Robert Henne of Woodbridge, VA, asks:

What was the reason for not using synthetic oil and a by-pass filter? With the benefits of more storage by not having all the extra new oil and not carrying the old oil around I would think that it would have been an easy decision. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

Dan Streech responds:

You have asked a very good question that seems to come up often these days.

Most of us who operate machinery are aware of today's synthetic oils. To date, no Nordhavn has been delivered with synthetic oil in the engines. The most recent consideration of the use of synthetic oil was by Ed Ulyate, the owner of N6217 who uses Mobil 1 (synthetic oil) in his race car. Upon investigation, Ed decided to use traditional fossil based oil in his Lugger engines and Northern Lights generator.

The most important characteristic of synthetic oil is that it provides a reduction in friction, heat and therefore wear on engine parts. Dick Gee, the chief engineer at Alaska Diesel (Lugger) feels that the benefits may be in the 10%-20% range. That reduction in wear however is a bit of a red herring because it is very seldom that we ever see the basic moving parts (that are protected by the oiling system) of a good quality marine diesel used on a pleasure craft "wear out". Most of these engines seem to go on forever or end their lives for reasons other than "wearing out".

The long life characteristics of synthetic oil can only be enjoyed if the oil is tested on a regular basis so that its condition can be verified. While the by-pass filters can remove soot from the oil, they will not reduce the acid build-up or stabilize the inevitable reduction of the TBN levels. Most of the major engine manufactures (including Alaska Diesel) allow the use of synthetic oils, but still require that the oil be changed at the same recommended intervals as conventional oils to stay with the warranty requirements.

On a cruising boat (and especially on "Nordhavn", the ATW boat), it is not convenient to get the oil tested on a timely basis and synthetic oil is not as readily available as conventional oil. Conventional oil and synthetic oil should not be mixed, so one must make a choice in the beginning.

For reasons of convenience and practicality and because there was no real benefit, we choose to use conventional oil and a standard filter system. Also, one of the purposes of the ATW project is to test and demonstrate a "standard" boat, and the Lugger engine in "Nordhavn" is absolutely standard.

Interestingly, as I write this on the afternoon of December 26, Jim Leishman (here at PAE) and Dave Harlow (on board the ATW boat) are in the process of solving a potentially serious problem that has come up. The standard Lugger oil filter is remote mounted and plumbed with two high pressure hoses (supply and return). One of the hoses has developed a leak and we don't have a spare hose on board. We have consulted with Alaska Diesel and asked for permission to use the one remaining good hose to bypass the filter and return the oil to the engine unfiltered. ADE is highly opposed to this and has recommended that we simply keep adding oil to replace that lost and divert to the nearest port. We are diverting "Nordhavn" to Truk and ADE is sending out replacement hoses today by Fed Ex. Fortunately, we have many gallons of new oil on board as well as several gallons of used oil. If we had been using synthetic oil with little spare oil on board, we would be very frustrated right now.


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