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Entries in diesel (6)


ten days to go: excellent time to sawzall the fuel tank

Yes in deed, the 36 year old fuel tank started leaking a few days ago. What great timing! I mean, I was so bored with nothing to do before we left and I'm really excited that the boat gods decided to give me this project.

Even better is that the steel tank can't really be removed, so instead I got to empty it today and then spend hours with my Sawzall ripping this to shreds. The smell is horrible and probably cancerous, the work dangerous, and at best we'll be left with a fuel tank that's maybe 1/4 of the original size.

In all honesty, it's nice that this happened before we left for Mexico. This job, however, sucks. Thanks to Overmyhead who is actually on a Union Polaris 36 and went through the same problem a few months ago. He saved me some time and gave me the pro tips on how to best cut the steel.

The boat is fairly ripped up and will be until I can finish all of this tomorrow. Of course I have to be at work 8am tomorrow, but such is life. 

I'd make some reference to "when it rains, it pours", but that's a little too on the nose since it's going to rain for the next couple of days as well. 


no-spill diesel fueling with the safety siphon

It only took me five years of spilling diesel on the decks to finally fall in love with the Safety Siphon. For under $10 I got two of them from Amazon. One for water, and one for fuel. Spilling a few cups of fresh water on the deck isn't the end of the world, but a diesel spill can be a real pain in the neck. It stinks, it stains, and it's not like the stuff is free.

Pop the Safety Siphon in, jiggle it a few times, and the siphon starts. It's just that easy. You can sit there and watch it pour, rather than attempt to man handle the damn jerry jugs like a display of performance art.


diesel microbes doing their thing

Gross. Click to enlarge.Water ends up in a diesel tank, and up to 27 different types of bacteria can live in the barrier between the two fluids, essentially "eating" the diesel. As much as that grosses me out, I have to admit that's some pretty hardcore bacteria. I mean really, could you eat diesel?

Last year I cleaned out the tank (act one, act two) and although there are lapses in maintenance overall I'd say I keep the fuel system pretty clean.

On my twin Racor setup one of the filters was getting a lot of use and the other essentially sat idle for a year with a bit of water at the bottom. I'm not sure how many of the 27 strains of bacteria grew in that bowl, but you can see for yourself in the picture below that the gunk was pretty foul. 

Beyond cleaning your tank, there's a lot of debate about how much the "keep your tank full" wisdom really matters. Having less fuel doesn't allow more water to condense; the water is in there or it isn't. Regardless, a good biocide is in the cards. 

The only biocide that Yanmar recommends is Killem FPPF, I'm assuming because it acts in the water area and not the fuel. So if you have a water separating filter (like Racors), the biocide itself should never get into the engine. 

While I'm on my soap box, let me bash "fuel polishing". I aimed a garden hose full blast at the crud in the bowl there (which is very similar to what's on the bottom of most diesel tanks), and maybe 90% of it came off. And that's full blast with a garden hose. Fuel polishing achieves nothing like that type of pressure or agitation, and as such will even get worse results.

It's simple: if you have crap in your tanks you need to clean them out. If you clean them, you don't need to polish your fuel. And polishing your fuel won't clean your tanks. The logic is unfailing no matter how much anyone out there wants to convince themselves why they don't need to potentially cut access ports in their tanks and clean them out. 


the oil filter hierarchy (protip: buy purolator pureone)

PureOne oil filter by Purolator. Click to enlarge.As a disclaimer, I offer absolutely no evidence to back up the opinions I'm about to share. However, I've been changing my own oil since I was 16 on a variety of cars, boats, motorcycles, and fixed engines. There are existing studies, I've done a pile of research of my own, and invite you to do your own. Here's what I've found, feel free to disagree.

We'll start with the primer that there is the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) option. Rebel Heart is powered by a Yanmar 4JH2E engine, and Yanmar of course offers it's own oil filter, which is the one that shipped out when the engine was new. 

Oil filters tend to be one of the products that oil filter companies build better (and cheaper) than engine companies, and there are three big players.

The common man's filter: Fram. Our boat takes a a PH3593A, which comes in around $8 or so. Fram makes a lot of oil filters, and it's likely that you have one installed right now on your car or boat. Sadly, there are many stories of Fram filters bursting and their quality control in general is fairly crap. Many people have years of success with Fram, but in a lot of independent examinations they end up on the bottom of the quality charts.

Fram oil filter. Click to enlarge.

Making a huge jump up the quality scale from Fram is Wix, and interestingly enough the cost is roughly the same. Our Yanmar takes a 51334, which comes in at roughly the same cost as the Fram. 

Wix patented the first spin on filters in 1954, and they offer a great informational piece on their website regarding the build and makeup of an oil filter

At the top end of the filters rests the Purolator models. Taking it a step further, Purolator also has the PureONE models boasting a 99.9% filtration quality and numerous other construction quality improvements. And at least for us (running a L14459) the cost is actually a couple of dollars less than the comparable Wix and Fram models. 

According to Yanmar, "... the quality and cleanliness of lubrication oil is the single most important contributor to a healthy and long running diesel engine."

Reading about bursting Fram filters and a desire to save yourself a few bucks should point you towards the Wix or Purolator models. You'll probably be fine running Fram for your entire life, but why chance it? If you're not sure where to start next, go to the websites for Wix and Purolator. They have "matching competitor product" searching, where you can enter your Fram part number to come up with their own.


(final?) thoughts on cleaning out the diesel tank

Just to orient my reader a bit, here's the link to the first blog post concerning this, and here's the link to the forum post I made as well. Basically, here's what I've learned about this whole thing:


  • Keep it simple. I knew I needed to clean my tank, so I let it get low. It's a lot easier to deal with 15 gallons of fuel than 115. 
  • Fuel polishing alone will never be able to get close to what a physical cleaning can do. Don't be lazy.
  • I emptied my tank with a sports bottle and my oil pump system. All manual. It got the job done quickly, safely, and cheaply.
  • Wear an organic respirator the whole time, as well as nitrile gloves. Glasses when pouring.
  • You don't need to eat out of it. Remember the goal is simply to make it so that you can have a steady flow of clean fuel. If you missed a 3"x3" section of goo, you're fine. There are still filters in line. Don't make "perfect" be the enemy of "done". You'll have to clean it again no matter how good of a job you did.
  • For Yanmars, there's only one approved fuel additive. It's water (not diesel) soluble, so your fuel filters won't let it (and the garbage it kills) into your engine.

On a philosophical note, this is another one of those jobs that I thought was going to be a lot harder than it was. I messed a few things up, and I'm sure I'll see some weeping where my RTV gaskets get shotty. But hey, the first time you do anything more complicated than a ham sandwich you're probably going to make some mistakes. 

Total money spent was about $7 for the RTV gasket material, and I suppose $1 or so in paper towels. Maybe another couple bucks in nitrile gloves and a buck of use of my vapor cartridges. So what, $10 or so? 

I learned what's inside my tank, I know how it works, and there's one less mysterious, spooky, and unknown aspect of our floating world.



cleaned out the diesel tank today

suited up to partyToday was a long time coming. Lurking in most boats are a few tanks, one of which is the ship's diesel. Diesel, unlike gasoline, is a great environment for bacteria and fungi. In fact, over 27 different strains of bacteria can comfortably live in your diesel tank. Rest assured, they are. Slowly but surely colonizing your tank, turning it into their own little private aquarium of sorts. All you're missing is some koi fish.

This is in addition to the little chunks of garbage that might fall in during fill ups.

And last but not least you have water in there. Remember that oil floats on water (for the most part), so that means the water will be down on the bottom of the tank, underneath your diesel. And all kinds of things can grow in an airless anaerobic state.

There's a thread about the whole thing over on thekeel for those interested mariners.

It's still opened up and looking gnarly, so tomorrow I need to reseat the inspection ports and put everything back to normal. Ever since I was a kid I found it a lot easier to take things apart then to put them back together again. 

And if you're asking why I decided to spend a day with my arm jammed in a fuel tank scooping out goo, we're shooting to head up into the Channel Islands in a month and need to get ship shape!