I’VE SAID IT several times before, but nobody seems to take any notice, so I’ll say it again: It’s high time all inboard engines for pleasure boats were fitted with starters that don’t rely on electricity. There are other ways. There are hydraulic starters, compressed-air starters, and even a wind-up spring starter — but have you ever seen one fitted in a yacht?
It’s quite wrong that we’re so dependent on electrical batteries for starting our motors. I guess it’s a hang-over from the automobile industry, where there is usually no safety concern if a battery goes flat.
But things are different on the water. A fully discharged battery can be a much more serious matter, particularly on a single-engined boat. A flat battery can involve discomfort, embarrassment, expense, and even danger.
Hydraulic starters are used on some commercial craft. Hand-pumping an accumulator tank for five to ten minutes will spin a big diesel for two minutes or so. Some fishing boats used similar compressed-air starters. There used to be a British company that made a spring starter, maybe still does. It fit on your engine like a regular starter, only it had a crank like a winch handle sticking out. Twelve turns of the handle would give you enough spring power to start a six-cylinder diesel.
Haven’t there been times when you’d have given a back tooth for a system like that?
I once owned a single-lung, 12 h.p. BMW diesel which had a valve lifter that automatically snapped shut after you had spun the engine with a crank handle about four times. Without compression it was quite easy, using both hands, to crank the engine up to a fair speed in four revolutions. It is a great emergency back-up system for engines up to about 15 horsepower. Won’t someone please whisper this fact in the shell-like ear of a marine engine manufacturer?
You shall have joy, or you shall have power, said God: you shall not have both.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Power,” The Conduct of Life
The maitre d’ of a New York hotel watched in amazement as an Ohio tourist carefully washed his dessert spoon in the finger bowl.
He rushed up apologetically, saying: “There’s no need to do that sir.”
“Oh no?” said the tourist. “This is a new suit, buster. You think I want ice-cream all over my pocket?”(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)