Most Common Reasons Why Marine Engine Generators Encounter Mechanical Failure

Blog | October 27th, 2021

Here’s a system failure scenario that sometimes keeps marine engineers up at night. If a ship generator fails to start, what’ll happen to the boat and its crew? There are no street lights or grid electricity connections in the middle of an ocean, so that power generating equipment had better operate. Working proactively, conscientious ship skippers need to know why their generators might fail in the first place.

Diagnosing Simple Electrical Faults

Has the battery been maintained recently? If there’s a shelf full of lead-acid batteries supplying the starter, they’ll need to provide a solid kick when the equipment is activated. Unfortunately, dirty battery contacts and low electrolyte levels can attenuate battery power. Clean the exposed terminals and coat them with a protective gel. Top up the electrolyte with a little distilled water. Faulty circuit breakers, plus damaged contractors and corroded wires, these, too, can cause ship generator problems.

Monitoring Fluid Handicaps

This time, there’s a clog in the line. A lubricant isn’t oiling a shaft. Maybe the clog is in the fuel line, in which case there’s no way the generator engine can rotate the generator coils. Without fluid and kinetic energy, there can be no electrical power. A proactive approach is recommended again. Filters should be cleaned or replaced periodically, contaminants removed by equipment conditioners, and leaks addressed before a ship puts to sea. This approach can be used to protect the oil, fuel, and coolant lines. Next, what about the equipment mechanics? Here’s where things could take a turn for the worse.

Maintaining Ship Generator Mechanical Systems

If the ship lights or other power systems are experiencing a pulsing effect, the generator governor is probably in trouble. Older system governors were purely mechanical. If they failed, they’d “hunt” for the right level to regulate engine speed. These parts can fail, so spares should be kept on hand. Modern ship generators utilize more reliable electronic governors today, though. Frame vibrations can also cause major mechanical issues. Sure, natural engine wear is responsible for failing equipment components, but ship-propagating vibrations will exacerbate the issue.

The more cylinders a boat generator has, the more balanced the equipment runs. If the gear is poorly balanced, rubber inserts will dampen the energy. Excess heat is another parts-aging culprit, so ship skippers should pay special attention to their intake pumps. The water surrounding a craft is used as a generator coolant, so consider replacing that pump. Generally speaking, it should be replaced every two years so that there’ll always be plenty of coolants available. Finally, ship generators like to be put through their paces occasionally. If they’re left alone, there’s more chance of a starter failure. Run the equipment regularly to keep it in tip-top shape.

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