New Fuel Pump and Fuel Filter

The Short Story….

In 2010 I replaced the original mechanical fuel pump and primary fuel filter systems to resolve some maintenance and reliability problems.

The original 20 Micron primary fuel filter was doing an OK job but was not able to handle incidents when water conditions were rough and sediment in the 30+ year old fuel tanks got stirred up. To my knowledge the fuel tanks are original and have never been cleaned.
The fuel filter cartridge is about the size of an apple and is rated at a maximum flow of about 60 GPH, well above Ananda’s relatively modest needs of 1 to 2 GPH. Even so, it plugged up very easily.
The original mechanical fuel pump is on the starboard side of the engine in a spot that is impossible to service at unless other pieces of equipment are removed first. You can’t even see it and manually operating the pump is almost impossible.
I was prepared to have the fuel tanks professionally cleaned and then install dual fuel filters and a fuel polishing system (scary costs on the horizon: $3,000 – $5,000 – or more!) but was lucky enough to meet an expert from Racor who convinced me that all I really needed was a larger capacity fuel filter.
This fuel filter cartridge is substantially larger and is rated at a whopping 180 GPH. Even if sediment gets stirred up in the fuel tanks this filter has lots of capacity to screen it out and keep delivering all that the engine needs.
I hired Ed Breen (Breen Marine), a local marine mechanic in the Goderich area to help me upgrade the fuel filter system. Ed also recommended that I “retire” the mechanical fuel pump and replace it with an electric fuel pump. The electric pump is automatically activated by the oil pressure switch and it also has a manual bypass switch so the pump could be operated manually if needed (great for bleeding the fuel system). A bonus of this setup is that if the engine loses oil pressure then the fuel pump will stop – thereby providing added protection for the engine.
This new primary filter and electric fuel pump system works incredibly well. I have been in all kinds of rough water conditions and it has never let me down. The new Racor 1000MA fuel filter housing and filter cartridge cost about $370 (replacement filter cartridge costs about $9 – the “old” filter cartridge cost about $8). The new electric fuel pump cost about $90 (designed for diesel truck and marine engines and is available at most auto parts stores).

The Long Story….

Ananda is the first boat we have owned that has a diesel engine. The two sailboats we had previously owned had outboard motors so there was a dramatic difference and a steep learning curve for me. Fortunately, we are in a marina with many seasoned sailors who own sailboats with diesel engines – lots of good experience and advice available at a small cost (a cold beer or a glass of rum is common currency in our marina:) ). Plus, I found a great marine mechanic who lives in the area and knows diesels.

I have also spent a lot of time reading up on diesel engines and researching on the internet. One thing that I learned quickly is that diesels insist on having clean fuel.

The major elements of the fuel system on Ananda consist of two large tanks (one on port & the other on starboard – each holds 300 litres!); a 20 Micron primary fuel filter / water separator; twin secondary filters (10 Micron) and a mechanical fuel pump (on the starboard side of the engine).

I realized that an older boat with large fuel tanks represented a potential for fuel problems – especially when running the engine under rough water conditions because sediment in the fuel tanks could get stirred up and clog the filters. Well, it wasn’t too long before I encountered that very problem….

One fine summer day in 2009 my friend Chris Cavanaugh and I were out sailing in a strong breeze with lots of whitecaps on the water. After bouncing around for a few hours we decided to drop the sails, start the engine and head back in to the marina. The engine only operated for a few minutes before it started running very rough, stalled completely and would not start again. We put up the sails and headed for shelter behind a nearby breakwater. Thankfully it was mid-afternoon and there was lots of daylight left.

Once we were safely anchored behind the breakwater we lifted up the engine covers and started troubleshooting. I changed the primary filter and tried to bleed the air out of the system by manually operating a small lever for the fuel pump (as instructed in the owner’s manual). This lever is on the starboard side of the engine. Because of all of the other equipment it cannot be seen and is almost impossible to reach with your fingers. This procedure was attempted for about 30 minutes with no progress except for the back of my wrist and several of my fingers being rubbed raw. We abandoned that method and changed to running the engine starter while holding down the “engine kill button” until the air was bled out of the lines. Thankfully this procedure worked very quickly and it was not long before we had the engine running again and were safely back at the dock.

I cannot imagine what I would have done with a problem like this if I had been alone, in rough water, in the dark and with no safe place to easily access. As a result I resolved myself to come up with a better system for delivering clean fuel to the engine. This was critical to me as I was planning to go on an extended cruise the following summer and I knew that for major portions of that trip I would either be sailing alone or with friends who were totally new to sailing.

I started to intensify my research about fuel systems and was leaning heavily towards purchasing and installing a fuel polishing system. Between having my fuel tanks emptied and cleaned and the new fuel system I figured I was going to have to spend between $3,000 and $5,000 or more – not a happy prospect!

In January 2010 I went to the Toronto International Boat Show with the intention of talking to some of the experts there and zeroing in on the right system for Ananda. I was lucky enough to meet up with a representative from Racor who really knew his stuff. I told him about my problem and about what I was planning to do. He said he would happily sell me all the stuff that I wanted but what I really only needed was a new, and larger fuel filter – at a fraction of the cost of what I was prepared to spend! This was indeed my lucky day!

I ultimately purchased the fuel filter system recommended by Racor and the next spring I had my marine mechanic help me install it – along with a new electric fuel pump – as recommended by the mechanic.

This new system works even better than I had dared to hope for. The total cost of the installation, including the mechanic’s time cost me less than $800 – a far cry from what I was prepared to spend. Since installing it I have never had trouble with the engine and dirty fuel – and I have traveled thousands of miles and logged several hundred hours on the engine. I would highly recommend this approach to anyone who is dealing with dirty fuel problems.