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Old 18-01-2019, 15:01   #1
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Diesel Overrun at Sea

I have just arrived home after a failed delivery of a 44ft racer/cruiser. After sailing up the west coast of Tasmania in fairly trying conditions (35-40 knots on the nose) we found water in the primary fuel filter and started to blow white smoke. In short we backtracked to replace both filters and fill the now low tanks. This port didnít have facilities to drain the tank. Whilst nursing the yacht to a larger port for more extensive maintenance we experienced an overrun at 2am. We had continued to check the primary filter for contamination but nothing was noted prior to the overrun, we were running the engine to charge the batteries only.

The motor went from approximately 1600rpm to full noise (screaming) in seconds. It felt like the motor was doing around 10,000 - 15,000 rpm but we will never know the exact figure. The air intake was at the rear of the engine and after a brief try I was not going to lean over and come in contact with the now super heated engine. We were able to shut off the fuel to reduce any potential fire risk but that was all. After about 45 seconds of full noise she seized, all we could do was have extinguishers ready, try and calm down and contemplate the prospect of warm beer when we arrived in port (some two days later).

Has anyone experienced such an event at sea and what recommendations would you suggest for the cruisers out there who might not have heard of such an event.

For information we had already conducted long discussions with the owner and his mechanic prior to leaving port. This post is not about the brand of engine, the advice of the mechanic nor the type of beer we would eventually enjoy, but rather to share any similar experiences.
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Old 18-01-2019, 15:23   #2
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Re: Diesel Overrun at Sea

I presume this was an older engine and it sounds like runaway ! As in it starts burning the oil from the sump as fuel. Only way to stop it is block the air intake but this is not always easy. Rebuild or re power time !
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Old 18-01-2019, 15:23   #3
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Re: Diesel Overrun at Sea

The kill assuming the thing was running on crankcase oil is to block the air intake.
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Old 18-01-2019, 15:39   #4
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Re: Diesel Overrun at Sea

Scary...

Such things usually happen when the engine finds some way of burning its own lubricating oil. Usually through a failed seal in a turbocharger, but there are other ways. If the piston rings are in really bad shape, blowby can pick up enough oil from the crankcase to fuel the engine through the crankcase rebreather. A failed governor on the injection pump can also cause runaway. Or, simply adding way too much oil to the crankcase.

In most cases, the usual shut downs will not work, since they involve cutting off the supply of diesel fuel, although the emergency fuel shut off is a good idea, and certainly can't hurt!

Blocking the air intake is about the only way to be SURE of stopping it. If that is not easily accessible, it is best to stay well clear until it fails--it won't be long! Crank Rods, push rods, valve stems, even pistons can come flying out through the walls of the engine and you really don't want your body in the way. Safest places are forward and aft of the engine, not to either side, and definitely not above it.
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Old 18-01-2019, 16:07   #5
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Re: Diesel Overrun at Sea

When I was in the army we had a M113 armoured personnel carrier with a, I think... 6 litres V6 supercharged diesel that managed to runaway. Cutting fuel did nothing, attempts were made to block the air intake with some rags which got sucked in real fast. It eventually came to a stop I guess when the air filter was full enough with rags to block the air. Very loud for the mechanic that was in the driver seat next to the engine.
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Old 18-01-2019, 16:33   #6
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Re: Diesel Overrun at Sea

Is blocking the air intake really the only way to stop the engine? My engine has a decompression lever that I think would stop it. Obviously, not all do.
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Old 18-01-2019, 16:38   #7
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Re: Diesel Overrun at Sea

Is this runaway problem solved in newer diesel engines on boats? If not, are there kits that can be added with an easily accessible valve to choke the air intake if needed?
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Old 18-01-2019, 16:56   #8
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Re: Diesel Overrun at Sea

This one sounds likely to be a fuel control failure, from possibly contaminated fuel.
Usually an oil runaway starts with a fuel leak into the crankcase, this raises the oil and fuel mix high enough so that it starts coming out of the breather tube very quickly, and as most engines breather tubes are connected to the intake, your feeding fuel and oil mix into the suck side of the engine.
Lord forbid a HP fuel pump malfunction happens, but step one is to put in in gear, the engine can only turn just so fast under load, then shut off fuel if you canít safely access the intake. It should run out of fuel before damaging itself if in gear.
A hard back book is likely the most likely thing to use that will work and you may have laying around to starve it for air.
Do not put your hand over it, you will be injured.

If you can decompress the engine of course that will shut it down too, but may have to do all cylinders.

Usually they wonít run very well just on oil alone, oil isnít a good fuel.
As a kid I flipped an International 574 farm tractor over on top of myself, I got the fuel turned off but she kept running on oil for a short while, but she did die. Of course it was upside down too.
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Old 18-01-2019, 17:18   #9
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Re: Diesel Overrun at Sea

Quote:
Originally Posted by sandy stone View Post
Is blocking the air intake really the only way to stop the engine? My engine has a decompression lever that I think would stop it. Obviously, not all do.
Don't think I want my hands anywhere near a decompression lever or to try and block the air intake on a run away diesel.

Many years ago I watched a Chieftain tank engine run away in the workshop. Most of the lads ran rather quickly, but one old mechanic grabbed a BCF fire extinguisher, smacked it on the end to set it off and chucked it in the air intake. That worked and the engine slowly wound down. Although it didn't go bang, it was still scrap.

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Old 18-01-2019, 17:31   #10
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Re: Diesel Overrun at Sea

Very scary situation when a diesel runsaway.



Simplest procedure use your CO2 fire extinguisher. A dry powder extinguisher will leave a lot residue in the engine, requiring a complete rebuild but will stop the runaway.

If you can put it into gear it will slow the engine due to the load, but you may damage the clutch and grind gears and of course you will be providing propulsion to the boat so you better be able to control where it is headed and you may invoke high rpms to your propeller.

Blocking the air intake is not easy, but if you accomplish such it will stop.

Of major concern is that all these actions require that you are in close proximity to the engine and there is the probability that it will through a rod or valve and expel parts. Also the suction of the intake is extreme and you don't want your hand to get in the suction or between the object you are trying to inhibit airflow with.

Two videos:



Video of methods of stopping a runaway diesel.

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Old 18-01-2019, 17:32   #11
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Re: Diesel Overrun at Sea

Water in the fuel after rough weather, fuel fills outside, replace the o'ring on the fuel fill. I got water in my fuel, tied to the dock durning a hurricane. LOTS of rain water running down the deck across the fill fitting I replaced the o'ring, had the filter housing disassembled, reassembled and new filter. I wont know if it has been fixed until the next hurricane.

While on a nuclear sub, 16 missiles and a bunch of torpedos, in a floating dry dock. A runaway diesel in the dry dock's machinery space. Took about 15 minutes to get it shut down. Our crew was standing on the deck of the sub with charged hoses. That was not one of those, 'pass the popcorn' moments. Exciting.
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Old 18-01-2019, 18:33   #12
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Re: Diesel Overrun at Sea

A caution about blocking off the air supply. Only yesterday did I try shutting down a small single cylinder diesel by blocking the air intake. This particular engine continued to run but the rpm did drop significantly and while I didn't try it, I'm sure it would have stalled if it was in gear.

I was somewhat surprised as I always thought it MUST stop if the air intake was blocked; in this instance it was sucking enough air past the rings from the crankcase to continue running. Then we checked the blow by, not surprisingly it was massive.
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Old 18-01-2019, 20:27   #13
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Re: Diesel Overrun at Sea

I’m an amateur but I’m thinking the rough conditions could have put sea water into the crankcase either through the exhaust or the raw water circuit. Water in the crankcase would settle to the bottom with oil high on the dipstick.

Water in the tank/fuel filter can enter through a tank vent as well as the fuel fill cap.

ETA: Water in the crankcase would enter while sailing with the engine off. I think this may have happened when you backtracked (ran downwind) to fix the issue with water in the filter.)
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Old 18-01-2019, 20:35   #14
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Re: Diesel Overrun at Sea

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Iím an amateur but Iím thinking the rough conditions could have put sea water into the crankcase either through the exhaust or the raw water circuit. Water in the crankcase would settle to the bottom with oil high on the dipstick. .........
Until the engine was started, then the water is sucked into the oil pump pick up tube and circulated quickly though the engine.
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Old 18-01-2019, 20:47   #15
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Re: Diesel Overrun at Sea

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Until the engine was started, then the water is sucked into the oil pump pick up tube and circulated quickly though the engine.
True. Iíve never actually started an engine when the oil on the dipstick was higher than it should be.

I wonder how long the OPís engine was putting along charging the batteries before it ran away.
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