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Marine Cooling Systems and Heat Exchangers

Marine engines, as well as automotive engines are, cooled by circulating water thru the engine block. Marine engines are unique in that there are two different types of cooling systems. The standard raw water system, and the fresh water (commonly known as the closed) cooling system.

Raw Water Cooling Systems

Raw water cooling systems draw water from outside the boat (seawater or lake water). Water is pumped from the source to the engine block then the engine circulation pump forces the raw water thru the engine block and the water is expelled thru the exhaust. Raw water cooling systems are relatively simple and the standard cooling system on most Marine Engines. The raw water pump in most cases is inside the outdrive. On larger engines and inboard engines the raw water pump is located inside the boat and is driven by a v-belt or directly off of the crankshaft. There are hidden dangers that can accumulate over time causing you to spend big Dollars on repairs. The danger is using salt water as a coolant in your engine. Salt water can be highly corrosive. Running salt water through your engine block and exhaust manifolds will lead to destructive corrosion that is unseen until your engine or exhaust manifolds fail.
Generally speaking, marine engines cooled with raw water, especially ones that use salt water, have a shorter life span than marine engines cooled with a closed cooling system.

Fresh Water Systems with Heat Exchangers and Keel Cooled systems

Fresh water cooling systems, also known as a closed cooling systems, come in several varieties. The most common type utilizes a Heat Exchanger which functions similarly to the radiator in your car. Coolant (antifreeze) is circulated through one side of the heat exchanger where it is cooled by raw water that passes through the other side of the heat exchanger. The engine coolant is then circulated back into the engine. The raw water is expelled out of the boat thru the exhaust. Another common type of closed cooling systems is known as a Keel Cooler. This is done by eliminating the use of a heat exchanger. Instead of pumping raw water into the vessel’s heat exchanger where it cools the coolant, the coolant is pumped through pipes or aluminum extrusions on the outside of the hull where the surrounding water (lake or ocean water) cools the coolant before it is pumped back into the engine. The use of keel coolers removes the need for a heat exchanger, raw water pump and the other components necessary for pumping raw water into the heat exchanger to.

Fresh Water Cooling System

Fresh Water Cooling System

Fresh Water Cooling Systems using a Keel Cooler

Fresh Water Cooling Systems using a Keel Cooler

Closed cooling systems are more complex than raw water cooling systems, but have distinct advantages:

  1. Minimal internal engine corrosion.
  2. More effective at cooling the engine and allows you to run your engine at higher temperatures, resulting in better engine performance and fuel economy.

How A Heat Exchanger Functions

A Heat Exchanger transfers, or “exchanges,” heat from your boat engine’s coolant to raw water pumped from the water outside of your boat. The raw water is pumped through a bundle of small tubes in a chamber filled with the hot engine coolant. The tubes are cooled by the colder raw water the allowing the tubes to absorb the heat of the engine coolant.

To function correctly, a heat exchanger must be carefully matched to your boat’s engine. Go2marine carries over 100 different models of heat exchangers from San Juan Engineering , Seakamp Engineering and Sen-Dure . If you aren’t sure which heat exchanger is right for your boat, you can fill out Go2marine’s Heat Exchanger Request form and they will send you a quote for the replacement heat exchanger.

Expansion Tanks

Expansion tanks are an often overlooked but very important part of a closed cooling system. As the engine coolant gets hot it expands, increasing in volume. The expansion tank is a small tank that simply provides room for this increase in volume. In some systems, the heat exchanger is a piggy back style. This is when the expansion tank is built on top of the Heat Exchanger. On some Heat Exchanger systems, the expansion tank is a separate tank remotely mounted. Most heat Exchangers have a fitting built into the tank to install a Zink Anode. This sacrificial anode protects the Heat Exchanger form galvanic corrosion commonly known as Electrolysis. The Zinc should, be checked once a month to insure protection of the Heat Exchange and prevent pre-mature failures. Another important component to the Heat Exchanger is the cap on expansion tank similar to the cap on your cars radiator. It is an important component in, maintaining your cooling system’s pressure. It should, be checked regularly for leakage and corrosion. The boat engine parts specialists at Go2marine recommend that you replace the cap on your expansion tank every two years.

Article by: Michael Weller

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