Larry Berlin is a nice guy, but you don’t want to spend time with him on your boat. Because if he’s poking around your engine room, there’s something wrong.
Berlin is the resident “Diesel Doctor” for Mack Boring in New Jersey, one of the largest marine diesel distributors in the United States. Berlin instructs its technicians and also teaches a class for boaters. I attended to learn how to avoid him. Why?
He once drove six billable hours to help a boater whose engine had shut down. The problem? A 10-cent rubber O-ring the boater forgot to install with his oil filter. That mistake turned into a four-digit bill.
So, under Berlin’s tutelage, I learned the four key aspects of marine engines: lubrication, cooling, electricity and fuel.
Oil and Water (Lubrication)
Other students in the class own different styles of boats, from an MJM 34 propelled by a Yanmar 6LY3, to a Viking 42 powered with twin Cummins diesels mated to Zeus pod drives, to a Mainship 34 with a Yanmar 6LYA. But all came for the same reason: to understand their engines.
Berlin stands in front of all of us, starting the class with this maxim: “These aren’t cars.” He adds, “On a planing boat you’re climbing Pike’s Peak all day long because the water’s always trying to stop you.” And then, “Guys who don’t believe in preventive maintenance are not going to get away with it.”
The first, most important component to maintain is the engine’s lubrication system: the oil. Oil not only reduces friction in moving parts, but it — not the cooling system — is also most responsible for keeping the pistons and cylinders cool. Oil also acts as a seal for cylinder walls, valve stems and the turbochargers, keeping contaminants and corrosion at bay.
Fortunately, the lubrication system is easy to maintain: Change the oil based on engine hours or seasonally, and change the filters at the same time. Changing the oil every fall during winterization is critical, Berlin says, because old oil becomes acidic and will corrode the inside of your engine.
Berlin walks behind the classroom tables to an old engine block and pulls out the dipstick: It needs to be checked before every trip. “You’re only checking whether it’s full enough,” he tells us. “Oil color doesn’t determine your oil life; only engine hours do.”
The first service point is the oil filter. Change it according to your owner’s manual and be sure to change all the gaskets and seals too. A common problem Berlin sees is buying the wrong filter for the engine, which could harm it by restricting flow.
Besides the oil and filter, follow the oil line’s route from the reservoir to the engine. Look for external signs of damage or rust; corrosion can lead to leaks that can cause an engine to seize in a heartbeat.
While maintaining the oil is easy, the oil system typically has the least amount of warning — usually just an “idiot” light if the oil pressure drops below 7 psi. So don’t wait for symptoms if you want to keep Berlin out of your engine room.