First Sail - Engine failure - Smoking Batteries

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Starscream
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Sailboat: MacGregor 26X
Location: Montreal, Quebec. 2002 26X - Etec90

First Sail - Engine failure - Smoking Batteries

Post by Starscream » Thu May 26, 2016 6:55 pm

I went out for the season's first sail last Friday with a friend for a shakedown motor/sail. I got out into the middle of the river and the engine died. (Etec 90 with about 25 hours total time). We sailed back to the dock, a first for me. We had about a 1.5 knot downstream current and a downstream wind of about 5 knots. The wharf was 90 degrees to the wind and current.

I started with the jib only, thinking it would be the easiest to douse when we reached the dock, but I quickly realized that even though the dock was a perfect beam reach, the current and sideslip were huge factors. It quickly became obvious that we had to point much higher, and even when we were as close to the wind as sailing with the jib alone allowed, we didn't have enough headway to make the dock. I had to put up the main too, and that put us on the right track without being to near to close-hauled. When we got close in to the dock and it was clear we had enough upstream distance in our pocket, we doused the jib and approached with the main only. I really didn't want to miss the approach and have to circle around so we yelled at another boat that was preparing to leave the ramp to stay put for a minute and give us space. It worked out surprisingly well...I released the mainsheet at a good time, and the boat coasted up to the dock and the wind pushed us gently against it. No fiberglass was harmed in the making of this story, surprisingly. I left all the boards down, counting on the high water levels and the pivots to protect them if necessary, but it wasn't. I really didn't want to be blown into an awkward position downwind of the dock where there was a rocky breakwater.

The problem? The main fuse had come loose, and when I pulled out the fuse holder the fuse fell into my hand. PLUS, there WASN'T a spare fuse in the spare fuseholder. Bombardier...WTF?

I replaced the fuse and headed out happy that the problem was fixed, but only until the cabin filled with smoke when I powered up. Power Off! Engine Off! Do I go for the extinguisher in the heads or not? The smoke rapidly cleared, so I went below to have a look around. I couldn't find anything at all. So, Engine On, and idle back to the marina for some further research. Finally, I find that the positive terminal of one of the batteries has changed color, it's not as shiny as the others, and I find that a little bit of the plastic around the terminal has melted. The wing-nut that holds all the wire connections to that terminal was hand tight, but pulling on the cables showed that the connection may not have been as tight as it could have been. Now it's really tight, and an hour's test at different throttle settings haven't reproduced the problem again.

My question is: New battery or not?

And, how the heck did Evinrude let a new motor get out of the factory with no spare fuse and a loose main fuse? Or was it more likely the dealer's continued idiocy? The dealer has replaced the main computer, the trim solenoid, the tachometer and the trim gauge under warranty.

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seahouse
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Re: First Sail - Engine failure - Smoking Batteries

Post by seahouse » Thu May 26, 2016 9:02 pm

Sounds like you handled it well. Wing nuts are not an approved method for fixing terminals on the battery. Especially when only hand tight. I use them, but torque them to the same torque they would be if they were the proper hex nuts. You will want to do either that, or, to be in compliance, replace them with nuts, less convenient that they are to use. The higher torque is needed not only to stop them from working loose, but to give a good, low-resistance conductive electrical connection. Especially important for higher drain loads such as starting.

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seahouse
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Re: First Sail - Engine failure - Smoking Batteries

Post by seahouse » Thu May 26, 2016 10:49 pm

It sounds like there was arcing at the battery terminal as the melting was at that point and not all along the entire wire (?) So other than normal aging you might luck out without damage to the battery. Check the fluid levels in the battery cells to be sure they aren't low (and are all even).

There are many purpose-made dielectric products (oils, greases, sprays, pastes) on the market for battery terminals, but I have found a drop or two of oil (between each ring, at the base of the post, and under the hold-down nut) keeps them corrosion free, easy to clean, looking like new, and maintains a good connection in the long run.

If you wanted to be sure, and have only one battery, you could always take it out and have it load tested. Free at a lot of places anxious to sell you a battery.

:wink:

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Jimmyt
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Re: First Sail - Engine failure - Smoking Batteries

Post by Jimmyt » Fri May 27, 2016 6:27 am

Sounds like a high current while running burned up some plastic. You found a loose connection, tightened it, and problem went away. Doesn't really say battery to me. How old is your battery? Do you keep a charger on it and was it good when you put the boat in? Or, was the motor trying to recharge a low battery? My last several batteries (lead/acid) have died within days of their warranty life. So, if you're close to the warranty life, consider replacing it. Failures have commonly been a dead short internally, however one actually failed 'old-school' where it just got progressively weaker. I agree with Seahouse, coat the connections with a product to prevent corrosion and tighten the nuts properly. If you have access to an amp meter, you may want to check your current during post-crank and run at increased idle. You should see the battery recover from the start and level off after a bit. You should not have a continuous big current unless you have a lot of accessories running.

Do you have any under-sized wiring, or crimp-ons that have corrosion between wire and terminal? Sometimes hard to spot, but worth looking for.

The loose connection could explain it, but I think it deserves a detailed look around...

Happy hunting.

Starscream
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Re: First Sail - Engine failure - Smoking Batteries

Post by Starscream » Fri May 27, 2016 8:16 am

Thanks for the info guys.

The battery is kept on a marine charger, and seems to hold a charge just fine. I have two batteries, and I guess they're about two and four years old but I don't know which is which. They are group 27 Nautilus batteries, a name brand from Canadian Tire made in China. I will check the fluid levels before I go out again.

At this point everything seems to be functioning just fine. The marina hasn't called me to say that the boat's up in flames, so that's a good sign. The last two outings were short but uneventful. At this point, the thought of replacing the batteries is not a happy one and I'd really rather not unless there is a real risk of a repeat event. The expense aside, it's just a real pain to go and do the work in the marina.

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