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Old 11-20-2018, 03:55 PM
Bryan Janeway Bryan Janeway is offline
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“The boat is the infection!!!”

Good day all and thank you for reading.

This is a post to describe in reasonable detail my trial and tribulations with the Atomic 4 on my Northern 29 sloop this past season.

The basic issue was unexplained shutdowns happening since purchase in late 2016. At first the engine would shut down rarely but could be restarted immediately and no issues would be obvious. Temps and oil pressure would be fine and rpm would be reasonable. The few shutdowns that happened in 2017 seemed to happen after approximately 2 hours of motoring. The engine could be restarted and the trips could be completed without further issue. So I tended to shrug my shoulders and just blame it on a 1978 engine.

Early in 2018 the shutdown issue became more frequent and sometimes would not restart for 20 or more minutes and the shutdowns would reoccur. My faith in the engine was strained preventing my usual multiple day sailing excursions and led to deeper investigation. The basics were completed first... checked compression, and exhaust back pressure. Coil, and complete ignition system replacement including points, condenser, distributor, rotor, plugs, and plug leads. This had no immediate effect on the shutdown condition. After checking voltages within the system several voltage drops were found prompting a rebuild of the DC system and running several new leads and cleaning all the contacts. This seemed to help for a time but the shutdowns began again before too long.

At this point my focus turned in on the fuel system. The fuel was drained, lines and filters changed, carb rebuilt by local guy (really pretty now). While carb was rebuilt I removed the manifold for inspection and checked and reset valve clearances which were a little tight but not dramatically so. The carb was reinstalled and the change was dramatic. The rebuilder said the carb was dirty and an idle jet was clogged. It ran great both in gear and in neutral. The smooth idle and transition in gear made me feel like my problems were solved. I ran it at the dock for nearly an hour with a big smile.

I continued to check and recheck temps and pressures and was becoming confident that the carb was always the issue. As I prepped the boat for a sail the engine purred comfortably along down below sounding like a million bucks. As I untied the spring line the engine failed......... thoughts of how big a hole saw I would need to quickly drill through the hull and sink the boat in the marina right there and then was forefront in my mind!!

Back to the drawing board.

At this point I feel it is important for everyone reading to realize that this project and its eventual solution was not a solo undertaking. By this point I had the help of friends and family that included an electrical engineer, two auto mechanics, a mutitude of sailors with decades of atomic 4 experience, and several marine mechanics. All of which basically donated their time and experience for not much more than beer and hoagies.

One marine mechanic who listed up many solutions offered this last advice based on the extensive parts cannon fired at the engine already and explained that there was nothing wrong with it. “The boat is the infection!!!! Remove the boat and your problem will be solved!”

Going back to the boat I inventoried all the things I did and things that had been done to the boat over the years which included a very expensive marine alternator and accompanying voltage regulators and chargers to allow both the house and start batteries to be charged. I began by removing the alternator completely from the engine as well as all associated wiring.

Guess what??

The engine started and ran like a champ for hours. No issues.
A 94 amp merc alternator was put in the old alternators place and again no issues.......... until it again failed. At this point I jumped the ignition system as well as the fuel pump thinking the gremlin was still somewhere in that mix. The engine was started and ran for a time until it again failed. Only this time there was a very noticeable change. Silence!!!!! Not just the engine but also the fuel pump..... for about five seconds after shutdown, then the tell tale clicking resumed..... how could a fuel pump connected almost directly through the start battery just plain “stop”?? And then restart?? I traced back the electrical and then disconnected the house battery and all chargers. No issues. Connected to just the house battery, no issues. Reconnect the charger between banks and again failure after failure. I removed the charger that managed the charge between the two battery banks and voila..... no more issues.

Finally!

I was able to run the engine for hours on end the last two weeks without issue. The engine sounds great and while I think it was long overdue for a tune up and full systems check I did waste a lot of the summer believing that the engine was the problem and focused too much on the symptoms (engine failure) of the problem and not on the actual problem. This was primarily based on the fact that to replace the alternator system that was on board would currently cost over 2000 Canadian looneys. I often would tell people how much a previous owner had invested in the boat and was rather proud of how it all worked.... except for the fact that it didn’t.

The local alternator guy has given me his opinion on the system I had but it is not my intention to bad mouth any products here. He provided me with an alternator that can be easily repaired or replaced which while needing some attention to engine and battery bank switch position while recharging the house battery is about as simple as simple can be.

I don’t know how old my alternator and DC charging system was or exactly how the charger between the house and start battery was able to cause the engine shutdowns to occur. Obviously a momentary voltage drop as it cycled from bulk to float charge or something along those lines. I do however know that most of the short 2018 sailing season was lost because I had overwhelming confidence in all my electrical gizmos and gadgets and very little confidence in a little 40 year engine that could.

In conclusion, if I could pass along this small piece of advice when dealing with your atomic 4 issues remember “the boat is the infection”!! Try not to focus as much on the engine as what is connected to the engine. As I move forward I will always try to remember to remove the boat from the equation.

As my boat was just rudely yanked from the waters of Lake Ontario yesterday and has been locked into a cage of frozen north the long wait until spring is here. I hope everyone enjoyed the read and has a great winter season, happy snowmobiling all🎄.

Also i would be most welcome to hearing any suggestions or issues I may have missed or overlooked.

Best regards,

Bryan
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Old 11-20-2018, 05:23 PM
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I think you had multiple issues Bryan. Certainly your "charger" was a problem (do you mean a charge combiner/battery isolator?) but also you had a clogged carburetor. Cleaning it made a significant improvement so it contributed to your problems.

Have you determined where the carburetor debris came from? It doesn't magically appear inside a carburetor, it came from somewhere, most often the tank. Until the source is found and thoroughly resolved you're at risk of more shut downs in the future.

Be sure you don't rotate your battery switch through "OFF" with the engine running. Doing so can destroy the alternator's diode bridge at the speed of light. Also, it sounds like you do not have an oil pressure safety switch ahead of the electric fuel pump. It is a critical safety feature required by the USCG for gasoline inboards.

By the way, without you disclosing what he said, I bet your alternator guy and I have the same opinion of your original system.
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Last edited by ndutton; 11-20-2018 at 05:35 PM.
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Old 11-21-2018, 12:43 AM
Bryan Janeway Bryan Janeway is offline
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Thank you for the response,

Your first comment is halarious because that is what the first marine mechanic said to me. You are correct I am sure there were multiple issues.

In regards to the fuel, yes there was some “fluff” in the tank which has since been purged and filters replaced. I have learned about my moeller fuel tank and now know how to inspect for impurities. Where it came from in the first place is still in question but I have some thoughts. So I am careful about where I fill up now.

The oil pressure switch was one of the components in the parts cannon and it is indeed connected as per the uscg and Moyer marine recommendations. When I jumped it it was for maintenance and troubleshooting purposes only.

My blue sea battery switch set prevents me from switching “through” off so that should not be a problem. One question however is does it hurt the alternator to switch the engine off using the battery switch itself and not the ignition switch??? Sometimes that is more convenient especially when I am monkeying with something.

Again thank you for the response.

B
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Old 11-21-2018, 01:56 AM
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Pretty sure Neil meant “to OFF.” As in, “don’t go through 2/all/1 to OFF.”

You do that regularly?

Definitely do not do that. Turn the engine off with the ignition switch, and then turn off the battery switch. I shudder to think what in a complex system was cooked with the sudden discontinuities introduced into the system with a running alternator. I am surprised the alternator still works.
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Old 11-21-2018, 09:23 AM
Bryan Janeway Bryan Janeway is offline
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Unhappy

I have not done it regularly, but I cannot say I have not done it ever. In troubleshooting a few months ago a mechanic shut the engine down using the battery switch. I just assumed that it wasn’t an issue. Thank you for pointing this out and providing me with this info, it is much appreciated.

I have reviewed the blue sea systems manuals and done a few google searches and see that it is a destructive idea. Interesting what bad habits you can develop by just observing and assuming.

Best regards

B
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Old 11-21-2018, 09:43 AM
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Quote:
Interesting what bad habits you can develop by just observing and assuming.
Bryan, I don't throw around 'Thanks' on posts willy nilly but you're hitting all the marks. As for the mechanic who shut the engine down via the battery switch, never let him near your boat again.
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Old 11-21-2018, 10:49 AM
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I still don't understand what exactly was wrong or how you fixed it.
I worked as a boat builder and later ran a shop that worked on boats specializing in electrical issues. Your problems and the cure are not lining up for me.
Not to be a downer, but it is possible your still haven't fixed your issue. I went nuts for with random shutdowns for several years until I discovered the fuel fill line was dissolving and dropping bits of rubber into the fuel tank. These bits would suction onto the pickup tube, block the fuel flow, and then drop back off later.
The electrical system in general only has a few ways to cause shutdowns. The coil and the fuel pump both need adequate voltage to work and not so much they burn out.
My first suggestion would be to get one of these:
https://moyermarine.com/product/the-...m-ktas_01_564/


I really can't emphasize enough how much time, trouble, and money this plus a vacuum gauge on the fuel filter will save you. One tow home or one missed weekend avoided and this will have paid for itself.
BTW - NEVER EVER let the "mechanic" who shut down the engine with the master switch near your boat again.
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Old 11-21-2018, 01:45 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bryan Janeway View Post
In regards to the fuel, yes there was some “fluff” in the tank which has since been purged and filters replaced. I have learned about my moeller fuel tank and now know how to inspect for impurities. Where it came from in the first place is still in question but I have some thoughts. So I am careful about where I fill up now.
Make sure you check your deck fill o-rings. My crusty, corroded ones were the source of water in my gas tank.
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Old 11-21-2018, 06:56 PM
Bryan Janeway Bryan Janeway is offline
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The fuel filler and o rings are new and inspected. I will keep tabs on fuel from now on.

Joe. Thank you for asking. I am still not sure why the engine would fail with the charger attached. This was connected correctly and confirmed correct by multiple parties. When connected properly it would cause a momentary voltage drop, I suspect at the start battery. This was causing a shutdown. When the unit is removed there is no problem. Now most of the mechanics that were apart of this are like you and are having a hard time understanding why the voltage is dropping. We even had multimeters attached at several points trying to figure it out. But regardless of why the event happens it can be consistently and predictably reproduced by installing the charger as per the instructions. Once removed the shutdowns cease. If you can think of additional things to look at I would be more than willing to review.

That being said in the spring I will be mindful of the fact that something else may be amiss and report back with results ��

Best regards

Bryan

Ps and the alarm system is on my Christmas list ��
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Old 11-22-2018, 09:35 AM
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May I ask what charger you are/were using between the banks?
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Old 11-22-2018, 03:29 PM
Bryan Janeway Bryan Janeway is offline
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I had a “duo” charger installed. I won’t name the brand. In speaking with an alternator repair shop in regards to the same brand alternator. I was told that the alternator they produce is just a generic alternator with some modifications. The modifications certainly do not justify the enormous price. Secondly because of the modifications the shop wasn’t willing to touch it.
In considering my options I have replaced the alternator with a 94 amp merc and based on popular suggestion have purchased a xantrex echo charger to replace what I did have. That will be installed in the spring.

B
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Old 11-22-2018, 04:39 PM
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question authority

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Originally Posted by ndutton View Post
... As for the mechanic who shut the engine down via the battery switch, never let him near your boat again.
+1 on that!

I am often asked by people for a recommendation of "a good mechanic" for their cars or lawnmowers or whatever. I always disappoint them because I don't know any. They then say "but you know a lot about cars, why don't you know any good mechanics?" I am a survivor, I've had to fix my own things since I was a teenager. That got me some early jobs as a mechanic and then later a machinist. Now, I just fix my own things out of habit and cost concerns. I'm really out of touch with who's a good mechanic around here.
None of this is helpful I know. Sorry to say, but this forum is probably your best bet to get to the REAL cause of things. Too bad you can't send beer and hoagies over the internet.

Russ
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Old 11-22-2018, 04:42 PM
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I mean, HAPPY to say" this forum is probably your best bet"

Whew, almost commited a faux pas!
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Old 11-24-2018, 11:38 PM
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Bryan, what model was the Merc 94 amp alternator? Did you have to modify anything to get it mounted? It sounds interesting. Thanks, Grant.
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Old 11-25-2018, 11:59 AM
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Do you have a wiring diagram?
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Old 11-25-2018, 03:42 PM
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Typically those Merc 94A alternators are Delco 10Si models. Make sure it's ignition proof as evidenced by the screen shield on the side opposite the pulley stamped with "SAE J1171" on the center hub.
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Old 11-26-2018, 10:41 AM
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When I used a 10si I had to use a slightly longer belt and the Moyer long version alternator bracket. The bracket can be used for the original Motorola alternators as well.
I think I had a 100 or 110 amp 10si and I never got more than maybe 50 amps out of it.
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Old 11-26-2018, 10:49 AM
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Yes Joe, we are limited in alternator output by our low RPM. If you remember Hanley's alternator drive system off the flywheel with a larger pulley ratio and dual belts, he could get closer to rated output with it that we can with our stock accessory drive. However, looking at the same 35A load on our original Motorola 35A alternator compared to a 100A Delco, the Motorola will be running at max while the Delco will cruise along at 35% of its rating.

I had to slightly modify my alternator bracket for the 10Si to fit. A few minutes with a grinder did the trick.
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Old 11-26-2018, 11:49 AM
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I did not have that issue with mine, maybe I would have with the standard belt.
I am still puzzled by the original issue, there are plenty of ways to make the engine battery just go dead with a bad system design or component failure, but random intermittent shutdowns would be a trick. I am not sure if I could design something to do that on purpose.
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Old 11-26-2018, 01:30 PM
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Joe, whatever went on Bryan was able to isolate it. Remember this passage from the first post of this thread:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bryan Janeway View Post
I traced back the electrical and then disconnected the house battery and all chargers. No issues. Connected to just the house battery, no issues. Reconnect the charger between banks and again failure after failure. I removed the charger that managed the charge between the two battery banks and voila..... no more issues.
I asked about it but did not get a response that I remember, exactly what is this charger he determined to be the problem? From the narrative I think it's an automated charge combiner but whatever it is, it apparently was intermittently dropping the ignition voltage low enough to stop the engine. As I recall the alternator guy recommended a charge management system (battery switch) that did away with the automation and the poltergeist was exorcised.
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Old 11-26-2018, 03:20 PM
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Joe, whatever went on Bryan was able to isolate it. Remember this passage from the first post of this thread:
I asked about it but did not get a response that I remember, exactly what is this charger he determined to be the problem? From the narrative I think it's an automated charge combiner but whatever it is, it apparently was intermittently dropping the ignition voltage low enough to stop the engine. As I recall the alternator guy recommended a charge management system (battery switch) that did away with the automation and the poltergeist was exorcised.
That still doesn't make much sense. I can see it running the battery down, but then the battery would be down a few minutes later too.

"The few shutdowns that happened in 2017 seemed to happen after approximately 2 hours of motoring. The engine could be restarted and the trips could be completed without further issue. "

There are a few different technologies around. I have an automated combiner relay that replicated a person combing the batteries and then un-combining them. The worst thing it could do would be not work, in which case the battery would eventually go dead or a human would notice and turn the manual switch.
There are DC-DC chargers with various brand names like Echo Charger. They are essentially DC powered battery chargers that aim to supply a start battery with a voltage tailored to it from a big house bank that might have much higher voltages. They are not combiners and do not pass current directly. They have a limited current output like any battery charger. They have a variety of possible failure modes including just flat out not being able to keep up with what the engine systems use. If one became randomly intermittent I suppose it could run the engine battery down, cause the engine to quit, and them spontaneously start working again a little while later. This would be very very obvious if one had a voltmeter.
I never really trusted those things and never installed one without a manual bypass.

Last edited by joe_db; 11-26-2018 at 03:29 PM.
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Old 11-26-2018, 05:20 PM
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I don't see how any analysis can be done when we don't even know for certain what sort of device was found to be the problem. Without additional information it's pretty clear that Bryan - - with the help of others - - found the problem, confirmed by successful resolution when that one component was removed. We also don't know the ignition path on Bryan's particular boat when the apparently faulty device was installed.
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Old 11-26-2018, 08:03 PM
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Hello all and thank you for your continued interest.

Dutton that is the exact model I have installed and yes it is ignition protected.

I did have to modify the metal bracket with a grinder. Doing that I was able to use the standard arm and belt along with the tensioner I purchased last year.

I have been reading the replies in response to what was the actual problem. I posted that I would not name the brand of charger other than it is a “duo” charger. Google it and you will see what I am talking about. Once this charger was removed from the system my problems went away.

Now I don’t disagree with the poltergeist philosophy nor with the idea that something else may be wrong. I have spoken with a bunch of electrically inclined people and they believe my problem lies within the grounding system. The charger may have helped exacerbate the problem but was not likely the root cause. One question that I do have is what is the lowest voltage that will power the coil and provide spark or allow the faucet fuel pump to click away. I’m thinking that is just shy of 8 volts. Please correct me if I am wrong. A momentary voltage drop to whatever voltage that may be is most certainly the issue based on my initial analysis. That moment is about 5 seconds or so. I don’t know if the charger cycling through a float or a bulk charge is doing it, but it is happening with that charger installed.

Now I have been advised to not only inspect my grounds I have also been able asked to do load checks on the battery system. That includes not just the battery alone but individual leads both positive and negative. Being very aware of the fuse holder connections. The point being is a multimeter may show a near zero resistance indicating an intact power lead but a multimeter is a poor indicator of a quality connection. This is because once a power lead is loaded with start or charge amperage things change. I may yet have a faulty connection through a fuse holder or chaffing or who knows what.... I will be back on the boat in a few months to charge and inspect my gear and hopefully find a few more answers.

And yes I have purchased the xantrex echo charger to replace the original. I was told that the switching option initially suggested can become an issue and can fry your alternator even when being very careful.

Every day I learn something new. Hopefully your continued support will allow me to identify the root issue.

Please remember when I originally posted my point was not to toot my own horn it was merely to provide others in my situation additional ideas on how to refocus their energy and time. When I was dealing with my engine shut downs I focused 95% of my energy on the engine and it wasn’t until the end of the summer that I refocused on the electrical system. It was a frustrating season. I did learn a lot however a lot of sailing time was lost because my troubleshooting didn’t become effective until very late. I am still learning and accept that my troubleshooting may indeed not be over.

I thank all of you that continue to look through my posts and provide food for thought.

Have a great day
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