Understanding Your Trawler's Diesel Fuel

Published: 23rd March 2010
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Us trawler and motor yacht owners enjoy the sound of our diesel engines; like sweet music to our ears. The diesel power plants are the core of any vessel.

But problems can take place with diesel fuel stored in your trawler's fuel tanks, affecting those diesel engines?

It is important to know what diesel fuel is to start with. Diesel fuel is processed from crude oil. In petroleum refineries, petroleum is heated, and different hydrocarbon molecules are removed to create the fuel. Diesel is much heavier than gasoline and evaporates much more slowly. It's frequently referred to as "fuel oil" because of its consistency. Oftentimes forgotten, diesel fuel is an organic matter.

"Provide a diesel engine good fuel and it will last forever and a day." This past saying is less of an exaggeration than you might believe. Repair statistics record that 90% of trawler diesel engine problems result from fouled fuel. The hope of doing away with 9 out of 10 potential failures should put fuel-system upkeep at the top of your list.

The most common signals of fuel contamination in a trawler are clogged fuel filters, and decreased engine performance. Nonetheless, the absence of these conditions does not inevitably suggest that your fuel is not contaminated. In fact, it is likely that every trawler's fuel is somewhat contaminated. Diesel Fuel pick-up tubes, where the engine pulls fuel from the fuel tank, typically sit about three-quarters of an inch off the bottom of your fuel tank floor. This location is intended to protect the engine from contamination that has settled to the bottom of the tank. Therefore, you may never recognize that you have a fuel contamination problem until the fuel is disturbed in some way - such as when you are in rough seas in your trawler.

Water can get into trawler fuel storage tanks in different ways - by condensation of humid outside air, during transport from refineries to distributors, by leakage from faulty fill hoses or vents and by careless handling. Water can create injector nozzle and pump corrosion, microorganism development and fuel filter plugging with materials resulting from the corrosion or microbial growth. Your trawler's fuel/water separators should be checked frequently for water and drained as necessary. In freezing northern winters, ice formation in fuels containing water creates severe fuel line and filter plugging problems. Regularly removing the water is the most effective means of preventing this problem; still, small quantities of alcohol may be used on an emergency basis to preclude fuel line and filter freeze-ups.

Regular diesel fuel filter exchanges and the expensive and time consuming project of cleaning diesel fuel storage tanks have become standard periodic maintenance instead of waiting for a warning signal for diesel engine failure. Fuel filter elements should give you several hundred hours or more and injectors some 15,000 hours. However, since diesel fuel is inherently unstable, solids begin to form and the accumulating tank sludge will eventually clog your diesel fuel filters, maybe ruin your injectors and cause diesel engines to smoke.

Diesel stored in boat tanks for extended periods (6 months and more) requires specific care. This fuel suffers from multiple issues that determine its quality. The presence of free water supplies the medium for microbiological development that result in the formation of slime and acids inducing corrosion of metal surfaces such as storage tanks, pumps, injectors, etc. Left unattended this water layer will trap sludge and become the breeding ground for microbes, fungus, yeast and more. This toxic mix creates acids that compromise the integrity of your tank, lines, pumps, fittings and worse, diesel machinery.

Another key factor leading to fuel deterioration, is mechanical stress created by heat and pressure of pumps. Since most diesel engines return considerable amounts of fuel back to the storage tank, it is simple to see that the engine itself contributes to fuel deterioration.

Microbes in the form of bacterium and fungus are present in all diesel fuels. Long periods of fuel storage can create ideal opportunities for germs to grow in fuel tanks. The first suggestion of microbial contamination is mucous-like collections on fuel-filters. Microbes can only be removed from the fuel system by polishing or by forbidding their occurrences by use of a diesel fuel pesticide such as BioBor. I highly recommend it.

Should you use diesel fuel additives? There are plenty of additives on the market nowadays that are intended to improve the performance and efficiency of diesel fuel. I opt to use Marvel Mystery Oil. Even So, if you use the proper additives, you can achieve peak performance from your fuel every time.

Most trawler fuel systems have primary and secondary filtering systems installed; Racor is a good example. Every time the engine is operated, the diesel fuel is polished by filtering and returning fuel back to the tanks. A separate polishing system can also be installed that filters the fuel independently of the engine operating.

Mike Dickens, the author, is a live aboard boat owner and owner/Broker of Paradise Yachts in Florida USA.

Paradise Yachts offers used quality yachts to customers worldwide.

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