Hopefully, you are hunkered down in support of our national agenda to flatten the curve of coronavirus cases across the country. It is an extraordinary time that requires extreme measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. We also appear to be near a “shelter in place” decree in some states.
If we stay calm and follow a commonsense approach with proper precautions, we will get through this, whether it takes weeks or months. The instability of our world and economy will return to normal at some point. We’ve been through this before. As one social media post put it, “Our grandparents were called to war. We are asked to sit on the couch and watch Netflix. We can do this.”
However, it is almost spring, so I offer you a mental break with something else to think about. In many parts of the country, it is time to get one’s boat prepared for a new boating season. If you are lucky to live in a warmer climate, and your boating season is year ‘round, it is still a good idea to think of spring as the annual check up to make sure your boat is ready. Living in the Pacific Northwest, people never really need to winterize boats, but gremlins can still pop up whenever a boat sits idle for some time.
I believe one of the joys of boat ownership involves spending time at the beginning of the season to get to know your boat again. Troubleshooting and regular maintenance are satisfying to many owners, much more so than removing shrink wrap, boat detailing, and varnish work. In the chaos of today’s events, these projects can also be therapeutic.
There is a softer side to spring commissioning, such as checking expiration dates on provisions and canned goods in the pantry, removing opened boxes of stale cookies and crackers, and cleaning out galley drawers and lockers of crumbs, bits, and pieces.
Spring is a great time to replace batteries in all clocks, flashlights, detectors, and remote controls. Why not also check all systems even if they are still winterized. Does the freshwater pump come on, do the windshield wipers (and washers) work, and how about the horn? Are there any leaks or stains around windows and doors that should be attended to? Do all the lights work?
(BTW, did you know that Rain-X is a wonderful product to put on your helm windows? Properly applied, it eliminates the need for wipers and washers. I have made offshore and coastal passages in boats when salt spray was a constant companion. On a wet boat, wipers are ineffective without windshield washers, which can consume a lot of precious fresh water. But with Rain-X, it is a different matter. When we reached the customs dock in Bermuda, our front helm windows were completely clean after six days at sea, while the side windows were covered with that slimy sea salt layer over the entire boat. I know several experienced offshore trawler guys who removed their wipers as Rain-X does a much better job.)
Getting your mind into boat mode is a refreshing change from watching the endless news, as you focus on getting organized for the upcoming cruising season. Have you checked the expiration dates on your flares, or if you use one of those new SOS electric light products, do the batteries need changing? What about your inflatable PFDs? Are those gas canisters still fresh and corrosion free or do the vest gauges indicate it’s time for replacement?
Hoses Get Special Attention
As far the hardware end of spring commissioning, the best suggestion I have is to spend some quality time in the engine space performing what I consider the essential spring ritual for safe and successful cruising. Bring a small tool bag with several screwdrivers and wrenches, put on some music to help put you in the zone, and go from one end of the engine room to the other, paying attention to all connections. Bring a boat cushion so you can move around and be comfortable. No need to rush.
Are all hose clamps tight and clean, especially those that are out of sight? The cheap hose clamps commonly found in marine shops and boat yards are barely adequate, in my opinion, as they are value-based rather than being the best product out there. Truly superior hose clamps, such as the Swedish AWAB clamps, are expensive, but they are as good as it gets and will not fail from corrosion. They are 100 percent stainless steel, unlike those found at West Marine and other supply stores.
I’m a big fan of replacing all steel screw-type hose clamps with AWAB clamps because I know they will not fail under even WOT conditions. Every hose clamp failure I have had in the last five years resulted from operating the boat at higher than normal engine speeds. Go aboard an older Krogen 42 or similar vintage trawler, which typically cruise at six knots, and you’ll be surprised what fails when bringing the engine up to WOT. Have you ever found a hose that is stuck in place due to age, as if glued, with a corroded and often broken hose clamp sitting over the fitting barb? This is particularly common on older boats. At its normal cruising speed, the hose stays on because it isn’t stressed as fluid flows through it. But when you increase the flow as well as introduce increased vibration, the hose can crack or work its way off the fitting. Better to replace both the hose and its hose clamps now.
Clear plastic water hose gets brittle over time, and simply tightening the hose clamp no longer stops the leak. This is the case on some Taiwan boats where the builder used ¾-inch water hose attached to a metric tank fitting that is slightly smaller in diameter. When the new hose was installed during construction, it was flexible enough that a tight hose clamp kept it from leaking, but only for so many years.
Tight Connections That are Corrosion Free
After inspecting and attending to all hoses and hose clamps, move on to the electrical side of the engine room. Turn off the master battery disconnect switch for the electrical system, then go over every single wire connection in the engine room and check to make sure all terminals and connections are tight. Exercise all electrical switches several times. You might find one or two switches sticking from lack of use. You can break them free by exercising all switches.
John Payne, author and lecturer of marine electrical systems, told us that 80 percent of all electrical failures in the commercial world are from loose and/or corroded connections. During his years serving in the merchant marine, it was common to schedule crew to tighten all connections every six months.
From my experience, that certainly rings true. How many times have I lost an instrument or other electrical or electronic device only to later find a loose ground wire had come loose? It is an unnecessary expense to replace a helm plotter only to find a wire on the back was loose enough on the terminal block to cause intermittent failure. Are your battery terminal connections tight? Don’t assume.
Those electronic control boxes in the engine and machinery spaces allow outstanding fly-by-wire control of steering, throttle, and other functions. But they can become problematic if electrical connections work loose. We suffered serious damage when a ground wire came loose as we backed a 60-foot trawler down a fairway and lost throttle and gear shift control. The new yacht crashed into a houseboat held off the concrete bulkhead by massive steel arms, which crumpled from the impact. No one was hurt, but it could have been far worse. All because of a lose wire.
Corrosion can occur anywhere on a cruising boat, inside and out. The foot switches for the windlass can fall victim to corrosion when their rubber covers become brittle from UV and crack open. Exterior navigation light fixtures don’t last forever, as the lenses and gaskets eventually suffer from seawater and UV damage. So why not inspect and if necessary, replace them at the start of one’s cruising season. The brutal UV in the tropics wreaks havoc on plastic and rubber materials.
And if you own an older boat, this is a great time to replace them with LED navigation lights, replacing the wiring connections as part of the upgrade. Shiny new terminal connections, with anti-corrosion gel applied, will ensure the lights will provide safety at sea at night.
Spending quality time on your boat before the season begins, especially during these unprecedented and unnerving times, gives one peace of mind, offers a distraction from world events, and reacquaints you with your boat. And I think it is great fun.
And that’s a lot healthier than binge-watching another Netflix series on the couch.