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Old 10-26-2016, 08:15 PM   #1
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Engine surveyor for Cummins VT555-M's in SF Bay Area?

So apparently, these are not engines that surveyors like to (or are open to) evaluate. That's not an engine we survey, we are not familiar enough with that engine, etc. The listing broker said these engines start fast, don't smoke, and run well, but he agreed that the triple nickels drag down the value of the boat and scare buyers away.

Edit: Also, I called the local Cummins guy and he said "I've worked for Cummins for a very long time, and that engine went out of production about 20 years ago and it's no longer supported, so you should probably plan on repowering to a couple 6BT Recons." (About a $110,000 job.) My broker says the ones in the boat now have only about 2000 hours and we could get another few years out of them first, though. The trick is finding a surveyor who can do a thorough job of evaluating them.

Does anyone have a recommendation for an engine surveyor in SF Bay/Delta area who knows triple nickels well and will agree to do my survey? I have 21 days but that includes getting oil tests back, and then evaluating options and responding to seller. Boat is in Marin County.

Thank you!
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Old 10-26-2016, 10:27 PM   #2
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Tony Athens at Seaboard Marine in SF is the Cummins guru. You can trust him and he will also be absolutely honest about the 6BT conversion as well. I have bought engines from him and had them shipped to Toronto. I would not do this if I did not trust him from that far away,
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Old 10-26-2016, 11:02 PM   #3
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A few questions and comments:
  • What kind and size of vessel is this?
  • Also keep in mind servicing and looking after these 555s is part of the purchase obligation you will be undertaking. If you have trouble locating a surveyor, how about maintenance?
  • Have you perused the boat diesel archives on this engine?
  • Fellow and older Cummins smart TFite Celectric may have a good comment or two on these engines
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Old 10-26-2016, 11:07 PM   #4
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My boat had 555's in it, with only 1900 hours on them despite being installed in 1981. They started quickly, no smoke etc and I likely would have kept them if not for the need to replace leaking fuel tanks. With the engines taken out of the boat to do the tanks I had two thoughts: do a thorough external overhaul, hoses etc while everything was very easily accessible. The parts and labor cost for that was about $20k for the pair. And obviously no guarantees how much longer they would run for.

Or Plan B, which was re-power. In my case with John Deere 6068's. Using 6BT Recons would likely have been a bit cheaper, but IMO the JD's were a better way to go. I'm not sure that you will end up at $110k for a re-power, seems to be a lot of fat in there or maybe for your boat there is a huge amount of labor, exhaust system rebuild etc.

But back to the 555's. Normally a surveyor cannot start taking things apart, whether its a hull survey or an engine survey. So about all you can get done is:
1. cold start. Sometimes an owner might do a pre-start, mini warm-up before a survey. You don't want that situation.
2. External inspection for leaks or new parts, condition of hoses and clamps, belts and pulleys.
3. Condition of anodes. You really want to know that they have been checked 6 monthly and regularly replaced. If not then heat exchanger failure or oil cooler failures might have occurred or be imminent.
4. Oil & coolant analyses. To be of most benefit you ideally would have one or more previous analyses available as well.
5. Run to WOT on sea trial. If one or both engines can't get to 3000 rpm or very close to it you need to get an understanding as to why not.
6. Inspect exhaust cross-overs. These were problematic with OEM marinisation. Most people had replacements fabbed from SS in the PNW. Good ones, a number of years back cost, $12k.
7. Inspect exhaust mixer elbows. The design I had, which might have been normal, allowed for water to go into the turbo if they failed. Which is why my boat had one turbo a lot newer than the other! Depending on design of the elbows and their age, I'd suggest replacing them as a precaution. Turbo rebuild etc is not cheap. One of the bugbears of the 555 is parts availability and cost. Fortunately there were a lot of those engines sold and aftermarket supply is reasonably good, particularly in the US. But an OEM raw water pump will be over $1100.....
8. Review repairs & maintenance history of each engine.

For the above any good diesel mechanic should be fine, I don't think you need a 555 guru for it. Just find one that has a good rep. They might check/look at other things, but unless a problem is identified and the owner consents to more invasive action there isn't a lot more they can do.

No-one is going to be able to tell you how many hours they will have left before failure. If no red flags then I'd give the engines a tick, assuming the rest of the boat stacks up run the 555's until you get issues. It might not be for a long time. For all their detractors the 555's also have a fan base who love 'em. Any issues flagged are just things to use for price negotiation.

When one 555 causes grief, and it will ultimately, you can almost certainly source a running takeout as a replacement. They are available and are cheap - I pretty much gave mine away. Or re-power at that time. Just don't be tempted to repair a busted 555 as its likely to be a slippery slope and the other engine might give grief a week later if Mr Murphy is around. Which means source a pair of running take-outs if that is the way you go at the time.

Edit. Yes to the suggestion above of at least talking to Tony Athens.
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Old 10-26-2016, 11:45 PM   #5
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Thanks Brian, sunchaser and the Other Gary!

Quote:
Originally Posted by sunchaser View Post
A few questions and comments:
  • What kind and size of vessel is this?
  • Also keep in mind servicing and looking after these 555s is part of the purchase obligation you will be undertaking. If you have trouble locating a surveyor, how about maintenance?
  • Have you perused the boat diesel archives on this engine?
  • Fellow and older Cummins smart TFite Celectric may have a good comment or two on these engines
This is a 1978 vintage 53' x 16' Pilothouse, custom Ed Monk design built by Nordlund. They commissioned two boats that year. This is Hull #14. Kind of looks like an OA Mark I, but with no Portuguese bridge, and instead, a larger PH (couch, 2 chairs, coffeetable, TV on a lift, wet bar, as well as centerline helm, all in Pilothouse). There is no flybridge.

The boat has been maintained recently - and possibly most of her life - by Lowell Freeman at GGM. Lowell says the engines are fine, but are due for a cooling system service. The yard they have almost always used is KKMI. Engines were recently serviced, aftercoolers rebuilt, not sure about the crossovers that are on there now, Brian... The boat was this year completely awlgripped w/topsides & decks getting new nonskid (some nonskid did not adhere very well to the surface, which we need to have examined), there is no teak, just all glass, and boat has a new electrical panel, too, with modern switches on the circuits. Apparently just shy of $200K was spent in the past couple years to bring the boat up to date.

I have read some of the posts on the VT555's, which some feel get an undeserved bad rap, and others feel are so expensive to work on and temperamental that they may be cheaper in the long run to just replace. I will join boatdiesel and research further, thanks!

Brian, the Recon 6BTA 5.9-330's plus trannies and controls/gauges are around $35K a side, plus $40,000 labor (this is San Francisco after all, ugh) = $110K.

I can contact Tony but he is 6 hours drive from here, each way. He might know someone up here.. Vaughn at AAA Marine, same thing, far away.

Our survey should help us on the fuel tanks' condition. These are aluminum fuel tanks, about 900 gallons. Appear to be original, need to assess the condition of the welds underneath.

Names I have for engine surveys, does anyone know these folks?:
Martin Chin
Chet Valdes
David Perez
Stacy's Marine
Edward Martinez
Barrie Ridgewell
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Old 10-27-2016, 06:42 AM   #6
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Craig
Sounds like you are on track. With new transmissions in your repower cost estimate it seems about right.

If you go ahead I would suggest using the boat for at least one season with the 555's. If you re-power you wont add much value to the boat from a valuation/insurance perspective, or resale for that matter. So you need to be really sure that it is the boat you want to keep for 10-15 years before going down that path.
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Old 10-27-2016, 07:51 AM   #7
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Brian, thanks! Good plan. Yes, in fact I will be living aboard 100%, no more house after this weekend. So living comforts will be important (heat, hot water, laundry which it has none now, etc.). I am paying close attention to your other posts, because I would like to make some of the same improvements as you have. I will also have a huge rooftop area for solar panels and would like to try to add solar electric hot water. My boat has the original 1978 electric space heaters, not hydronic heat. Once I attend to the needed mechanicals and hull items, I will then work on basic comfort ones. And a BBQ.
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Old 10-27-2016, 07:59 AM   #8
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Tony quoted me 22K last summer for 6BTA 330's plus shipping. No Trannies.
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Old 10-27-2016, 08:11 AM   #9
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Quote:
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Tony quoted me 22K last summer for 6BTA 330's plus shipping.
Great, that helps. I will call down there today and speak with him. The nice thing about the repower would be that it allows me to reorganize the engine room, and free up a little space, because these 270hp VT555s are big and heavy. Perhaps I could take the boat to a less expensive area for the labor. But I really need to earn more money to save up for it, as it would drain almost all of my liquidity at the moment.

I need some very good quality surveys and then a list of to-do's. Maybe Tony knows one of those surveyors. I am hoping someone can help me choose one. My broker will, but I like second opinions.
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Old 10-27-2016, 09:29 AM   #10
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Nordlunds are a great vessel, but both the hull and engine will benefit or suffer from prior care.

That obvious stuff said, since you will be a live aboard with presumably low cruising time the engines may be just fine for some time. Especially with the previous caretaker there to monitor and assist.
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Old 10-27-2016, 09:39 AM   #11
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Thanks sunchaser. I am buying the boat from the family (surviving wife) of the original owner. They are a quite well-to-do family and they bought it back from the second owner in 2010, and the second owner was of similar calibre and is an insanely enthusiastic yachtsman, who now owns a different trawler in PNW. When they bought it back from him, the boat still had the original blueprints, and logs/records/manuals. The listing broker has no idea if they are still around and the owning family doesn't seem to be aware either. My guess is that they are likely stowed somewhere on board.

Since the boat needed a lot of updates in the past 2 years, my guess is that their repurchase of her in 2010 was more an emotional thing (memories of the just-passed family patriarch/commissioning owner) and the boat wasn't used much and some maintenance items may have been deferred. I am hoping they did the necessary things though, to keep her in serviceable condition, so that I can get another 4 or 500 hours (2 or 3 years for me) out of the engines.

I will probably have Kent Parker do the hull survey, and just need an engine surveyor who is not put off by the VT555 engines and can competently assess them. I also absolutely need them on board for the sea trial and need a blow-by test.
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Old 10-27-2016, 09:46 AM   #12
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I know Marty Chin from Bay Marine Diesel on Alameda
Excellent technician, very knowledge, I gonna contact him in order to survey a detroit diesel on a steel trawler
Good luck with your survey!!
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Old 10-27-2016, 10:47 AM   #13
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Craig,


I would recommend Stacy's Marine Service. He did my Cats in 2013 when I bought ASD in Oakley. I was very happy with his work and his reputation is known well around Central CA. I also used Erinyes Corp (Brendan Schmidt) for the hull survey.
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Old 10-27-2016, 10:53 AM   #14
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Thanks Tom! So I have votes for Marty Chin, Orvis Stacy, and my broker seems to favor Chet Valdes. I have some calling around to do.
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Old 10-27-2016, 10:57 AM   #15
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Nice thing about Stacy is he will sit with you and explain his finding. At least he did with me.
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Old 10-27-2016, 11:15 AM   #16
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Hi,
I had a V504-M, almost the same engine,. Installed new, new boat.
Rated 197@3000 intermittent (8 hours out of 24)
No work needed on engine, only raw water pump, heat ex-changer, and maybe the alternator(memory?).
Was still running fine when I sold it with 10,000 hours.
take this for what it's worth to you.

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Old 10-27-2016, 11:26 AM   #17
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Thanks Ted! I called down to Seaboard Marine and they said "parts for VT555's? Uhm, good luck with that... Call Vaughn at AAA Marine and see what he says about that..."
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Old 10-27-2016, 12:05 PM   #18
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Yeah, that's about the same response as up here, but without
a referred name to consult with.

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Old 10-27-2016, 12:10 PM   #19
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Marty Chin is not interested in doing the engine survey. He said "there have to be other boats for sale...".
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Old 10-27-2016, 07:10 PM   #20
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I have the V555M, naturally aspirated unit.

If the engines start smartly from COLD and the smoke clears quickly that says the engines are likely fine. These old girls do smoke when cold though so get moving under a light load. Most engines of the period smoke.

Once warmed you could check for blowby. There will be some but this is a redneck way I use on mine [courtesy Ski in NC].
Try first at idle. While running loosen the valve cover cap. It may bobble a bit which is to be expected. Cover it with your hand so it doesn't launch. If it wants to launch then the engine is worn. Then remove the cap and cover the opening with your hand. If you feel only a light pressure the engine is likely fine, if you feel a distinct puffing or pulsing one or more cylinders are worn.

If the engines appear ok at idle then try the same with the engines under a reasonable load. Don't have to be planing, just a good smart speed.

Usually parts for service are confined to filters, belts,alternator, starter, raw water pump, in your case the turbo and cross over which I do not have., maybe the coolant circulation pump. Cleaning of the heat exchanger and the gear cooler should be done and zincs changed often but a good rad. shop should be able to help.

Most of those items parts and rebuilders can be found for with a bit of searching and asking around if Cummins can't.

Cooling systems require good maintenance and understanding and adherence to the requirements. NOt hard but just need to be done.

PT pump and injectors can still be rebuilt at good shops however these things , if given clean fuel, will last a long time. The catch is good filtering which would be the case even with new engines or there will be trouble.

They do need an injector setup and valve adjustment as they live by that.

If Parts such as liners, pistons, cams are needed then I agree it would be time to repower. Those engines are likely counter rotating so internal parts are not interchangeable. I'm not sure when the gears changed so that counter rotating engines were no longer needed.

If those engines start and run as described above then they should give good service for some years yet. Just be prepared.

My experience with my now 38 year old, 6,200 hour engine [had it for 31 of those years] has been good but I have also run it as a trawler, 7-8knots, for most of those years. so it has had an easy life.

And an offhand opinion. If you absolutely cannot afford a repower with 6bt recons in the next few years then rethink the boat. Those engines may last many , many years yet with care but just seriously consider this. The boat sounds like it should be worth it. It's just a question of can you handle it.

I say that because as my boat pushes 40 years hard I am well aware that if my engine has a serious problem it will be time to repower. I do almost all my own work so am fairly familiar with its needs. One of the reasons we have kept the boat is I can afford, although not easily, a repower. THe other boats , larger, that we often looked at we would not likely have been able to and did not want to get into that situation..

I actually like the darn thing but I also want to use the boat so my ideas have changed somewhat over the last few years as I realize the serious parts are harder to get so a repower may be a possibility.

If you do proceed then if you wish to contact me do so. Can be done through the forum.

And by the way in my area, Vancouver, B.C. there are lots of these engines running around yet.

Enough blather.
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