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Diesel engine cold start - air intake preheater thoughts?


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Given that it’s February in the northern hemisphere, and talking generally about cold weather sailing, what’s the received wisdom on air intake pre-heaters for diesels?  My older Volvo doesn’t have provisions for glow plugs.  To help with cold starts, this engine instead has a way to over-rack the fuel (pull the kill switch handle once or twice before cranking). 

When I re-did my engine instrument panel, we put in an auxiliary circuit on the key switch - turning it one click to the left turns it on (could be used for a pre-heat or pre-lube system).  Years ago, someone suggested an air intake pre-heater, and somewhat randomly today, I came across one.  Seems like a reasonably easy and cheap (Can$100 for the part) upgrade. 
 

But - not knowing anything about pre-heaters, just curious what folks know about them. Probably not as efficient as glow plugs, but I can’t fit them anyway.

I assume their current draw is fairly minimal (haven’t checked yet) and, worst case, if the starting battery is weak, I can parallel my house and start banks to pre-heat/crank.

19F59DF8-26ED-4B1E-A28B-224A554A7030.jpeg

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I had a Volvo Md7 in one boat and after a (botched) rebuild by the Volvo dealer, he suggested pulling the intake filter/cone and warming it on the stove. This made a much bigger difference than you would expect (a minute cranking instead of 10. Like I said, a botched rebuild), so I would guess a built in heater might have similar effects.

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My Cummins 5.9L (in the truck) has one. Two potential issues:

1. They're in the air intake all the time and will reduce flow. The Cummins intake manifold was designed with the grid heater from the start so this isn't a problem but you should assume it'll reduce your air supply and possibly require some fuel pump adjustments.

2. You cannot assume that their current draw is fairly minimal. Just the opposite, in fact. Check the specs on the unit you're looking at but I wouldn't be surprised if it was 50-100A.

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4 minutes ago, andykane said:

I had a Volvo Md7 in one boat and after a (botched) rebuild by the Volvo dealer, he suggested pulling the intake filter/cone and warming it on the stove. This made a much bigger difference than you would expect (a minute cranking instead of 10. Like I said, a botched rebuild), so I would guess a built in heater might have similar effects.

Great “hack” - pre-heating the actual air intake.  Will definitely add that to my in-brain “list”.  Totally makes sense - in an emergency/if really cold.

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2 minutes ago, IStream said:

My Cummins 5.9L (in the truck) has one. Two potential issues:

1. They're in the air intake all the time and will reduce flow. The Cummins intake manifold was designed with the grid heater from the start so this isn't a problem but you should assume it'll reduce your air supply and possibly require some fuel pump adjustments.

2. You cannot assume that their current draw is fairly minimal. Just the opposite, in fact. Check the specs on the unit you're looking at but I wouldn't be surprised if it was 50-100A.

Interesting points.  Thanks!

1) Given how tiny it is (compared to a grid heater), I can’t imagine air flow is restricted that much - but worth considering.  I’ll bring it up with the person who provided the heater to me.

2) Good point...given that it’s a heater coil at 12v, could indeed be a large current draw!  Worth checking.  The person who passed the heater to me didn’t provide any box or brand packaging, so I’ll have to look into this.  

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I have a flame pre-heater glow plug. Basically it heats up and ignites a dibble of fuel that is sucked into the intake. t does draw a reasonable amount of power and you have to wait until you hear and smell the fuel being ignited, but it a generally pretty gentle way of starting the engine.

 

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2 hours ago, Blue Crab said:

I watched a guy start his engine the other day with heat from a hair dryer into the air intake. Quick and dirty.

Worked at a yard once that had a very tired old 2 ton diesel forklift, amongst many other odd bits of motive machinery.  The thing had a heat gun on the manifold permanently wired to toaster oven timer in the cab.  Set it for 2 minutes, wait for the ding, fire her up and off ya go.  
 

One of the boats I run now has two Cummins 6CTA8.3s.  I’ve since disconnected the grid heaters as they keep melting the relays and they are notoriously difficult to troubleshoot.  There’s a great Cummins mechanic who runs Starboard Marine and has a fabulous website with all kinds of fixit articles, tips, and photos.  I’ve literally had my phone in one hand and a screw diver in the other and fixed stuff using his site.  Anyway, he’s of the opinion that the function of the Cummins grid heater is to reduce white smoke on startup, and that only.  He also thinks that a block heater is the best cold-start aid available, so take that advice for what it’s worth.  I do have block heaters and no grid heaters, and the things fire up in 1 second or less every time all winter long.  I realize being plugged into the grid is a luxury, however....

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Haven't had any issues with my 2GM down to freezing temps inside the boat. Sounds like it is going to self-destruct when it starts on one cylinder for 5 seconds before taking off. With heat on in the boat it's always been turn-key starting.

Growing up on a farm a can of ether always did the trick on the particularly stubborn days but I've read its use can be pretty hard on the engine. Maybe just carry a can for emergencies?

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46 minutes ago, NaClH20 said:

Worked at a yard once that had a very tired old 2 ton diesel forklift, amongst many other odd bits of motive machinery.  The thing had a heat gun on the manifold permanently wired to toaster oven timer in the cab.  Set it for 2 minutes, wait for the ding, fire her up and off ya go.  

This is one of the more awesome stories of the Grabtastic method of engineering that I have ever read.  I like toast though and I would drool every single day if ever I had to work with that engine.  

I do recall an older skidsteer that the guys timbering my folks' land had.  It normally started just fine but when it was cold (with frozen ground so they could more easily pull the big logs to the yard) they'd put this little marble sized ball of ether into a chamber just off the intake manifold, slam it shut and turn the engine over.  It would start with a bang.  Same thing as a very old Cat bulldozer that our neighbor had. If it was real cold he had a sort of shotgun shell that would go into a chamber and quickly supercharge one or two lungs full of air for the old diesel engine - also starting with a bang.  

I'm a lot older now and of the mindset that if you need shotgun shells or ether or other types of things regularly used to shanghai sailors (see, e.g. hammer blow to the starter motor) then perhaps your engine is due for a depot-level service.  

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48 minutes ago, climenuts said:

Haven't had any issues with my 2GM down to freezing temps inside the boat. Sounds like it is going to self-destruct when it starts on one cylinder for 5 seconds before taking off. With heat on in the boat it's always been turn-key starting.

Growing up on a farm a can of ether always did the trick on the particularly stubborn days but I've read its use can be pretty hard on the engine. Maybe just carry a can for emergencies?

Or you could do what they do in the high arctic - just leave them idling all night.

It saves building a fire under them in the morning.

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2 minutes ago, SloopJonB said:

Or you could do what they do in the high arctic - just leave them idling all night.

It saves building a fire under them in the morning.

If I wanted to be shaken all night I'd save my 2GM and bring a roll of toonies to those seats at the mall.

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1 hour ago, SloopJonB said:

Or you could do what they do in the high arctic - just leave them idling all night.

It saves building a fire under them in the morning.

High arctic? I ran my car continuously for days during cold snaps in Saskatchewan.

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1 minute ago, Zonker said:

I think Saskatchewan is part of the Arctic isn't it?

image.png.c08def33f2378a824824434c4b75de5e.png

For six months of the year, yes. Plus four months of Death Valley dust bowl and two months of "WTF is it doing now?"

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5 hours ago, sailman said:

Does the engine have a decompression switch/lever?  That usually helps a hesitant diesel to get started.

Thanks - that’s a good idea.  Sort of forgot about that!

My engine is recently totally rebuilt - I’m just wanting to ease the cold starting going forward, to baby the engine.

This, pre-warming the actual air intake piece ignite really cold, and ether —and perhaps having a propane torch on board too?— seems like it would cover most scenarios - I’m talking off-grid starting/not plugged in.  I’m guessing installing a simple, small pre-heater wouldn’t be a bad idea.

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Are you sure you want to complicate things? 

Just accept that on really cold days, with a cold engine it will take a few minutes to get the engine going. You'll crank and nothing will happen but the compression gets some heat into the block. You try it again and nothing happens so you wait 30 seconds for the starter to cool down and try again. You curse and try again, and this time it sort of tries to start... but doesn't. Fuck the starter you think and crank and crank for more than the recommended 10 seconds at a time and boom it starts.

But yeah, I used the decompression levers on my Yanmar a few times when it was cold and the battery was low. Just had to get one cylinder running.

 

 

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1 hour ago, Jud - s/v Sputnik said:

Thanks - that’s a good idea.  Sort of forgot about that!

That's how I always start my little Kubota tractor. 15 seconds or so with the glow plugs when cold, pull the decompression lever, crank the engine then push in the lever. Always starts and the battery is a bit ordinary.

In theory I can do this with the Bukh boat engine but never tried yet. I put in a big battery and it doesn't get that cold anyway. The boat is heavily insulated, the tractor lives under a roof to keep the rain off but that's all.

FKT

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10 minutes ago, Zonker said:

Are you sure you want to complicate things? 

Just accept that on really cold days, with a cold engine it will take a few minutes to get the engine going. You'll crank and nothing will happen but the compression gets some heat into the block. You try it again and nothing happens so you wait 30 seconds for the starter to cool down and try again. You curse and try again, and this time it sort of tries to start... but doesn't. Fuck the starter you think and crank and crank for more than the recommended 10 seconds at a time and boom it starts.

But yeah, I used the decompression levers on my Yanmar a few times when it was cold and the battery was low. Just had to get one cylinder running.

Good point about not complicating things: I’m all for that —but, well, the key switch is already wired for an “auxiliary whatever” circuit, and installing a little coil heater (as in my pic) in my air intake doesn’t seem like that big a deal.

I’m just sort of wondering—some time down the line in the future, cruising somewhere up north where it could get quite cold (e.g., in summer it gets down to 0*C in Svalbard/Spitsbergen - for sure one of the most interesting places in the world to cruise), how do you make diesel starting easier/reliable/gentler on the engine?  I suppose that most diesels have glow plugs.  Mine, alas, doesn’t.  Other than glow plugs, a little air pre-heater like this coil seems like it would be the way to go...but just curious about anyone’s experience with this.

Turns out the coil I have is from a Ford 7.3l diesel.  It’s used to heat combustion air during engine running for better combustion/prevent smoking - but was given to me by a marine diesel mechanic as an air intake preheater.  Maybe he’ll have more info.

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2 hours ago, TwoLegged said:

Wouldn't it all be a lot simpler and nicer to sail somewhere which doesn't actually freeze your tits off?

Speak for yourself. My moobs haven't fallen off yet.

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2 minutes ago, Ishmael said:
2 hours ago, TwoLegged said:

Wouldn't it all be a lot simpler and nicer to sail somewhere which doesn't actually freeze your tits off?

Speak for yourself. My moobs haven't fallen off yet.

The People demand photographic evidence

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Right, so, farming in Minnesota for a few years, I have started a lot of diesels in all kinds of cold.

What always works and is easy on the engine is a block heater, ideally in a frost plug.  Usually 400-800 watts and a few hours is enough to make a big difference.  That should be your first choice if retrofitting.

Had a Lehman engine with a fuel bypass that would overrack the injection pump, it helped.

Had an intake air heater on a friend's tractor.  Worked ok until the relay stuck closed and it burned up the rubber and plastic portions of the air cleaner.  They draw a lot of current, 60-100 amps.  If you have them you can't use ether or you blow up your manifold.  I wouldn't try to retrofit one and if I did I'd think hard about what could burn up if it stuck on.

I also had a factory intake air heater on my LS180 skid steer.  Worked great.  Well enough that I managed to have the thing die one day when the fuel gelled up in the middle of a county road, ended up out there with a generator and a hot dog heater to get the engine compartment warmed up enough to run again.

I had a really good ether dispenser on the tractor I use for blowing snow.  It used an ether canister like a propane torch cylinder with a metered dispenser that sprayed it right into the intake, very controlled, just enough to get it to start in -10 below.  Cost a couple hundred bucks.

I had a cheap ether dispenser on another tractor that required finesse to avoid overdoing it.

I have also had to spray ether from a can of starting fluid more than a few times.  It's tough on the engines but if you need to get a machine started on a cold day there are sometimes few good alternatives, especially if the engine is older and in poor condition and doesn't start all that well under the best of circumstances.

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When it got really cold, we had the block heater, a battery blanket, and an interior heater. My dad's Suburban diesel had an additional battery for starting and it was still a crap shoot.

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14 hours ago, Blue Crab said:

I just spent 20 min watching diesels start. Is there any hope for me? 

you, and most of us are doomed to a life where our wives look at us in total incomprehension.

She does not understand why I would rather work on the boat than the bathroom

 

D

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22 hours ago, Elegua said:

I have a flame pre-heater glow plug. Basically it heats up and ignites a dibble of fuel that is sucked into the intake. t does draw a reasonable amount of power and you have to wait until you hear and smell the fuel being ignited, but it a generally pretty gentle way of starting the engine.

 

That’s pretty cool - looks dangerous :-) :-)

From what little I know about engines, that’s the “old school” way of cold start pre-heating (not to say there’s anything at all wrong with that).  Looks very effective, but certainly a lot more complicated than anything I’d want to retrofit if I did put some kind of pre-heat system in.

Cool to know about this - I’ve never been much interested in fettling with engines - until I was convinced to completely dismantle mine a few years ago and rebuild it :-).  Interesting to learn a few things, for sure.

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13 minutes ago, Jud - s/v Sputnik said:

That’s pretty cool - looks dangerous :-) :-)

 

WICKED dangerous! :) I suppose it really isn't but that guy's engine, covered in dirt and oil, looks like a molotov cocktail. And what is that tube above getting licked by the flames? 

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10 hours ago, Ishmael said:

When it got really cold, we had the block heater, a battery blanket, and an interior heater. My dad's Suburban diesel had an additional battery for starting and it was still a crap shoot.

So far, most of the suggestions involve something that uses a lot of electricity, or something that risks fire/explosion.

How about something simple, like a little bracket to hold a sterno can under the oil pan? If you have a hand pre-luber, you can pump it as the oil warms up and hopefully bring some nice calories to the upper parts of the engine.

FB- Doug

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47 minutes ago, Jud - s/v Sputnik said:

That’s pretty cool - looks dangerous :-) :-)

From what little I know about engines, that’s the “old school” way of cold start pre-heating (not to say there’s anything at all wrong with that).  Looks very effective, but certainly a lot more complicated than anything I’d want to retrofit if I did put some kind of pre-heat system in.

Cool to know about this - I’ve never been much interested in fettling with engines - until I was convinced to completely dismantle mine a few years ago and rebuild it :-).  Interesting to learn a few things, for sure.

It looks scary because normally this all takes place with the metal air intake in place - ie no open flame. It's actually a very simple system. This is the OE set-up for most Perkins of this era. 

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7 minutes ago, Elegua said:

It looks scary because normally this all takes place with the metal air intake in place - ie no open flame. It's actually a very simple system. This is the OE set-up for most Perkins of this era. 

I guessed that. The guy's Youtube was enhanced by the open flame drama. 

There's a danger even to glow plugs. I had my solenoid lock up years ago. The full amperage eventually melted the plastic solenoid body before it finally (luckily) opened the circuit. Could have started a fire which would have been inconvenient as I was motoring through the Cape Cod Canal at the time. Amazingly, the glow plugs survived full juice for about 1/2hour. The engine ran like it was turbo-charged(kidding). 

I simpathise with Judd. I had two older Volvos without glow plugs and even with the fuel boost, they were painfully slow to start. I don't think Volvo designed them to work around icebergs. 

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33 minutes ago, Steam Flyer said:

So far, most of the suggestions involve something that uses a lot of electricity, or something that risks fire/explosion.

How about something simple, like a little bracket to hold a sterno can under the oil pan? If you have a hand pre-luber, you can pump it as the oil warms up and hopefully bring some nice calories to the upper parts of the engine.

FB- Doug

That’s a nice and simple solution.  I like it!

But - let me try to summarize what I understand so far based on what I have in mind - caveat: this is based on what little I know about engines in general, not really ever having “gotten into” working on cars as a kid, never having owned a truck, and not having had a vehicle (i.e., diesel truck) in a cold, northern environment.

In a cold environment —when they’re not plugged in to a block heater or housed in a heated building— trucks and other diesel equipment often have some kind of stand-alone/independent pre-heat system, right?  Glow plugs are pretty common, I think?  So, wouldn’t a small air intake heater in the manifold (mine has no flammable parts in it), combined with the proper relay, be basically sorta like having glow plugs when you can’t? (My engine can’t fit them) - i.e., a relatively simple *installed* system to help frequent cold starts off grid?)  Although very recently totally rebuilt (and bored cylinders to third oversize to fit new pistons/rings), it’s just a bit hesitant to start when cold.

—> so, accent on frequent starting and being off-grid - thinking summer/fall cruising in cold northern waters (one day...): Greenland, Svalbard, etc.  And bearing in mind that, indeed, relays (etc) fail!!  And that you need to understand and have other means of emergency cold starting, if need be.

I’m not trying to over-complicate my boat, just trying to understand how a basic, simple *installed* pre-heat system might work since I can’t fit glow plugs - again, for off-grid, relatively frequent starting (i.e., for example, not getting out the ether every time you want to start, requiring two people...one to crank one to spray; not removing the intake manifold to heat it up, every time you want to  start, etc. In short, something that mimics a simple system used in a truck/equipment.  Am I missing something?  

50A manifold air intake heater: https://www.amazon.ca/Genuine-97251974-Air-Intake-Heater/dp/B00GV8UKCI

95A rated relay for similar air intake heaters: https://www.summitracing.com/parts/rnb-904-300

E39B2C59-39C0-4A58-BC36-8B52A8463D3B.jpeg

 

A57F98C7-0659-4C5B-989C-4CBEBC466DD7.jpeg

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So one solution  might be to have a "parking heater". My Diesel heater is plugged into my engine cooling circuit and will serve to heat the coolant when it is running to heat the boat or heat hot water. 

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18 minutes ago, Elegua said:

So one solution  might be to have a "parking heater". My Diesel heater is plugged into my engine cooling circuit and will serve to heat the coolant when it is running to heat the boat or heat hot water. 

I think this is the winner. What's comfortable for you is comfortable for your engine. If the weather's cold enough for you to run your heater, it'll automatically take care of your engine's needs, albeit at the cost of some efficiency.

If you've got hydronic heat, you can plumb it in as Elegua describes. The redneck way would be to put a red-dot style blower aimed at the engine. Cheap and cheerful and you won't need access to 100A of current right when your batteries are as cranky as your engine. Pun intended.

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1 hour ago, Jud - s/v Sputnik said:

That’s a nice and simple solution.  I like it!

But - let me try to summarize what I understand so far based on what I have in mind - caveat: this is based on what little I know about engines in general, not really ever having “gotten into” working on cars as a kid, never having owned a truck, and not having had a vehicle (i.e., diesel truck) in a cold, northern environment.

In a cold environment —when they’re not plugged in to a block heater or housed in a heated building— trucks and other diesel equipment often have some kind of stand-alone/independent pre-heat system, right?  Glow plugs are pretty common, I think?  So, wouldn’t a small air intake heater in the manifold (mine has no flammable parts in it), combined with the proper relay, be basically sorta like having glow plugs when you can’t? (My engine can’t fit them) - i.e., a relatively simple *installed* system to help frequent cold starts off grid?)  Although very recently totally rebuilt (and bored cylinders to third oversize to fit new pistons/rings), it’s just a bit hesitant to start when cold.

—> so, accent on frequent starting and being off-grid - thinking summer/fall cruising in cold northern waters (one day...): Greenland, Svalbard, etc.  And bearing in mind that, indeed, relays (etc) fail!!  And that you need to understand and have other means of emergency cold starting, if need be.

I’m not trying to over-complicate my boat, just trying to understand how a basic, simple *installed* pre-heat system might work since I can’t fit glow plugs - again, for off-grid, relatively frequent starting (i.e., for example, not getting out the ether every time you want to start, requiring two people...one to crank one to spray; not removing the intake manifold to heat it up, every time you want to  start, etc. In short, something that mimics a simple system used in a truck/equipment.  Am I missing something?  

50A manifold air intake heater: https://www.amazon.ca/Genuine-97251974-Air-Intake-Heater/dp/B00GV8UKCI

95A rated relay for similar air intake heaters: https://www.summitracing.com/parts/rnb-904-300

E39B2C59-39C0-4A58-BC36-8B52A8463D3B.jpeg

 

A57F98C7-0659-4C5B-989C-4CBEBC466DD7.jpeg

So that's a dry heater, no fuel. I can't see why that would hurt and it should help (heat injected into the cylinders). Hasn't anybody with a Volvo tried that? 

Aren't Volvos like yours indirect injection diesels with swirl chambers, or some other indirect injection?

My diesel has the glow plugs in the swirl chamber - where the injector sprays the fuel - which is above the main cylinder combustion chamber.

Without glow plugs, my diesel would take forever to start, cold, even in mild-ish conditions. 

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1 hour ago, IStream said:

I think this is the winner. What's comfortable for you is comfortable for your engine. If the weather's cold enough for you to run your heater, it'll automatically take care of your engine's needs, albeit at the cost of some efficiency.

If you've got hydronic heat, you can plumb it in as Elegua describes. The redneck way would be to put a red-dot style blower aimed at the engine. Cheap and cheerful and you won't need access to 100A of current right when your batteries are as cranky as your engine. Pun intended.

I like this idea the best - sort of :-)

I don’t have hydronic heat (thank god).  I’ve got a simple bulkhead-mounted diesel heater (takes a while to heat up the boat fully, but it’s very simple - its only complexity is a 12v fan and heat scavenger that pull heat radiated by the chimney into a 3” duct that I ran to the v-berth).

Turns out —I just checked— that the particular model of heater I installed years ago doesn’t have the hot water coil feature (it’s neither sold with that option, not can it be retrofitted)...argh!  Otherwise, this is *for sure* the sensible solution (and it’s multi-use, too, providing hot water as well).

Maybe the solution in colder environments is to simply keep the engine compartment doors off (they’re very easy to access), allowing warm ambient cabin air to at least reach in there.  The engine compartment doors are double insulated, 3” of foam inside the wood panels/skins, done by the original builder, then I added standard foam/reflective type sound barrier insulation on compartment door interior surfaces - all of this naturally keeps ambient cabin heat out...so by opening these, at least the engine would get ready access to warmer cabin air.

Done!  Thread over :-)

My mind was just sorta rambling the last day or so along the lines of cold-weather sailing systems (for one day northern cruising).  It just seemed like an interesting  one to ponder, as last weekend we were out in snow - cold fuel in keel tank, cold air —and cold air in engine compartment!

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43 minutes ago, Kris Cringle said:

So that's a dry heater, no fuel. I can't see why that would hurt and it should help (heat injected into the cylinders). Hasn't anybody with a Volvo tried that? 

Aren't Volvos like yours indirect injection diesels with swirl chambers, or some other indirect injection?

My diesel has the glow plugs in the swirl chamber - where the injector sprays the fuel - which is above the main cylinder combustion chamber.

Without glow plugs, my diesel would take forever to start, cold, even in mild-ish conditions. 

Hey Tom - Yup, it’s just a little coil (the whole thing is roughly the size of a standard spark plug). I’ve no idea about the injection type on my engine - beyond my knowledge.  It’s an older (90s) low-tech diesel, very basic.  Indeed, as with your engine if you didn’t have glow plugs, trying to start in a cold-ish environment, it does take “forever” (despite being very recently rebuilt).

Hasn’t anybody ever tried that, (pre-heating the air intake, as for a truck), you ask?  Good question - I was wondering the same yesterday too.  So I quickly phoned two marine diesel places yesterday and got quizzical responses - one very knowledgeable/experienced guy that I know was stumped - he’d never heard of this, and was a bit annoyed (he admitted) that he was stumped, and tried to think of cold start solutions! :-).  The next shop I called had never seen this before on a sailboat - said they’d seen some type of pre-heat system on power boats (glow plugs), but not sailboats (I think likely because they work on few sailboats!  Based on where they’re located, few sailboats in that area further inland.)

Wonder if any diesel shop folks in a truly colder marine environment —yours, Maine/Maritimes!— has any ideas about this?

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47 minutes ago, Elegua said:

This guy has some thoughts. My guess is you may need multiple options. 

 

Oh, the Finnish guy!  Great stuff - he does some very cool trips.  Thanks for that - will watch for sure.  

Makes sense to have multiple options, as cold weather sailing generally calls for resourcefulness (for various situations - anchoring, ice, etc, etc etc).

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From your description I take it you have a 2002, 2003 or 2003T, no exposed flywheel at the front and it does have a single compression release lever at the front of the rocker cover. If so, as you say you pull the stop out then back in with the throttle at mid range to go into excess fuel for cold starting. This is a direct injection engine, therefore does not have glow plugs and if compression is where it should be should not need them. Before anyone says it some direct injection engines do have glow plugs for mostly after start emission reduction.

I have put two Toyota intake manifold heaters which look like large solid tip glow plugs, into a Yanmar 3GM inlet manifold (underneath and side by side) that was becoming hard starting. They did help but needed power on when cranking as they cooled quickly with intake air being drawn past, large drain on the battery when combined with engine cranking.

I would suggest first up, ensure valve settings are correct and cranking speed is as fast as possible so good battery, cables and starter. The  2002 that I had in a 1020 started well in winter even with ice on the deck. A 2003 that we rebuilt was a reluctant starter until we gave it a good work out under load to bed the rings in etc. They tend to run dirty when cold but clean up when hot.

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three options i don't think have been mentioned yet: (1) heat up the motor oil on the stovetop (I suppose you could also warm the coolant the same way but I have only seen the oil done), (2) slide a small camp stove under the engine and let it heat things up for a bit.

I'm not particularly recommending either . . but have seen them used/work.

Hawk's yanmar never needed any special technique/equipment - just the right oil, fuel, strong batteries and good maintenance and she always started - from S Georgia to iceland . . . . and even in greenland when I was solo and not running any sort of cabin heater at all.

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9 hours ago, Jud - s/v Sputnik said:

(it’s neither sold with that option, not can it be retrofitted)...argh!  Otherwise, this is *for sure* the sensible solution (and it’s multi-use, too, providing hot water as well).

I had a diesel heater that was not sold with heating coils. I was told the same thing and just figured "How do they fit them at the factory". I retrofitted. Drill 2 holes, fit the coil, seal the combustion chamber with firestop cement (I think that was the term).

Yup:  https://www.canadiantire.ca/en/pdp/imperial-hi-temp-stove-furnace-cement-710-ml-0642704p.0642704.html?ds_rl=1283573&ds_rl=1283573&gclid=CjwKCAiAg8OBBhA8EiwAlKw3khLgHxxdLAUbWZxjpMcXVPXxNaCNHRFgq1CWtl9ztlsqEaeoxghL0BoCqzoQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds#store=389

There was a little threaded bulkhead fitting (like an electrical conduit into a box) nut to mechanically hold the inlet and outlet tube to the wall of the heater.

 

Both of Evans' suggestions are commonly done with big radial aircraft engines up in the far North. Otherwise the oil is so thick you can't even turn them over.

 

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12 hours ago, Crazy Horse said:

From your description I take it you have a 2002, 2003 or 2003T, no exposed flywheel at the front and it does have a single compression release lever at the front of the rocker cover. If so, as you say you pull the stop out then back in with the throttle at mid range to go into excess fuel for cold starting. This is a direct injection engine, therefore does not have glow plugs and if compression is where it should be should not need them. Before anyone says it some direct injection engines do have glow plugs for mostly after start emission reduction.

I have put two Toyota intake manifold heaters which look like large solid tip glow plugs, into a Yanmar 3GM inlet manifold (underneath and side by side) that was becoming hard starting. They did help but needed power on when cranking as they cooled quickly with intake air being drawn past, large drain on the battery when combined with engine cranking.

I would suggest first up, ensure valve settings are correct and cranking speed is as fast as possible so good battery, cables and starter. The  2002 that I had in a 1020 started well in winter even with ice on the deck. A 2003 that we rebuilt was a reluctant starter until we gave it a good work out under load to bed the rings in etc. They tend to run dirty when cold but clean up when hot.

I assume the OP is aware of the cold start instructions for these engines in the operaring manual?

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I wonder:  when did you last refuel?  In many places, there is a difference between summer diesel and winter diesel.  The summer stuff gels pretty quickly at lower temps, and would make starting tough.    

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I have the hot water loop on our Dickenson but ended up disconnecting, was never able to get good flow vis thermal siphon or radiation.  It seemed like it was all or nothing.  If you are mostly dockside then a hot water loop to the hotwater heater, provided it is close to the engine, or a ac block heater is the easiest way to go.  The work skiff on most of the ships I've been on are all in davits above the weather deck exposed to everything all winter in the Bering.  A small 110 block heater was plenty to keep them ready to go.

These obviously won't help you on the hook, but are non invasive retrofits that are pretty simple.

I think you could make a hotwater cool in a diesel heater/stove work but would need to make some effort on plumbing and design to get a good thermal siphon flow so a circ pump isn't needed.

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6 hours ago, olaf hart said:

I assume the OP is aware of the cold start instructions for these engines in the operaring manual?

Yes.  Which is certainly better than nothing, but I’m just trying to understand other ways to facilitate starting at lower temps, since even over-racking the fuel (i.e., the Volvo Penta 2000 series engines’ cold start procedure) requires just a bit more cranking than I’d like to do, if I could avoid/minimize it.

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On 2/20/2021 at 8:08 AM, Steam Flyer said:

 

On 2/20/2021 at 8:08 AM, Steam Flyer said:

If you have a hand pre-luber, you can pump it as the oil warms up and hopefully bring some nice calories to the upper parts of the engine.

FB- Doug

Doug - Speaking of simple systems —and this whole thread I started, i.e., diesel cold start methods/systems, is really just an attempt to baby my recently  rebuilt engine in order to eke as much good life out of it as possible, simple things like not cranking it dead cold to avoid needless wear and tear and problems later on — in short, speaking of simple systems, have you got any further info on hand pre-lubers?

A race boat I once helped deliver from Hawaii had an automatic pre-lube system - turn engine ignition key to left for like 10-20 secs to turn it on.  But the system was also designed, installed and maintained by a professional tugboat diesel mechanic.  Way more involved than I’d want to have on my boat.

But I like the idea of a dead simple hand pre-lube system.  Cheap, less to fail/worry about - but any suggestions on doing this?  I’ve read a tiny bit about automatic prelube systems, but have never heard of manual ones.

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20 hours ago, Crazy Horse said:

From your description I take it you have a 2002, 2003 or 2003T, no exposed flywheel at the front and it does have a single compression release lever at the front of the rocker cover. If so, as you say you pull the stop out then back in with the throttle at mid range to go into excess fuel for cold starting. This is a direct injection engine, therefore does not have glow plugs and if compression is where it should be should not need them. Before anyone says it some direct injection engines do have glow plugs for mostly after start emission reduction.

I have put two Toyota intake manifold heaters which look like large solid tip glow plugs, into a Yanmar 3GM inlet manifold (underneath and side by side) that was becoming hard starting. They did help but needed power on when cranking as they cooled quickly with intake air being drawn past, large drain on the battery when combined with engine cranking.

I would suggest first up, ensure valve settings are correct and cranking speed is as fast as possible so good battery, cables and starter. The  2002 that I had in a 1020 started well in winter even with ice on the deck. A 2003 that we rebuilt was a reluctant starter until we gave it a good work out under load to bed the rings in etc. They tend to run dirty when cold but clean up when hot.

Great suggestions and insight - many thanks!

Yup - I’ve got a 2003.  I wonder if I’ve not been doing the cold start procedure correctly all this time - hadn’t realized, as you wrote, that the throttle should be at mid-range when doing that (cold start procedure, pulling the engine stop out).

I actually have a reason to wonder if my starter battery is ok, now that you mention it (re: cranking speed).  Will also check my valves...haven’t checked with feeler gauge since rebuild, three years ago...

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35 minutes ago, Jud - s/v Sputnik said:

Great suggestions and insight - many thanks!

Yup - I’ve got a 2003.  I wonder if I’ve not been doing the cold start procedure correctly all this time - hadn’t realized, as you wrote, that the throttle should be at mid-range when doing that (cold start procedure, pulling the engine stop out).

I actually have a reason to wonder if my starter battery is ok, now that you mention it (re: cranking speed).  Will also check my valves...haven’t checked with feeler gauge since rebuild, three years ago...

I hook all the batteries together for starting except for once or twice a year to make sure the starting battery is still good. I regard that battery as a backstop, not a primary.

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1 hour ago, Jud - s/v Sputnik said:

Doug - Speaking of simple systems —and this whole thread I started, i.e., diesel cold start methods/systems, is really just an attempt to baby my recently  rebuilt engine in order to eke as much good life out of it as possible, simple things like not cranking it dead cold to avoid needless wear and tear and problems later on — in short, speaking of simple systems, have you got any further info on hand pre-lubers?

A race boat I once helped deliver from Hawaii had an automatic pre-lube system - turn engine ignition key to left for like 10-20 secs to turn it on.  But the system was also designed, installed and maintained by a professional tugboat diesel mechanic.  Way more involved than I’d want to have on my boat.

But I like the idea of a dead simple hand pre-lube system.  Cheap, less to fail/worry about - but any suggestions on doing this?  I’ve read a tiny bit about automatic prelube systems, but have never heard of manual ones.

The simplest and most reliable one is if you have a hand oil-change pump (and for engines with a sump you can't access, this is a very worth while addition), to pump about a pint or so of oil into a cup and pour it into the valve cover. Some engine have an oil fill pipe that rises from the sump, that obviously won't do any good. If there's an external oil supply line to the upper part of the engine, that makes it easy to tap in with a check valve (make sure to get a hi temp one) and a small pump either manual or 12V. Little 12V pumps are dirt cheap and very reliable these days.

Another way would be to look at options for your specific engine, and see if they have a pre lube pump.

My sterno can suggestion was actually a joke but with shrouding to keep flame away from places you don't want it, that could actually be great in cold climates. No drain on the batteries!

FB- Doug

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15 minutes ago, Steam Flyer said:

My sterno can suggestion was actually a joke but with shrouding to keep flame away from places you don't want it, that could actually be great in cold climates. No drain on the batteries!

FB- Doug

I wasn't kidding about people in the extreme north starting fires under their engines to warm them - actual campfire type fires under the oil pan.

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36 minutes ago, SloopJonB said:

I wasn't kidding about people in the extreme north starting fires under their engines to warm them - actual campfire type fires under the oil pan.

I know, but that's kind of a special case. I'm thinking of a guy cruising with his wife and saying "Honey, could you get in the dinghy and bring us a couple of loads of kindling from the woods? I need to build a fire under the engine to get us the fuck out of here!"

I dunno about other wives, but Mrs Steam would take this as a sign of poor planning on my part.

FB- Doug

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6 minutes ago, Steam Flyer said:

I know, but that's kind of a special case. I'm thinking of a guy cruising with his wife and saying "Honey, could you get in the dinghy and bring us a couple of loads of kindling from the woods? I need to build a fire under the engine to get us the fuck out of here!"

I dunno about other wives, but Mrs Steam would take this as a sign of poor planning on my part.

FB- Doug

Doesn't every prepared sailor carry a face cord of firewood?

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5 minutes ago, Ishmael said:

Doesn't every prepared sailor carry a face cord of firewood?

Not down here, well south of Mr. Mason and Mr. Dixon's line

Aside from that, doesn't your stock of kindling get depleted after a couple of days cruising?

- DSK

 

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3 minutes ago, Steam Flyer said:

Not down here, well south of Mr. Mason and Mr. Dixon's line

Aside from that, doesn't your stock of kindling get depleted after a couple of days cruising?

- DSK

 

Kindling? That's what propane torches are for.

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3 hours ago, Jud - s/v Sputnik said:

Great suggestions and insight - many thanks!

Yup - I’ve got a 2003.  I wonder if I’ve not been doing the cold start procedure correctly all this time - hadn’t realized, as you wrote, that the throttle should be at mid-range when doing that (cold start procedure, pulling the engine stop out).

I actually have a reason to wonder if my starter battery is ok, now that you mention it (re: cranking speed).  Will also check my valves...haven’t checked with feeler gauge since rebuild, three years ago...

Our RWC VP 2003 definitely likes the throttle 1/3 to 1/2 way open to start easily.

 I have also found it helps to open the throttle before pulling the stop cable, not after.

And I pull the stop cable out for a couple of seconds before pushing it back in, sometimes I do the whole thing twice,  I think the mechanism sticks in the cold..

We never get below freezing down here in Tassie, but can be close on a winter morning, engine always starts fine.

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1 hour ago, Steam Flyer said:

The simplest and most reliable one is if you have a hand oil-change pump (and for engines with a sump you can't access, this is a very worth while addition), to pump about a pint or so of oil into a cup and pour it into the valve cover. Some engine have an oil fill pipe that rises from the sump, that obviously won't do any good. If there's an external oil supply line to the upper part of the engine, that makes it easy to tap in with a check valve (make sure to get a hi temp one) and a small pump either manual or 12V. Little 12V pumps are dirt cheap and very reliable these days.

Another way would be to look at options for your specific engine, and see if they have a pre lube pump.

My sterno can suggestion was actually a joke but with shrouding to keep flame away from places you don't want it, that could actually be great in cold climates. No drain on the batteries!

FB- Doug

I would agree generally a prelube pump is a good thing, however in this specific instance I would not recommend.  You need warm or hot oil for a prelube pump to be effective and pumping super cold oil may even have a negative result regarding seals bearings etc.  The best thing you can do is maintain a warm block via jacket water, it solves all the other cold related issues.

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1 minute ago, SASSAFRASS said:

I would agree generally a prelube pump is a good thing, however in this specific instance I would not recommend.  You need warm or hot oil for a prelube pump to be effective and pumping super cold oil may even have a negative result regarding seals bearings etc.  The best thing you can do is maintain a warm block via jacket water, it solves all the other cold related issues.

Interesting you say that - something I did may one day have an unexpected benefit.

Long story, short form is I bought a raw water cooled Bukh engine and got convinced by an engineer that it'd last a lot longer if fresh water cooled. We'll skip over all the painful parts of doing that but I installed an electric cooling water pump that can be run independently of the ignition switch though it's currently wired to run when the switch is on and before the engine starts.

It would be a *relatively* simple job, assuming a hot water supply from Dickinson heater or similar, to circulate that through the block. Just a Tee or 2 and a couple of valves.

Food for future thought - I'll tuck that idea away. Not that I plan on going anywhere I'd need it...

FKT

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I've had the preheat elements as above they are sort of a in middle thing on benefits.  A retro would require a bit of money and work to make safe and functional.  I would probably spend said money adding a hot water coil to the existing diesel stove and plumbing to the block so the block is always hot.  It's a decent heat sink and once warmed up should hold heat and act as a radiator for the boat as well. As we head back north I may do the same on our boat. I really don't want a circ pump but may have to bite the bullet if I can't get good circulation. We have a radiator up forward that's on the block as well as the hot water heater, the diesel stove was series in before, but has been removed.  Under way it's a decent amount of heat too if you are motoring and don't want to run the diesel stove. 

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Not to thread drift to far but one thing I always wondered when we were in cold places was trying bro catch all the waste heat on the stove stack.  It seems like you could do a copper or ss tube coil up the pipe and make double wall.  This would catch the waste heat and act as a great rise for a thermo syphon loop.

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2 hours ago, Steam Flyer said:

I know, but that's kind of a special case. I'm thinking of a guy cruising with his wife and saying "Honey, could you get in the dinghy and bring us a couple of loads of kindling from the woods? I need to build a fire under the engine to get us the fuck out of here!"

I dunno about other wives, but Mrs Steam would take this as a sign of poor planning on my part.

FB- Doug

I wasn't intending that anyone should do it on a boat but there seemed some hesitance about using a can of Sterno which, while an act of desperation, should work just fine.

But you knew that.

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50 minutes ago, SloopJonB said:

I wasn't intending that anyone should do it on a boat but there seemed some hesitance about using a can of Sterno which, while an act of desperation, should work just fine.

But you knew that.

Also can be used for emergency party supplies

FB- Doug

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3 hours ago, SASSAFRASS said:

Not to thread drift to far but one thing I always wondered when we were in cold places was trying bro catch all the waste heat on the stove stack.  It seems like you could do a copper or ss tube coil up the pipe and make double wall.  This would catch the waste heat and act as a great rise for a thermo syphon loop.

I seem to recall from my old days as a wannabe back to the land type that there's a limit to how much heat you can extract from a flue before the gas flow/draft stops working. Otherwise, no problem.

FKT

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2 hours ago, Fah Kiew Tu said:
5 hours ago, SASSAFRASS said:

Not to thread drift to far but one thing I always wondered when we were in cold places was trying bro catch all the waste heat on the stove stack.  It seems like you could do a copper or ss tube coil up the pipe and make double wall.  This would catch the waste heat and act as a great rise for a thermo syphon loop.

I seem to recall from my old days as a wannabe back to the land type that there's a limit to how much heat you can extract from a flue before the gas flow/draft stops working. Otherwise, no problem.

Yep

There has to be a density difference between the inlet of the furnace and the column above the chimney flue, outside. Of course you can create that difference in pressure with a fan (forced draft), and it doesn't take as much as you might think. But the usual way to create that delta-Density is thru a delta-T, temperature difference. So you cannot extract heat from the flue to the point where it is not enough hotter than the furnace air inlet to maintain the exhaust flow (or draft). Longer flues, or putting bends in the flue, also reduce flow. But clever design like putting a converging nozzle for the furnace inlet and a diverging nozzle for heat exchangers will help.

There are whole textbooks on this subject. Theory is good but there is a bit of art in getting all the proportions just right.

- DSK

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5 hours ago, SASSAFRASS said:

Not to thread drift to far but one thing I always wondered when we were in cold places was trying bro catch all the waste heat on the stove stack.  It seems like you could do a copper or ss tube coil up the pipe and make double wall.  This would catch the waste heat and act as a great rise for a thermo syphon loop.

I’ve got a very simple way to grab waste heat off the stove stack - above the heater - behind it, I attached a 3” duct that terminates in the forward berth with a 12v fan on the end.  (No way I could run a duct to the engine compartment, though, but maybe a water coil could be run through there, as you say, and like Zonker’s idea above [but those coils are installed directly inside the heater]).

C4E482C4-7BEB-4C53-A929-EFF2026E0919.jpeg

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5 hours ago, SASSAFRASS said:

I've had the preheat elements as above they are sort of a in middle thing on benefits.  A retro would require a bit of money and work to make safe and functional.  I would probably spend said money adding a hot water coil to the existing diesel stove and plumbing to the block so the block is always hot.  It's a decent heat sink and once warmed up should hold heat and act as a radiator for the boat as well. As we head back north I may do the same on our boat. I really don't want a circ pump but may have to bite the bullet if I can't get good circulation. We have a radiator up forward that's on the block as well as the hot water heater, the diesel stove was series in before, but has been removed.  Under way it's a decent amount of heat too if you are motoring and don't want to run the diesel stove. 

I’d say if one were doing a decent amount of cold weather cruising, such an arrangement might indeed be useful - heat from diesel cabin heater to heat water coil, piped to engine block area, 12v fan to blow air over heater coil.  Makes engine starting easier and, as you say, the block wound act as a heat sink, helping to keep boat warmer (my boat definitely is a bit colder back there). Just gotta be willing to trade off a bit more complexity for the benefit...reasonable, I’d think, if being used frequently in northern waters.

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12 hours ago, jamhass said:

I wonder:  when did you last refuel?  In many places, there is a difference between summer diesel and winter diesel.  The summer stuff gels pretty quickly at lower temps, and would make starting tough.    

Keel tank - so cold fuel for sure! (refueled last winter).  Certainly  doesn’t help.

 

On 2/20/2021 at 8:04 PM, Zonker said:

I had a diesel heater that was not sold with heating coils. I was told the same thing and just figured "How do they fit them at the factory". I retrofitted. Drill 2 holes, fit the coil, seal the combustion chamber with firestop cement (I think that was the term).

Yup:  https://www.canadiantire.ca/en/pdp/imperial-hi-temp-stove-furnace-cement-710-ml-0642704p.0642704.html?ds_rl=1283573&ds_rl=1283573&gclid=CjwKCAiAg8OBBhA8EiwAlKw3khLgHxxdLAUbWZxjpMcXVPXxNaCNHRFgq1CWtl9ztlsqEaeoxghL0BoCqzoQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds#store=389

There was a little threaded bulkhead fitting (like an electrical conduit into a box) nut to mechanically hold the inlet and outlet tube to the wall of the heater.

 

Both of Evans' suggestions are commonly done with big radial aircraft engines up in the far North. Otherwise the oil is so thick you can't even turn them over.

 

Cool - that’s a good idea.  Why not - you’re right - does indeed seem like it could be done.

Will have to look into the fittings.  Seems like a good way to scavenge heat off the heater that’s already running without a lot of systems complexity - and as Sassafrass notes, the thick metal of the block is decent heat sink, so heating that a bit also helps keep the boat warmer on that area.

But I draw the line there.  No hot, pressure water anywhere else (sinks) !!!  :-)

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57 minutes ago, boatcat65 said:

The old Saabs used to start with a cigarette like "heater" that you lit in the intake to heat the metal.  Always wanted to try one....

Sabb. Not Saab. Different company.

They were very interesting engines. I have a 16HP 2 cylinder one in my shed complete with the controllable pitch prop gear. I keep my eyes open for a 30HP one but no luck so far.

Whoever designed those engines knew what they were doing from a usability POV. Neatest & easiest decompression setup I've ever come across. The controllable pitch prop is a nice simple design too. I've been sort of tempted to reverse-engineer and build a bigger one but too many projects already.

FKT

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On 2/20/2021 at 7:24 PM, estarzinger said:

three options i don't think have been mentioned yet: (1) heat up the motor oil on the stovetop (I suppose you could also warm the coolant the same way but I have only seen the oil done), (2) slide a small camp stove under the engine and let it heat things up for a bit.

I'm not particularly recommending either . . but have seen them used/work.

Hawk's yanmar never needed any special technique/equipment - just the right oil, fuel, strong batteries and good maintenance and she always started - from S Georgia to iceland . . . . and even in greenland when I was solo and not running any sort of cabin heater at all.

Great “real world” data - thanks, Evans.  If nothing special worked for you in higher lats, that’s useful to know for sure.  My inclination isn’t to add more systems, but I do want a reliable and easy cold-starting “system”. Think it generally boils down to heating the engine somehow (simple ambient cabin air by leaving engine compartment open sometimes, or a hot water circuit from diesel heater, or a propane torch for air intake.  Worst case, Sterno or gentle torch heat under oil pan?  Maybe time to spank out for a massively expensive and larger LiFePo bank and run a heat gun :-) :-)

As CrazyHorse suggests below, could well be my starter battery isn’t up to snuff (and it did ran completely flat once last year, I now recall, so I’ve reason to suspect it might be a weak link.  And checking valve clearances.

(Some people even pre-heat propane camp stove propane cylinders in cold mountaineering situations if the gas won’t flow...fairly common, I think, but, somehow, heating up a propane cylinder seems sketchy to me :-) Use white gas stove fuel instead... )

 

 

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A cleanup on a start batty and controls can be a pretty significant change.  Battery as close as possible large cabling and very clean connections.  Have helped a few people out and this was the only fix needed. As Z said above the heat coil is a super easy retro to a diesel heater.  It just a single or double turn of ss tube and some fire stop.  A little SS bracket to brace.  You just need to keep on the out side of the flame so it not getting hot directly. You can get compression to whatever fittings on the ends. Having the hot water loop on the engine is nice and not expensive or complex.  Automotive heater hose and pipe fittings.  Putting a radiator in the loop, also many simple options, gives you a alt heat source.  Motoring is shitty weather that you don't want to run the diesel heater and having a way to get warm and dry stuff out.

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9 hours ago, Fah Kiew Tu said:

Sabb. Not Saab. Different company.

They were very interesting engines. I have a 16HP 2 cylinder one in my shed complete with the controllable pitch prop gear. I keep my eyes open for a 30HP one but no luck so far.

Whoever designed those engines knew what they were doing from a usability POV. Neatest & easiest decompression setup I've ever come across. The controllable pitch prop is a nice simple design too. I've been sort of tempted to reverse-engineer and build a bigger one but too many projects already.

FKT

Those are great engines. Pretty sought after for the old wood boats.  Our friends have one on there Colvin steel schooner.  It lost a push rod and he was able to do a full over haul in the middle of nowhere having a local engine shop make some parts.

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On 2/21/2021 at 8:28 AM, jamhass said:

I wonder:  when did you last refuel?  In many places, there is a difference between summer diesel and winter diesel.  The summer stuff gels pretty quickly at lower temps, and would make starting tough.    

This would certainly apply if you filled up using jerry cans or certain marina fuel docks. At the commercial fuel barge I typically fill up at I'm not sure they change from #2 to #1 or adjust the blend. That being said I added a couple liters of 1-K kerosene to ~ 30L of #2 I had since October and things seemed to start a bit better. I've since diluted it with another 60L of #2 from the barge and it's back to being slightly difficult when cold.

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10 hours ago, Fah Kiew Tu said:

Sabb. Not Saab. Different company.

They were very interesting engines. I have a 16HP 2 cylinder one in my shed complete with the controllable pitch prop gear. I keep my eyes open for a 30HP one but no luck so far.

Whoever designed those engines knew what they were doing from a usability POV. Neatest & easiest decompression setup I've ever come across. The controllable pitch prop is a nice simple design too. I've been sort of tempted to reverse-engineer and build a bigger one but too many projects already.

FKT

The first time I saw one of those I thought "That's what a marine engine should be".

The mechanical equivalent of a stone axe.

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