In addition to the extreme environmental issues created by the spill, sailors in that region are also becoming concerned about what, if anything, they can do to protect the engine and the raw water intakes on their boats from possible damage if they make contact with oil that is floating on or near the surface of the water.
Since there’s a chance that any sailor, sailing anywhere, might encounter oil floating on the water it’s a good idea to know what must be done when that happens. All the manufacturers of marine engines have recently posted advisories about the possible effects of oil contamination on their sites and the one thing that they make clear is that no one should deliberately operate either a gasoline or diesel powered vessel in water that is contaminated with crude oil. The primary reason is that when oil is pulled into the cooling system of the engine, that system will become compromised.
More specific issues include:
Seawater pump impellers Petroleum products can harm many if not most impellers and they may swell up and fail with subsequent damage to the engine. Damage to hose, gasket and O-ring would be the same with regard to swelling. All these items should be replaced if they are contaminated and any owner who suspects that they may have been running through contaminated seawater must constantly monitor the cooling system for leaks and always be alert for signs of overheating.
Crude oil that is pulled into an engine block or heat exchanger will coat the unit’s surface and that can cause a loss of heat transfer efficiency that would create subsequent engine damage. As a practical matter it is very difficult to clean these components after they have been contaminated by oil.
Cooling system anodes Cooling system anodes can also be rendered ineffective by the coating action of the oil. If they do become contaminated they must either be cleaned or, if that is not possible, they must be replaced.
The seawater filters used by most recreational vessels will not effectively filter the oil from the seawater. In fact most of the commercial vessels working in Gulf to clean up the spill area operate with engines that use keel cooling, a system that does not pull seawater into the boat to cool the engines.
Yanmar has also posted on their site a technical bulletin produced by Apex Engineering Products Corporation that describes Apex’s Rydall MP, a medium-duty multi-purpose surface degreaser/cleaner