Blog August 2019


Posted On: August 30, 2019

Wiring Fail

Wiring failure

This picture is an example of what can happen when someone who may be familiar with house wiring works on a boat.

In a house, the neutral and ground wires are connected together at the fuse box. But on a boat, this is a serious safety concern, and especially in freshwater, it's potentially lethal.

Tying the neutral to ground could allow 120 volts of deadly AC current into the boat's ground and bonding system.

If there's also a problem with the safety ground going ashore (not unheard of in marinas), all the underwater metals of the boat can be energized with 120V shore power. This can result in electricity in the water and, especially in freshwater, could injure or even kill nearby swimmers. Called electric shock drowning (ESD), the energized boat hardware creates a large electrified circle around the energized boat. When a person in the water enters that circle, he or she becomes paralyzed, loses the ability to tread water, and may drown.

The other clue that this installation was not done by a boat pro is that the wire is typical "Romex" solid-core type that's fine for a house, but because it's not made from stranded, flexible wire, can be subject to cracking from vibration and become a fire and shock hazard on a boat. 



Posted On: August 26, 2019

Boat making large wake

Wake claims are on the rise.

Many of these claims are caused by boats being slammed into their docks from the wake of a passing boat. Extra fenders and proper docklines can often prevent hull damage in areas with large wakes. Mooring whips are another solution.

Other wake claims come from boats that are rafted together and a large wake causes them to crash into each other. While extra fenders may help, it's best to simply avoid rafting in places with lots of boat traffic.

While not technically a wake claim, the most serious incidents from wake come from injuries to passengers who get thrown around.

Bow-rider boats tend to have the most injuries because anyone sitting in the bow seats is more likely to get tossed up (and land hard).

In conditions with lots of wake, keep passengers farther aft to minimize the chance for injuries, and let your crew know if you're about to cross a large wake so they can hold on.

If you happen to be the boat creating wakes, you should know that under the law, damage caused by your wake is treated exactly the same way as damage caused by a physical fiberglass-crunching collision.



Posted On: August 23, 2019

What causes boats to capsize?

Our friends at BoatUS had a great article about why boats are capsize.

In a word, instability. Boats are inherently stable until something causes them to become unstable. And that something is weight — where it is and how much it is determines when a boat will tip over far enough to capsize or fill with water.

A capsize is defined as a boat rolling over onto its side or completely over; swamping typically means that a boat fills with water (often from capsizing) but remains floating. So to simplify, we'll use the term capsize from here on. As mentioned, boats capsize because they become unstable, but there are three main reasons for that instability: too much or unbalanced crew or equipment weight; leaking water, which also creates too much weight; and bad weather, which causes instability as a boat is rocked and filled with water.

We Hope It Floats

There is always a very real possibility of injury when passengers unintentionally go in the water with nothing to hold onto. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) has addressed this by requiring monohull powerboats built after 1972 under 20 feet in length to float when filled with water. This is a good thing, because without it, most of the small boats in the study would have sunk out from under the crew, leaving nothing to hang onto while waiting for rescue. The bad news is that boats larger than 20 feet that don't have built-in flotation will eventually sink if capsized, and even smaller boats with flotation can still sink if grossly overloaded. (Note: Boats up to 26 feet built to the American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) standards adopted by the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) also have flotation). Inboard and sterndrive boats have less rigorous basic flotation requirements than outboard-powered boats. If your boat was built before 1972, it wasn't required to — and probably won't — have flotation at all.

Which Boats Are More Likely to Capsize?

Small boats are most likely to capsize. Almost 10 percent were 8-footers, mostly dinghies, and capsizes here often didn't cause much damage. But the biggest group, according to a BoatUS study were the 15-19 footers, representing 41 percent of all capsizes. These boats were typically fishing boats, often with large, hard-to-drain cockpits, sometimes out in poor weather, and were sometimes overloaded.

The next most common group are boats in the 20-24-foot range, representing a quarter of the total; half of those were outboard-powered 22-footers. Larger boats tend to be more stable and rarely capsize, though there were several boats over 38 feet that capsized.

Why They Capsize

Nearly all capsizes can be assigned one of three causes. The most common is too much or poorly distributed weight. Small boats are much more susceptible to an extra person or two or a couple of heavy coolers aboard than larger boats. Older boats especially may have gained weight over the years as more gear is stored aboard. On boats with cockpit drains, an extra beefy friend or a second cooler might be all it takes to make the water come back in through the drains, filling the boat. While most of these under-20 foot boats are required to have flotation, they also must have a capacity plate that states how much weight and how many people can safely be aboard. Pay attention to this number, and keep in mind that the number of seats in a boat is not always an indication of the number of people it can carry safely. Exceeding the capacity limits, even in calm water, is asking for trouble; and in many states, operators can be ticketed for it. All it takes is a stiff wind, a large wake, or an unbalanced load to flip over.

The bottom line is that loading too much cargo or too many passengers in one part of the boat can affect its stability, even if the total load is within the boat's maximum capacity. Weight needs to be evenly distributed, especially in smaller boats. One other thing worth mentioning is that capsizes can also be caused by modifications that affect the stability of the boat. Even a small tuna tower can severely change the center of gravity, especially on a smaller boat.

The second major cause of capsizing is leaks. Sometimes it's as simple as forgetting to put the drain plug in; other times it's leaking fittings. Water sloshing around in the bottom of the boat affects stability and waves or a wake can cause it to flip. Tying the drain plug to your boat key is a simple way to remember the plug. On the other hand, leaking fittings that can fill the boat with water are usually out of sight, often in livewells and bait boxes. Several claims were reported when an owner installed a livewell fitting using cheap PVC pipes and valves, and at least one livewell had no shut-off valve at all with no way to stop the ingress of water once it began leaking. Any fitting that penetrates the hull needs to be closeable and should be made from stainless steel, bronze, or Marelon. One more thing the claims revealed: Some livewells are plumbed in such a way that they'll flood the boat if the valve is left open while underway.

Many older outboard-powered boats have low transom cutouts that can cause the boat to flood simply by slowing down too quickly, especially with excess weight in the stern. Newer outboard boats have a well that reduces the risk.

Some boats have cockpits that drain into the bilge (generally considered a poor design), requiring the use of a bilge pump to even stay afloat. Bilge pumps are designed to remove nuisance water only, not to keep a boat from sinking. If your boat's cockpit drains into the bilge, be aware that if the bilge pump fails, your boat can fill with water and capsize or sink.

Weather is another major cause of capsizes, sometimes in concert with overloading. Small boats are easily overwhelmed by modest waves or even wake, especially if they've got a full load and sit low in the water. A sudden squall can flip even a larger boat. Check the weather forecast before you go out, and keep a weather eye on the sky. In most areas, NOAA broadcasts continuous weather via VHF radio. If you're within range, smartphone apps can show you detailed weather maps, including radar, which can indicate approaching storms. Weather changes quickly on the water, so at the first sign of bad weather, head back to the dock. If you're caught out in a squall, have your passengers stay low near the center of the boat to maintain stability.




Posted On: August 19, 2019

Estimating Distance Off

By Dick Everitt for USBOAT

Got a tape measure and a piece of string? You can use them to find out how far away you are from, say, a lighthouse.

Distance off by vertical sextant angle is an old navigation technique used for keeping a safe distance from an object of known height, such as a lighthouse, the height of which is shown on a chart. With modern GPS, there's no longer need to know how to calculate this, but it's a fun trick to show the kids, and it's a useful backup if you're ever forced to use basic navigation techniques. But as many of us don't carry a sextant, or a set of tables, we can copy what the ancients had been doing for centuries before the sextant was invented. They simply exploited their knowledge that the ratio of 60:1 is equal to an angle of 1 degree. To find this distance, simply measure the angle of the center of the light above sea level and look up the "distance off" in a set of tables, such as those found in a nautical almanac, or use a simple calculation (below). The center of the light itself, not the height of the top of the tower, is used because that's the height marked on the chart. Usually we can forget any tidal height allowance, as less tide will put us farther off in safer water.

In its simplest form, you'll use something that measures 60 units from your eye attached to a vertical ruler marked in the same units. (Using a metric rule to do this exercise makes your math calculation simpler because you can work in whole numbers instead of fractions.)

Hold a piece of string 60 cm (about 2 feet) in front of your eye. (I find a loop of string of the correct length around my neck more comfortable than holding a knot in my teeth.) Sight across the ruler and measure the height of the center of the light above sea level, in millimeters. Then use the formula below.

It's a rough-and-ready technique, but one day it might save you being set in too close to a nasty reef or rocks.



Posted On: August 16, 2019

Troubleshooting Tips

What good is all the fancy electronics you spent a fortune on, if they don't work? Sometimes, as is often the case in many things in life, simple is the solution. Continuing on the previous blog, here's a continuation on tips for keeping your equipment functioning.

Pull the plug! Just like your computer, when your GPS/chart plotter, fish finder, radar or other gear locks up or fails to respond to the controls, sometimes disconnecting the power cable or switching off the set’s circuit breaker and reapplying power can restore normal operation.

 In extreme cases, when all else fails, you can perform a “master reset.” Follow the instructions in the owner’s manual for the unit. Be advised that this is a last-resort procedure. A master reset can also delete all your waypoints, routes and custom settings.

 Quick tip: Regularly back up your waypoints and other entered data on a blank data card (refer to the unit’s owner’s manual for instructions on how to back up your waypoint list and other valuable data).

Be sure you know the location of every fuse for every electronics instrument you have. And keep an adequate supply of each fuse size on board.

Redundant Systems

Consider installing a second VHF radio and GPS/chart plotter. With a modest investment you can have independent redundancy for these essential instruments.

Keep a handheld VHF and GPS as part of your electronics lineup. Basic models are very affordable, serve as portable second stations and stand ready to go with you if you ever have to leave your boat in an emergency.

 The bonus is that the radio and GPS are already connected internally, so the set’s DSC emergency button is ready for use as soon as you obtain, register and enter your personal Mobile Maritime Service Identity (MMSI) number These sets are waterproof and floatable and will operate even in the event you find yourself in the water.

Always keep fresh batteries for every portable device you carry on board. And, if you don’t already have one, install a 12-volt cigarette lighter outlet to charge all of your handheld devices that have rechargeable batteries.



Posted On: August 12, 2019

The difference between getting towed due to an on-water breakdown and being pulled off a sandbar because your boat is hard aground may not seem like much when you're sitting in your cockpit, but it can be huge when it's time to pay the commercial tower who responded. While the average coastal tow typically costs about $750, salvage costs can easily hit five figures. The average boater may not know which service — towing or salvage — is being offered, especially if the weather is bad and stress levels are high when a towboat shows up.

But the question as to whether something's a tow or a salvage has one easy answer. It doesn't matter, if you're covered. If you have unlimited on-the-water towing service, and an all-risk boat insurance policy with hull coverage, like most policies  we recommend , whether your boat is towed or salvaged, someone else picks up the tab.

Towing service gets you back to the dock if you break down (depending on your selected service level), while your insurance policy covers salvage costs.

Having both in force takes the worry out of the towing-or-salvage determination.



Posted On: August 09, 2019

Reading A Tide Table

Knowing how to read a tide table can mean the difference between a good day and a bad one.

Here's a great article by Tim Murphy

If you've ever waited anxiously for the twing of your antenna against the underside of a highway bridge, you know that playing with tides can be a game of inches.

To pass safely under that bridge or over the bar that lies between here and home, we need to understand all the components of the tides.

Along most of the coast, tides rise twice and fall twice each day.

These are called semidiurnal tides. In some places, the tides cycle only once per day; these are called diurnal tides. And in still other places, one daily high tide is much higher than the day's second high tide; these are called mixed tides.

Tide tables, provided by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at, tell you three important things for any given place: the time of high tide, the time of low tide, and the heights of each.

But what about the times in between?

For that, you'll need the Rule of Twelfths (see chart above).



Posted On: August 05, 2019

Not Sea-Trialing The Boat After Repairs Are Made

When ever you have serious repairs performed on your boat, make sure you get what you expect.

A boater purchased a used powerboat with a large outboard that had a cracked head. Because he wrote into the contract that the engine had to be working before he would buy the boat, the dealer had the engine fixed and claimed they performed a compression test to verify everything was fine. After paying for the boat, the first time the new owner took the boat out, the rod blew a hole in the side of the engine. The dealer he bought it from first said he'd replace it with a used engine, but eventually said that the contract stated that boat was purchased in "as-is" condition and was working on the day of the sale.

Lesson: When contingencies are written into a contract, spell out the details and don't formally accept the boat until you've verified that all repairs have been made properly. Because of the high value of the engine, it would have made sense to have an independent technician check it out and even come along for a sea trial.

Not Verifying The Paperwork Was Sent

A boater purchased a 2014 ski boat with just a few hours on it. One of the biggest selling features was a 5-year warranty that the seller said transferred with the boat. At 150 hours, without any warning, the engine had a catastrophic failure. Smoke emanated from the rear lockers, the engine temperature shot up, water was leaking from the impeller, the exhaust pipe melted, and the boat began to take on water. A shop said that the raw-water pump had failed and that the engine would have to be replaced at a cost of $10,000. Unfortunately, the seller neglected to transfer the warranty to the member, and he was not covered.

Lesson: While some warranties are transferable, many have specific conditions that must be met and specific procedures that must be followed, including paying a fee, paperwork that must be signed and delivered, and sometimes even a maintenance check by a qualified shop. Even then, it pays to verify with the company — in writing — that the warranty actually transferred in your name.