Video: Starting A Cargo Ship Engine Is A Lot Harder Than You Think

These days, starting an engine on a modern automobile is an event not even worth of half a thought. In many cases, you don’t even need to turn a key; just sit down and press a button, and voila, the magic hamsters have your engine purring in mere seconds, whether it’s below-zero or well into the triple-digits.

By contrast, we have this video of what it takes to get the diesel engine of an almost-1000-foot-long bulk container ship started. Powered by a six-cylinder, super-long-stroke two-stroke diesel engine, with a 27.55-inch bore and approximately 110-inch stroke, the massive engine is four stories tall, and displaces almost 400,000 cubic-inches (or almost 6,500 liters). Running at its maximum engine speed – a whopping 91 rpm, the engine develops an astounding 25,000-plus horsepower.

First, the seawater cooling pump must be fired up remotely and the valves for the secondary low-temp cooler must be opened manually. Then the engine control room’s telegraph—which is essentially the helm’s throttle—has to be tested to ensure that it is working correctly.

Here is a cutaway of the MAN Diesel B&W 6S70MC-C engine. With a “redline” of approximately 91 rpm, you can see that the rod is significantly taller than the average person. With a 27.55-inch bore, and almost 10-foot stroke, you could comfortably stand on the piston (with the cylinder head off, of course) throughout its entire travel in the bore. Did we mention this is the “compact” model?

The engine’s turning gear must be manually engaged—there’s no starter solenoid to pop the gear in and out in this engine. Then, the vent line to the air starter must be manually closed in preparation for an air-test of the engine. An additional onboard diesel generator is brought online to power the engine starting sequence and all of the associated running gear, which must be tested and in good working order prior to getting underway.

With all the running gear checks completed, then the engine room crew can actually go about starting the massive engine. The 435 psi air bottles have to be manually opened to provide the pressure for the air start. The engine is then run up to low-rpm just on air, before being started using fuel.

One fuel is introduced, the engine is run up from essentially quarter to half throttle a couple of times, and then run wide open. Only after this time-consuming process is completed and everything is in the green can the propellers actually be engaged, and the ship is able to get underway. Can you imagine if it took that long to get your car running each morning?

This is just the top of the massive 25,000-plus-horsepower engine. And you thought that big-block cylinder heads were big…

About the author

Greg Acosta

Greg has spent over a decade in automotive publishing as Senior Editor of Race Pages magazine. In his free time, he is a firearms instructor and volunteer in the police armory.
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