Engine failure

Engine failure can happen for a variety of reasons.

This section will deal with a number of common incidents that can save you paying €€€ for a mechanic to do a ten minute job everyone should be able to resolve.



The first thing you need to consider is the safety of the boat and crew – do you need to get out of the way of something like a ferry in a narrow channel quickly? Set sail and get out of the channel immediately in this situation, though you should use your discretion. The sails are a very good means of propulsion in many circumstances (that’s why you have come sailing after all!) and sailing out of manure yet still smelling of roses is a source of pride for many a sailor. Equally, do consider the risks – are you in a building gale with seas breaking on rocks just downwind? In this case, drop your anchor while you assess the engine problem.



Electrical failure. If the battery is flat the engine will not start. Some vessels have separate electrical systems for the engine and general use such as the fridge. During your initial checks on coming aboard you should have established this.


Other vessels will have one battery bank concerned with all the electrical supply. In this case, in keeping the beer cold in the fridge you will have prevented yourself from motoring into port.


In this case, you should sail into port and get a tow from the port entrance. Call the Harbourmaster on VHF as you sail in. This will cost €€€. Once ashore, call us at Kavas Yachting and ask how to charge the battery overnight.


The engine will just cough and stop.


Did you check the fuel before you went to sea? You should always have at least half a tank before you leave port. You’d be surprised at how often people get caught out. You have no choice but to sail into the entrance of the port and call for a tow from the Harbourmaster.   


In this case, the engine will just stop running as if you had run out of fuel but there is plenty of fuel in the tank.  

The pipe between the fuel tank and injection pump may have a leak.
Sail into the port entrance, call for a tow, and let us at Kavas Yachting know.



As with air in the fuel system the engine will just stop. If you have routinely run the tank almost dry in the days before this happens, you may have hit the water in the bottom. Diesel has impurities in it, and water will just sink to the bottom of the tank. This is why you should always have at least half a tank of fuel before you leave port that day.


Sail to the port entrance while calling for a tow (this will cost €€€) and let us at Kavas Yachting know.



The oil light will light up on the engine gauge and there might be white smoke coming out of the exhaust. In addition there may be a nasty clanking coming from the engine.


In this case, stop the engine immediately (or as soon as it is safe if a tanker is about to run you down!). Check the oil as you would a car engine using the dipstick. You should have a supply of oil aboard – put some in. This should be no more than half a litre or so.


If there is oil in the engine and it is still behaving badly, stop the engine and get into port as soon as possible. This may be a blocked oil filter and our team at Kavas Yachting should fix this.



You will hear an alarm in the engine bay and a light will come on the control panel saying the engine is overheating. There may be steam in the engine bay, and the engine may stop automatically. If it hasn’t already, stop the engine as soon as it is safe (you are out of a deep water channel for example).


Check the engine water intake for any rubbish such as plastic bags that may have been sucked in. If this is blocked, clear it and re-start the engine. You may be home free.


Check to see that all of the belts are intact on the engine. One that might be broken is the external water pump belt. Get into port, and call us.



If there are issues that you cannot identify but there is clearly a problem, call us at Kavas Yachting. In all of the situations above and many others, remember it might not always be your fault but an oversight on our part. Report the problem and we will do our best to fix it as soon as possible.