Don’t Forget to Bring Spare Engine Parts When Cruising

Dan Dickison

Cruising sailors rely on their motors a great deal more than they want to confess. Even though the internet has indeed helped close the gap in between parts providers and cruising sailors in far corners of the planet, the long-term cruiser however has to carefully consider which spare components as well as supplies he needs to carry with him.

A list of suggested spare parts will differ somewhat by what brand name you engine you have and where you are travelling. Components for our old Volvo MD2B were really expensive and difficult to find anywhere, so my wife Theresa and I had to balance our desire to be self-sufficient along with our skimpy budget.

Fuel Filters

We had a Dahl fuel filter, most other boats had Racor. We located fuel filter components all over the world, however obtaining the amount and micron rating we needed to have was no guarantee. Keep in mind you have at the very least two filters: a remote main filter between the tank and the engine, and a factory-installed auxiliary filter on the motor itself. The secondary filter is certainly generally more challenging to find.

Engine Oil

In case you’re choosy about motor oil– and you should be– you might find your preferred oil in some countries. In some cases it is readily available under a different label, and with a little research study you could sort this out. Generally speaking, you’ll be able to locate diesel motor oil with the specified American Petroleum Institute (API) certification or its equivalent practically anywhere you can purchase fuel.


You’ll need spare V-belts for you alternator, especially if it’s the high-output type. It is almost impossible to judge the quality of a V-belt just by looking, and when you leave the US, it’s harder to find the industrial-rated V-belts that you need to have for high-output alternators.


Alternators have a fairly high rate of failing, but a repair is frequently as easy as changing the brushes. Many cruisers switch out factory-supplied alternators with high-output versions, conserving the original factory alternator as a spare. This might sound fine theoretically, but swapping between different types of alternator might require adjustments in alignment, belt length, or even voltage regulation systems.


Probably one of the most neglected part of the drive train is the gearbox. Gearbox fluid does not last forever, but exactly how often must you change it? A few engine owner’s manuals do not even give replacement time periods. Mechanics Nick talked with said the oil in a typical two-shaft gearbox, like the Hurth, must be changed at least at every other engine oil change, or 200 hours of operation. Make sure you understand what type of fluid your gearbox uses– it might be engine oil, automatic transmission fluid, or something else. Just like every other consumable, carry enough for at least a year of service.

This is just a preliminary list, but it covers the most common items. For a more detailed list of spares, check out Nigel Calder’s excellent book dedicated particularly to marine diesels: “Marine Diesel Engines, Maintenance, Troubleshooting, and Repair.” 

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