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Old 26-11-2020, 22:18   #1
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Atomic 4 vs. diesel ?

Hi, I am in a quest to find our first boat. My criteria so far are 1) sufficiently stable for Lake Michigan crossing, 2) large enough for our family of 4 for daysails and hopefully week-long adventures, 3) not so big as to keep expenses down, 4) make/model that are sought-after and easy to sell, 4) inexpensive- looking to spend 5~10k.

So far, I am gravitating towards catalinas 25, 27, 30, and for the price I am looking for, it looks like these are early 70s to mid 80s boats.

I have no experience with motors and donít really know what to look for. In my mind an outboard would be ideal, but most of what I am finding have inboards. Either atomic 4 gas or diesel.

I understand it all depends, but in general, should I favor diesel? Are these old atomic 4 gasoline reliable?

I will check this Catalina 30 out next week, and if you see the picture of its engine, it looks pretty disgusting. Should I be discouraged just with that picture? To me it shows lack of care by the previous owners.

How would you approach this search? Engine first, the rest second?

I am kind of lost

Thanks a lot. Gus
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Old 26-11-2020, 22:48   #2
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Re: Atomic 4 vs. diesel ?

Gus, you will get a lot of passionate replies to these questions... almost as polarized as anchors and hull numbers. So, here's my take on it:

Disclosure: I had a boat with an Anemic 4 (oops) Atomic 4 engine for 7 years. During that time I had to do a fair amount of maintenance/repair on it, but it did continue to run for all those years. Had various issues, including ignition system breakdowns, sticking valves due to water ingress, slipping clutch in the tranny and relatively high fuel consumption.

My main objection to the engine is its antique design. Besides being a flathead, it has but two main bearings. According to the mechanics with whom I consulted, this meant that I should never try to run it anywhere near it's rpm red line, and that means that it would never develop it's max rated HP. In my 30 foot S&S design, this meant poor performance to windward in any amount of chop. The degree of inconvenience depends upon the boat it is powering, with smaller/lighter boats suffering less. It was in general adequate, but not desirable.

Another factor is that when it is time to sell the boat onward, many potential buyers (folks like yourself) will be reluctant to buy a petrol engined boat, making her harder to move onward.

And of course, there is the volatile fuel issue. The risks of petrol on board can be mitigated, but they can not be ignored... just another thing to worry about if you are the worrying type!

The diesel will have a more robust basis, will almost certainly be of a more recent design (and likely manufacture), will have a greater life expectancy, give better fuel economy (meaning more range rather than less expense... the cost of fuel is a small part of cruising expenses... and greater buyer attraction when it is time to sell. How well it will move the boat depends upon engine and boat specifics.

So, there is my experienced but opinionated opinion! Free advice, and worth every penny.

Jim
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Old 27-11-2020, 00:45   #3
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Re: Atomic 4 vs. diesel ?

What Jim said.


The Atomic 4 does have a lot of fans, and you can get AFAIK all parts for it. AND -- boats with that vs diesel should be selling for a significant discount. Depending on the price and condition it could be worth it.


HOWEVER, the discount is there for a reason. Any diesel will be much better. Much safer (gasoline in the bilge is extremely dangerous), much more economical to run, more reliable.


If you're on a tight budget, an Atomic 4 at a really aggressive discount (think 30%-50%) compared to diesel boats might make sense if you can put up with the disadvantages.


However, you should be careful in general about cheap boats. A boat in this class can EASILY cost more to fix up, than it will be worth when you finish. Even if the fixing looks relatively minor. You will be better off with a boat which has already been fixed up (because the seller won't be getting his money back), best of all by a fanatic owner who didn't pay too much attention to the cost of what he was doing. The premium you pay for such boat is usually a fraction of what was invested.



Make sure and do a survey no matter how good the boat looks.


Good luck; and let us know how you get on.
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Old 27-11-2020, 05:33   #4
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Re: Atomic 4 vs. diesel ?

What Jim said.

Although they are fairly straightforward to work on, I loathe A4s. I don't actually like their lowest RPMs, which are too fast - even in what we call 'tick-over' for picking up mooring buoys and manouvreing through anchor/ mooring fields which I find annoying.

They are gas which is incredibly dangerous and special precautions MUST be religiously adhered to.

In a nutshell, I avoid A4s like the plague.

Sorry,
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Old 27-11-2020, 06:02   #5
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Re: Atomic 4 vs. diesel ?

Sounds, great. I will avoid gasoline inboards

Thanks everyone!
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Old 27-11-2020, 06:18   #6
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Re: Atomic 4 vs. diesel ?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim Cate View Post
Gus, you will get a lot of passionate replies to these questions... almost as polarized as anchors and hull numbers. So, here's my take on it:

Disclosure: I had a boat with an Anemic 4 (oops) Atomic 4 engine for 7 years. During that time I had to do a fair amount of maintenance/repair on it, but it did continue to run for all those years. Had various issues, including ignition system breakdowns, sticking valves due to water ingress, slipping clutch in the tranny and relatively high fuel consumption.

My main objection to the engine is its antique design. Besides being a flathead, it has but two main bearings. According to the mechanics with whom I consulted, this meant that I should never try to run it anywhere near it's rpm red line, and that means that it would never develop it's max rated HP. In my 30 foot S&S design, this meant poor performance to windward in any amount of chop. The degree of inconvenience depends upon the boat it is powering, with smaller/lighter boats suffering less. It was in general adequate, but not desirable.

Another factor is that when it is time to sell the boat onward, many potential buyers (folks like yourself) will be reluctant to buy a petrol engined boat, making her harder to move onward.

And of course, there is the volatile fuel issue. The risks of petrol on board can be mitigated, but they can not be ignored... just another thing to worry about if you are the worrying type!

The diesel will have a more robust basis, will almost certainly be of a more recent design (and likely manufacture), will have a greater life expectancy, give better fuel economy (meaning more range rather than less expense... the cost of fuel is a small part of cruising expenses... and greater buyer attraction when it is time to sell. How well it will move the boat depends upon engine and boat specifics.

So, there is my experienced but opinionated opinion! Free advice, and worth every penny.

Jim
I owned one, too, and you wrote what I was thinking.
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Old 27-11-2020, 07:24   #7
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Re: Atomic 4 vs. diesel ?

Had boats w/A4s and as long as they were maintained well, thought they were a good motor. In fact, they are simple and reliable (when well maintained). Compared to diesel, each have their own issues of maintenance, but maybe similar or less than a diesel in some cases. A diesel can be also unreliable if not properly maintained.

I understand the volatile nature of gas compared to diesel, but using common sense, like turning on the bilge blower a few minutes ahead of starting, the gas motor wasn't that big of a deal. Many have a similar fear of propane also, but w/properly maintained system it's not an issue.

The biggest issue was w/the ignition system. Growing up and learning how to work on cars that had w/distributor caps, points and condensers, it wasn't a big deal. If you have an "updated" electronic ignition, then most of those problems were gone.

Will agree that a boat w/an A4 will probably be less $$ up front and when want to sell it. Mostly due to this common fear of gas motors and that it is a "vintage" motor. Parts can easily be found for an A4 and possibly not much different than parts for its diesel replacement, a Universal (also now vintage).

Couldn't see the link for the Catalina 30 so can't comment on the motor in that boat.
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Old 27-11-2020, 07:38   #8
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Re: Atomic 4 vs. diesel ?

.... SIGH... An Atomic 4 with electronic ignition and a legally required blower is fine. It is smoother and quieter than any diesel and more importantly is free of the stink of diesel fuel, which basically is forever.
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Old 27-11-2020, 07:47   #9
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Re: Atomic 4 vs. diesel ?

I think this is the working link:

https://www.racineriverside.com/boat...onsin-5908907/

It looks like a boat, especially the interior, which is in great need of simplification. For example by taking out the microwave hanging down from the cabin roof... And as far as the engine is concerned, pffff, that doesn't look like your best friend in times of need.
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Old 27-11-2020, 08:06   #10
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Re: Atomic 4 vs. diesel ?

I wouldn't be too afraid of an A4 with a well cared for fuel system, closed cooling and an electronic ignition conversion. It's not exactly the best gas engine out there, but they're cheap and can be made to work well enough. And as much as gas powered boats aren't ideal and there are risks, it's all manageable if appropriate precautions are taken.

Disclaimer, my own boat has 2 gas inboards plus a gas generator.
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Old 27-11-2020, 08:08   #11
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Re: Atomic 4 vs. diesel ?

Quote:
Originally Posted by HeinSdL View Post
I think this is the working link:

https://www.racineriverside.com/boat...onsin-5908907/

It looks like a boat, especially the interior, which is in great need of simplification. For example by taking out the microwave hanging down from the cabin roof... And as far as the engine is concerned, pffff, that doesn't look like your best friend in times of need.

Thanks for the working link.

Typical of a 70s boat, probably w/many owners in need of work. Seems like a lot of $$ for a project unless it has all new sails.

The motor doesn't look too bad besides peeling paint (not gussied up w/a fresh spray of paint like many sellers do). Initially would start it up to see if it is easy to start and how it runs. For further evaluation would pull the spark plugs to see how the engine was firing and pre-purchase do a compression test. Not that big of a deal to do if you knew what you were doing, but sounds like the OP may not have any motor skills.
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Old 27-11-2020, 09:46   #12
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Re: Atomic 4 vs. diesel ?

The Atomic 4 is a great sailors motor. You'll get those sails up as soon as you can before it requires attention. I'm sure they were the best thing 50 years ago.

Personally, for a boat 26 foot or shorter, I'd prefer an outboard. The smell and the noise stay outboard instead of in the cabin. They are cheap and easy to replace and maintain.

Just me I suppose.
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Old 27-11-2020, 09:47   #13
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Re: Atomic 4 vs. diesel ?

Hi Gus-I'm a long time sailor on Lake Michigan. First, I'm in the diesel camp re: safety reasons previously discussed.

You had made mention of an outboard in the OP, as well as crossing the Lake capable. IMHO, I wouldn't do it with an outboard, even those these boats will be more affordable. They just dont/wont have the range and if you're cruising with a family you may need it. I have raced across Lake Michigan on some light weight "go fast" sailboats with an out board, but the only time we used it was to get in and out of the slip. They also tend to pop out of the water in a seaway, etc. Again, just my opinion, but if you can save up a bit more money and find an old C30 (or 27) with a Universal diesel you'll be further ahead for cruising with family.
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Old 27-11-2020, 09:49   #14
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Re: Atomic 4 vs. diesel ?

Points to bear in mind
Outboards work fine on small cruisers with low free-board used in sheltered waters. They are NOT suitable for offshore or bad weather conditions
Gas engines use substantially more fuel than diesels and fuel is explosive so storing large quantities is a hazard, especially below deck.
Gas deteriorates rapidly especially in hot weather, Diesel can be stored indefinitely. This makes a big difference for auxiliary engines which may or may not be used. Do you keep enough fuel onboard to get to base/harbour/anchorage if the wind dies but then have to ditch it after 3 months?
Gas engines rely on an electrically generated spark to keep running diesels do not. In the marine environment this adds significant issues to reliability
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Old 27-11-2020, 10:04   #15
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Re: Atomic 4 vs. diesel ?

Quote:
Originally Posted by GusC View Post
Hi, I am in a quest to find our first boat.
Do you plan on upgrading boats at some point? One of my non-negotiables on our first boat was an inboard diesel. I've wrenched many, many gasoline-powered things over the years, but never had to learn the ins and outs of a diesel anything, let alone a marine one. Now I'm getting hands-on experience maintaining and troubleshooting something that will almost certainly be a part of our next, bigger boat.

Same logic applied to wheel rather than tiller steering. Got to learn that complexity sometime, would prefer it be now on the lake where I am surrounded by otherwise familiar things.
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