Buy a Beta Marine engine with confidence?

Date posted: 28 July 2013

This is an account of what can happen when you select the wrong Beta Marine engineer to fit your Beta Marine Engine

My husband, a friend and I were sailing our boat around the Scottish Islands in 2011. During that summer we endured continual problems with our original old Volvo engine. The engine became trickier and trickier to start; various engineers came on board and confirmed our worst suspicions, there was a compression problem.  The beginning of the end was the introduction of easy start squirted into the pistons each morning to get the engine going. To cut a long story short, the engine gave up on route travelling south from Scotland to Ireland, late at night. We notified the Coastguard and sailed directly to the Irish coast, dropping anchor with some relief near Larne. We then tacked along the coast to Bangor where Beta Marine had informed us there was a Beta engineer.
At Bangor the Beta Marine engineer came on board and we instructed him to fit a new Beta Marine engine. We bought the new beta marine engine direct from Beta and paid the engineer BACS. We left the boat at Bangor and came back home to Cornwall, we chatted regularly with the engineer and developed quite a nicer banter.
Approximately six weeks later I went back to Bangor with my son in law and two of his family members, before we headed back to Cornwall the following day with our brand new Beta 38hp engine installed.
Over the following period the engine had preformed really well. We would both smile when we started her up, often commenting how wonderful it was to have a new engine….little did we know! In our ignorance we did not know that the variation in revs occasionally, was an indicator of serious problems. I did the sea trial in Belfast Bay without the engineer on board and from the very beginning I had had engine noise variation, I thought that is what a Beta marine engine should sound like.
Now we jump forward 20 months.
On a sunny becalmed day in July 2013 we set off from Hope Cove in Devon, heading west. One hour into our motoring journey the engine just stops…dead! My husband and I go down below and run the usual checks, fuel…tick, water….tick, oil…tick, battery…tick, hoses attached….tick, correct lights on panel…tick.
At this stage we were not worried as the engine is only twenty months old. The sea state was calm (not even a ripple on the water), no wind, in the day light, and nowhere near any rocks. But after an hour of tinkering, we put out a Pan Pan message with the coastguard.  A pilot boat on route from Dublin to Antwerp diverted and towed us to Plymouth. Towing our Westerly Riviera at ten knots, a speed I would normally only dream of! We handed over three bottles of wine and lots of thanks!
On the tow back, the pilot boats engineer stayed on board, and with my husband Sean they followed the fuel from the tank to the fuel lift pump, and it was decided that the problem was either the fuel lift pump, or the fuel injector pump
Once in the marina in Plymouth a friend who is a marine engineer came on board and started the process of elimination again, taking pipes off, blowing down them, changing the water separator and oil filter. He thought it was the fuel lift pump, which was not lifting the fuel as well as he thought it should.
The following morning I rang the Beta Marine Office and spoke to the after sales team and explained our problem. I spoke with a gentleman called Adrian who was extremely helpful, he thought that it was very unlikely that the fuel lift pump had broken after only twenty months, but he would put one in the post for us. That pump arrived the following morning, we all went right back to the boat, but changing the fuel lift pump didn’t help.
Back to the drawing board, we could get fuel to the fuel injector pump, but not past that point. As the engine was so new, we decided to speak to Adrian again. He suggested we contact our local Beta Marine engineer in Fowey and ask someone to come and have a look. We already knew the team in Fowey as they had serviced previous engines for us.
The following day found Adam from the Fowey Harbour Marine Engineers on board examining the engine. Immediately he observed that the exhaust hose and syphon hose were incorrectly positioned. The water lock not being low enough and the syphon not positioned high enough. Adam immediately said that he felt he knew what the problem might be. Adam started to remove the fuel injector pump, but even though all the nuts and bolts were removed the injector case couldn’t be separated from the engine, the stop valve was in the out position, preventing removal.
Once the fuel injector pump was removed and laid out for us all to examine, we could clearly see that it was covered in oil and what felt like a fine sand, but was in fact aluminum filings. There were also water marks on the four ‘rollers’.
salt water damage to the rollers

salt water damage to the rollers

 Adam explained that this was not a warranty issue, and therefore not covered by Beta Marine. Adam spoke to Adrian from Beta Marine and explained the problem. Adam then went on to remove the exhaust hose; internally this was covered in large salt crystals. Not a good sign.
 blog pic

hose with salt crystels

Our hopes of a quick and easy repair seemed less and less likely. Adam explained what had happened to us. Salt water had been coming back up the exhaust pipe into the engine when we keeled, eventually causing the fuel injector pump to seize. Adrian at Beta Marine was aware we had had the engine fitted in Bangor, by a Beta recommended engineer, so although the problem was not covered under warranty, Beta Marine would arrange for a new fuel injector pump to be fitted and for our engine to be flushed through several times with cleaning fluid to remove the salt water, the filters and oil would also be changed, it was hoped this would help us on our way. We felt that this was very kind as the problem was not a warranty issue.
That evening we spoke to the engineer in Northern Ireland, who apologized for the problems we were having but said he didn’t feel that after twenty months of use that it could be a fault with his fitting.
Sean and I slept on the Beta Marine offer. But even as lay people we realized that having that quantity of salt water all the way through the engine was bound to have caused more unseen damage.
By now it was the weekend again and as it was costing us money to sit in the marina, we accepted a tow back to Fowey from a yacht berthing beside us. The trip eventually involved a drag out of the marina and two tows getting us to Rame Head (another two bottles of wine), from here we had a ten hour technical sail to Fowey, in the lightest of winds. We picked up our last tow, back onto our mooring, from just outside the harbour mouth by a fishing boat returning to port – more wine handed over! (Sean’s wine stocks have been totally depleted by this incident)
Monday morning in Fowey and the boss of Fowey Harbour Marine Engineers Nick Beard came on board; he looked at the engine, and took lots of photographs and spoke with various people at the Beta Marine Office. He measured out the water in the fuel lock, which came to just over four litres and should have been less than a quarter of a litre. He checked the syphon hose, following this back and found a T junction; he emptied the exhaust hose and found it to be full of water. His prognosis was the same as Adams that the pipework had been incorrectly fitted; it would appear the engineer had left the original fittings for the exhaust hose and the syphon hose from the Volvo engine. The problem being the new engine was a different height to the old engine, a 100mm difference. There was no difference in the height of the water coming in and exiting, with the hoses left in the old position when the boat was keeling over water was coming back up into the engine.
Sean and I instructed Nick to remove the rocker cover to look for signs of rust.
 When Adam removed the cover, inside was rusty; Adam then removed everything down to the piston level. All four piston faces were rusty and piston three was uneven, indicating the con rod underneath was bent. Worse than that there was a crack in the block!
finger pointing to crack

pointing to crack

 Sean and I sat there stunned. Having spent more than £10,000 on a new engine less than two years previously we were again facing a massive bill for repairs, due to the pipe work being incorrect.
We contacted our insurers, thankfully we had legal cover, and having spoken to the legal team they agreed to help us gain some form of redress from the original engineer.
On the Tuesday afternoon, Nick Beard from Fowey Harbour Marine Engineers contacted me, in a very cheerful manner and said ‘guess what I have in the back of my van’; I said ‘I’ve no idea’. He then went on to explain that Beta Marine, having studied his photographs and read his report where giving us a brand new engine and we were to have the boat craned out so that they could fit it all for us! They would address the issue of the fitting with the original engineer for us.
The initial engineer who fitted the engine may have made a mistake by not checking the water levels, presuming if they worked for one engine they would do the same for the next, let’s be honest, I am pretty sure he didn’t do it deliberately!
So from a story of doom, gloom and poor service, Beta Marine and Fowey Harbour Marine Services came up trumps and saved the day. If asked would I recommend Beta Marine….Yes, Yes and Yes again. That’s what I call after sales service. Thank you Beta Marine for my lovely new correctly fitted beta marine engine

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