Filter Your Fuel Off-line

Author:
Updated:
Original:
When you’re a long way from home, clean fuel for your engine is even more important

When you’re a long way from home, clean fuel for your engine is even more important

It’s essentially true that if you give a marine diesel engine clean oil, clean air and clean fuel, it will run, if not forever, then certainly for longer than you are likely to own your boat. Using good-quality diesel oil and changing out the oil and oil filter at the manufacturer-recommended time intervals—typically every 200 hours—is a good first step. Similarly, if the air intake is correctly located and kept free of salt particles, the air flowing into the engine compartment will provide good combustion at the same time it helps cool the engine.

The challenge, then, is to make sure the engine always has clean, water-free fuel. The precision parts in a diesel fuel injection system, in particular, will not tolerate the presence of any kind of abrasives. Nor do they like fungi and bacteria, both of which can thrive in an environment of diesel fuel and water.

Dirt can arrive in your tank via contaminated fuel or as a result of microscopic airborne particles getting in through the air vent. Water can get into your tank if it comes from an impure source (especially fuel drums) or through a leak in the gasket or O-ring of your boat’s fuel-tank filler plate.

The diurnal exchange of humid air in and out of your tank can also introduce water in your fuel, especially when the tank is only partially full. Specifically, when the ambient temperature drops below the dew point, any vapor in your tank will condense into water. Eventually, a puddle of water will form at the bottom of the tank, which creates a water-diesel fuel nirvana for the various bacteria (usually referred to as “diesel bugs”) and fungi that thrive in this environment. If these critters are left untouched, they can create a goo that will block fuel lines and filters and possibly damage the fuel tank and its fittings. To prevent this from happening, be sure to add a biocide whenever taking on fuel.

FILTER FREQUENTLY

Removing particulate matter is pretty straightforward. To trap grit, run the fuel through two fine-pore filters: typically a 30-micron filter element in the primary off-engine fuel filter/water separator and a 2- or 5-micron filter on the engine itself. 

An especially effective way to keep contaminated fuel from reaching the engine is to install an additional fuel pump that will circulate the fuel through the primary fuel filter/water separator—or a separate filter unit entirely—when the engine is not being used, including those times when you are under sail.

The name for this kind of off-line fuel cleaning has come to be known as “polishing.” Although the term has become a part of the lexicon, I’m not crazy about it because I don’t know any way one can really “polish” a liquid. While it is true that you can remove impurities, grit, water, bugs and the like, doing so doesn’t make the fuel smoother. Nonetheless, it is always a good idea to have repeated mechanical filtration. Although it depends on your particular fuel system, you should get good results by filtering the fuel in your tank once or twice a week.

These kinds of filtering systems can be bulkhead-mounted, with time controls, diesel pumps of varying capacities and single or multiple fuel filter/water separators. For most sailboats, I like the new Parker Racor FPM-050 unit, because its electric pump can move up to 80 gallons of fuel through a boat’s existing primary fuel filter/water separator every 24 hours. The unit’s power consumption is about 1 watt @ 12 volts DC, or 0.08 amps, a trifling amount that can easily be supplied by a 5-watt solar panel and a small storage battery.

Installing the unit involves cutting the fuel line hose from the output side of the primary filter and connecting the ends to the pump’s inlet and outlet. Tee the fuel return hose into the fuel return line leading to the tank and then connect the two wires to the 12-volt power source. When the power is turned on, fuel will flow through the unit. When it is off, normal flow to the engine is restored. An optional solid-state, self-powered timer is available, but most installations will run just fine if they have a solar panel in place and the sun is shining.

BWFuel-illo

After you’ve installed the secondary filtration system, run it for about a week and then remove and inspect the filter element in the primary filter/separator. Unroll the pleated filter paper from the filter and check for signs of dirt or goo. Put a few drops of household bleach on any dirty surfaces. If the color changes, you can be reasonably certain that you have a diesel bug problem. If the color doesn’t change, you can be pretty sure the material is dirt.

If you find you do have diesel bugs, insert a thin plastic tube through the tank’s access port, using any tubing that will not be dissolved by the fuel. Remove the contaminated fuel from the bottom of the tank—take between a quart and a gallon depending on tank size—and put it in a clear container and let the fuel sit for 30 to 40 minutes, or until it settles. Check for water underneath the diesel fuel; a separation line between the two will be obvious.

Installing an off-line filtering system is a straightforward project but many owners decide it is not worth the effort and rely on luck. Unfortunately, when it comes to being sure you have clean fuel, luck has nothing to do with it.

Resources

Algae-X International, algae-x.net

Groco, groco.net

Gulf Coast Filters, gulfcoastfilters.com

Hammonds Fuel Additives, hammondscos.com

KTI Systems, ktisystems.com

Parker Hannifin, parker.com/racor

RCI Technologies, rcitechnologies.com

Walker Engineering Enterprises, walkerairsep.com

Wix Filtration products, wixfilters.com

Related

Pico-Michael

Cruising: Less (LOA) is More

The breeze kicks up. The boat digs in, and I tighten my grip on the mainsheet. It’s overcast but warm. The slate-blue water around me is patterned with whitecaps. Ahead, the low, tumbling hills of Old Mission Peninsula, a 17-mile long finger of land separating the east and west ...read more

2020-06-01_13-53-06

A New Era for Sailing Program Safety

As states begin to lift restrictions on gathering and marinas open back up, many sailing programs are still wary, especially since sailors from different households will necessarily be in close quarters, whether on their boat, in a launch or at a yacht club. Most will not be ...read more

MTcyNTIwMzc1NDYzMTkyNDkw

Zipwake

Zipwake Series S, the world's first inexpensive dynamic trim-control system, incorporates a state-of-the-art family of durable, fast-acting interceptors. The system is fully automatic, and is designed to significantly enhance performance, fuel economy, comfort and safety when ...read more

CCA-story-2048x

Safety Culture Starts with the Skipper

Sailing might not be the first pastime that comes to mind when you think of extreme sports, but that’s not to say risks don’t abound. The Cruising Club of America tackles many of them head-on in their newly released guide for skippers, Creating a Culture of Safety: The Skipper’s ...read more

GMR19_F53_0539

Boat Review: Beneteau First Yacht 53

Luxury performance-cruising isn’t entirely new. You can go fast and still be comfortable. You can even race if you make the right tradeoffs—or so says Beneteau, which recently launched its First Yacht 53, in the process also reinventing the company’s “First” brand. Design & ...read more

BirdonBoard

Cruising: Birds of a Feather

One of the neatest things about sailing offshore is the other lifeforms we encounter. We smile when we see flying fish skimming over the surface of the sea. We cheer when dolphins leap and dance in our bow waves. We are duly reverent when mighty whales sound and spout, and ...read more

pirate-marlin-logo

Pirate’s Cove Billfish Tournament

This Spring has felt a bit like a slow day of fishing but it’s almost time to time to Bait…and Switch. The Pirate’s Cove Billfish Tournaments offer something for every member of your crew. Exceptional fishing, fun times with family, old friends and new. Our run is short, our ...read more