Blog May 2019


Posted On: May 30, 2019


 Whether on the water, in your driveway, or tied up to a dock with no one aboard, it's easier for a fire that gets started on a larger, inboard boat to gain some serious momentum before somebody notices it. Most fires can be traced back to maintenance issues in the DC electrical system, the AC electrical system, and the engine (particularly the engine cooling system); a regular maintenance schedule combined with attention to critical components in each of these systems can have a huge impact on reducing the incidence of fire aboard inboard boats.

But what causes the fires in these different areas?

DC Electrical Fires

In a fire study, Thirty-five percent of the fires that originated were caused by problems in the 12-volt DC electrical system but the fire that starts in the wiring under the headliner or behind a panel in the galley is the exception, not the rule. More than half of DC electrical fires, or 19 percent of all fires originating on inboard-powered boats, were associated with either the engine or the batteries, both of which tend to be in the engine room. That's because there are so many things that can burn in the engine room — fuel, oil from a slow leak, or even, in the case of a gasoline engine, gas fumes — once a DC wiring problem creates some heat.  In addition, starting the engine and charging the batteries generate significantly higher amperages than those in most other areas of the boat. These higher loads create more heat where there are undersized wires, lose or corroded connections, or intermittent shorts. Finally, the vibration from the engine increases the likelihood of chafe in such vulnerable areas as the wiring harness and connections to the alternator and the starter.

Preventing these fires comes down to good electrical maintenance on every component of the DC system associated with the engine and the batteries. Regular maintenance — on a monthly basis during the boating season — should include ensuring all connections are tight from the batteries to the starter to the alternator, making sure wiring is supported and secured to minimize the impact of vibration, keeping battery terminals clean, and inspecting wiring for signs of chafe.

Beyond good maintenance, there are three other steps owners can take to prevent DC electrical fires on inboard boats. Wiring harnesses and starters account for the majority of DC electrical fires on boats 25 years old or older. If you have an older boat and the starter and wiring harness are original, consider replacing them. Another problem area has to do with hooking up the batteries at the beginning of the season. Every year, we see cases where the battery cables were reversed or the batteries were hooked up in parallel instead of in series. See Alerts for some suggestions on ways to avoid this slap-yourself-in-the-head mistake.

 AC Electrical Fires

To have 120-volt, alternating current (AC) to run our air conditioners, our refrigerators, and our water heaters aboard, we usually have to plug in to shore power. Even if you don't have any of these luxuries on your boat, you quite likely still plug in to charge the batteries. In the marine environment, the plugs and inlets/outlets in the shore power system are vulnerable to dirt, corrosion, and moisture, any of which can cause arcing that damages the contacts and eventually leads to increasing resistance and heat buildup.  In addition to the cord itself, the data pinpointed a particularly vulnerable link in the shore power chain: the shore power inlet on the boat. And not the entire inlet, but the terminals at the back of the inlet where the boat's wiring is connected. These inlets are particularly vulnerable to water intrusion, and the connections are subject to vibration and corrosion and are often surrounded by material that ignites easily. They should be pulled out and inspected at least every five years. If there's any sign of corrosion, replace them.

Electric heaters, another hazard continue to be a major source of AC electrical fires aboard. While safer heaters have been developed that are less prone to being tipped over or to igniting anything combustible that falls on them, they still draw a great deal of power, and any corrosion in the shore power system (or worse, household extension cords powering heaters) will tend to build up heat somewhere that can result in a fire.

Automotive-style battery chargers don't have the safeguards to protect your boat while the battery is charging, especially long-term. Battery chargers are much like heaters, but in addition to the demands they make on the shore power cords and connections, using an automotive battery charger instead of a proper marine battery charger can easily lead to fires aboard. High-quality marine battery chargers are not only designed for the marine environment with potted components that resist water intrusion, but they also use multi-stage charging regimes and temperature sensors to make sure the batteries get just the right amount of current at each stage of the charging cycle.



Posted On: May 27, 2019

How Likely Is Your Boat To Be Struck By Lightning?

Here's an article by Charles Fort for BoatUS

Spring and early summer are the most active times for thunder and lightning storms. Here's the good news and the bad.

Thunder stormPhoto: David Keen

According to reports from our BoatUS Marine Insurance claim files, the odds of your boat being struck by lightning in any year are about one in 1,000. Some states, such as Idaho, have no lightning claims (no surprise). But for those of you with boats in Florida, nobody has to tell you that the odds there are greater. Much greater.

Thirty-three percent of all lightning claims are from the Sunshine State, and the strike rate there is 3.3 boats per 1,000. Not surprisingly, the majority of strikes are on sailboats (four per 1,000), but powerboats get struck also (five per 10,000). Trawlers have the highest rate for powerboats (two per 1,000), and lightning has struck houseboats, bass boats, and even PWCs. Lightning-strike repairs tend to be expensive and time-consuming, but there are things you can do to lessen the damage after a strike.

You Can Run, But You Can't Hide

Volumes have been written about methods to mitigate damage or even avert a lightning strike. Lightning, however, doesn't seem to read them. As an example, one boat, fitted with a popular "fuzzy" static dissipater at the top of the mast, was struck twice in one year. Ironically, the second time the bolt hit the dissipater, it happened even though the VHF antenna right next to it was higher. Lightning is unpredictable. While you can mitigate the damage from a lightning strike, there is nothing you can do to prevent one. So here we'll focus on what to do if your boat is hit.

The Extent Of Damage Isn't Immediately Apparent

The first thing you should do if your boat is struck is call your insurance company and get your boat short-hauled as quickly as possible for a quick hull assessment. The reason is that when lightning exits your boat, it can leave via a thru-hull fitting or even through the hull itself. Even if the force of the bolt doesn't blow out a thru-hull or cause hull damage, it may cause a gradual leak that could go unnoticed and sink your boat.

Damage Is Determined By How The Strike Exits

In a properly bonded system that follows American Boat & Yacht Council standards, the strike should follow a low-resistance path to a boat's keel or an installed grounding plate, though few boats are equipped this way from the factory. While no two lightning strikes are exactly alike, examining a typical claim can shed some light on the possible damages your boat might have if it's ever struck; some may not even have crossed your mind. Example: Priority, a 33-foot sailboat, was struck in North Carolina during a July thunderstorm. Sailboats are nearly always struck on the mast — and this one was no exception. A damaged or missing VHF antenna is typically the first sign that an unattended boat was struck. Sometimes bits of a melted antenna are found on the deck.

It's no surprise that electrical devices are susceptible to strikes; NOAA estimates a strike contains around 30,000,000 volts, and a quick zap to a 12-volt device will certainly destroy it. But lightning is like horseshoes: "Close" counts. There can sometimes be collateral damage when a nearby boat gets hit, either the result of the lightning's powerful electromagnetic field or the current induced by the field running through the boat's shore-power cord. This can create strange problems; some electronics may work fine, others that are adjacent might not, and still others may only work partially. In some cases, compasses have been off by 100 degrees.

In one instance, the owner of a 28-foot sailboat noticed an amber LED on his battery charger that he'd never seen lit before, and his depth sounder had quit working. He couldn't figure out what had happened until his neighbor told him his boat had been struck. On another boat moored next to a struck boat, the compass readings were 50 degrees off and slowly returned to normal after a few weeks. But a direct hit usually causes more obvious and substantial damage.

When a boat gets struck, lightning is trying to find its way to ground, typically the water around and under the boat. When a sailboat like Priority gets struck, one of the paths the lightning takes is down the mast; typically, anything that happens to be close by on the way down can be destroyed: wind instruments, TV antennas, radar, lights, and so on.

Fortunately, aluminum is a very good conductor and allows the strike free passage. However, wood and carbon-fiber masts can get damaged because neither one is a good conductor. Thankfully, damage to the rigging is rare. Though mast-mounted components are the most likely to be destroyed, anything on the boat that is electronic can be damaged. As a general rule, if the equipment works OK after the boat was struck, it probably wasn't damaged; it's unusual for electronics to fail months later.

Often the first sign owners have that their boat was struck is that some of the boat's electronics don't work. Look for fuse failures, and if you have more than a couple of blown fuses, look to lightning as a possible cause. Powerboats are typically struck on the VHF antenna or bimini top, and though electronics are often destroyed, passengers are fortunately rarely injured. Sometimes, however, the engine electrical system is damaged. This underscores the need for nonelectronic signaling devices, such as flares, in case your boat is struck at sea and is taking on water or, worse, if someone is injured.

Lightning Can Be Brutal To Fiberglass

In the case of Priority, the lightning traveled down the mast in addition to the VHF coaxial cable. The cable had been disconnected and was resting against the hull inside the boat. When the strike exited the cable, it had no easy way to get to the water. After traveling a quarter of a mile through air, lightning has no trouble going through a fiberglass hull, and this is exactly what it did, blowing a 3-inch hole on the way. Fortunately, the hole was above the waterline, and the boat was saved from sinking.

Powerboats are also susceptible to hull damage and are less likely to have been fitted with a lightning-protection system. Fortunately, the strike usually exits the boat through the props and rudders, and aside from damage to the bottom paint, the running gear is not often damaged (although electronic engine controls sometimes are). Need another good reason to replace a leaking fuel tank? A 25-foot fishing boat with a small amount of fuel in the bilge exploded at the dock when it was struck, sending the contents of the boat's cockpit nearly 100 feet away. Rarely, the claims files show that lightning enters a boat's electrical system and creates enough havoc to start a fire.

Strike By Type Of Boat

Type of BoatChances per 1,000
Multihull Sailboat6.9
Monohull Sailboat3.8
Bass Boat0.1
Pontoon Boat0.1
Overall Average0.9

Look For Minor Damage

One component that is often destroyed is a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). This can easily be overlooked after a strike. Though it may still power appliances, the protection circuit is often nonfunctional. A GFCI can be easily checked by pushing the test button on the cover. Other small items to check are handheld radios and GPS, bilge pumps, inverters, lights, and fans. It should be noted that lightning is fickle and boat damage varies enormously; one owner saw his boat struck on the mast and yet none of the electronics were damaged. The only evidence the surveyor could find of the strike was a blackened area on the masthead



Posted On: May 24, 2019

Memorial Day History

Memorial Day began sometime after the Civil War with both formal and informal ceremonies at graves and ceremonies for the soldiers who had fallen in battle.  Many places claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day in 1866, including Waterloo, New York and both Macon and Columbus, Georgia.  On May 5, 1868, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), a Union veterans organization, established Decoration Day, May 30, as a time for the nation to decorate the dead with flowers.  Arlington National Cemetery held the first large observance later that year.

By the end of the 19th century, Memorial Day ceremonies were being held throughout the country on May 30.  Over time, the Army and Navy adopted policies for proper observances, and state legislatures passed proclamations designating the day.  After World War I the day was expanded to honor those who died in all American wars, and in 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday to be celebrated on the last Monday in May.



Posted On: May 20, 2019

Consequential Damage

This part of your boat insurance can be vital.

Hurricanes head the list of total claims payouts over the five-year period.

But hurricane activity varies greatly from year to year, and in 2009 and 2010, hurricanes didn't make it into the Top 10 at all. Take hurricanes out, and sinking tops the list. Keeping the water out is a constant battle. Half of all sinkings that occur at the dock happen when some small part below the waterline gives up the fight. The most common culprits include stuffing boxes, outdrive bellows, hoses or hose clamps, and sea strainers. But those parts most often fail due to what insurers call "wear, tear, and corrosion," meaning that the part succumbed to general aging and deterioration.

Most insurers exclude losses from "wear, tear, and corrosion," so they won't pay for the failed stuffing box. But what about your boat that's now sitting on the bottom? Some policies won't cover that, either, because they exclude any "consequential" damage that results from wear, tear, and corrosion. Others will cover the resulting damage as long as it falls into very specific categories, most often fire or sinking.

The most generous policies would cover your boat that just sank, plus the other losses likely to result from a failed part: fire, explosion, collision, dismasting, and grounding/stranding.



Posted On: May 17, 2019


A byproduct of boatbuilding is the release of Volatile Organic Compounds, better known as VOCs. These organic compounds easily evaporate into the air (hence they're "volatile") and are regulated at many  levels, including federal air-quality standards and indoor air standards. If you grew up using oil-based paints in your house and remember when water-based latex paints began to be used, you were witnessing a move away from solvents and the VOCs they contained. There are many sources of VOCs in industrial applications, but you're probably very familiar with the resins used to make fiberglass boats and the paint and finishes used on boats. Bottom paint, in particular, is going through a revolution right now, with the introduction of water-based paints.

Solving The Solvent Issue

Remember the last time you painted your boat's bottom?  It's a messy, uncomfortable process for many of us, but with new, water-based anti-fouling paints, such as Hydrocoat from Pettit and Micron Optima from Interlux, you've gone from a paint that could eat through a roller to ones that clean up with soap and water. These low-odor paints feature dramatically lower VOCs, often a reduction of more than 50 percent, compared with paints with traditional solvents, so you can even paint indoors in some circumstances. It should be noted these are still multi-season ablative paints. Once dried, they are no different than traditional paints. In fact, you can apply them right over your old paint.

By switching to using water as a solvent, instead of harsher (and regulated) solvents, bottom-paint manufacturers are preserving your ability to continue to paint your own hull.

Closed Molding Is The New Black

In the not-so-distant future, closed-molding techniques, like vacuum bagging, will be the standard across the boatbuilding industry, at least for builders of any significant volume. Some VOCs cause smog and other serious problems. Therefore they are regulated at the federal level. But poor air quality isn't equally distributed across the country. If you live in the Northeast, your air is already subject to strict scrutiny. Ditto California, or in parts of Texas. But eventually, the gradual tightening of regulations regarding toxins will impact the whole country.

"There will come a day where every drop of resin a builder brings into the plant will need to be accounted for, whether it goes into a boat or is spilled on the floor," says Peter Frederiksen of Viking Yachts. The New Jersey-based builder of sportfish yachts vacuum-bags just about every hull already, even their 92-footer (left). And while the prep for vacuum bagging — the time required to lay up the materials that will go into the hull, seal the mold under plastic, run the hoses, hook up the manifolds, and attach vacuum pumps — seems quite involved, there are a lot of benefits. First, the plant has less odor and harmful chemicals in the air. Second, the precise metering of resin means the right amount is always used throughout. Not too much, which adds unnecessary weight, nor too little, which can make the hull brittle. And the vacuum pressure virtually eliminates voids, those hidden places where no resin flows into the fiberglass. These things mean a better boat. Plus, of course, allowing the resin to set under seal prevents those VOCs from escaping.



Posted On: May 13, 2019

Too much confidence can get you in trouble.

Here's an article I read from April's Boaters. 

I Learned About Boating From This: A Hard-Won Lesson of Tide and Current

An experienced boatman reflects on the perils of overconfidence and a failure to keep a weather eye.

By Bill Schlatter

I have been boating on the south shore of Long Island, New York, for 25 years. But, back in 1992, I was still a novice. And on a calm Sunday afternoon, I made a novice blunder that could have been tragic.

Six months of boating experience coupled with the completion of a U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary boating safety course gave me the confidence I needed to head out into the ocean with a friend. NOAA weather radio informed us there were 3-foot seas — certainly, my boat could handle that! It was a 1987 25-foot Renken cabin cruiser with a 200 hp sterndrive.

Nearing the Jones Inlet, I was a bit perplexed to see a few smaller boats just inside the inlet, but no boats heading out. We slowly threaded past the smaller boats and cruised toward the inlet mouth. I felt comforted that some of the smaller boats followed as we headed out. Soon, as ­expected, we began hitting some swells. The swells were predictable, smooth and fun, and we continued heading south toward the open sea.

Hazy conditions made the horizon difficult to discern, making it tough to see the 4-, 5- and then 6-foot swells that were quickly upon us. The ride was a lot less fun now, and I found myself intently focused on the water directly in front of the boat. A few seconds later, my friend asked, “What’s that?” as he pointed forward. White water! Large, roiling, angry waves were directly ahead.

I had a limited number of swells to traverse before hitting the enraged seas, so I prepared to turn around. Looking aft, I noticed only the sterns of the other boats. The 6-footers were less organized now, tossing around my 25-footer like a toy. I needed to turn around now, but I couldn’t find a wave that I felt safe pivoting on.

The white, roiling seas were two swells away when I had no choice but to turn hard after a crest passed. The next 10 seconds were an eternity. The underpowered ­Renken came about, but it didn’t have enough power to climb the back side of the wave. Stuck in the trough at full throttle, it was all I could do to keep the boat straight. As the swell behind lifted our stern, an image of my Coast Guard Auxiliary instructor teaching about pitchpoling popped into my mind. My heart raced, and I prayed and loudly encouraged my little V-8 to give us the power to climb the crest. Luckily, we barely crested the top and were able to ride that wave in. The angry white water never caught up to us.

My friend and I gained instant respect for Mother Nature. We learned to be more prepared for future boating situations. For example, we now understand the impact of tides on an inlet — in Jones Inlet that day, the tide rushing out exacerbated the effect of the swells ­moving in. Furthermore, in 1992 we had little technology at our disposal. Today, with sophisticated marine electronics, it’s much easier to prepare for Mother Nature. There is just no excuse for being uninformed.

Finally, the underpowered Renken has been replaced with a twin-engine Formula. Never again will I attempt to coax a boat with too little motor through conditions it cannot match.



Posted On: May 10, 2019

Do I Need GPS?

By Capt. Scott Manning

An experienced skipper thinks that no matter which fishfinder you choose, it should really have GPS and 2-D sonar.

Fishfinder mounted on helm

One morning I headed my boat downstream on a short 4-mile run to my fishing destination. About a mile into the trip, the fog rolled in so heavy I could no longer see. No amount of training, no spotlight, or any device I had on my trailer-sized boat could assist in increasing my visibility. Literally, I couldn't see the bank, the water in front of me, or more important, any oncoming boats or water hazards.

I stopped my boat and immediately turned my fishfinder on GPS mode. This allowed me to see exactly where I was, where navigable markers were located, what the water depth was, and how close to the bank my boat was traveling. I was able to maneuver to a safe location until the fog dissipated. I then continued to my destination at a safe speed while appreciating today's modern technology.

An essential part of any boat is electronics, which are used in locating fish, determining GPS coordinates, and numerous other applications. In today's market, boaters are overwhelmed with many brands and types of fishfinders.

Boating and fishing have embraced 21st-century technology, turning the art of finding fish into modern-day science. These powerful tools allow the resources to check depth, structure, fish locations, speed, and temperature. Humminbird, Lowrance, Raymarine, and Garmin are the main producers of fishing electronics, and all have their pros and cons. Prices range from as little as $150.

The biggest mistake is to purchase a fishfinder without GPS. GPS stands for Global Positioning System and receives signals from government satellites to determine your exact location. GPS not only allows you to track your course and create mapping of favorite fishing spots, structure, and water hazards, it could also save your life.

Most GPS units come with pre-installed maps. To obtain more detailed and updated GPS data, however, invest in a Lakemaster or Navionics SD card. Also, GPS gives latitude/longitude coordinates that can be added to your float plan or pinpoint your location in case of an emergency. Venturing out too far in the sea or large bodies of water can spell disaster if you get lost and can't find your way back to shore. GPS tracking adds an extra layer of security by tracking your route and recalling the location of your boat.

GPS offers endless possibilities for recreational and angling boaters. Modern GPS technology has the ability to network with radar, sonar, trolling motor, and autopilot systems. GPS will give you more confidence to explore and make the most of your time on the water.

I use a Humminbird Onix with side imaging. This is the top-of-line unit that comes with GPS, 2-D CHIRP sonar, down imaging, and side imaging. The capability to uncover structure and cover with these units is incredible. Whichever unit you choose, make sure it has GPS and 2-D sonar.

A fishfinder is an essential part of any boat and an excellent investment. The higher-end models can be expensive, but the added benefits outweigh the additional cost, provide additional safety features, and maintain value



Posted On: May 06, 2019

Marking Anchor Chain

Story By Tim Murphy

Here's how to make quick work of setting the right scope every time you anchor.

"The cries of the leadsman began to rise out of the distance, and were gruffly repeated by the word-passers on the hurricane deck. ‘M-a-r-k three! ... M-a-r-k three! ... Quarter-less three! ... Half twain! ... Quarter twain! ... M-a-r-k twain!'"

On today's boats, electronic depth sounders have largely replaced leadsmen calling out the depth in fathoms, as related in Mark Twain's 1883 "Life on the Mississippi." But for anchoring, a traditional technology is still the best trick. That technology? Simply marking your boat's anchor rode at regular intervals.

Scope It Out

Successful anchoring heavily depends on scope: the ratio of anchor rode to water depth. A good baseline is to put out 5 feet of anchor rode for every foot of water depth. We'd call that a scope of 5-to-1.

Water depth for anchoring is calculated from the seafloor to the anchor roller or chock at the top of the bow, which is usually several feet more than the depth sounder's reading. More is always better, as a rule of thumb, providing there's room to allow for the boat to swing.

For a quick lunch stop in benign conditions, including a good-holding bottom, you can perhaps use a little less scope, say 3-to-1, if you're keeping watch. In rough conditions or for times you'll be away from the boat, you need more scope: perhaps 7-to-1, assuming the anchorage provides ample room for your boat to swing, considering shallow water, obstructions, and other boats. Many anchor-dragging incidents are caused by putting out too little scope, which doesn't allow the anchor chain and rode the best angle for digging in and staying in.

Mark It Up

Marking your rode is a quick way to see in real time just how much scope you're putting out. A typical marking system uses three colors three times each, first with one color used once, twice, then three times for each selected length, then the next color, etc. The colors may be from paint or dye, common on chain, or they may be made using ribbon or line, more common on rope. Voyagers Hal and Margaret Roth used ribbon (1-inch wide by 12-inches long in red, white, and blue) at increments of 5 fathoms, or 30 feet. This number works best for most boaters, as you'd almost always put out at least 30 feet of rode, even in shallow waters, so it's a good place to start your marks.

In the Canary Islands, I watched a transatlantic crew spray paint their chain with yellow, blue, and red marks at similar intervals. However, if you plan to regalvanize your anchor chain at some point, painted marks may make cleaning, or "pickling," the chain before regalvanizing more difficult.

Still another technique is to unlay colored three-strand line, then braid the strand through five or 10 links of chain at regular intervals. You can even use large colored zip ties, leaving the tails intact. If you're not into doing it yourself, chandleries sell color-coded markers in green, red, yellow for less than $6. These are marked with numerals for depth at 30-foot intervals.

No matter which method you choose, if you use a windlass, make sure your system passes over the gypsy.