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Chapter VI. Don’t Know Jack about Diesel Engines? Here’s How to Fix That…


Alright, you want to buy a sailboat? Great, now let’s talk diesel.

The engine is the boat’s most expensive piece of equipment, so you’ll want some diesel knowledge under your belt before searching for your boat.

Once you become a boat owner, you’ll need to find an experienced diesel mechanic. Every boatyard will know one, but obviously it’d be good to know how to do regular maintenance and fix some things yourself. Paying someone to do every little thing will quickly empty your bank account. Further, a foundation in diesel maintenance will also enable you to ask meaningful questions and understand your mechanic’s actions. I’ve had more than a few mechanics attempt unnecessary repairs to pad out their bill, and on other occasions I caught something the mechanic innocently missed.

The more familiar you become with diesel engines, the better off you’ll be, and not just financially. You’ll find this especially important if you’re far from any mechanic and the engine suddenly stops…

Here are a few resources to help you get acclimated:

The Diesel Bible

We discussed Nigel Calder’s Boatowners Mechanical and Electrical Manual in Chapter II. Now take a look at one of his other books –  Marine Diesel Engines: Maintenance, Troubleshooting, and Repair. It’s the marine diesel bible. Buy it. Read it. Profit.

Service Manuals and Parts Catalogs

Next, and highly important, you’ll need the engine’s service manual and parts catalog to determine when regular maintenance is required and which replacement parts are right for your motor. Having the correct part number when you call your supplier will save time and avoid confusion.

Online Learning

Ontario’s Fanshawe School of Transportation Technology has a very educational YouTube channel. While not specifically geared toward marine engines you’ll find the principles taught are applicable to any diesel. Most of the YouTube videos I found on marine diesels were presented by amateurs. This is a really great resource as it’s taught by a professional instructor.

The American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) have some helpful diesel and electrical instructional videos on their website – FREE!!


After examining the above resources, you might think of taking a marine diesel class. Unfortunately, Mack Boring (Yanmar) recently discontinued their invaluable service classes. This means you’ll need to seek out options at your local community college or travel to the organizations below for specialized marine diesel workshops:

Annapolis School of Seamanship – Maryland
Landfall Navigation – Connecticut
Wooden Boat School – Maine

My Favorite Diesel Parts Supplier

Niemiec Marine in New Bedford, Massachusetts maintains a well-stocked warehouse and has always had the parts I needed for my diesel. They’re a friendly bunch and ship fast. Their excellent site makes it easy to find parts for your engine as well as fuel filters, pumps, etc . If you live in the NYC tri-state area I’ve found that you can typically expect your parts to arrive next day with regular ground shipping as long as your order before noon.

TIP: Assure that your motor mounts are tight. Diesels vibrate like crazy, and loose motor mounts will shake things loose and cause fuel lines to admit air. Yours truly replaced his entire fuel line, chasing inexplicable leaks until realizing the loose motor mounts were shaking all the new (and expensive) parts loose. I replaced everything from the secondary fuel filter back to the tank, and went so far as to pull the fuel tank, spending hundreds of dollars and countless man-hours replacing perfectly good parts – for no reason. Groan.

Alright, I hope that you found this informative. Next at, we’ll look at engine options for smaller sailboats and dinghies in Chapter VI-A. Outboards and The Solar Option.


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