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Starting your engine on "dead" batteries.

capta

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Jun 4, 2009
4,133
Pearson 530 Admiralty Bay, Bequia SVG
I was going through a locker on the boat full of "stuff" today, trying to clean out some of that junk we boaters collect as we go through life, and I found four US dimes (a 10 cent piece for those unfamiliar with the term dime), neatly wrapped and shiny new.
For those of you who do not have a compression release on your diesels (propulsion or genset) here is an old engineer's trick that may one day save your bacon.
When you find yourself with "dead" batteries, you should stop cranking immediately. Next, take off the valve cover and insert one thin dime (and only a dime if you do not want the possibility that the pistons will hit the valves) between the rocker arm and the exhaust valve stem. This will essentially release all compression and what power is left in your batteries should be able to turn the engine over fairly easily.
As the engine turns over, pull out one dime (in the proper firing order) using needle nose pliers and she should begin to run on that one cylinder, perhaps still requiring a bit of help from the starter. As you continue to remove dimes in the correct firing order, your engine should run on 2 or 3 cylinders well enough to get all the dimes out and be running on all cylinders.
Without a valve cover there is obviously going to be quite a bit of oil squirting out, but what's a bit of clean up compared to what could happen if you can't get your engine started?
I hope this will help at least one of you out one day.
 
Jan 19, 2010
9,054
Hunter 26 Charleston
....
I hope this will help at least one of you out one day.
So... you hope one of us is stranded with dead batteries some day? :biggrin: Just kidding! Thnx for the tip. I have a crank start O.B. but I like learning about diesels.
 

PaulK

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Dec 1, 2009
641
Tillotson Pearson J/36 Southport, CT
“Dead battery syndrome” caught up with us about a day out of Tortola, headed to Bermuda. The other watch thought that the compass light was getting dim, so switched to “both”, and when the light went out, woke up the captain. Don’t think forty cents of salvation would have helped us with batteries THAT dead. Hand cranking was a non-starter too. We ended up having to tack up the channel to Hamilton.
 
Last edited:
Nov 8, 2007
1,365
Hunter 27_75-84 Sandusky Harbor Marina, Ohio
So, I could carry a few dimes (actually 1 for our 1 gm10) or...
Wait a minute, we gave sails!
 
Dec 25, 2000
4,675
Hunter Passage 42 Shelter Bay, WA
Jumper cables that I kept on board for just such an occasion worked for me when the starter battery died. Jumped from the house bank.
 
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Likes: LloydB

dLj

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Mar 23, 2017
1,358
Hunter 30 Snug Harbor, Lake Champlain
I like the old diesels that can be hand-cranked... I know, I'm old and cranky... :huh:

True story of grit and determination... A good buddy of mine was sailing across the pond and had had a bear of a trip coming out of Florida heading to Europe. My buddy had picked up a German guy in Florida to help on the trip. The two of them could hardly converse as the German spoke English and German, my buddy spoke Basque and Spanish, and very little English. But they worked things out. They had gotten nipped by the edge of a hurricane and had spent several days rolling over and just getting the crap beat out of them. Finally as they were approaching the Azores, within visible sight, they hit a complete calm. Now the engine was an old volvo with hand crack, didn't need the dimes, had the decompression lever. But, it had gotten a bit whacked in the trip and in order to start the engine, you had put a burning cloth up to the air intake to get it to fire. So as one might imagine, there was room for error... Indeed, they were working as a team to start the engine as both really wanted to get to land and no way they wanted to sit on that boat for several days looking at the islands from a distance waiting for wind to pick up. Well, the holder of burning cloth had the cloth slip out of his hands and get sucked into the engine. They both looked at each other, and the German just grabbed the tool box, tore the whole top end of the engine apart, got the cloth out of the cylinder, put it back together, and they got that engine started and motored in...

Sorry, I digress, I like the dimes idea...But having a crank to start her up is a nice option, in my opinion anyway...

dj
 
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Likes: capta
Jan 5, 2017
1,947
Beneteau First 38 Lyall Harbour Saturna Island
I've been told(never tried it myself) that you can wire your batteries in series and try it with 24 volts.(2 dead batteries at 10 volts won't hurt the starter) Just a thought.
 
  • Helpful
Likes: LloydB
Jun 15, 2012
542
Hunter 50 AC Greenport, NY
That's a great tip with the dimes. I think it's properly a lot easier to just keep a $60 portable jump starter on board. Last year my 2019 automobile would not start. I was amazed that when I called for free roadside assistance, they showed up with only a lunch box sized jump starter. As the battery was totally dead, I never thought it would work. It did get the car started.
 
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Likes: LloydB
Jan 1, 2006
5,374
Slickcraft 26 Greenport, NY
My Pacifica for some reason used to kill batteries. Jumping from my wife's car was not an option - unless I wanted to be responsible for every electric gremlin for the remaining life of her car. I bought one of the li ion chargers. It started the car easily. Now it sits under my Jeep front seat and it can charge your cell phone(s).
I like Capta's trick but I wouldn't know the firing order or where to put the dimes but I'll file it away.
 

MitchM

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Jan 20, 2005
897
Nauticat 321 pilothouse 32 Erie PA
i carry a PEAK portable battery jump unit. AAA and tow companies use it; it has enough power to start a diesel. i've jumpstarted a dozen people's cars and boats w it.
 
May 24, 2004
6,592
CC 30 South Florida
Redundancy in battery management is the key. Alternate use of banks, anticipate usage and plan for recharging. In long trips, carry a spare battery or a power pack. Don't forget that Tow Insurance includes "jumping" service.
 

JerryA

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Oct 17, 2004
546
Tanzer 29 Jeanneau Design Sandusky Bay, Lake Erie
My 18hp Volvo has a crank, but the pin is missing from the cam. So I've never used it. Given how cold blooded it is most of the time, I can't imagine starting it with the crank. The pin is something I keep forgetting to put on my list of things to do.
 
Jan 1, 2006
5,374
Slickcraft 26 Greenport, NY
I've always wondered what happens with a crank once the engine starts. How do you take it off? Stupid question, I know but I've never seen how it's done. I've heard stories about broken arms. That would ruin your day.
 
Jan 19, 2010
9,054
Hunter 26 Charleston
I've always wondered what happens with a crank once the engine starts. How do you take it off? Stupid question, I know but I've never seen how it's done. I've heard stories about broken arms. That would ruin your day.
I've had the same thought. The picture in my mind is not a pleasant picture.
 

capta

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Jun 4, 2009
4,133
Pearson 530 Admiralty Bay, Bequia SVG
The crank has a tapered slot that once the engine is turning faster than the crank, it slides the crank off the pin onto the clean shaft, from which you can remove it easily and safely.
 
Jan 19, 2010
9,054
Hunter 26 Charleston
The crank has a tapered slot that once the engine is turning faster than the crank, it slides the crank off the pin onto the clean shaft, from which you can remove it easily and safely.
Hmmm.... not as interesting of a mental exercise.:rolleyes:
 

dLj

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Mar 23, 2017
1,358
Hunter 30 Snug Harbor, Lake Champlain
Wow, you guys really have never seen a hand crank? Good lord I must be really old!!!

The broken wrists and such were related to very old gasoline engines that would backfire. Diesel engines - I don't think I"ve ever heard of such a thing. But heck, I don't know. Anyway - the crank has a curved connector (wish I had my hand crank handy, but it's up on the boat and that's 4 hours away) so when the motor starts, it just spins the connection off. On many of these, the crank connection to the motor itself has a ratchet type connection so as soon as the motor fires, it runs faster than the ratchet, you aren't going to keep up with it... so to speak...

As a kid growing up on a farm, we had an old tractor that you could hand crank, that had the crank directly connected to the crankshaft, that had no ratchet mechanism between crank and engine it was basically built into the engine connector. I used to hang out at an old dirt strip airport that had a couple old planes you started by spinning the propellor - now those babies were bloody dangerous to start!

I don't know if the above makes sense. I just googles images of hand cranks and couldn't find an image that showed what the connector looks like.

dj

p.s. I see @capta already answered while I was googling around... Much clearer explanation than mine...