Canal boat breakdown callouts rise again

Canal boat  breakdown  call-outs due to electrical, fuel and engine issues, flat batteries, over-heating and gear box failures etc., rose in 2022 to 3411, 5% up from 3235 in 2021 according to River and Canal Rescue.

An RCR team at work on a major incident.

One of the causes of some of the fuel issues that River Canal Rescue highlighted was an increasing and as yet unidentified condition being called ‘sticky fuel’ causing an uncharacteristic peak in fuel-related component breakdowns unrelated to the previous fuel problem known as ‘diesel bug’. (see below)

River Canal Rescue also responded to 130 major incidents in 2022; emergency situations either involving submerged, partially sunken or grounded craft, plus salvage work. The figure is 24% lower than the 171 incidents RCR reported in 2021, in line with the previous year’s 25% reduction, primarily due to clement weather over the last couple of years including fewer floods and canal breaches.

RCR Managing Director Stephanie Horton comments: “Our waterways are becoming increasingly popular and while RCR is always on hand to help when and where we’re needed most, we always urge owners to give their boats a once-over before starting any journey and carry some spares ….a bit of preparation before you set sail can make a big difference to the success of your journey. Avoiding breakdowns is in everyone’s interest, as it can spoil holidays, place you in dangerous situations and leave you stranded in isolated areas.”

Suspect fuel sample

RCR first became aware of the Sticky Fuel issue when they had two identical jobs where fuel injectors were diagnosed as needing an overhaul, yet their replacements stopped working within a week, and the injection pumps were found to have failed even though the diesel was clear and bright. Their engineers found in both cases, the injector pump racks had seized solid and the nozzles were blocked, and when replacing the plunger filter head, they found the fuel had a sticky, syrup-like substance. Alongside stuck injection pump racks, injectors and filter head plunger failures, they also had cases of fuel filters blocking with wax inside them.

Stephanie says “Initially we suspected sugar in the fuel, but sugar stays crystalline instead of dissolving. We’re now considering it may be related to a change in fuel and fuel treatment additives. This is not contamination in the traditional sense (all the samples sent away for analysis are clear); it’s only the smell of turps that alerts us to a problem.

“Following discussions with several leading fuel analysis companies, we’re now working with a university lab to use IR spectrum analysers and range of samples/treatments to see if we can identify what is causing sticky fuel. RCR is taking these steps as cases are increasing to two-three per week, and although there are some trends and patterns developing in the more cases we see, it’s important to have scientific evidence to back-up our theories. As an industry we must work together to find a solution.”

Thanks to River Canal Rescue for information and images in this report.

All materials and images © Canal Junction Ltd. Dalton House, 35 Chester St, Wrexham LL13 8AH. No unauthorised reproduction.

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