but I have friends who know cars and want to know if it would be worth the time to learn about car engines in an effort to make learning boat engines easier. Thanks!
As already said, a modern car engine very different to your (likely) marine engine.

But given your zero knowledge base I would still say very much worth your time getting some "hands on" experiance - not looking to end up being able to strip and rebuild a V8 blindfolded but somewhat more than simply identifying the dipstick (important though that is).

More about getting familiar (unafraid?) of wielding the spanners - and knowing when not to yourself (ok, marine diesel different from modern petrol car, but an understanding of the latter will help with your understanding of the former).

In practice onboard 90% of your spannerwork will be routine maintanence - which ain't rocket science (fortunately!) even if often messy / awkward to do, just requires some knowledge (usually engine specific of the bits and pieces to replace and check) and equally importantly an appreciation that maintanence is important. The other 10% will be knowing when to call in a professional . and maybe even knowing why The trick is to avoid having any % when at sea.................

Most boat owners won't be stripping an engine or gearbox down to it's nuts and bolts on the saloon table - but being able to DIY the routine maintanence and diagnose problems before they get expensive (or at least recognise when something is not "right") is a very useful tool to have in the kit bag. Will also save you money longterm, including when buying.
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Old 03-06-2010, 12:59   #8
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It will help a very great lot. The difference in operating principle of the engines is hardly the point. The more your work on your own car, and rely on yourself to figure out and sort any problems which occur with it, the more useful you will be to yourself on board later. If something breaks at sea you can't just pull over to the side of the road and call AAA. Sometimes your life my depend on your being able to diagnose and correct a fault.

Like I said, the type of engine is a minor detail. The important thing is learning to be self-reliant, to think systematically, and to figure out how to cure machines, which are nothing but systems which work together in complicated ways. I highly recommend reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance which goes into the philosophy of this in an actually useful way.

If you start to feel comfortable that you understand how all the systems of car work, and that you can fix them yourself when something acts up, you will be 90% of the way to being competent on board. Then all you have to do is add to your skills relatively minor information about a different type of engine with different exhaust and cooling systems, which will be no problem for someone who is already a competent mechanic.
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Old 03-06-2010, 13:08   #9
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Most boat owners won't be stripping an engine or gearbox down to it's nuts and bolts on the saloon table . . .
Any sailor who stripped down a petrol car engine in his misspent youth () would have no problem whatsoever doing this. The parts which are different between diesel and petrol are superficial -- just the fuel system, that's it. All the basic mechanical parts of diesel and petrol engines work exactly the same way -- crankshafts, rods, pistons, cylinder blocks, cylinder heads, camshafts, pushrods, rocker arms, flywheels, etc., etc, etc.
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Old 03-06-2010, 13:55   #10
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Any sailor who stripped down a petrol car engine in his misspent youth () would have no problem whatsoever doing this. The parts which are different between diesel and petrol are superficial -- just the fuel system, that's it. All the basic mechanical parts of diesel and petrol engines work exactly the same way -- crankshafts, rods, pistons, cylinder blocks, cylinder heads, camshafts, pushrods, rocker arms, flywheels, etc., etc, etc.
That's why I said most won't - there are always exceptions
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Old 03-06-2010, 14:42   #11
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I would focus on learning the peripherals which are almost identical. Starter, fresh water pump, alternator, thermostat, oil change, hoses, belts, etc. Car, boat, gas, diesel these are all pretty much the same (well except new cars use a serpentine belt instead of the old style v-belts).
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Old 03-06-2010, 15:29   #12
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You might inquire at the local adult education center or technical school about diesel engine classes. That way you'd be learning the engine you'll be cruising with. If that's not around, maybe an outboard engine class? Or start with an air conditioning/refrigeration class. There are a number of books, including boat oriented, that have good info on diesel engines, as well.

Any of those three will make you sought after in most any anchorage.
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Old 03-06-2010, 16:19   #13
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If you are really concerned with learning the basics of engine operation, rebuilding a small lawnmower, chainsaw, etc engine will teach you a lot. They are completely different than a modern diesel (no valves, carb, etc) but they will give you hands on experience on the engine internals. This is something that very few of us would ever attempt while underway on a boat but it certainly helps to understand what is going on inside there. By doing this, even if you screw up and blow the engine, it was probably only a $100 mistake. For a visual person who needs to visualize, this is the way to go.

The point about peripherals is good. Rebuilding a small water cooled outboard would give you a waterpump to play with and cars have them although they tend to be pretty reliable.

Any internal combustion engine will teach you a lot. Diagnosing is the hard part with engine repair, the actual repair is pretty easy provided that you have decent access. You can learn the general process of diagnosis on just about any engine but you will be unlikely to learn anything directly applicable to boats unless you buy an older diesel car or truck.
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Old 03-06-2010, 16:36   #14
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Job in the industry?

Would it be possible to get a part time job in the marine industry? Something that keeps you round boats and maybe even earns a little money.

Much of boat maintenance is knowing what needs to be done right no matter what and what can be left till later. Fading into the background as the various dramas evolve may give the best education of all.
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Old 03-06-2010, 17:11   #15
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I have a sailing class that starts next week. I'll have to see if there's somewhere I can work myself into at the lake for some hands on learning.
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