The Nautical Blog

Suddenly in Command: Engines

This article was published in Winter/Spring 2015 Nor’Easter for TONE (Tartan Owners Northeast). Inc.

for previous articles go here:

Ed.: This article is written for the “First Mate” – if you are frequently out on the water, it is important to know these basic procedures. Use this article to review with your Captain the location of the various buttons and levers as well as the “how to” method for starting your boat’ s engine. It could save a life someday!

Being suddenly in command while under sail is one thing. It’ s another when you have to get the engine started to get you home faster. Just keep in mind that once you crank the engine over you have a different set of rules to follow. Look up “Inland Navigation Rules” in your Eldridge
Tide and Pilot Book.

Atomic 4 Engine

Atomic 4 Engine

Before you turn the key make sure the battery (ies) are on. You’ ll need to turn the big red button

to either “on”, “A/B” or “both” position. This is located down below near the engine.

Below are three types of engines and how to start them up. Plus, any telltales of a problem.


Beta 38 engine

Beta 38 engine

To start the engine, just turn the key. If the engine is cold, or if the temperature is on the chilly side, turn the switch counter clockwise for 5 seconds to turn heat on (the heat we are talking about here are the engine’s glow plugs. They warm the air in the cylinders to make starting easier) then turn the key clockwise to actually start the engine.


Beta 38 engine

Beta 38 engine

Once it starts, add just a little throttle to make sure you’re getting water out of the exhaust.

Now unlock the steering wheel, which is the round brake knob on the side of the pedestal.  With your wheel unlocked you are ready to put the transmission into Forward and begin motoring. Check your volmeter. If it looks like the alternator isn’t bringing your voltage above 12 volts you may have to kick the engine up a notch to get power the batteries.

Volvo diesel

The engine coolant valve needs to be open. Start engine by pushing the switch down to get power. Light the glow plugs for 10 seconds then hit the start button. Push the throttle forward. If you run into problems look for these things: starter, battery power, fuel, fuel filter clogged.

Atomic 4 Gas

Atomic 4 Engine

Atomic 4 Engine

Put the transmission in neutral and then turn the key. Exhaust goes out

the side of the boat rather than back of the boat. If engine is cold, push the choke back in. Don’ t leave the key on when not in use. It will cook the coil.

When turning the engine over if it shuts off immediately you have an electrical

Atomic 4 Engine

Atomic 4 Engine

problem. If it coughs and sputters, you have a problem with the fuel system.
No matter what type of engine you have, it behooves you to have a “Plastic Brain” – with photographs of an open valve, on/off switches, engine coolant, and engine placement (under lazerette or stairwell). Keep the fuel clean and if you need to fuel up – shut the engines off first.

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