Editorial June 1, 1998 Issue

The Way Things Work

Last June, we published an article on gensets that gave specifications of most major brands; discussed some of the key issues, such as 1800 rpm vs. 3600 rpm and synchronous vs. asynchronous alternators; and gave some modest recommendations. A number of readers wrote to request actual tests.

By October, we decided to do just that. Dan Kerr, owner of Kiwi Marine Services, our neighbor here at the Ted Hood Marine Complex, agreed to receive the gensets at his engine shop and set up each unit. Rufus Van Gruisen, of nearby Cay Electronics, agreed to work as a consultant, checking the test set up and helping to analyze the wave forms and other data generated from the load bank, meters and oscilloscope. Then we set out to obtain a half-dozen gensets.

Executive editor Dale Nouse made the calls to Kilo-Pak, Mase, Fisher Panda, Northern Lights, Kohler, Westerbeke and Onan. We asked that each manufacturer supply an 8 kW model by December 15.

As is so often the case, getting product is half the battle. Everybody was busy. The Christmas holidays loomed. One genset was dropped by a forklift operator at the factory. By the first of the year, we had but one unit. The rest arrived over a month-long period, except Westerbeke and Onan, which decided not to loan us units.

Each arrived by some road freight service, more often than not on a cold, windy day or in a driving rain. The truck driver would bang on the door, present a manifest, and say something like, “It weighs 600 pounds.”

Fortunately, another neighbor at the yard, Life Raft & Safety Equipment, has a forklift for rent. While the driver waited, sometimes not so patiently, I’d go get the forklift, drive back to the truck, unload the genset, and deposit it somewhere in the crowded confines of Kiwi Marine Service’s shop. We had the Mase, Northern Lights, Fischer Panda and Kohler units, but no Kilo-Pak. And the Northern Lights 8 kW unit was being redesigned so they sent us a 6 kW instead. Meanwhile, Dan Kerr wired and set up the fuel, water cooling and exhaust systems. We spent hundreds of dollars on hose, fuel fittings, clamps and other stuff.

At last, one day in early March, all was ready. The Mase, Kohler, Fischer Panda and Northern Lights were tested over a two-day period. Then we had to return the borrowed load meter and oscilloscope. Soon thereafter the Kilo-Pak arrived. And when we informed Mase that their genset was awfully loud and Northern Lights that its genset didn’t perform quite to spec, Mase sent us a second unit and Northern lights said their redesigned 8 kW model was now ready for testing.

Trying to find another load meter wasn’t easy. Finally, through the good will of the Simplex company of Springfield, Illinois, we obtained one on loan. Another oscilloscope was borrowed from Electra Yacht, a marine electronics specialist.

So, in mid-April we tested the Kilo- Pak and the second Mase. The president of Northern Lights passed away and the company was unable to ship the 8 kW by our deadline. We visited Westerbeke in Massachusetts to conduct similar tests in their facility on a 8 kW set, which, while helpful, were incomplete as it was impossible to take comparable noise readings. Onan mailed specs but never fulfilled its offer to provide its own test data.

Such projects never go smoothly. That, with all due respect to David Macaulay, is the way things work.

In any case, we were told by more than one manufacturer that no one has ever tested this many different brands of gensets side by side. Several said they occasionally buy a competitor’s product for testing, usually just one of particular interest, but the results are never made public.

If you’re thinking of buying a genset for your boat, probably because you have or want air conditioning, the story begins on page 12.

—Dan Spurr

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