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Lubricating oil fulﬁls several functions:
• it lubricates the working parts of the engine to reduce
friction and wear;
• it cools parts of the engine that can’t be reached by
the water-cooling system;
• additives in the oil reduce the effects of corrosion by
the byproducts of combustion.
The oil needs to be ‘sticky’ enough to cling to the
parts requiring lubrication when the engine is not
running, so that when it starts, there is already some
protection before the circulating oil reaches that spot.
This requirement is the opposite to that requiring the
oil to ﬂow easily so that it reaches its destination
The oil needs to be ‘thin’ when it’s cold, so that it will
ﬂow easily and not create too high a pressure, but
‘thick’ when it’s hot, so that it will still ﬂow easily but
not allow the pressure to fall to too low a value. This is
achieved by using a multi-grade oil, indicated by hav-
ing two viscosities, such as 10W40, indicating that it
acts as if it were 10 grade when cold but 40 grade
The oil needs to resist being squeezed out of where
it’s needed by high-contact forces between two parts,
and this is where the additives play a big part.
From the oil ﬁlter, the oil passes to the oil gallery from
where it is distributed to those parts requiring it. Some
will ﬂow under pressure by pipes situated within and
outside the engine casing. Some will pass though oil-
ways drilled in various components to reach their tar-
get. Oil sprays are used to lubricate and cool parts
inaccessible to the former, such as pistons, cylinder
walls and valve gear. Oil pressure is also used to oper-
ate timing chain tensioners where ﬁtted.
Where components need to be cooled, oil is sprayed
onto surfaces, such as the inside of the hollow pis-
ton, to take away the heat of combustion. As com-
bustion temperatures can be close to 1000 C, the
inside of the piston gets very hot and so does the
cylinder wall, so the oil must not lose its lubricating
properties under these conditions. The conditions
are even more severe when it comes to cooling a
One of the byproducts of combustion is sulphurous
acid. At normal engine running temperatures this is
volatile and most of it will ‘boil off’ before contaminating
the lubricating oil. If the sulphurous acid doesn’t reach
sufﬁcient temperature, or cools, it becomes sulphuric
acid and will then contaminate the oil, leading to
signiﬁcant corrosion within the engine.
Good diesel engine lubricating oil will have corrosion
inhibitors incorporated. These inhibitors will be used
up in doing their job, and the cooler the engine is
run, the more quickly they will be exhausted. Light, or
infrequent, engine use will require the oil to be changed
more frequently than speciﬁed in the handbook.
The oil speciﬁcation
Diesel engine lubricating oil is normally listed under
the API (American Petroleum Industry) system in the
form of API xx-yWzz.
• xx indicates the speciﬁcation, especially of the
additives, according to the type of engine and
use. Grade CC is for normally aspirated, light-duty
engines and CF is for hard-worked turbo-charged
engines. It doesn’t beneﬁt the engine to use a higher
grade than speciﬁed.
• yWzz indicates the viscosity of a multi-grade oil,
such as 10W40. This is chosen according to the
ambient temperature of the air where the engine
will be used. There is often a temperature table in
the engine handbook indicating the viscosity you
Some oils are ‘synthetic’, which, in automotive use,
can be beneﬁcial, if expensive. New engines are
normally ﬁlled with ‘running-in’ oil and this needs
to be changed at around 50 hours’ running. The
formulation of synthetic oil reduces friction but
doesn’t aid running-in, in fact it hinders it. As most
marine diesel engines in leisure use rarely become
fully run-in, synthetic oil isn’t recommended by most
marine engine manufacturers. When challenged by
the legal department of a major petroleum compa-
ny about this statement given in answer to a PBO
reader’s query, it all went very quiet when I asked
for conﬁrmation that no harm would result from its
use in the leisure environment. You can draw your
What lubricating oil should you use?
The engine handbook will specify the type of oil
needed. If the engine is not a current model, the oil
speciﬁed may not be obtainable. In this case use the
closest — if a ‘CC’ oil was speciﬁed but only CD or
above is available, use CD. Older engines may spec-
ify single-grade viscosity, such as 30 grade. No harm
will result from using a multi-grade; in this case, a
10W30 will be ﬁne, though you may get a ﬂickering
oil warning light at idle rpm when the engine is hot
How often should the oil be changed?
Again, the handbook will specify oil change inter-
vals, which should not be exceeded. An annual oil
change should be the minimum, even if the engine
hours achieved have been low. The best time for an
annual oil change is just before you lay the boat up
for the winter, as then oil with fresh anti-corrosion
additives will be in place for the period the boat is
out of use.
Changing the oil
Engine oil change
1. Most people recommend that the engine should
be run to warm up the oil, making its extraction
2. Then let the engine stand for 10 minutes to allow
the oil to settle.
3. Remove the dip-stick and insert the tube of the
oil extraction pump, trying to get it as close to the
bottom as possible.
4. Pump out the oil.
5. Pour the required quantity of new oil into the oil
ﬁller. (This won’t be contaminated by the dirty oil
still contained in the old ﬁlter, but will give time for
the oil to reach the sump).
6. Using a suitable wrench, remove the old oil ﬁlter,
trying to contain the spilled oil.
7. Fit a new ﬁlter, ﬁrst lubricating the oil seal,
tightening as indicated on the instructions printed
on the ﬁlter.
8. Check the oil level. (As the ﬁlter doesn’t yet con-
tain any oil it may over-read).
9. Run the engine for a couple of minutes to check
for leaks. If you have a mechanical ‘stop’ control,
keep it pulled until the oil pressure light goes out,
to allow oil pressure to build before the engine
10. Wait 10 minutes, check the oil level and top up if
Gearbox oil change
Oil normally has to be removed by a pump, through
the dip-stick hole.
Reﬁll with oil as speciﬁed — it may be the same
speciﬁcation as used in the engine or it may be
completely different — sometimes the gearbox will
have its own separate handbook.
For sail drive legs and outdrives, the boat will have
to be out of the water to change the oil, as oil is
drained from the bottom of the leg. However, some
modern sail drive legs can have their oil changed
whilst still in the water by pressurising the leg. You
will need to look at your handbook to see how it’s
done on your speciﬁc leg.
The air system is deceptively simple, but any
defects can have large repercussions. It com-
• the air entering the engine compartment;
• the air supply via the air intake;
• the exhaust system.
In effect the diesel engine is a large and efficient
air pump and is capable of a large suction at the
air intake. A 30 hp diesel engine running at 3000
rpm will consume around 1000 litres of air per min-
ute, even when it is developing little power. That’s
a box of air 1 metre 1 metre 1 metre every
Many boat builders install a 10 cm diameter pipe to
supply air to the engine compartment, and the engine
will suck through this pipe air at a velocity of around 4
metres per second without any help from the small fan
that some boat builders seem to ﬁt. Other boat build-
ers supply no dedicated air supply with no detrimental
effect. Engines of high-powered motor cruisers need
large air intakes.
Before the air enters the engine to support combustion,
it is used to cool the engine casing. Something like
25% of the cooling requirement is met in this way. It’s
important that the air supplied is able to ﬂow around
the engine casing prior to being consumed, so any
dedicated air supply should not be directed at the
engine air intake. Rather, it should be directed at the
THE AIR SYSTEM
oil sump. Where there’s no dedicated air supply, the
air is sucked in from many directions and cools the
engine just as efﬁciently, provided that the engine is
If the air supply is insufﬁcient to support combustion,
black smoke will be seen in the exhaust and this will
cease if an engine access hatch is opened. Should
this occur, then a better air supply must be arranged.
Air supply can be diminished if the exhaust is partly
blocked, because if there’s no room to let the air out, it
can’t get in. Partial blockage can occur due to a build
up of soot or to delaminating and softening of the pipe.
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