Just check your small sailboat diesel this morning before startup?Good deal. Now you've been anchored for a few hours and you're readyto cast off again. Time to repeat the big seven for sailing safety.Sure this might seem like overkill. And it might be in a static land world.But not so in a dynamic water world. 

Sailboat engines and attachments vibrate, expand, and flex whenheeling, pitching rolling, yawing or when your boat gets bouncedaround by boat wakes or wind and sea. Take the time to go through asimple pre-start check each and every time. This could save you big$$$s down the road.

1. Oil

Use this double-dip technique. Pull the dip-stick out and wipe it off.Push it back in all the way so that it gets to the bottom of the oilsump. Pull it out and look at the oil color. It should be black (brownor streaked indicates water in the oil). Smear the oil on your fingersand shine a light onto it. Granules signal internal metal fatigue.Address any problems right away.

2. Transmission fluid.

Yes, it's a pain to check transmission fluid, but repairs are costlyif you don't. Make sure to use the double-dip method described abovefor accuracy. Most transmission dip-sticks screw into the fill cap, soscrew it all the way down when you sound the tank. Remove it, checkthe level, and smell the fluid. If it has a burned odor, yourtransmission needs to be looked at right away.

3. Coolant cap and fluid level.

Remove the header tank cap, turn it over, and check the gasket. Worncap gaskets are unable to provide a tight seal. Replace the entirecap. Otherwise, you will lose coolant. This could cause the engine tooverheat and result in internal damage. Stick your finger into theheader tank (cold tank only!). Keep the fluid level close to the topof the fill.

4. Belts and hoses

Depress the drive belts. Adjust or replace any belt that has more than1/2 inch of play. Feel hoses (cold only) for softness. Look for cracksor abrasion. Replace defective belts and hoses right away. Carryspares aboard as part of your spare parts kit.

5. Stuffing box (packing gland)

Look for excessive leaks at the shaft packing. More than one boat hassunk on a mooring or at anchor from a leaking stuffing box. Three orfour drips a minute provide lubrication, but more than that tells youthe nuts are too loose or the packing material has worn. You will needtwo over-sized wrenches to tighten the nuts. If it still leaks,replace the packing material.

6. Raw water seacock and exhaust

Make sure the raw-water seacock handle lines up with the raw waterhose. This opens the valve to allow cooling water to the engine. Afteryou start the engine, check the stern exhaust tube for a steady flowof water. Blockage often points to a clogged raw water filter or anobject trapped against the outside raw water intake.

7. Test battery cables

Cables loosen when the boat pitches, rolls, or vibrates at sea. Checkthe connection at each battery terminal and on the side of theengine.


Add years of life and save $$$ in repair costs with these simple

steps. Your sailboat diesel will reward you with smooth, reliable,


starts-every-time service for many sailing seasons to come.

Click here to learn more about the benefits of a Skippertips Membership.