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linnupesa 09-19-2013 06:12 PM

Starting a diesel without a battery?
I'm in need of a Plan B to start my 85hp (4.236 type ) Perkins in case either the battery or the starter fails.

OK, under sail and with the prop engaged it might start, but what if sailing is not feasible? A permanent hand-crank option is likely also not easily installed due to space and other limitations.

In an Indy movie the femme fatale would of course offer to strip off her only remaining garment and demurely hand over her pantyhose to the hero. With a few turns around the pulley ( the engine's of course! ) and a quick yank the engine would roar into life. The hungry horde of pursuing cannibals in their dugouts would quickly be left behind in a bubbly wake and... cut, the censors got to that part first.

Now I'm not thinking of hopelessly laddering and twisting pantyhose into knots ( just a bit too kinky for me) but a rope pull start like on an outboard should be feasible, or not? Yes, the torque needed for an 85-horse is more than that for a 8hp, but this could possibly be overcome via a suspended block and a stirrup type loop, to step into or to hang from. This could translate a 5-foot pull into a much more forceful 1 or 2 foot at the engine.

Has anyone tried this? Any thoughts, other ideas? :rolleyes:

Dropping a firecracker down an open injector while at TDC and quickly closing the bore seems a bit extreme, but are there any tricks to play, with WD-40, ether or starting fluids perhaps? It would be an emergency situation of course and not recommended in lieu of a working starter motor. :eek:

Ivo on s/v Linnupesa

HandyBilly 09-19-2013 06:29 PM

If you don't have room for a hand crank, sounds like you need a spare starter and the ability to switch between your start battery and your house bank as a back up.

linnupesa 09-19-2013 06:48 PM


Yes, both banks exist but one hit of lightning could change that in an instant. Florida is THE lightning state of the USA after all.

redbopeep 09-19-2013 07:18 PM

The electronics in your engine fuel control system (unless you have an old system like ours where it's not electronic) could be fried in your theoretical lightening strike, too. Have you well...sailing?

linnupesa 09-19-2013 08:19 PM

Yes BoPeep et al

my question really is "starting the engine" and not alternatives to that.

Once a diesel always a diesel and it'll run without electricity. Any overtemp, low oil pressure etc. interlocks could be by-passed in an emergency. Any relays could/would not be energized in any case, so it may not really matter. If needed there could be a gravity fed fuel supply too. Just a jug with diesel dribbling into a fuel line to bypass any electrical pump would work as the injectors are typically mechanically driven. They'd only need a few psi of fuel, so 5-10 feet of elevation would do that.

I've not tried running my ( like yours, also older type ) diesel without electricity from the alternator, so you bring up a good point there. Inherently it should not matter though, as long as the cylinders see a diesel/air combustion mix they'll go bang on compression.


Cowboy Cruiser 09-19-2013 11:01 PM

I don't think parasitic drag on the prop is going to overcome 22:1 compression. Also hand cranking it would be no fun either. It may be possible to start with a heavy duty 120V impact wrench, but if you had 120V AC, you could just charge the battery and use the starter (if it still worked). Sounds like a spare battery and starter is the only real choice.

linnupesa 09-19-2013 11:33 PM

I think the main problem is to ignite a good bang in just one cylinder. The flywheel effect of the crankshaft and everything else turning should then compress and fire the next one. Your impact idea is worth a try on perhaps a smaller engine but I fear there simply aren't enough foot-lbs with such a wrench to get it to turn over in one go.

Auzzee 09-20-2013 01:10 AM

I think there is an answer. Winchrite manufacture an electric, rechargeable winch handle. With a suitable fitting on the spindle, it could be used to engage the crank on your diesel. The torque of these things is enormous. Here's a link: WinchRite - Motorised Winch Handle | Watkins Yachting

After thought:
Also, depending upon space in front of the engine, a heavy duty rechargeable electric drill could also be utilised.

redbopeep 09-20-2013 02:35 AM

There is a more powerful winch handle made from the Milwaukee V28 battery operated angle drill (we have the drill and we have a winch chuck for it, btw) and yes, that could work if he has room on the front of the engine which he states he doesn't.

linnupesa 09-20-2013 03:09 AM

That Winchrite Auzzee mentioned specs at about 1100in-lb which is close to 100ft-lb. ( That is quite a strong pull on a torque wrench)

Googled some torque papers for cold engine starting and one graph showed one needs around 100-150ft-lb torque at 40F but many times that at -30F. (didn't see for what size of engine) High viscosity of the lube oil being the main culprit at low temp.

Another snippet was to use ether with a flashpoint of around 350F which is almost half that for common cetanes (=diesel ) Apart from whatever method is used, it seems that warming the fuel, lube oil and preferably the injection system in whole is a good idea. Even a blow torch into the air intake was supposedly helpful as it heats the intake air.

These articles didn't concern themselves with cranking per se, merely low temperature starting but still it's good to know what would help starting, especially using a very inefficient emergency cranking method.

Some of the above has gotten a bit off topic now, but I do appreciate all your ideas all the same.

linnupesa 09-20-2013 04:39 AM

Thanks BoPeep

just looked at your V28 drill specs and it's quite an impressive beast, similar torque like Auzzees suggestion and there actually might be enough space to use it too. The Amazon price was a bit under $600, ouch on that.

The winch chuck you talk about: You prolly mean it's a male gizmo to adapt it to a standard sail winch instead of the regular handle? Kind of a big torx star-shape configuration? I would imagine the female part could be scrounged off a bust-up old winch and fitted to the pulley after welding it to a plate perhaps. Or did you find one commercially available?

Certainly worth exploring that idea. It makes me wonder though if there isn't a pull-a-cord type of primitive Armstrong starter out there already. Perhaps on a soviet-era kolchoz blog, what they uzed to ztart ze tracktorz in gulag. :mad: yes, comrade then get red in face too!

svhoneybee 09-20-2013 08:22 AM

I could hand start the MD2B (25hp) on our 30 foot boat back in the 80's. If the battery dies with our current 54 hp Yanmar, I'm sailing.

redbopeep 09-20-2013 01:32 PM

We happen to own that drill because it was needed for different (construction related) projects. It has gone up in price since our purchase 6 years ago. Wow. Of course, a good part of that is the battery which is well over $100 alone.

We have the winch chuck for the V28 angle drill so we can use the drill and our winches to bring in a stern anchor (remember, our 29T boat takes big anchors...). We did not try to modify something to crank our 125 hp engine thought we had room on the front of the engine to do so. It's a bit large and not exactly safe IMHO to do that. On a small engine, it's a fine thing to do: On our other boat our 18? 20? hp Volvo MD2 had a crank start handle but bulkhead in the way. We used a sanding drum on a battery drill and placed the drum so it was acting like a sheave with the alternator belt. That could start the little engine--barely.

We really can't imagine being in a situation where we'd just "have" to emergency start the engine rather than just sail, anchor, or fix whatever is wrong. With bigger engine on this boat, our idea of "emergency fix" for bad battery and/or starter is to use a separate battery bank (e.g. house bank), and to have a means of charging said batteries (we have a diesel gen-set Onan 8kW and a Honda EU2000 portable gas generator). Our idea of dealing with a bad starter is to have a spare starter. The starter is easy to get to on our engine and could be replaced in a matter of minutes.

Fair winds.

linnupesa 09-21-2013 12:38 AM


There was a U-tube video where the engine had a separate belt to a pulley and crank. The guy turning it spun the crank like on a coffee grinder big boat sheet winch. Admittedly, it was a somewhat smaller engine but also a much smaller handle than what I was imagining.

Yes, I do have 6 of 6-V cells in series/parallel and a seperate 12V type 27 start battery plus solar panels. Only two of the 6-volters should be enough to get me started, apart from the dedicated 12V one. But, bad things often come with bad company, so I at least like to have alternatives thought out in advance. It's a good exercise if nothing else. The 5kW Westerbeke generator is what I'd try to start first of course, to juice up dead batteries. It's much easier to get to its go-turners as well.

Thank you for all your good ideas folks!


babylonlarry 12-11-2013 07:20 PM

Can't remember details, but I've heard of a wind up spring starter that might do the job.

linnupesa 12-12-2013 01:22 AM

You know, I'd thought of that but in the heat of the tropics those rubber bands would perish really fast!


babylonlarry 12-12-2013 02:13 PM

I think it's a steel spring - like an old wind up clock but much bigger.

steve_h 12-13-2013 11:38 AM

redbopeep 12-14-2013 07:10 PM


Originally Posted by steve_h (Post 40692)

Thanks for the find, Steve. It is called a Sprinstarter and seems just the thing that the original poster was interested in. They make one for my boat's engine (Cummins 5.9L B series) so I sent them an email requesting a quote. Haven't heard back.

We don't have a "spare" starter motor and among all the other budget items, that spare was one of the things we were planning on buying in 2014. Therefore, having a Springstarter could be our "spare" instead of the actual starter spare if the Springstarter is reasonably priced, etc.

Fair winds

steve_h 12-16-2013 11:29 AM

I assume that the Springstarter is not fitted permanently but that you would remove your starter motor and fit one of these? Can't imagine that is what work and lifeboats do, I would have thought they would have them fitted all the time as a backup?

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