Narrowboat Problem... the engine won't start
Owning a narrow boat as a rule brings mainly, enjoyment
and a lot of fun. But it also has its down side. Things can, and do go wrong from
time to time, but with some knowledge and a bit of experience you can get over
most problems yourself.
One problem you may encounter is “The engine won’t start” so let’s look at this problem, highlight
the possible causes, give you the solution and provide you with some knowledge so hopefully it doesn’t
happen again in the future.
1. The engine makes
no attempt to turn over; it may be a faulty starter motor solenoid, starter
motor or no electrical supply to the solenoid. The latter can be checked with a
multimeter. If a click is heard from the starter motor, but it doesn’t engage
with the flywheel it may be a faulty gear mechanism, similarly if the starter
motor can be heard rotating but the engine doesn’t turn over. If the batteries
are completely flat, it will show up on the battery condition monitor.
2. The engine
turns over slowly but won’t fire; probably a low battery, confirm this by
using a battery condition monitor. It could also be caused by general damp or a
faulty alternator. Or lastly it could possibly be a discharged battery.
3. The engine
turns over at normal speed but won’t fire; could be that the glow plugs are
not energised for long enough or a failure of one or more of the glow plugs or
their power supply, this can be checked with a multimeter.
4. It could also
be a fuel problem; (no fuel, blocked filter, air lock in fuel system). The
general opinion here is, if a diesel engine has a correctly timed fuel supply
to the injectors and it’s heated by either the glow plugs or residual heat in
the cylinders, it will fire.
First allow at least ten seconds for the diesel plugs to
heat up before starting in neutral with
For a damp engine use a dry cloth over any damp surfaces
then spray area with WD-40. The recurring problem is more likely to be caused
by a alternator, faulty leads, plugs etc. which may need replacing. Once
started make sure the battery gets a full charge, leaving it to run, in gear
and under load, until the battery condition monitor shows a full charge.
Check battery charge levels with a multimeter.
meter across the battery terminals and take an immediate reading. If the
reading is more than 12 volts the battery is probably okay, but if it is less the
battery may be undercharged.
If domestic batteries are discharged but starter battery
is OK switch to starter and start engine. Then switch to "charge
both" with engine running until batteries recover. If they do not recharge
and hold their charge, replace ASAP.
If all batteries are discharged try to get a start from
another boat by connecting their battery to yours with heavy duty jump start
If mains supply is available use a mains battery starter.
To Avoid In The Future
Install a permanent battery level indicator and check this
- Always switch between starter battery and domestic
batteries, charging both together but using the starter battery only for
starting the engine.
- Keep the engine compartment dry and well vented.
- Clear the drains.
- Clear the bilges with a pump.
- Wipe out the engine compartment to limit condensation.
- Start the engine from time to time throughout the winter
season and leave under load in gear for a while to recharge the batteries.