Maintaining Belt Tension

One day I discovered the romantically named Belt Tension Jack. Suddenly belt tensioning not only lost all its emotional tension, it even acquired a certain elegance.
Author:
Publish date:
Updated on
The belt tension jack is about to justify its $20 cost

The belt tension jack is about to justify its $20 cost

I don’t know about you, but for the longest time I always had problems getting my diesel’s alternator drive belt tensioned correctly. For starters, the engine is mounted backward, so to check the belt tension I first have to empty the cockpit locker, then climb into it and contort myself until I can get my arms and head under the cockpit sole and in the right position to reach the belt and pulleys. Fortunately, the belt always seems to need adjusting, so it’s never a wasted effort.

Beyond that, what really annoyed me was that after the usual rigmarole of loosening the pivot bolt and the pinch bolt on the adjusting arm, and then levering the pulleys apart with a long screwdriver until the tension felt right, then tightening the bolts again, the belt was always a little looser than I wanted. Inevitably, the screwdriver would slip or I’d misjudge the tension, or both. There was just no getting around the fact that it was one of those jobs you really need three hands for, and the result of having only two was an engine coated in that fine black dust that comes off poorly adjusted drive belts—not to mention frequent trips down to the dungeon to do it all over again.

Look, Ma, one hand—and no slippage or skinned knuckles

Look, Ma, one hand—and no slippage or skinned knuckles

Then one day I discovered the romantically named Belt Tension Jack. Suddenly belt tensioning not only lost all its emotional tension, it even acquired a certain elegance.

This clever tool has one purpose and one purpose only: to push two pulleys apart, thereby applying tension to the relevant belt. Juggle it between the pulleys you want to separate, and then crank on the hexagonal body with a wrench to extend a threaded rod with a curved horn on its end until the belt is properly tensioned. After that you can nip up the nut on the pivot bolt and tighten the pinch bolt on the adjusting arm at your leisure, humming a merry tune as you go. Brilliant! There’s nothing like using the right tool for the job, especially a tool you had no idea existed.

The belt is sweetly tensioned, and I’m about to tighten up the bolts and call it a day

The belt is sweetly tensioned, and I’m about to tighten up the bolts and call it a day

This is one of those little things that turns an unpleasant chore into a simple and quick maintenance task. You can buy these nifty tools from MSC Direct for around $20.

Belt Love

• A belt that’s too tight can cause wear on pulley bearings, and one that’s too loose can affect alternator output

• As a rule of thumb, if the belt deflects no more than half an inch when firmly poked with a finger, tension is about right

• Belts are not expensive and should be replaced annually along with engine oil and fuel filters. Keep the old one as a spare

• If you’ve installed a new belt, check its adjustment after a few hours of motoring. It will have loosened and may need retensioning

• Clean that nasty black dust off your engine and alternator. It can foul up the alternator’s delicate interior works. A sponge or rag coated in WD40 works well

Related

101218BTSC-9887

Just Launched: Little Big Boat

Peter Nielsen looks at Beneteau’s latest entry-level boat and a new cruiser from Tartan Group Beneteau’s commitment to entry-level boats has been reaffirmed over the last year with the assimilation of the sporty Seascape line of pocket cruisers and the ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com No chafe, safe stay  If you’re leaving the boat unattended for a longish period, there’s a lot to be said for cow-hitching the shorelines, as this sailor did. They’ll never let go, and so long as the ...read more

belize600x

Charter Special: Belize

It would be hard to imagine a more secure spot than the Sunsail base on the outskirts of the beachside community of Placencia, Belize. The entire marina is protected by a robust seawall with a channel scarcely a few boatlengths across. It’s also located far enough up Placencia ...read more

DSC00247

DIY: a Top-to-Bottom Refit

I found my sailing “dream boat” in the spring of 1979 while racing on Lake St. Clair in Michigan. Everyone had heard about the hot new boat in town, and we were anxiously awaiting the appearance of this new Pearson 40. She made it to the starting line just before the race ...read more

01-oysteryachts-regattas-loropiana2016_063

Light-air Sails and How to Handle Them

In the second of a two-part series on light-air sails, Rupert Holmes looks at how today’s furling gear has revolutionized sail handling off the wind. Read part 1 here. It’s easy to look at long-distance racing yachts of 60ft and above with multiple downwind sails set on roller ...read more

HanseCharles

Video Tour: Hanse 348

“It’s a smaller-size Hanse cruiser, but with some big-boat features,” says SAIL’s Cruising Editor, Charles J. Doane. At last fall’s Annapolis Boat Show, Doane had a chance to take a close look at the new Hanse 348. Some of the boat’s highlights include under-deck galleries for ...read more

amalfitown

Charter Destination: Amalfi Coast

Prego! Weeks after returning from our Italian flotilla trip last summer, I was still feeling the relaxed atmosphere of the Amalfi Coast. It’s a Mediterranean paradise, with crystal-clear waters, charming hillside towns and cliffside villages, plenty of delicious food and wine, ...read more

image005

Inside or Outside When Sailing the ICW

Last April, my wife, Marjorie, and I decided to take our Tartan 4100, Meri, north to Maryland from her winter home in Hobe Sound, Florida. This, in turn, meant deciding whether to stay in the “Ditch” for the duration or go offshore part of the way. Although we had both been ...read more