Sunday, January 21, 2024

Commissioning - Testing, Finding, Fixing

Spring 2021

The other primary goal of commissioning is to test everything, find issues, and fix them.  These are complex boats, each one-of-a-kind in many ways, and completely built by hand.  That leaves a lot of opportunity for things to be not quite right, so EVERYTHING needs to be checked and tested.  And I arguably went over the top on this.  I had been locked out of the yard for the last 9 months of the build because of COVID, including all the sea trials and system shakedown.  My original plan was to find as many issues then so they could be fixed quickly by the yard before the boat even shipped, but that wasn't possible, so everything had to be done once the boat arrived in Seattle.

I was determined to really check everything carefully, figuring that more time spent during commissioning would mean fewer issues once we started cruising, and that seems to have paid off.  It took a long time to get everything sorted out - 9 months to be exact - but it was worth every day since we subsequently had a nearly trouble free 6 months of cruising.  Nothing stopped us, or even slowed us down which is how we like it.

My "checklist" of things to confirm/test was just short of 700 items, and I went through each and every one of them.  Every piece of equipment was inspected to confirm it was as intended, was installed correctly, and worked as expected.  Much of it went quickly, but along the way you inevitably find problem that need to be fixed.  Here is a sampling of some of the things that we needed to work through:

  • Standard equipment on the boat is an electric selector valve to switch between the two water tanks.  It was stuck and just threw an error when we attempted to operate it.  The valve had to be replaced.
  • I had ordered higher capacity vent fans for the heads, but that got lost along the way and the boat was built with the standard fans.  So they needed to all be replaced.
  • There was no fuel return for the diesel boiler.  It can be installed either with or without a return, but servicing is much easier when there is a fuel return enabling it to self-bleed, so I had specified that in the build.  So a return line had to be installed.
  • I have two identical alternators on the main engine, and the panel meters were showing unequal output from them, yet a clamp meter on the positive cable showed they were equal.  It was a while before I dug into that problem, and it turned out to be a negative cable connection that was supposed to be isolated from the alternator frame, but was making contact and allowing a bunch of the return current to flow through the engine block and the boat's ground system.  That was a good one to find and fix, and now the meters always read the same.
  • One of my contract requirements was that all machinery be mounted on rubber isolation mounts.  It makes a huge difference in how much machinery noise is transmitted through the boat.  There were a few places where the yard missed this, so they had to be added.  On my previous boat (N6062) you could hear the freshwater pump running throughout the boat.  On this boat, with the isolation mounts, the only place I can hear it is in the master bathroom which is directly over the pump, and only if I'm really listening for it.
  • We have a hot water circulating pump that circulates the hot water on demand so you quickly get hot water at a faucet without having to run the water forever, wasting a bunch.  There were a handful of issues with how it was plumbed, the location of check valves, etc. so it needed to be reworked a bunch.  We also relocated the pump to a more accessible location.  Also, the pump was super noisy.  At first I thought it was just because there were no isolation mounts, but even after installing them it was still really noisy.  It turns out it was a Grundfos look-alike pump, not the real thing.  My specs called for a Grundfos, so it was replaced and is now silent.
  • We had a bunch of very odd error messages from the Outback inverters about mismatched version numbers, lost phases, etc.  All inverter versions were the same, everything was wired correctly, and this turned into a huge time sink trying to fix it.  After a lot of experimenting I finally discovered that the Cat5 cables linking everything together were not terminated correctly, and on close inspection you could see clear issues, and some even failed with a cable tester.  Whoever installed the cable plugs was clearly doing it for the first time.  I rebuilt all of them, and that got everything working - or at least working a lot better.  It was months later that I cam across a firmware update, and one of the fixed issues had to do with reports of firmware mismatch. Sigh.  There is more to the Outback story that I'll post about later.  Spoiler alert - they are no longer with us....
  • The exhaust for the diesel heat had not been built to specs.  i think the yard was just accustom to building them a certain way, and didn't look at what the boiler requires.  So the exhaust had to be rebuilt.
  • In a conversation with Glendinning about my power cord reel, I discovered that it was installed somewhat backwards.  Glendinning wants the power reel directly above the bucket, but mine was installed at the cord inlet.  Apparently if installed that way the cord is much more subject to jamming and tangling, so we had to rearrange the cord reel installations (two of them).
  • Lewmar overhead hatches.  What a disaster.  Everyone of them leaked.  Then I came across two pallets of them in the shop that had similarly leaked on other new boats.  Lewmar claimed to have found and fixed the problem, and sent us new hatches, all of which leaked.  So we removed them all and replaced them with Manship hatches.  No more leaks.
  • In testing all the horn buttons I found one where the spade terminal had pulled off.  Simple fix, I thought.  Nope.  It turns out the buttons have screw terminals, and the yard got creative and tried using spade lugs pushed over the screw terminals, but they weren't secure.  So we replaced all the horn buttons.  i really like these orange buttons that make the horn stand out from other buttons on the console.
  • On sea trial there was a distinct vibration in the main drive line, and on further inspection we found the shaft was not running true.  After a bunch of additional head scratching and measuring, we concluded that the coupler was probably not machined correctly.  So the boat was hauled, shaft pulled, coupler separated, and it was clear that there was a poor fit between the shaft and coupler.  The contact area was minimal, and the couple appeared to not be seated true to the shaft, which would explain the wobble in the shaft.  Off it all went to the machine shop for refitting, then everything went back together along with a laser shaft alignment to be sure everything is true.  Now it runs great.
  • A very concerning problem was a low oil pressure alarm during our first sea trial.  There was just under 40 psi which seemed OK to me, so we assumed it was a false alarm of some sort.  But it happened again when the Scania distributor was on for their sea trials and application review.  On further investigation I found that the pressure was indeed low, with Scania wanting it in the range of 60-70 psi.  Long story short, it ended up being a faulty oil bypass valve in the oil filter housing.  Pressure went right to where they belonged after replacing it.  The filter was replaced and old one dissected to be sure there was no sign of contamination, and there was none.  Problem solved.
  • Toilets.  You would think manufacturer's would have this one figured out by now, but it seems not.  The first problem were the new designer toilet seats with no visible hinges.  Great, but they don't open far enough to rest against the wall that the toilet backs up against.  If they do get pushed back against the wall, it flexes and stresses the hinges and structure and guess what?  They break.  One broke the first time someone did a pretend sit-down test of the toilet.  So those all needed to be swapped out for the non-designer seats that work and don't break.  Classic designer crap....looks great, doesn't work.
  • Toilets.  Then there are the internal vents in the toilets that let air in behind the flush water.  When you flush, it sends a slug of water down the drain pipe.  That slug pushes air ahead of it which vents out the holding tank vent.  The slug of water also pulls in air behind it, and that air needs to come from somewhere.  There is a little "air admittance valve", aka a vent valve built into the toilet to accomplish this.  Without it, air will be pulled through the water trap in the toilet and go glug, glug, glug, or worse yet it will suck the water trap dry allowing fumes back up through the toilet.  So this vent valve is pretty important.  We had the same Tecma toilets on our last boat and they worked great, but this time the toilets all went glug, glug, glug after flushing.  Thee was a lot of back and forth with Tecma over this, and I was ultimately able to prove that the vent valve wasn't opening easily enough, so air was being pulled through the water trap.  Long story short, I ended up sourcing vent valves with a much lower opening pressure, and that 80% fixed the problem.  But it's still not low enough - just as low as I could find.  I don't know what changed between my last toilets and these, but the vent valve on the new ones just doesn't work.  In all other ways I really like the Tecma toilets, but this was pretty pathetic.
  • In the bottom of the day tank there is a water alarm sensor, and it was leaking.  This one took a few attempts before we realized what was going on.  It turns out that the probe on the end of the sensor was bottoming out in the fitting used to insert it in the tank, and that was preventing the o-ring from sealing.  A quick trip to the local hydraulic and fitting shop produced a different style fitting with sufficient clearance.  Problem solved.

This is just a sampling, but gives a sense of what's involved in shaking out a complicated boat.  It's massively different from a mass-produced automobile, and still significantly more complicated than a custom home.  This ends up being a major source of frustration with new owners who don't know what to expect.  I was thankfully coached on this by others when we built N6062, and that build taught me even more.  After selling N6062, I read back through my maintenance and repair log, and every single thing that emerged as a problem during our ownership of that boat showed itself in one way or another during commissioning.  Some of the clues were subtle, and brushed off, but they were there.  That's why I spent so much more effort on N6837, and tracked down every little strange thing until it was explained or fixed.


  1. Peter I’m typing this on my phone and I can’t log in, that’s why it’s anonymous. When I buy my Nordhavn it’s your blog I’m going to look to, for you find/solve problems the way few others do. Thank you for this insight, and happy cruising!

  2. Great summary. I wish I had known this when we bought our new boat. We are three years in and still finding stuff.


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