Engines are for everyone - part two

What is it really like to take part in a boat engine maintenance course when you think you don't know much about engines? Debbi from the boating team continues with day two of the course.

Repairing boat engine electrics Repairing boat engine electrics

The second morning saw us getting to grips with cooling systems, from thermostats to water pumps and more. There are differences between keel cooled/dry exhaust systems and raw water and/or wet exhaust systems. The latter would have been a bit confusing to start with if I hadn’t had a bit of experience of a fresh water cooled Perkins engine in a day launch. Fortunately, once again there were lots of parts for us to examine and put together or pull apart, and despite the different systems the principles of how they work are exactly the same.

Finishing off the cooling systems we got to change the fan belts that drive the alternators as well as the water pumps on most engines. After a bit of practice, I finally learnt how to use a ratchet spanner correctly and how far to tighten nuts and adjust belts to the correct tension. Now all I’ve got to do is learn how to do it dangling upside down, head first into my engine bay from my cruiser deck!

Electrics aren’t shocking

The final part of the course covered boat electrics, both the theory and the practical. I was worried about this part of the course, firstly because I was scared of giving myself an electric shock and secondly because maths is not my strongest subject. I needn’t have worried. Twelve volt systems aren’t like 240 volt systems although they do still need to be treated with respect. And the maths doesn’t have to be that difficult unless you want it to be difficult, in which case you’d probably want to get advice from a fully qualified boat electrician.

Making sense of a wiring loom

The final practical session got us using a Multimeter to do voltage drop and continuity checking across the entire wiring loom of the engines in the workshop. It really helped me to think of the batteries like a fuel tank and the wires coming from them like fuel lines. After what seemed like no time at all we were confidently locating and fixing a number of electrical faults. I even stripped back my first wire, crimped on a new connector and reconnected a faulty oil pressure sensor back to the control panel.

Time well spent

By the end of the course I really felt that I’d learnt loads, in fact I wish I’d done it years ago and not been scared of something that on the face of it seemed to be rather technical and complicated. The basic engineering principles that make an engine work aren’t difficult and it really helped having training engines that were easily accessible for us to make our first attempts at servicing and repairs. Engines really are for everyone! I’m now looking forward to servicing my own engine despite the challenge of working in the confined space of my narrowboat engine hole. At least I should have more than half a clue where each part should be located.

Top Tips

  • Carry a tool box on board, at the very least you'll need a couple of adjustable spanners, some screwdrivers with an assortment of different heads and a multimeter. Rachet spanners are very handy as are socket sets.
  • Carry some spares, always have a spare fan belt, some fuses, filters and a teleflex cable in case your gear or throttle cable snap.
  • At the very least, learn how to bleed your engine. Should you be unfortunate enough to run out of fuel at least you''ll be able to get going again once you've filled up.
  • If you don't feel confident about the contents of your engine bay, what the various parts do and where to find them, take a course. It's really helped me.

Last date edited: 24 March 2017

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The boating team blog

Our boating team bring you news of their work across our network, as well as the stories of boaters they meet

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