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There has probably been more written about sailboat engines than any other topic -- entire books have been dedicated to certain types of engine or just a few parts of the engine (see References below).

Engine Types

The main engine types seen on board a yacht today are:

  • Diesel
    • Common Rail
    • Non-Turbo
    • Turbo Injected
  • Petrol (Gasoline)
  • Electric

Each have their advantages and disadvantages and you will find advocates for each.

Diesel Engines

Yanmar Diesel Engine -

Diesel engines are by far the most common type. A diesel engine differs from a petrol engine in that it uses compression to ignite the fuel, and not a spark. This makes a diesel engine one of the more simple types of engine on board a yacht -- as long as fuel comes in and compression happens, the engine must run, there are no spark plugs to worry about.

Diesel fuel is also very much safer than petrol (gasoline) because the vapours are not explosive.

See the books in the References section below for more information about diesel engines, and read the Forum Discussions for some discussions and opinions (which may be biased).

Petrol Engines

Petrol (gasoline) engines are extremely rarely found on sailboats outside of the USA, to the extent where they are almost non-existent. This is for good reason -- every sailboat carrying a petrol powered engine is basically a time bomb waiting to explode. Although carrying small amounts of petrol on board a sailboat is almost inevitable (for powering the dinghy and/or generator), carrying the sort of quantities required to power an engine over long passages is completely unsafe. In addition, per litre of fuel, a diesel powered engine will drive approximately twice as far as a petrol powered engine.

On yachts that are powered by petrol engines, the Atomic 4 is almost ubiquitous.

Atomic 4 engines do have their supporters, in particular see Good Old Atomic 4.

Engine Maintenance

Regular Servicing

See Yacht Maintenance, in particular:



List links to discussion threads on partnering forums. (see link for requirements)


See Also


  • Nigel Calder, Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual: How To Maintain, Repair, and Improve Your Boat's Essential Systems, International Marine/McGraw Hill, ISBN 0071432388
    • The book that should come as standard equipment on every boat. If you're not sure how to do something, it's probably covered in this book.
  • Nigel Calder, Marine Diesel Engines: Maintenance, Troubleshooting, and Repair, International Marine/McGraw Hill, ISBN 0071475354
  • Jean-Luc Pallas, Marine Diesel Engines Maintenance and Repair Manual, Sheridan House, ISBN 1574092367
    • I find this a useful reference and step-by-step guide for general engine maintenance tasks in a format that is sometimes easier to follow than Calder's book, although it's not as comprehensive.
  • The manufacturer's manual for your engine, whatever type, make or model that should happen to be.
  • A parts catalogue for the engine you are servicing. Note that many of the parts that are regularly replaced on most diesel engines, such as oil and fuel filters, morse cables, etc, often have after-market parts that are equivalent. It's important to have a good list of these and find some local suppliers, as well as carry sufficient spares for parts that are likely to need replacing on an ocean voyage (especially in the fuel filtering area).


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