This page is a collection of the little items that can change our boating experience from Trauma to Pleasure.
I have learned several of these thing from hard earned experience, but many have been learned from experienced sailors while sitting around -often in foreign ports- reminiscing about past passages.
We invite all of you who have lessons learned, to share your experiences with us here.
Springing On and Off a Dock
For this scenario, picture trying to get your boat into a mooring (parking) place that has just about enough room for your boat. Unlike what you learned in driving school for parallel parking, you do NOT pull alongside the forward boat and back in. Remember the Seinfeld episode where George was backing in and another chap was pulling in? They had a standoff for the whole show, blocking traffic, etc.
Well, in docking a boat, George loses.
Assuming you are landing port side to the dock, pull the bow in and use a spring line from forward on the boat to a cleat or piling aft of that point. Then the helm should be put hard right and given power. That will swing the stern into the dock. That is the art of springing your boat into the dock because you are using a spring line.
To spring off the dock, use the same spring line from the forward on the boat (bow) to a cleat or piling aft. Now turn the helm hard left and apply power. Once the stern kicks out, release the spring line and back out.
(Note on the spring line: Assuming there is no one on the dock to help, use a “clean” spring line. That means there can be no knots, loops or anything that will catch on a cleat, dock or whatever. The spring line goes from the boat, around the cleat on the dock and back to the boat. Once the boat is sprung off the dock, release the bitter end and pull the clean line through the block and back to the boat. You are then clear to head for your next destination.
I learned this one from an old Dive Boat Captain:
Ever need to fill up your tank from a jerry jug? You don’t have that latest gadget with you that you purchased from West Marine?
Capt. Tommy showed me a neat trick.
All you need is two pieces of hose. (the hose size will become clear as you read on.)
First take two hoses the first one is fairly short, just long enough to go from the top of the jug to your mouth.
The second one (a larger diameter) goes from the bottom of the Jug to your fuel fill on the deck.
Once the two hoses are placed into the top of the jug, just get a small plastic bag or a rag and stuff that into the top of the jug to try and stop most of the air that you blow from coming out of the jug.
You guessed it. Now you just blow down the short tube to get the fuel flowing. As soon as the fuel starts to flow you can just sit there and watch the jug empty. You will not spill a drop!
Hurricanes for Dummies ( Capt. Tom)
(Or how to still own a boat after the storm)
Despite the lack of a heavy Hurricane hit for a couple of years the wise boater should keep in mind how to keep their boat from being someone’s living room decoration in the event of a storm. As a Marine surveyor I am primarily employed doing loss assessment surveys for underwriters. This perspective sees every variety of damage and I believe that much of it is avoidable.
Many say ‘That’s what insurance is for.’ but as an insured you must participate too. Keep in mind Insurance claims are a difficult and complicated process and you do not get paid for your time. Also note that your policy may not replace all of your personal belongings has a deductible that you are responsible for and could include depreciation based on the age of the vessel. Something it darn sure cannot renew is any good memories that you will miss while not having your boat during the months it takes to repair it, so let’s look at ways to avoid damage. I would much rather meet you out on the water than surveying your boat after the salvers raised it from the muddy deep.
While nothing may help in the event of a ferocious boat gobbling storm like Katrina with her 20′ surge and furious wind there are some things you can do to protect your boat.
You must act in advance as it’s obvious from the forecasting that the Meteorologists cannot predict the exact landfall time, place or ferocity. Don’t get me wrong NOAA does a fantastic job but the Federal Government has yet to issue them a crystal ball.
The first subject of discussion will be vessels that remain in the water for the storm.
Securing your vessel:
First of all, throwing an extra line or two on is not enough. Step number one is to determine the best location in which to secure your pride and joy. Keep in mind the probability of storm surge and wind shifts. Storm surge can cause the water to rise from inches to many feet. The theory here is to allow enough slack for the boat to rise with the surge and still not impact any pilings, docks or other vessels. Use robust nylon line to provide stretch to absorb shock and secure the boat with line stretch in mind. Chaffing gear is a must. Use several different points to tie off so that all of your eggs are not in one basket. This goes for points on the boat as well as on shore. Try to avoid securing to any objects that have a habit of getting airborne or falling over during storms. When I get done the result can resemble a spider web. Take care to adjust the lines so that they come tight at about the same time from any one direction of pull so the load is evenly distributed. Do this by moving the boat around while securing it. Keep in mind that if you provide for the surge the lines will be loose but come tight before the boat hits the dock. The boat should be away from the dock, remember impacts are a bad thing and bumpers generally do not have the capacity to absorb hurricane force impacts.
You may need a dingy ride ashore or have to swim after securing the last lines. If need be several anchors can be set to hold the boat off the dock but make them larger than the usual lunch hook. Like really large if you can get them.
Mooring out: Many will argue about the safety of a mooring but I see few claims from properly secured boats moored out in protected areas. The advantages are an easy ride up on the surge and less windage as the bow will always be into the wind and waves no matter their direction. The disadvantages are that you are depending solely on the pendants and ground tackle and the possibility of other vessels getting loose and drifting thru the mooring field. Key factors are a good mooring, either drilled down or heavy is good here and a secure line or chain attaching it. Of course you may not want to bring the chain on deck so you will use a pendant. Large, new and equipped with chaffing gear make sense here. Leave plenty of scope and keep in mind that line with stretch will lessen the shock load so choose accordingly.
Keeping her afloat:
This can be different for every boat but there are a few things to consider.
Have two separate batteries running two separate bilge pumps. DO NOT leave the battery switch on ‘both’. Many sinkers I have had occasion to inspect have a bilge pump or pump circuit failure. I prefer to mount my secondary pump switch a bit higher than the primary so they both don’t run. Make sure that your batteries are in good shape. If they are getting weak then the approach of hurricane season is a great excuse to renew them. Keep water out of the bilge. This sounds kinda dumb as most boats are ‘self bailing’ but they really are not. Those hatches usually leak water into the bilge when it rains from buckets. (You know, like during a hurricane) Add to that the debris that will plug the too small scuppers and down she goes. My tricks sound stupid but I have yet to have an insurance claim and I live in the alley. Hurricane alley.
Most scuppers are simply too small especially when debris is added into the equation. Remember, during the height of the storm the trees are flying by sideways trying to catch up with their leaves and a lot of this stuff ends up in your boat. A common sink strainer fits upside down over many common little round deck scupper gratings to vastly improve the debris stopping capacity. I weigh them down with a few feet of common 5/16″ chain piled on top. If you cant find a strainer just pile the chain over the scupper and it will serve as a strainer to keep the scupper free. I developed this trick after my sailboats cockpit shipped enough water to take a bath in during Hurricane Georges in Tavernier Fl. Another stupidproof trick to avoid a lot of water getting by the hatches is to run a line of duct tape over the seams or filling them with cheap caulk. These two tricks got my dive charter boat through Hurricane Floyd (1987 Key Largo) without either of the bilge pumps coming on once.
Windage: This is a huge problem. During hurricane force winds a Bimini top makes a dandy sail. Get the picture? Not only do you lose the top but the wind load puts incredible strain on the dock lines and can easily cause your boat to impact the dock until it is debris on the bottom, or at least rip the top and frame off to join the debris field somewhere far from your boat. Even if you only lose the top be advised that canvas is sometimes subject to heavy depreciation, as it should be, so you may not get a very fat check. Also the bars can tear up gelcoat among other things.
The other main offender is the roller-furling jib on sailboats. Take it down or roll the jib sheets all of the way up around it and secure the heck out of them. If it unwinds picture it flailing, loose clewed, tearing itself apart along with whatever gets in its way. Add to that scenario the added wind load from setting the headsail in hurricane force winds and you have a recipe for disaster. It doesn?t take a genius to imagine the stick coming down. My thoughts are divided between removing the sail completely from the foil or just securing it. Removing does cut down on the wind load but the sail will protect the foil from impact damage from those flying roof tiles. Six of one, half dozen of the other. Main sails, shade canvas and the rest are a no brainier. The canvas I like to see left on is a well-secured helm cover to protect the instruments from a hundred mile per hour pressure cleaning. If the cover is loose one around a binnacle wrap it up like a cocoon with line to keep it from luffing and thus beating itself to shreds. Check your policy to see if your company is one of the ones that has discontinued coverage on canvas of any type.
Flying debris. There isn’t much to be done about the low flying mobile homes and screen enclosures that a truly tough storm tosses about but I’ve seen easy to fix things like coconuts do a lot of damage. Have a look around for loose stuff. The beginning of Hurricane season is time to give the coconut palms a bikini trim to reduce the size and number of missiles they supply. Trash cans, loose lumber, lawn furniture; anything that can trash your paint job should be secured.
Boats on trailers. Tow them to high ground if you can then the same windage rules apply. Leave the plug out and the bow high enough to let her drain. Taping the hatches is a good idea as well as covering the instruments with a tight fitting helm cover or taping them over. Tie the boat down and try to keep it somewhere away from those pesky falling trees. Right up against a building is a good thing.
If you have any questions about how to best prepare your vessel for a storm talk to a local boater who has been thru a few blows. You may get some local knowledge.
Captain Tom Eckhardt SAMS SA
East Coast:1482 NW 20 ST Homestead FL 33030 Phone: (305) 219-1336
West Coast: 10651 Habitat Trail Bokeelia, Fl 33922 Phone (239) 440-2675
So there you are crusing along, the weather is perfect, the fish are waiting in line to bite and all of the sudden the engine loses power and your outing comes to a sudden halt. You open up the engine compartment to see a wisp of smoke come off the now glowing and worthless lump of iron in the bilge. Rutt Ro !
Has this ever happened to you? And I bet your first thought was “ why didn’t I get any warning?” Or, “What the heck happened?”
So you get a tow and call your mechanic and then abide by the boating acronym BOAT-Break Out Another Thousand-or ten in some cases.
Read on and I’ll ‘splain ya a few ways to avoid many catastrophic engine failures, save money and above all preserve your safety while enjoying boating.
First things first, despite popular belief, engines talk constantly and when they are happy they sing, maybe in an eight cylinder serenade. We must merely learn some more of their language, then listen.
The media by which they communicate is not the common language we may recognize. It is more subtle.
First and foremost-Gauges, two of them very important to engine life. Coolant temperature and oil pressure. Lets start with temperature.
Watch it from when you first start the engine cold. Note the time required to reach idle speed operating temperature. If it hasn’t risen to operating temp the engine could be saying “Don’t put me under full load yet, or maybe, is that gauge working correctly?”
If it goes up to operating temperature at idle faster than usual or idles warmer than usual it’s saying “start looking for a problem” If it rises to the usual no load temp at the usual rate it’s saying “Everything in my department checks out captain”
Once underway, making way, watch it rise to cruising temp. Did it rise at the usual rate to the usual temp? I like to mark the gauge at cruise temp with a teeny piece of tape so a quick glance tells me that I have a happy engine.
If the temp is just a bit over normal then you may well have a problem developing. Fixing it when it’s small will result in a relativly small repair bill. It may be as simple as a bit of junk in the seastrainer or it may be something more like a waterpump but it will in all likelihood be cheaper than getting the engine so hot you can roast hotdogs over it.
Now lets look at oil pressure gauges. Same basic game at start up as water temp. Does it act normal, does it go up immediately upon startup. When the oil is cold it will read higher due to the higher viscosity of the oil when cold but it will do pretty much the same thing every time, allowing a little variance for ambient temp at startup.
Once you are at operating temp and normal cruise rpm take a close gander at exactly where it is and mark it. If it drops a few psi over a day, look for leaks. As you loose oil from an engine the remaining oil tends to run hotter, reducing its viscosity and thus the pressure. Reduced oil supply is probably the most common and cheapest reason to loose pressure. Also when you are due for a change the gauge may read a pound or two low due to the lost viscosity of the old oil, the message here is change me. The engine is trying to communicate through the gauge.
Other reasons for the pressure to drop are more expensive and can be the result of just plain old age or abuse like having been run low on oil or too hot in the past. If we listen to what the engine says it will live to retire of old age.
Let’s address some different types of gauges now.
The most common type of gauge is the factory supplied electrical analog gauge. For my money they are not all that accurate but they commonly read consistently and that is the key. Is the gauge reading normally is the big question. Keep in mind that an electric gauge can give varied readings if fed varied voltages. For instance if the alternator has given up the game [are you watching the voltmeter?] the system voltage will drop a volt or two and the gauges will read differently. Now the average boater may not notice this needle width difference in the gauge readings but the skipper who becomes one with his engine will be slapped in the face by it and potentially save the day. Or a lot of boating budget bucks.
The other common type of gauge is the mechanical gauge. These came first and are not dependent on the electrical system at all. This I like because it makes each gauge an independent system on its own and it is not affected by system voltage. Another good thing about mechanical gauges is that they are available in wide sweep models. The common electric gauge needle moves 90 degrees throughout its range and Mechanical gauges are available with sweeps of 270 degrees. This means that for every degree or PSI of change the needle moves three times as far. I look at this as amplifying the engine’s voice at the helm station.
Alarms are another way the engine can communicate with the Skipper. Don’t leave the dock without them but don’t depend on them totally. They are not a cure all even though some engines are delivered with alarms only.
They tend to vary in effectiveness from engine to engine. On some models when a major coolant hose fails and rapidly blows all of the coolant out of the engine the water departs the area around the sender and air or steam remaining will not heat it up quick enough to save the motor. In a past life as a mechanic I have removed many a charred cinder from the depths of the bilge for this reason. On the other hand if it is a small leak the coolant temperature will rise and pass the sender’s threshold at which time it will faithfully alert you.
Oil pressure alarms are a different animal but have their limitations also. The pressure at which they alert you varies widely according to the specifications of the particular engine but one common denominator is that a hot engine develops a lot less oil pressure at idle than at cruise therefore the threshold for the switch must be low enough that the alarm does not sound at end of the day when you are idling the engines at the dock trying to get to the weigh in station to weigh that monster Dolphin for the tournament.
The problem is that the engine requires more oil pressure to operate without damage at high loads than at idle so if you have a relatively small leak [and aren’t watching the gauge] the engine has an opportunity to operate under load at damagingly low pressures for too long. The result is that when the alarm goes off it is informing you that it is now time to see your mechanic about a new engine. On the good side, when you blow a full flow oil line the pressure drops immediately and the alarm does its job.
One final note about alarms-Make them LOUD enough to get your attention in any boating situation.
So you can see that both alarms and gauges are necessary voices for the engine to communicate with the skipper.
Other things the engine says to the skipper are more subtle and require a meeting between the two parties before each cruise. These meetings always start in the engine room under the engine’s conditions but the skipper has no choice but to submit to the demands of the engine to assure safe boating.
Topics of discussion include:
Are the accessory drive belts in good condition and at the proper tension. Excessive belt dust is a telltale sign of a loose belt or every once in a while an accessory getting ready to fail.
Is the coolant level up to snuff? If small amounts of coolant dissapear the motor is trying to tell you something. It may be as simple as a coolant cap or it may be a seal or hose ready to spoil your day. Either scenario is less expensive than a new engine. If there is soot or oil in the coolant there is a different story to be told and you may want a mechanic for an interpreter. Now check the oil. Oil analyses is a great way to see what your engine is trying to say at least every other change. This measures the metals wear rate in the engine and detects excess fuel dilution or water intrusion that may not be visible on the dipstick. Some engines are oilaholics and that may not indicate a potential catastrophic failure, it may just indicate a past bad day in the form of overheating or some other malady. Many times they can deliver many more days of fun, albeit at a slighty reduced efficiency. Your job is to listen to what the engine says which means: is it using the usual amount of oil? Keep track of engine hours to track consumption. Of course you will know if it is going into the bilge because you are going to. . .
Look for leaks of any kind, water, fuel, oil, exhaust anything. Keeping the area clean helps here and a flashlight doesn’t hurt. The closer you can locate a leak and the earlier you find it the less the mechanic will have to charge you.
Look for other potential problems while you are in the engine room. Chaffed hoses, rusted hose clamps, water in the fuel filter anything unusual.
The preceding paragraphs describe a few things you can do with what is supplied with your boat from the factory to improve your communication with your engine. Now lets address a few slightly more advanced but inexpensive things you can do to improve communication with your boat in general as well your engine to further enhance your relationship with your boat and preserve your boating bucks budget.
We talked about high coolant temperature and low oil pressure alarms but there are other warning devices that can save the day or the boat.
The first is a no brainier. The high water alarm in the bilge. I do damage surveys for insurance companies and every time I look at a boat that has sunk, which is too often, guess what it doesn’t have?
This device is too simple and cheap to not have. An additional bilge pump float switch, some wire, a pizeo buzzer and a 6-volt lantern battery. The louder the buzzer the better and the reason for the 6-volt battery to power the system is so that it does not depend on the boats main battery which may have just expended itself trying to dewater the boat due to a leak. Put a switch in every watertight compartment and the buzzer at the helm. Check the system before and after each outing and put a new battery in at least a couple times a year. Make sure your marina neighbors know to call you if they hear it and you are out working to replenish that boating bucks budget.
The next is a little more involved but a lifesaver. A water flowmeter alarm in the raw water-cooling hose between the heat exchanger and the water-cooled exhaust riser. With this system if your engine looses raw water for cooling you can potentially be alerted before the temperature gauge or the high coolant temp alarm tap you on the shoulder. This system will also tell you if any hose that carries water away from the heat exchanger fails. In this case the High temp alarm would not sound because the water has already cooled the engine. It is however filling up the engine room and despite your being an aware boater and having a high bilge water alarm it doesn’t take long for the exhaust system to burn through with no cooling water. This makes a very large hole in the boat and it seems that the water on the outside of the boat always wants in. . . . . .
Fume detectors: these devices have come a long way. When they first came out I put one on my charter boat for a discount on insurance but ended up disabling it due to constant false alarms. It’s safe to say they are reliable now. Especially if you have a gas powered boat or have propane aboard, get one and make sure it works.
Carbon monoxide detector. If you have a generator to operate air conditioning while at anchor you need one in every cabin that people occupy. Period. Get a marine unit and not a household type, they are different and a household one will not do the job, I don’t care what anyone tells you!
Anchor alarm. Do you anchor out at night? Most GPS units have one and I have personal reasons to appreciate them. . . If you catch my DRIFT. . .
Well I hope I have interpreted some of the things those boats and engines tell you everyday while you are boating. Always remember: Become one with your boat and boating will be a pleasure.
East Coast:1482 NW 20 ST Homestead FL 33030 Phone: (305) 219-1336
West Coast: 10651 Habitat Trail Bokeelia, Fl 33922 Phone (239) 440-2675