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Old 07-11-2012, 08:21   #1
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Mechanical starters: Anyone used them?

Mechanical starters, otherwise known as "spring" or "wind-up" starters, are used on diesels in places where the more familiar electric starters would be a bad idea, such as in mines due to sparking, or where batteries can't be expected to hold charge, such as in lifeboat motors.



For the cruiser, the advantage is that it's a spare that doesn't require electricity, so if your regular starter is fried or your batteries are low or otherwise unable to work your existing starter, the mechanical starter is a bolt-on solution.

I am considering this as a useful spare to have in off-the-beaten track cruising scenarios. Some people carry bagged and vacuum-packed entire starters, along with things like spare water pumps and spare injectors, etc. What I want to know from the more experienced sailors here is has anyone carried one of these types of starter, and was it of any use to you?

The cost of them is not cheap, but then little in boating is, except perhaps the duty-free rum.

Your thoughts are welcomed.
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Old 07-11-2012, 09:39   #2
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Re: Mechanical starters: Anyone used them?

Yes, I've used them but not on a boat where access to wind 'em up might be tricky. They work well but the motor must be in good shape to start straight away.
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Old 07-11-2012, 11:38   #3
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Re: Mechanical starters: Anyone used them?

I thought they were mythical creatures residing in old boatbuilding books. They really do exist?
kind regards,
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Old 07-11-2012, 14:41   #4
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Re: Mechanical starters: Anyone used them?

Never even seen one -- but have worked on Cats with pony motors and air starters.
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Old 07-11-2012, 16:16   #5
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Re: Mechanical starters: Anyone used them?

My first diesel was a Volvo MD-2B, 25 horsepower, weight about 500#. It had a starting crank that could be used if the battery was dead. You would open the two valve spring levers and start cranking. When you felt the rpms were right, you engaged one lever to start compressions, then engaged the second lever when the engine caught hold and started to run. When I got the Yanmar 3GM30F, I kept trying to come up with a way to turn the crankshaft, because it, too, had decompression levers, but was unsuccessful. These can come in handy if you have low battery power and need to start the engine. It's not bad turning a lever, once you get the hang of it. I welded the handle to project a few inches further out, so I could clear a bulkhead without bashing my fingers.
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Old 07-11-2012, 17:06   #6
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Re: Mechanical starters: Anyone used them?

STUARTB is correct - your engine needs to be pretty much in tip top shape as the amount of revolutions that the engine will make is rather limited with the spring starter.

However, as long as you want to keep winding it up, it will turn the engine over. Spring starters are a real nice piece of machinery, but really expensive.

When I bought my Volvo 2003 (a small 3-cylinder, 27 HP engine) years ago, I asked the tech rep at the Volvo stand at the London Boat Shop if you could start a 2003 engine with the supplied hand crank. After a quick glance around, he said in a real quiet voice "No".

If you want to hand start a 2003, you needed to buy the "SOLAS Lifeboat Hand Starting System", which consisted of a chain drive that moved the starting handle up to the middle of the engine and came with a really long starting handle. It was a pretty Mickey Mouse set up, but supposedly would work......

If each cylinder does not have it's own decompression lever (most new engines do NOT), you can usually get a multi-cylinder engine to start even if the batteries are extremely low by using the decompression lever.

Put every battery "on line" by turning all of your battery switches to "ALL". Even if they are nearly dead, there is usually just enough power (amps) left in multiable batteries to get the engine to turn over.

Make sure the injectors / fuel system are primed - either with the manual prime handle on a lift pump or by running the elctrical in-line fuel pump.

You "open" the decompression lever (which decompresses all of the cylinders), stand by the engine, have someone else turn the ignition key, and with luck the engine turns over.

Once it does, depending on the remaining battery charge, let it build up some RPM's (maybe 5-6 seconds of engine turn over) and then quickly "close" the decompression lever.

Fingers crossed, it will start.

If you are talking about all out emergency, where the engine MUST start (with low batteries), spray a good shot (2 or 3 seconds) of ether into the air cleaner, wait about 10-seconds, and repeat all above. It should start.....

As mentioned, if it is an all out emergency, do or die, must start situation, spray in the ether first before trying to start the engine. Do not waste what little battery power you have left....

A one time ether start should not harm the engine. I have had to do the above process, and it works 9 out of 10 times.

A seperate small battery and a spare starter may be a cheaper alternative. Remember, you have to remove your normal engine starter to install the spring starter, so just re-installing a new starter and the spare battery may be the simpler way to go - if wiring and electrical compenents have not been damaged (fire, water damage, etc)
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Old 07-11-2012, 17:18   #7
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Re: Mechanical starters: Anyone used them?

Do they make them for specific engines. I looked but couldn't find one for any of the small marine engines. Be interested to know if you can get one for a Yanmar.
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Old 07-11-2012, 17:23   #8
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Re: Mechanical starters: Anyone used them?

I'd rather have a hydraulic starter than a spring starter. It's a hell of a lot easier to pump pressure into a reservoir than it is to crank a spring!!
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Old 07-11-2012, 19:09   #9
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Re: Mechanical starters: Anyone used them?

The spring or hydraulic starters are usually found on SOLAS engines that go into lifeboats.

I would suggest contacting your engine's manufacturer and see if - or what - they have for this use.

As I mentioned, all the 2000's series of Volvo Penta diesel's from the early to late 80's had one available.

Depending on what you have, you may be able to get one from a ship breaker. India has several yards, Brownsville, TX has one.

You might also try Google or Yahoo and see where they lead you.
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Old 07-11-2012, 19:52   #10
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Re: Mechanical starters: Anyone used them?

Roy M,
For a long time I thought that was the only way to start a sailboat engine (just kiddin). My friends Albin is that way and so was my other friends Volvo. Really comes in handy when the battery gets low.
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Old 07-11-2012, 20:29   #11
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Re: Mechanical starters: Anyone used them?

Here is a source for these starters in the US - in fact in Chicago, IL

Name of company is: Strong Starters, Inc.

website is: www.strongstarters.com

It says they have spring & hydraulic starters for small diesel engines, from .5 liter to 2.o liter capacity.

I didn't really check the site out, but it's something to look at.
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Old 08-11-2012, 03:32   #12
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Re: Mechanical starters: Anyone used them?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Doug Brown View Post

A seperate small battery and a spare starter may be a cheaper alternative. Remember, you have to remove your normal engine starter to install the spring starter, so just re-installing a new starter and the spare battery may be the simpler way to go - if wiring and electrical compenents have not been damaged (fire, water damage, etc)
Thanks for the sound advice. I am balancing off the "small battery kept charged plus spare starter" cost versus the mechanical starter cost. Admittedly, it's a small chance I will have completely fried my batteries, or would be left with an intact diesel and no way to start it, but these are the scenarios I need to run in my head to feel good about going to obscure lagoons in the Pacific.
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Old 08-11-2012, 03:35   #13
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Re: Mechanical starters: Anyone used them?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Charlie View Post
Do they make them for specific engines. I looked but couldn't find one for any of the small marine engines. Be interested to know if you can get one for a Yanmar.
Yes. You need to identify the existing "stock" starter (the same starter will typically feature on a wide range of similarly sized small diesels) and then purchase a mechanical or hydraulic starter that will fit the bolt-on pattern and will properly mate with the flywheel.
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Old 08-11-2012, 03:43   #14
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Re: Mechanical starters: Anyone used them?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Doug Brown View Post
The spring or hydraulic starters are usually found on SOLAS engines that go into lifeboats.

I would suggest contacting your engine's manufacturer and see if - or what - they have for this use.

As I mentioned, all the 2000's series of Volvo Penta diesel's from the early to late 80's had one available.

Depending on what you have, you may be able to get one from a ship breaker. India has several yards, Brownsville, TX has one.

You might also try Google or Yahoo and see where they lead you.
I hadn't considered hydraulic, but I might as well, as the steering and the shifting are hydraulic.

It's early days yet, but it is a piece of gear I have been considering, even as it allows the electrical setup to be completely "offline" from the diesel if in need of service...but you aren't dead in the water if the wind isn't blowing.

Interesting links here and here.
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Old 08-11-2012, 10:49   #15
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Re: Mechanical starters: Anyone used them?

I really like the idea of a spare starter and a reserve battery. A mechanic friend tells me that a non-Yanmar equivalent starter is $165. That's probably the direction I will go. I have a pair of small jet-ski batteries I might use, in company with a battery combiner to keep them charged. Might be enough to get an emergency start going on the 3GM30F, with one or two decompression levers relieved. Plus, I could transport them more easily to my intended RIB and electric start outboard.
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