8 Things Marine Engineers Must Know About Starting Air System On Ship

Different methods are employed for starting the marine diesel engines on board ships depending on the type and kind of the engine . Some of the most common forms of methods used on board ships are manual, electrical and mechanical systems.

In ship’s main propulsion or in auxiliary engines, considerable torque is required to overcome the inertia of large reciprocating masses. For this purpose, the energy stored in the compressed air is used.

Mentioned below are important points that marine engineers must be consider while operating starting air system of marine engines.

Watch: Operation of Starting Air  System of Main Engine

1. The required range of starting air pressure

The starting air pressure should be such that it provides enough speed to the piston during its compression stroke for quickly compressing the charge air and reaching the required temperature to initiate combustion of the injected fuel. The starting air pressure is generally of the same range for both the main propulsion engines and the auxiliary engines i.e. between 25 and 42 bars. If the air pressure goes higher than this, then the components of the engine should be sturdy and robust to cater for the same.

The regulation says that the starting air reservoirs should be able to provide 12 consecutive starts without replenishment. For non-reversible engines, 6 consecutive starts are sufficient.

2. The time period for the induction of starting air

It is in the expansion stroke that the starting air valves are opened to provide a positive torque to the engine. For 2 Stroke engines, the starting air valves are opened when the piston just passes the top dead centre and closed when the exhaust valves are about to open in uniflow scavenged engines and exhaust ports in closed and loop scavenged engines. In 4 Stroke engines, the exhaust valves are open for a similar phase when the piston passes the top dead centre and closes before the exhaust valve opens in the expansion stroke.

For 2 stroke engines the starting air valve is open approximately 10 degrees before TDC (this is actually provided for the valve to open fully when the piston passes the TDC) and around 5 degrees before the exhaust valve opens. In a pulse turbocharged 2 stroke engine, the maximum starting air angle is of 115 Degrees.

For 4 stroke engines, the starting air valve begins to open 4 degrees before TDC and begins to close 130 degrees after TDC.

Starting Air Bottles
Starting Air Bottles

3. The overlap period

Overlap is the simultaneous opening of two starting air valves during the starting air sequence. It is necessary to start the engine in any crank position and thus this ensures that at least one valve will open when the starting air is inducted in. If there is no overlap provided, then the engine could stop in any position with all the starting air valves closed, when the starting air was given.

There should be a minimum overlap of 15 degrees provided and the ideal condition should be between 20 degrees and 90 degrees.

For a 4 cylinder 2 stroke engine the firing interval is 90 degrees (360/4) and if the starting air period is 115 degrees then the total overlap period would be the difference between the two, i.e. 115-90=25 degrees.

 4. Indications of leaking starting air valves and the cause of their leakage

The leakage of starting air valves is indicated by the overheating of line between the starting air valve and the starting air manifold, when the engine is in operation. The heating generally occurs due to the passage of hot gases from the engine cylinder to the starting air line. Thus during manoeuvring, each starting air line should be felt for temperature close to the starting air valves. The common causes of leakage includes foreign particles deposited between the valve and the valve seat from the starting air supply system, preventing the valve to close fully or valve operating sluggishly because of incorrect clearance between the operating parts.

To determine the leakage in the starting air valve if the engine is standstill, the automatic starting air valve is kept in open position and the air to the distributor is kept shut. Indicator cocks for all the units to be kept opened. The air is now opened from the starting air receiver. Engage the turning gear and bring each unit’s piston to TDC. The leakage of air can be checked from the indicator cocks of the corresponding unit. This will indicate the starting air valve which is leaking for a particular unit.

5. Running of engine with the leaking starting air valve

If overheating of a particular line is felt and the starting air valve leakage is detected, then the starting air branch on the starting air manifold will have to be blanked off. If two or more starting air valves are removed from the engine, then there could be a possibility of engine failing to start in a particular crank position during manoeuvring.

Thus, the reversing control can be operated and the engine can be given a small starting air in the reverse direction to obtain a different crank position or the turning gear could be engaged and one of the pistons shall be moved in position just after top dead centre to get the positive torque to turn the engine.

6. Slow turning valve

If during manoeuvring, the starting air is not inducted for 30 minutes, while the engine is on wheel house control, then there’s an automatic activation of the slow turning mode in which the engine is turned very slowly for at 8-10 rpm and the air is restricted by a slow turning valve. This is done as a precautionary measure to prevent damage to the engine while starting, if there were an oil or water leakage.

7. Running direction interlock

Interlocks are the blocking devices which ensure that the engine is started or reversed only when some conditions are fulfilled or satisfied. Running direction interlock is an essential trait that prevents the injection of fuel to the engine when the telegraph doesn’t synchronise with the running direction of the engine. It is an important application in the crash manoeuvring when the starting air is used to apply brakes on the engine by reversing the operation.

8. Turning gear interlock

Turning gear interlock is another important thing that prevents the admission of starting air to the engine cylinders when the turning gear is engaged. If the starting air is admitted with the turning gear engaged, then the turning gear along with the motor will fly off puncturing the bulkhead. Thus the interlock is necessary to prevent such accidents.

These are some of the most important points marine engineers must know about the air starting system on ships.

Do you know any other important points that can be added to this list? Let’s know in the comments below.

You may also like to read – Compressed Air Line On Ships – A General Overview

Do you have info to share with us ? Suggest a correction

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  1. Good job Shalabh. Its always nicer to get a consolidated explanation of a system.

  2. Thanks, sir!
    I’m a student of marine engineering. I’ve learned many important things about starting air system. I hope to read more of your articles 🙂

  3. Thanks a lot , sir. I am a 4th engineer.

    I’ve learned many important things about starting air system. I hope to read more of your articles.

    More grace to you as you educate us more.

  4. Thanks a lot lot… Actually I’d always visiting to this site as my only reference about my course marine engineering… I have incoming exam and I don’t know what kind of exam is that, very hard they say… But thanks u have a lit of knowledge I’ve acquiired … So guys, hoping that u will help me to pass it 🙂

  5. Sir, do interlocks reset by themselves?
    In reversing completed interlocks is it necesaary that fuel pump rollers also reverse for start air to be admitted coz i read somewhere that in man b and w the fuel pump rollers reverse during the first revolution when the engine is on air? If this is true does it mean that only if air distributor does not reverse the revering incomplete interlock will take action irrespective of fuel pump revering? And in that case if the engine does start on air with the fuel pumps not reversed will it start on fuel and how will this affect the engine?

  6. Glad to see your article sir.
    in very simple language and detailed helped a lot to class iv people.
    thank you sir…!!

  7. When you refer to the minimum requirements for air-compressed starts, where do you get this information from? It would be really useful if you could provide your sources.


  8. Dear sir, I am appearing MEO Class 2 oral. A question has been asked that, “how to check turning gear interlock of M/E?” that means how I will understand the turning gear is working correctly for safe operation of ME. Thank u. by: Arifuzzaman

  9. There is a control valve which stops the starting air to operate when the turning gear is engaged. Check the control valve operation and functioning.

  10. Chief; You state “The regulation says that the starting air reservoirs should be able to provide 12 consecutive starts without replenishment. For non-reversible engines, 6 consecutive starts are sufficient.” Please tell us what regulation that is. SOLAS? a Classification Society?

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