Thursday, March 30, 2023

Installing Balmar Serpentine Belt Kit

Replacing the drive belt on our Universal M25-XP

Our Universal M25-XP Diesel Engine on Eximius our 1987 Catalina 34 is probably 35 years old, it may have been built a couple of years before that. In the 8 years that we have owned Eximius, we have gone through just a few drive belts, but we have had to put up with the Squealing of the belt when the electrical system requested a lot of power from the Alternator and the 'Belt Dust' that is shed over the engine despite the frequent checking of the alignment of the pulleys that are driven courtesy of the Drive -V- Belt.

Over the past year, we have made substantial upgrades to our electrical system, including the engine alternator mounting bracket and the installation of a Balmar MC-618 External Regulator with the intent of installing LiFePo4 Lithium Batteries in place of the current Lead Acid House Batteries. The LiFePo4 batteries can pull a substantially higher charging current than the LA batteries. So having a drive belt system that can drive the engine Alternator is important.

Several of my buddy sailors have upgraded their engines (not necessarily the same engine we have,) with a serpentine belt system. They have been very impressed with the results.

Looking up the details of the Serpentine kits online, I found that one important issue was that the replacement engine pulleys are wider than the existing pulleys by about 1/2".  I checked our engine and confirmed there was at least 3/4" space between the front face of the existing pulleys and the engine sound insulation that is on the back of the cabin steps that form the front cover of the engine space.

I ordered the Balmar 48-USP-M25 Serpentine belt kit from - it has come down in price over the past few months and only cost $472.94 total including tax.

In the online order, I asked if they would confirm that it was the correct version for the Universal M25-XP, their response was that I should confirm the version myself.

A member of the C34 Association suggested that I contact Balmar directly. I did and Mike from Balmar confirmed that I had the correct kit version for our engine. I then contacted and confirmed the order. 

Rod Collins from advised that I should ensure that the crank pulley on the engine is a 3 hole fitting to match the kit. It does ( but I had to go check )

Here's the kit:
I expect to have to remove the Alternator in order to replace the pulley, there's a local shop that can do that.

I confirmed that the Coolant Pump Pulley is replaced by the new one ( the pulley on the left of the picture.

The Crankshaft pulley fits over the existing crankshaft pulley.

Note there are two of the serpentine belts, one is a spare.
Of course, some of the kit components are out of stock. 

Here's the plan.

Remove the engine cover ( cabin steps ) and remove the existing V-Belt.
Try to remove the Alternator Pulley - If I cannot get it off then remove the Alternator and take it to a local shop and have them replace the pulley.

The new Crankshaft pulley fits over the existing pulley, I have already confirmed that the bolts are not seized, so install that pulley.

The same goes for the Coolant pump Pulley.

Install the new Serpentine belt and adjust the belt tension by adjusting the Alternator support arm ( note that I'm using a modified support arm that I had made locally )

Test it, run the engine over the full RPM range, Check for belt slippage ( squeal ) 
Recheck Belt tension.

All done.

RIGHT! Boat projects never go that easy!

Ok, everything is ordered, should arrive by February 25th(ish - USPS)

Our plan ( Peggy will be helping offering moral support ) is to go down to the boat when the kit arrives and get down to it. We're taking the boat out for our sailing club's annual Circle Raft up on March 3rd.  -- No pressure --

2023.02.24 09:00 - Just received notice from PKYS tracking that the package should arrive today before 9pm although it's 'out for delivery' right now.
Our schedule is Busy Saturday, We don't go to the boat at the dock on Sundays, but I should be able to start the install on Monday Feb 27th. It's going to be tough but I was planning an article for the Catalina Mainsheet magazine about the install, that would be due delivery by March 1st. - NO PRESSURE -

1st attempt to install the new pulleys.

Well that hit a wall as expected! I was able to remove the Coolant Pump Pulley and the new pulley fits the drive flange where the old pulley was installed.- that's on the Up side.

I was able to remove the outer pulley on the Crank Shaft ( the existing pulleys are all twin belt pulleys ). Basically I removed the three bolts that secure the pulleys to the crank shaft and remove the keyway hex bolt then use a 3 Jaw puller to remove the outer pulley and expose the original inner pulley.

The new Balmar Crank Shaft pulley is mounted over the existing inner pulley, but it does not fit.
The Original Inner Pulley is 130mm diameter
The new pulley's internal diameter is 127mm
( That's measured with my plastic Dial Caliper, so not likely to be that accurate)

And I confirmed that I cannot remove the pulley from the alternator, so I will have to remove the alternator and take it to the local shop and have them remove the old and install the new. But first I'll have to figure out the issue with the Crankshaft pulley. There's a local Kabota dealer just 10mins from my house and they are always helpful, but I'll also contact Balmar to see if they have a pulley that will fit over our crankshaft pulley.

I put everything back together and ran the engine for 10 mins to make sure all was well. We're taking the boat for a weekend trip starting Thursday (tomorrow) evening. We're good to go.

The task continues.

I finished work early the other day ( Thursday) and went to the boat to see if I could pull the Engine Crankshaft Pulley using the same puller as in the pic above.  There's a heavy duty tab washer keeping the Nut on the shaft, I was able to bend that back out of the way and then used a Socket and wrench to remove the nut. It took a few whacks of a hammer to loosen the nut but it came off after a few minutes of effort, then the puller easily removed the pulley and the 'key' fell out as I removed the pulley from the shaft. I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to get that off.

Next item to tackle was the Alternator pulley. I didn't think I would have any chance to remove it although I did have a suitable socket. The alternator spins so easily I didn't think it was worth trying. So I disconnected the main battery +ve at  the battery and then  I removed the Alternator putting a piece of Heat Shrink tubing over the bare end of the big +ve wire  so that I could reconnect the battery in order to keep power available to the Bilge Pump.

With the Crankshaft pulley and the Alternator in hand, I headed to Fort Lauderdale to visit the machine shop and battery / alternator shop. 1st stop was Fort Lauderdale Battery & Electric. They have been really helpful in the past and I think that the majority of patrons go there with a 'problem' whereas I've been fortunate enough to know what was needed and they always come through. I showed them the Alternator and the new pulley. Two minutes later it was all done. Barely had time to warm the seat at the counter.  ( Here's a link to the last time I visited them )  Within 10 minutes of arriving I was leaving the shop with the alternator wearing it's shiney new Balmar Pulley.

Next stop was Tropical Marine just down the road from the Lauderdale Battery & Electric shop. They had made the modified Alternator Support Arm ( here's a link to that article ). They are going to turn the Engine Crankshaft Pulley down so that the new Balmar Pulley will fit over itl, an easy fit. Should be ready this week.

So! Making progress.
Important note. A boating buddy also installed the Balmar Serpentine belt kit on his Boat's Generator. Within just a few hours, the belt was damaged due to misalignment, so I'll be careful to measure the alignment when I put this back together. Probably make a separate post about that, but I think that I should be able to shim any of the pulleys outwards in order to ensure alignment.

Waiting on the phone call from Tropical Marine.

Tuesday, March 16th. Got the call from Tropical Marine, it's ready for pickup.

Wednesday: I drove down to Tropical marine before heading into work today, the new Pulley now fits around the Crankshaft Pulley, it's ready to go. Oh, and all of the holes line up.

I'll work on Monday and Tuesday and take off Wednesday to complete the Serpentine Belt upgrade for the engine. We must  not run the engine yet as our Prop shaft has a problem that the divers should fix in the next few days. 

Wednesday March 22nd.
Well, that was not a real surprise! The belt is too long! 
Down at the boat this morning, I cleaned up the front of the engine with some Spray 9 and a bunch of rags, it looks Spiffy.
Next I installed the Crankshaft Pulley, remembering to apply the TefGel onto the face of the new pulley that touches the old Crankshaft pulley. I did not apply the Loctite to the pulley bolts as I wanted to check the alignment first.
Next was the install of the Coolant pump pulley, that went without a hitch.
Finally install the Alternator that now wears a nice blue Balmar Pulley on the front spindle.

Next was to install the new Serpentine Belt over the three pulleys, and there's the problem. The new belt is at least 1cm too long. The alternator would be sticking out of the access door in the bathroom. 

Grrrr. But what the heck, it's a Boat! 

I called Balmar and the belt is 42" long and they have a 41" belt. They cost $74 each plus shipping.

After picking my jaw up from the floor, it was explained how they would exchange the 42" belts for the 41" belts if I mailed them to their facility in Alabama.

So that's the plan.

Oh, there's another issue. The belt tensioner that I made to use on the V-grooved Pulleys that I have now removed, does not play nicely with the new Aluminum Pulleys. I'll have to polish out the scratches on the surface of both the Crankshaft Pulley and the Alternator Pulley.  At least that's easy as they are Aluminum. 

Ok, held up for a few days. I'll mail the belts tomorrow.

Stay tuned.

Change of plans!

My buddy has replaced the V-Belt on his boat's Generator and had the same issue, belts too long. He suggested I contact I did, Two new 41" belts arrived 3 days later and cost less than the shipping both ways to balmar. So I'm not sending the balmar belts back - if you know anyone that wants a pair of 42" 10 ridge Serpentine belts free for pickup or shipping --- let me know.

Thursday March 30th.

Went down the to boat, completed the install of the belt and checked the alignment, looks as close to perfect as I think I can get it. Ran the engine, all worked pefectly, the belt did seem to stretch/loosen a little, but I retensioned it in about 5 mins.

Oh! Forgot to mention: When I used my home made belt tensioner to try and tighten the 42" belts ( unsuccessfully ) the tensioner damaged the alternator pulley surface. Today I took a set of fine files and removed any burrs off of the alternator pulley. Note: Do not use a tensioner that might damage the pulleys!

Once the tension was correct and aligned, I removed the bolts for the Crankshaft pulley, one at a time and applied the Locktite supplied with Balmar Serpentine belt kit. Then did the same for the coolant pump pulley bolts. The final thing to do was bend the tabs of all of the locking washers on the alternator support arms and re-run the engine to confirm all was good - it was. 

Phew, so glad to complete this project. Of course, the engine sounds a whole lot better or is that just that my ears are satisfied with completing the project.

Here's all of the info about the kit, PKYS and Balmar, Lauderdale Battery & Electric and Tropic Marine products.

Balmar 48-USP-M25

Subtotal: $442.00
Discount: $0.00
Shipping: $0.00
Sales Tax: $30.94
Total: $472.94

Purchased from PKYS Inc.

410 280-2267


15201 39th Ave NE
Marysville, WA 98271
Customer Service: 1.360.435.6100 x1
Technical Service: 1.360.435.6100 x3

Fort Lauderdale Battery & Electric

2415 SW 3rd Ave, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33315

Tropical Marine  

Tropic Marine Products
217 SW 29th Street
Fort Lauderdale FL 333015
Phone: 954-779-7038


Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Switching to Lithium ( LiFePo4 ) batteries.

Finally - Switching to LiFePo4 Batteries.

Our Flooded Lead Acid Batteries capacity has dropped enough to demand replacement. As all of the Battery Charging devices on Eximius have a Lithium Profile, now is the time to switch up.

    Battery Chemistry: I have spent months researching the Lithium options and the most important is the battery chemistry. Right now, the safest battery chemistry is LiFePo4 - Lithium Iron Phosphate. 
Battery Build: There are 3 formats available.
        DIY Build from LiFePo4 3.2v Cells
        Drop in batteries with built in BMS ( Battery Management System)
        Drop in batteries with external BMS ( basically - Victron LiFePo4 Batteries )

Battery Choice:
The DIY build is clearly the lowest cost, and the highest density ( Ah per given area ) but I'm not prepared to make such a big investment in time to make my own battery system. I want to go sailing.

Victron batteries are awesome, but not in the budget, but if they were, then that would be my choice.

Drop in Batteries with Built In BMs - lots on the market, readily available and very reasonably priced. Many of the brands have been tested to destruction by reputable YouTubers. 

My Choice: Chin Batteries, not only do they get good reviews, are available but I know other boaters that are using them successfully.

Battery Bank Size

I want to use the existing battery bank box. It's under the cabin seat just forward of the galley and is near to the distribution bus bar and the shunt, very little wiring to change.

I could fit a single 200Ah LiFePo4 battery with room to spare or 3 x 100Ah batteries, again with room to spare, but not room for 4 x 100Ah which would be great but just not enough room

 So, 3 x 100Ah Chin LiFePo4 Smart Batteries with built in BMS and Blue Tooth connection to monitor the battery internals.

Here's the Wiring Schematic:

Here's the Wiring Diagram:

Parts ordered, they should all arrive in the next 3 weeks. That will be after the St. Pat's weekend, a welcome break.

The plan:

  1. Drill the hole for the Battery Disconnect Switch
  2. Drill the holes for the Battery Bus Bars 
  3. Disconnect the Lead Acid Batteries and remove them from the boat
  4. Install the BusBars and the Disconnect switch
  5. Install the wires to the BusBars and Disconnect switch and to the Shunt
  6. Install the new Batteries
  7. Make up the wires from the BusBars to the Batteries
  8. Test the system
Tools: Cordless Drill and Hole Saw, Drill set, Socket Set, Digital AVO meter, Heat Gun, Crimper kit, Big wire cutter, Screw Driver and Screw Driver bits

  • Battery Disconnect Switch
  • BusBar
  • Fused Busbar
  • 12v LiFePo4 Batteries x 3
  • 1/0 Red Tinned Copper Marine wire 
  • 1/0 Black Tinned Copper Marine Wire 
  • Nuts & Bolts to hold the Busbar and Fused Bar in place
  • Heat Shrink tubing 
  • 3/16" and 3/8" Tinned copper terminals
Notes. I have ordered one of the three LiFePo4 batteries. I could install that battery but the others should arrive soon.

Everything has been ordered, and the bits are arriving. 

My schedule is pretty full for the next 12 days, so I should get everything by then and can complete the install by the end of the month. 

But it is a Boat!

Update: Tuesday March 28th.
All of the parts arrived except for the 4 Stud Busbar, they should be here in a few days. Meanwhile, the 3 Chins LiFePo4 100Ah 12v batteries arrived and have to be charged to 100% I'm really glad that I went with the Blue Tooth Option, it's really the only way to know what's happening inside the battery box.

I purchased this charger online from Amazon.
It's a 4amp LiFePo4 charger.

The charge status is shown via 4 Green LEDs.

When charging, the LEDs flash in sequence from the bottom to the top.

As the charge progresses, the lowest LED will stop flashing and show solid, that's showing 25%. The batteries came with over 50% charge according to the EE-BMS Bluetooth App on my phone.
So as soon as I attached the charger, it showed two solid greens and two flashing greens.

At the end of 12 hours, the battery was 100% charged and the internal Cells were within 

0.008V ( 8mV) of each other according to the App.

With the first battery fully charged, I started on the second battery.

The App showed it was at 52% about the same as the 1st.

Leaving the Battery on charge, I took the day off to go to our Sailing Club's Family picnic ( I'll put a pic of my entry to the Dessert Contest below ) 

When I came back, the battery was showing somewhere above 75% according to the Charger's LEDs, but the App would not show the battery.

I exited the App and reloaded it, it showed the other two batteries, but not the one on charge. I removed the charger in case that was causing an issue, but nope! The battery's blue tooth connection would not show in the App.

At about 11pm I sent an email to Chins, remember, this is Saturday night here in South Florida. A reply was waiting for me since 1am Sunday morning!! 
The support guy gave a list of instructions to try and get the Bluetooth on the battery to wake up. No luck, Basically 'Bao' advised me to charge the battery for 10mins then discharge for 10mins several times. Did that. Didn't work.

Not being able to sleep, I had run that test around 4am. I responded to his (?) email and went back to bed. I also sent the screen shots included in this email that show the status of the battery that did charge ok.

By 10am Sunday, Bao responded that they would replace the battery! They would generate a return label sometime Monday. It arrived in my email Monday evening.

The battery is now in it's original box and UPS label applied over the old one. I'll drop the box off at the UPS store this morning on my way to work.

If this is the regular quality of support from Chins then it's worthy! 
Today is March 28th. Let's see how quickly the replacement battery arrives.

Oh, I didn't win the Family Picnic Dessert contest, but I gave it a good show.

It's a Pavlova, my Mom made these on special occasions, I think she would have been proud of my efforts. The best critique was seeing the empty serving dish before the picnic ended. 

I'll post an update once I know about the battery replacement arrival time.