When it comes to a large-scale investment, such as a marine diesel engine, you need to carefully consider your options to ensure you choose the right one. You need to keep your requirements and budget in mind and understand the differences in horsepower, engine size and propulsion between various engines.
Choosing the right marine diesel engine can be challenging, but at Diesel Pro Power, we simplify the process. We stock top-tier, reliable marine diesel engine parts as well as other boat parts, and our site is designed to make finding the right parts easier than ever. To make it the process even easier for you, we’ve created this guide on how to choose a diesel engine for marine applications.
Why Weighing Your Options Matters
Instead of leaping into a massive purchase, your best bet is to investigate and research your available options. Being aware of proper diesel engine information can ensure you make the optimal investment and the right choice for your specific boat or yacht.
Will the existing options meet your needs and expectations? To see what’s available on the market, you will need to manage some research. You can keep it simple by browsing various online vendors and manufacturers, magazines, newspapers, TV ads, etc. You can read forums and surveys that describe which makes and models are best for particular applications. Another simple step you can follow includes making a list.
Write down what you need and what you want out of your marine diesel engine. You can update and revise it as you learn more about your options. From there, break it down into the essentials — what you need the engine to have for basic operation and a wish list for characteristics you’d like to have. Are you looking for new or used diesel engines? How much horsepower does your vessel necessitate?
It can also be helpful to research recent trends and projects for the marine diesel engine market. Doing so can give your insight into what to expect as you compare diesel engines. For example, according to Global Market Insights, Inc., high-speed engines made up more than 20% of the marine diesel engine market in 2016, and the total market for marine diesel engines is predicted to grow at more than 5% and exceed $7 billion by 2024.
As you compare marine diesel engines, focus on features, price and quality. Start by eliminating engines with features that don’t match your expectations. Set up criteria and drop anything that doesn’t fit, then fine-tune the list to match your exact needs. Creating a spreadsheet can help you stay organized.
Next, define a price or price range that you’re comfortable spending and cross off everything that doesn’t conform to the budget. Be flexible, however, because having a range that you can work with is better than a set price. Then, listen to the experts. They know which engines are ideal for particular applications and have insights on industry trends and specific makes and models.
Finally, balance out the features, price and quality, remembering to prioritize quality over price. While you may be on a budget, investing in a high-quality engine will support you in the long-run. Pair your three researched elements with reviews and expert advice, then narrow down the engine to one or two options.
Determine What You’re Looking For
Before you buy a new marine diesel engine, evaluate the products you’re considering in more detail. Think about aspects such as the desired level of power, the different power options and the applications for which you’ll use the engine.
One crucial factor is how much power your vessel needs. The professionals at Diesel Pro Power can help you determine this. It can also be helpful to run a sea-trial with the available models. Sea-trials can help you get a feel for what you require. Understanding the power-to-weight ratio of a diesel engine is also crucial because a 25 to 50 HP variance can have a massive impact on performance.
Once you determine the horsepower you need, the weight of the engine is the next step. Other considerations include the physical dimensions of the engine as well as the motor mount footprint. If you’re looking to invest in an engine that doesn’t match the OEM, you will want to think about whether you will have access to parts like filters and water pump impellers.
Is your engine for applications like a cruise or cargo ship? Or for a yacht or fishing boat? Are you in need of a two or four-stroke trunk piston engine or a two or four-stroke cylinder engine? Asking yourself these questions will help you make the right decision.
Propulsion Systems to Take Into Consideration
There are numerous types of propulsion systems for marine diesel engines, including waterjet, pod and propeller.
Waterjet propulsion: A waterjet system has a ducted pump or propeller that forms a jet of water by forcing the liquid through a nozzle.
Pod propulsion: Mounted to a steerable pod that’s attached to the hull, a pod propulsion structure has a pitch propeller that’s linked to the engine through a mechanical link or diesel-electric link.
Propeller system: A propeller system is a fan system that converts rotational motion into thrust.
A waterjet propulsion system is ideal for ski-sport boats, picnic boats, personal watercraft and other vessels that operate in shallow waters. With this system, the engine draws in water through the bottom of the boat. The pump sucks it up and forces it out at high speeds through a nozzle located at the stern. Several benefits of this option include:
- Excellent maneuverability
- Higher speeds
- Less chance of obstructing lobster and fishing pits
- Shallow water operation
- Smooth rides
When using waterjet propulsion, you steer by changing the direction of the water stream as it leaves the jet unit. The boat will move in the direction opposite of where you point the stream.
Pod systems are perfect for large cruisers, semi-displacement trawler yachts, tugboats and cruise ships. Boats that use pod drivers have no rudders, and the pods rotate to steer the boat. The pods connect to the inboard engine and project down the hull, so there is no inefficient shaft angle. Advantages include:
- Impressive fuel efficiency
- Increased maneuverability when operating in tight spaces
- More space below the boat
A propeller system has a fan that transmits power via a conversion from rotational motion to thrust. The pressure difference occurs between the forward and rear surfaces of the blades, accelerating the water. Many propeller variations exist, including the twin, nozzle-style, controllable-pitch and contra-rotating systems. Smaller vessels may have one propeller while larger ones may have up to four or more.
You’ll want to consider the weight and physical dimension of the system to find which propulsion device matches your needs. You can narrow down your system choices by thinking about fuel economy, power, availability of parts and services, application and warranties.
Determine Your Ideal Diesel Engine Size
Marine diesel engines are not one-size-fits-all. You will need to spend a significant amount of time choosing the right engine size for your boat or yacht. The engine you decide to buy should match the horsepower needs of your vessel.
Choosing the right engine size also relates to the torque and speed of the system. Looking at factors such as fuel efficiency, use of the boat, horsepower-to-weight ratio, the number of people on the boat and the manufacturer’s limits will also help you select the right dimensions. Each boat should have a capacity plate explaining the appropriate HP and total weight limit. If you go over the limits, you can tip your boat, which is dangerous and can damage your vessel.
Too large or too small of an engine compared to the size of the boat can shorten the engine’s life. Depending on how much one over or under-sizes an engine impacts how severely its lifespan will be affected.
Weigh Your Pricing Options
As mentioned earlier, it’s good practice to establish a budget for how much you can spend on a new marine engine. Diesel engines are available in a variety of price points that increase or decrease depending on the size, horsepower, propulsion system and other features of the engine. It’s essential to create a budget and find a solution that aligns with your finances.
Budget-related elements you should consider include:
Does your purchase include a warranty?
Are you paying for an extended warranty?
Was the machine load tested before buying?
Did you request better materials or make customized alterations?
What are your insurance costs?
During the buying process, some people may get ahead of themselves and justify that for a little bit more money, they can get more HP. While this is often true, it would be wasted energy and money because their particular vessel may not be able to handle it. In the end, their yacht or boat will simply consume more fuel. Stick to your budget to find the right solution for you.
Other Key Details to Take Into Consideration
It’s true — there are even more elements to think about. Diesel Pro Power is here to help you learn more about the durability, customization, torque and acceleration of marine engines. Having information about these other specs and design features can help you when comparing your options.
For example, the durability of a diesel engine often relates to the brand, materials and even price. If you are operating your vessel in harsh environments at high speeds, durability will be a major factor. Yet, stringent durability specs may not affect you as much if you take your boat out for the occasional Sunday cruise. Customization is where having a budget is key. You can make changes to any engine to fit your precise needs.
You need to consider the torque rating of an engine in addition to its horsepower. Horsepower is the measure of torque over a period. Engines that generate torque at lower RPMs are better for marine applications. Large engines that produce high HP at low RPMs will provide more torque. Other features to consider are the piston, crankshaft, bedplate, head and liner.
You can also choose between a two-stroke and four-stroke engine. A two-stroke is most common for vessels where the engine creates propulsion and turning of the propellers, while a four-stroke is often used to provide auxiliary power to high-speed types of diesel engines.
As a final thought to ponder before making your decision, consider emission standards. They define the legal requirement of air pollutants allowed per vessel. The rules put a limit on the air pollutants that can come from specific engines. For marine engines, there are two types of emission standards — International Maritime Organization, IMO, and United States Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, marine engine regulations.
Today, most marine diesel engines have computerized and electronically controlled engines that can help operators keep up with performance and operation requirements while conforming to EPA emission standards.
When to Replace Your Old Engine
If you maintain your marine diesel engine properly, it can last hundreds of trips and thousands of hours on the water. But like all things in life, there will come a time when you need to replace your vessel’s engine with a new one.
Maintenance tips to increase the lifespan of your engine include:
- Using high-quality, clean diesel fuel of the correct type
- Performing regular oil changes
- Avoiding engine overheating
- Clearing the fuel-water separator filters of sediment according to the maintenance manual
- Putting in fuel additives and treatments when appropriate to protect the engine from bacteria and corrosion
- Not letting your fuel sit in the tank for extended periods
- Investing in additional filtration, monitoring and conditioning equipment to extend the life of the engine’s fuel system
According to BP, normal storage life of diesel fuel is about 12 months at a regulated temperature of 68 degrees F. It will last six to 12 months in temperatures higher than 86 degrees F.
Now, we can get into the technical part of knowing when to repair, rebuild or remanufacture a diesel engine.
Beyond regular maintenance, repairing your engine is the simplest way to keep it running optimally. Boat repairs can involve everything from replacing the alternator and water pump to fixing an oil leak and replacing a corroded exhaust. Repairs are often worth the expense to keep your marine engine running, but once the engine starts using excessive amounts of fuel and oil, it may be time to look to rebuilding or replacing.
Rebuilding a marine engine means you have to take it out of the vessel to make substantial replacements. When something goes wrong, you will need to break down the engine, make repairs, clean every component and put it back together.
Remanufacturing is the step before investing in a new engine. It involves taking it to a manufacturer where it will get torn apart, cleaned, inspected and reassembled to stringent factory specifications. The professionals will often use new parts, but when you receive the remanufactured engine, you will get a “long block.”
A long block marine engine contains the engine block, cam, pistons, crankshaft and cylinder head. However, all the other parts — like the intake manifolds, starts, fuel-supply system, etc. — are either taken from the old engine or bought new.
In some cases, rebuilding and remanufacturing don’t make sense, and it’s better to replace the entire marine engine. Rebuilding often involves an extraneous amount of labor and isn’t worth the time and money. If you’re able to conduct an engine rebuild on a decent budget, then it can be a positive way to keep your engine intact.
If, after many repairs and a possible rebuild, your engine still isn’t working right, you should replace it.