Troubleshoot the Generator

Bright white new generator.

Brand New Doesn’t Guarantee A Working Generator

Recently I was with a client that just purchased a new boat to them with a brand-new generator. While doing systems training, we confirmed the sea cocks and fuel valves were open. Then we checked the oil in the generator and propulsion engines and transmissions. All systems appeared ready to start. Little did we know we would shortly be below deck once again to troubleshoot the generator.

I prefer to start the smaller engine first because I can hear it in case it makes an unlikely noise. Today the generator did NOT start but did make a clicking noise- tat, tat, tat! Then the noise stopped. But because we tried to start the smaller engine first, we heard it!

Generator Troubleshooting

Back down into the engine room, we looked over the generator and everything appeared OK. Remember, I am training new owners so let’s go down the list. What can cause this problem on a brand-new generator with fewer than 40 hours? Here are a few of the most obvious possibilities:

  • Bad Battery – When you look at your battery, check the date of manufacture to determine the age of your battery. Check the integrity of the case. If out of square it may have overheated and expanded. This one looked fine.
  • Loose starter connection – Grab the battery cables on the starter and give them a good shake to see if they are secured and snug fitting.
  • Loose battery connection – Grab the cable on the battery and give it a good shake too. We found this new install to be loose and in need of tightening. So the lesson here is don’t assume all is well because an “expert” did the install.

What’s That Noise?

If you’ve ever had an old jalopy then you may have heard the tat, tat, tat when trying to start that old car. Well, that meant there was an electrical problem, either a bad battery or a bad battery connection. On this boat we checked the battery voltage with a volt meter and it tested AOK. Then we grabbed the battery cables and they MOVED! Yes, they were loose and were making a short circuit, not enough electricity reaching the starter so it faulted chattering, tat, tat, tat.

What’s the Solution?

A simple 9/16 box wrench saved the day. Snug up the cable connections and start the generator. Va-roooom! Next, check for cooling water flow overboard and start the main engines. Let’s go cruising.

A few thoughts, do you have tools and spare parts aboard? You should. Click here for a spare parts list  or join us at a seminar to learn more about DIY and how to troubleshoot your generator:

Photos Tell the Story

Take a look at these real world cruising equipment photos. One of them shows what could have happened. Check out the loose connection that actually melted the battery flag post and destroyed the battery aboard a different boat. SO glad we didn’t have a repeat melt down this time.