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Old 20-08-2019, 11:47   #1
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Engine just sitting for years

So, in a local marina there are a few boats that generically tick most of the boxes on what the wife and I are looking for but, they have been sitting for a long time. The marina rent is on autopay and that's it, it just bobs there at the dock.

The boats I'm talking about here typically Catalinas or Hunters or Benneteaus or some other relatively modern production version of what seems to be called dock condos or coastal cruisers by grumpy old salts.

Somebody added all the wind vanes and radar and water makers and spinnaker gear and all that fun stuff and then they either ran out of time or money or something changed in their health and now the boat just bobs.

I've even considered making an offer on a few of these because from the outside of the situation it looks as if the only things these boats need is (a hell-of-a-lot of) TLC and to replace the fabrics (Canvas, running rigging...).

Of course the owner has been thinking that same thing for 5 years, that's why he hasn't sold the darn thing and the same reason that his widow will end up with it and she'll think the same thing for another 5 years.

My question here is, assuming no proper pickling for long term storage, mechanically how big a problem is firing up the engines and turning the prop after 3,5,10 years of sitting?

My concern is that some overzealous seller might rush to try to get things fired up without prudent prep and inadvertently make things worse.

Just FYI locally we are in freshwater but we aren't to far from a saltwater mecca with the same type of ghost ships.

Any advice?

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Old 20-08-2019, 12:08   #2
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Re: Engine just sitting for years

Hand crank first to ensure the cylinders are all free. If not remove injectors and get some diesel in each and let sit, try hand cranking again before starter. After that it ainít your boat and Iíd be walking away.

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Old 20-08-2019, 15:49   #3
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Re: Engine just sitting for years

What rbk says,
Better chance to have luck sitting in fresh water. No boat does well sitting unattended. Bit climate dependent but closed up they often sweat inside & develop electrical problems.
You just have to try the engine really & know what you are looking at. Give it a hard run for at least an hour & check for overheating & smoke.
If you have a lot of time to tinker it may be ok if you get one cheap enough.
If you have no DIY skills forget it
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Old 21-08-2019, 06:01   #4
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Re: Engine just sitting for years

Hand turning is great advice as is the thought of the condensation issues, thanks. And yes a sea trial where I find the limits and leaks is in my plan.

I do have many years of mechanical experience, just not much in a marine or diesel environ. (Automotive and industrial natural gas.)

One of my concerns is that, after sitting 5 years, the diesel in the system may have grown a fair load algae that might trash the injectors if no prep, like new fuel filters and getting a biocide into the tanks, before starting the engine. I don't know if that's a real problem or even worth worrying about.

Similarly, I don't know if the raw water intake should be swabbed out before any attempt to start.

I don't even know what the whole pre-start list should be.

My concern is that simply contacting the owner about the possibility of my buying their money pit, is going to encourage them to charge the start batteries and see if she starts.

I want to know if that might cause me grief down the line.

I don't know if this concern is realistic or to just rely on a sea trial and thorough inspection.
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Old 21-08-2019, 06:17   #5
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Re: Engine just sitting for years

you can turn it over a few seconds while holding the kill switch or with decompression levers on. that is if the batteries are good. check the oil first. fuel filter and impeller are suspect as well. if they do try to start the motor you can always request to be there to witness the miracle.
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Old 21-08-2019, 06:54   #6
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Re: Engine just sitting for years

Purchased at least 2 boat sw/ diesels that were sitting for a while. One was in a 40' boat that was not completed and the motor was only factory run, so essentially a brand new engine. At that time, was less knowledgeable about marine diesels, but worked on various types of gas motors (outboards, motorcycle and car). So with a little research was able to easily get it running, using WD40 as a starter fluid. The fuel tanks and filters were new, so that part was easy. That was in 1992 and since sold the boat, but engine is still running solid.
The second motor was a Perkins 4.236 in our current boat. The engine was sitting for years and was a rebuilt motor w/low hours. Replaced the single Racor w/2 Racors, so each tank had its own filter and made my own fuel polisher to recondition the >200 gal. of fuel that had been sitting for years (most recommended disposing/replacing the fuel). The recommendations from an authorized Perkins mechanic were to get it running then change the crankcase oil and filter several times. Been running fine ever since and doesn't burn any oil. To the nah sayers about disposing of the old fuel (which would have been very expensive at the time due extremely high fuel prices), we burned all that fuel on our trip back (~1,000 mi.) and never clogged a filter/had any fuel problems.
If you are going to buy a boat w/a diesel motor, you should eventually learn how to work on them. So no time like the present to jump in, especially since it sounds like you are mechanically inclined. The advice to see if the motor can be turned over and to remove the injectors to put in some oil or diesel is good. Be aware, depending on the motor, removing the injectors isn't so simple and the job can be difficult.
If the motors look like a pile of rust, obviously just walk away. Not mentioned, but look at the fuel tanks (also water) to see if they are leaking/need to be replaced. Some boats have easier access to the tanks than others (simple vs. more difficult job), so something also to consider when purchasing.

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Old 21-08-2019, 09:43   #7
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Re: Engine just sitting for years

From my own experience, be super cautious of an engine thatís been sitting. My first boat (powerboat) was 15yo, single diesel, on which the PO had all the usual and annual, routine maintenance performed. He even had the boat taken out of the water for the winter and wrapped. The engine had less than 200 hours on it. Yes, <200 hours in 15 years. Hardly used. In my naivety I thought Iíd found a gem, like a car with low mileage. Turned out that low hours are the LAST thing you want to see. After I had used the boat for one season, I started having major engine problems, culminating in some inner seals finally blowing and saltwater getting into the cylinders. The engine was toast, because those seals had basically dried out and cracked, and a few other items similarly failing. I had to repower, which was quite a few boat units. Lesson learned.
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Old 21-08-2019, 09:58   #8
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Re: Engine just sitting for years

Yes you are right to be cautious. The two issues are internal corrosion in metal parts and deterioration in seals. Assuming the engine was not carefully mothballed and has not been run any oil will gradually drain off so there may be surface rust on cylinder walls etc. If this gets to bad the engine will cease and may be a total right off. If not to bad it will turn but may still cause you problems with loss of compression later. Diesel does absorb some water so you also have the possibility of corrosion in the high pressure pump, again this may free up initially but cause problems later.

Other problems.
Batteries will probably need renewing
Wiring may have deteriorated
Ground tackle could be a pile of rust
All canvas exposed to the weather is probable shot
Any sails left rigged will need careful check for sunlight damage, mold etc.
Any damp or water penetration can cause de-lamination or rot in the internal woodwork that may not be immediately evident.
Depending on quality any electronics may be damaged by damp or so dated that they need replacing.
So it comes down to whether you want to spend 12 months doing a full refit and if the current owner is prepared to take all the potential problems into account in the price.
I would tend to look at the current market value of the boat 'ready to sail' then offer between 25% and 50% of that depending on what she looks like.

I also don't think an 'insurance survey is of any real value in this case. If your are not confident in your own ability to asses and do most of the work best bet is to walk away. If you want a second opinion you need specialists in each area, a marine electrician, sail maker and engineer as a minimum but you need to be sure you want to spend that sort of money first.
My list for a boat laid up for more than 10yrs would be
Replace all canvas and running rigging stored on deck or buried in lockers
Full rewire
Replace all critical nav and comm's gear
Replace engine or factory standard rebuild
On the plus side you will then have a boat in first class condition and the opportunity to tailor it exactly to your needs but will probably have spent more in total than getting on that was in good condition in the first place. Think of this as a customizing opportunity not a way to get a cheap boat.
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Old 21-08-2019, 10:09   #9
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Re: Engine just sitting for years

Originally Posted by markbarendt View Post
My question here is, assuming no proper pickling for long term storage, mechanically how big a problem is firing up the engines and turning the prop after 3,5,10 years of sitting? ...
You'll get all kinds of advices about the engine. When I bought my boat it was sitting dry for 1 year and it sat for another 6 during my refit before I started the engine and launched. The engine turned by hand then and that is all I cared. After all that time I changed the oil, run it on the hard for a minute, changed oil again and launched. After 4 years its still purring.

But... for a boat sitting afloat for several years, the engine would be the least of my worries and the easiest to detect a problem.... such boat could be hiding several surprises that would be much more costly to repair.
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Old 21-08-2019, 10:25   #10
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Re: Engine just sitting for years

My biggest warning I could give is be careful what you say to the current owner he just might say yes. That's how I got my defender . It had not been touched for several years I offered a grand in jest ( only had 500 in the kitty at the time)
he said sure he was tired of just paying moorage anyway.
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Old 21-08-2019, 10:27   #11
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Re: Engine just sitting for years

-Make sure the engine will turn.
-The batteries are likely shot.
-The shaft will be shot from corrosion inside the stuffing box (if it's SS in salt water)
-A sea trial will be iffy, but you can run the engine at the dock well .
-Are the seacocks open? Can they be opened to run the engine? Otherwise take the top off the seastrainer (valve closed!) and put a garden hose in it with just enough flow to satisfy the engine demand. Some overflow to the bilge is ok if the pump works!
-Watch out, the pump impeller may go bad upon start up. Watch the water flow from exhaust.
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Old 21-08-2019, 10:42   #12
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Re: Engine just sitting for years

Go on YouTube and you will see countless videos of engines both gas and diesel being brought back to life, some after setting for 30 years or more. You never know till you try it.
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Old 21-08-2019, 10:52   #13
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Re: Engine just sitting for years

Most of these have been mentioned so I will just give a quick summary.
1) Fill the tank after adding fuel preservative and biocide then run engine for a while
2) Oil the combustion chamber and rings (via the injectors) and rotate the engine a few times to spread the oil
3) If it has a rubber impeller remove it or it will take a set
4) Drain any water from the water seperator
5) Close the fuel and water seacock
6) Cover the fuel tank breather with some type of desiccant module to prevent condensation
7) Disconnect and fill the batteries
1) Replace the impeller
2) Open the fuel and water seacock and verify antifreeze level and strength
3) Replace the final fuel filter remove the desiccant module
4) Pressurise the oil gallery with a small pump while rotating the engine
5) Verify the turbocharger spins freely buy hand
6) Reconnect the oil pump
7) Reconnect and fill the batteries
8) Fully charge the batteries, desulfate and equalize if required
9) Verify the air shutoff functions properly
10) Start and let idle until warm while checking for problems, leaks etc.
11) Verify correct oil and fuel pressure
12) Run a compression test
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Old 21-08-2019, 12:16   #14
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Re: Engine just sitting for years

I get nervous if I dont run my engine around the bay once a week. Engines and seawater dont mix real well. On the other hand, diesel engines are oily little buggers and that can be their saving grace.
A boat that hasnt had the engine run for a few years is telling you that it hasnt had any of the 1000 other little maintenance jobs done either.
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Old 21-08-2019, 12:51   #15
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Re: Engine just sitting for years

Rolandís post was right on the money, itís not just about the motor. If youíve ever had the opportunity to leave a car sitting for 5+ years youíll see a similar result. Rust never sleeps and mould is not your friend. The sun and weather beat down, and for boats afloat, the angry sea growls from below.

I recently had the opportunity to buy a friends boat for zip. Through a change in his circumstances the boat has sat idly at its slip for over 10 years since we last sailed her on a wonderful cruise. The price $0 as now he just wants rid of the boat and slip fees.
Initially I thought wonderful, as the boat was an especially nice 34 foot cutter that weíd enjoyed many trips on. I could see it was growing a huge mussel farm below and there were rust spots all over (yes sheís steel but Iím a half decent welder). The main sail has sat in the cover on the boom all this time. All the cordage had died a lingering demise. The key to the hatchway was long since lost so a quick turn of a grinder removed the rusted deceased padlock.

Inside all looked actually not too bad. She was seemingly dry inside, and although considerable provisions were still aboard no bugs had chosen her as their home.
So on the face of things she looked really good.

But once I started looking closely in lockers and behind covers, things werenít such a pretty picture. I started a little list of things that would obviously need replacing or fixing, including a guestimate of price. I stopped adding to the list when I reached what I thought would be a realistic price for the boat when in good shape (about $30,000). Needless to say my little list roughly matched Rolandís and some of the other posters.

As most on the forum know, boat repairs eat through money, even when you have many of the skills, motivation and gear to do it yourself. This boat has a simple electronics system, lacks refrigeration and AC etc. A basic honest yacht, but still much to degrade and age.
After pondering and musing, talking to knowledgeable friends and a little research I had to turn the offer down. To help my friend I removed all the old provisions, replaced a couple of mooring lines, fitted a new padlock and left. The boat continues to rise and fall with the tide.

We see many boats like this in marinas. Whether theyíre old projects, or lost dreams Iím not sure. In my experience itís often a change in life style and/or family or work demands that results in a boat sitting. The owner hasnít used the boat for a few months and knows that in order to do some sailing, then such and such minor repair needs sorting. It will take a morningís work, and the boat is an hourís drive away, and also some materials or tools are needed. In their head they can do that any Sunday morning they have free soon. But the free morning doesnít eventuate and when they get down to the boat old man time has been and heís left a few other issues, so now the morning tasks require an entire day that day never comes. A few more months and itís a weekend project because the bottom has become a home for thousands of critters living in the flora. But now itís Winter, or perhaps the boss has a 4 month assignment in Sydney or Paris. And so the months become years, all the while I think the owners feeling guilt and regret at the neglect of their once precious yacht.

And I also suspect that they donít want to sell the boat in a neglected state because they know theyíll lose money, often lots of money. Who wants to realise a loss, and itís not a real loss until a sale is made. So people live in hope. Hope theyíll find the time and inclination and motivation to go down to the dock and fix everything, then sell the boat for a decent price, or if the dream is still in place, sail away again.

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