Blog April 2019


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Posted On: April 24, 2019

Proper care will add years to the useful life of clear plastics while improper care can shorten it to a single season. Glass windshields remain crystal clear with little or no attention, but the same is not true for plastic windows. Soft or hard, clear plastics are damaged by exposure, inevitably losing clarity over time. Care varies by the material. Soft plastics that can be rolled away are usually made from vinyl.

Here's some sage advice on cleaning your vinyl windows, This is based on an article originally published in US BOAT by Don Casey.

Vinyl Windows

A walk down any dock will reveal that plenty of boat owners neglect or mistreat their clear vinyl (commonly called Eisenglass). Sunlight is the enemy. The reason clear vinyl turns opaque, then yellow, and ultimately brittle is the loss of plasticizers, most often due to evaporation caused by sun exposure. Just as with vinyl canvas, if you prevent the plasticizers from escaping, you extend the life of the vinyl indefinitely.

Two brands of clear vinyl, Strataglass and O'Sea, incorporate hard surface coatings for scratch resistance, which have the added advantage of sealing in the vinyl's plasticizers. All other clear vinyls, whether from a roll or a pressed and polished sheet, lack this barrier. The barrier that seals in the plasticizers in clear vinyl is a polymer coating, a liquid that you apply to both surfaces of the vinyl. Give this substance sunscreen characteristic and it becomes a two-for-one deal. It's best to start when the windows are new.

Even factory-coated vinyls need a periodic booster treatment. Strataglass specifies that you must use only Imar Strataglass products — 301 Protective Cleaner and 302 Protective Polish — to maintain the warranty. On other clear vinyls, you can use the protectant or plastic polish of your choice. Select one that includes sunscreen.

Before applying any treatment, wash the vinyl thoroughly. The imperative for gentle cleaning that applies to all clear plastic is especially critical for the softer surface of vinyl. Start with flooding to hydrate and soften dirt and salt. Paper towels are too harsh and will scratch the vinyl. Wash with soft cotton fabric — diapers, T-shirt material, cotton flannel, old terry cloth. Soap can extract plasticizers from the vinyl and remove previously applied seal coat, so use soap (never detergent!) only if you really need it. Pat-drying clean windows with a soft cloth minimizes spotting. A 90/10 solution of water and white vinegar can remove old water spots without damaging the vinyl, but rinse thoroughly.

Apply your treatment of choice to both sides of the vinyl, and renew the coating at least every four to six weeks. Reapply it anytime you wash the vinyl with soap. If you wash your windows daily, or even weekly, using an abrasive-free product will be kinder to the vinyl. Numerous manufacturers, suppliers, and fabricators recommend 303 Aerospace Protectant for its ease of application, slick finish, and effective UV screen.

While care takes a continuing effort, damage can happen in a second, so be vigilant about what chemicals come in contact with the vinyl. Never use glass cleaners or "all purpose" cleaners like Fantastic or Simple Green. Do not use ammonia, alcohol, acetone, or any petroleum-based solvents. Do not "protect" the vinyl with wax or with products containing petroleum distillates or silicones. When you waterproof the surrounding canvas, take care to protect the vinyl from the water proofer. Insect repellents are particularly damaging, so apply these far away and downwind of your vinyl. Many sunscreens contain chemicals that will fog clear vinyl. Be cautious not to handle or rub against the windows with repellent or sunscreen on your skin. The number of vinyl windows with handprints permanently etched into the plastic suggests that always washing your hands before handling the vinyl is a smart habit to form.




Posted On: April 17, 2019

It all begins with your electrical system. Your electronics performance depends on it.

Here are some key inspection points and procedures for checking your electrical and other systems.

When were your batteries last replaced? Consider replacing them after three to four years. Ensure battery terminal connections are tight and free from corrosion buildup.

 Check that the wiring connections for all electronic and electrical devices make solid contact. Terminal connections can and do come loose from normal impact and pounding when underway. Also, check that all electrical connections are free of corrosion.

Get a voltmeter and learn to use it. It can help spot problems in the making. Be sure there is no more than one volt drop from your battery terminals to the closest connection point to your electronics when the equipment is on and operating.

Replace all nonrechargeable batteries in your portable gear and keep a fresh supply of spare alkaline batteries on board.

Perform a “self-test” on EPIRBs and PLBs per the manufacturer instructions, and check the battery replacement date as well

Preseason Electronics Checks
It’s a good idea to test your marine electronics at the beginning of each boating season. Here are tips for testing your critical navigation and communications electronics.

VHF Radio
Make on-the-air radio checks. Automated radio checks are offered by Sea Tow as a public service in many areas across the country. Go to and type in your location, and you will be advised if service is available in your area and which channel to use.

Confirm your GPS’s accuracy by making a positional check at familiar locations. Perform range and bearing checks to known waypoints. Call up the GPS status screen on your set. It is a positive indicator of signal strength and accuracy. It also monitors the number of satellites being received, which is a good indication of your set’s performance.

Confirm the clarity and resolution of short and long radar targets. View the shoreline as you leave your marina or anchorage. Does it appear as clear as in the past? Steer your boat directly at a buoy or other object and see if it appears directly in front of you or off to one side. If it looks off, your manual will show you how to adjust your radar’s heading.

Be sure that your autopilot holds a straight course, responds to steering commands and follows your GPS waypoint instructions. Check your pilot’s heading reading and compare it with that of your GPS while underway. If it is noticeably off, most autopilots can be adjusted by performing a simple calibration procedure, which can be found in your owner’s manual or online.

Depth and Fish Finder
Check shallow- and deepwater readings in familiar locations. Look for bottom detail, structure and fish detection to confirm your depth instrument is in normal working order. Be sure the face of your transducer is clean and without marine growth buildup.

Make sure your AIS is picking up targets in your area. Get a confirmation from another boat that your transmitted AIS signal is being received. Also, be sure your AIS is programmed to send all important data, including your boat’s name, vessel type (pleasure), your MMSI number, and boat’s length, beam and draft, as well as your radio call sign, if you have one. This information will add to your boating safety and can be critical for first responders in the event you need to issue a Mayday call. Check with your electronics dealer on reprograming your AIS if necessary.

Check the software versions in your GPS, chart plotter, depth/fish finder and autopilot. Compare those versions with the latest versions listed on the manufacturer’s website. Most current models will allow the latest software versions to be downloaded online and installed by boat owners. Do the same with your navigation cartography. Some software updates can be downloaded by the user. Older chart cards can often be updated by a dealer at a reduced price, while others can be updated online.



Posted On: April 10, 2019

Spring Boat Commissioning


Finally, it's time to ready your boat for the upcoming season!

Check Those Thru-Hulls

Springtime is the right time to check each of your composite (plastic) thru-hulls for cracks and deterioration. Degradation due to ultraviolet light is the main culprit; however, stress caused by an unsupported hose bouncing around inside also can be a factor. Failure typically begins as a crack where the body of the thru-hull fitting joins the outer flange, often progressing until the flange simply falls off. Once that occurs, there's nothing left to keep the thru-hull in place, meaning that it will eventually be pulled inboard, leaving a gaping hole. The thru-hull shown here was located near the waterline; the resulting hole reduced the vessel's effective freeboard from feet to inches.

Inspect Your Hose Clamps

The devil is in the details, as this photo clearly shows. The owner failed to refit the hose clamps for the engine's raw-water intake hose (which had been removed while winterizing the engine the previous fall). The loose hose slipped off soon after launch, partially sinking the vessel. Nothing helps more to reduce such slipups than a detailed checklist.

Inspect The Impeller On The Engine's Raw-Water Pump

While impellers can last a number of years under normal operation, many boat owners simply replace them annually as cheap insurance against engine overheating due to wear and failure. A damaged impeller can cause severe overheating if not caught quickly, potentially leading to a smoking-hot hose in the engine space. Even if a failed impeller doesn't melt an exhaust hose, those missing bits can become lodged in the cooling system, blocking passageways and further reducing engine-cooling ability. Once that occurs, you'll need to disassemble the cooling system to remove these parts — another expense that can be easily avoided by swapping out the impeller before it fails.

Inspect The Bilge-Pump Float Switch

The automatic float switch pictured below will provide zero protection during the upcoming boating season. In fact, due to a leaky stuffing box and no boat-check visits by the owner, it's failure almost resulted in the vessel sinking over the winter. Installation and operation of automatic bilge-pump switches (as well as the pumps themselves) should be checked as part of every spring-commissioning list.

Floating-arm-type switches must be securely mounted and installed clear of wires, hoses, and other obstructions that can impede operation of the switch arm. Orient the switch fore and aft, with the flapper pointed toward the stern. This is especially important on powerboats, as surging water during jackrabbit takeoffs can damage the flapper mechanism. Mounting the switch near the forward bulkhead of the bilge compartment will also help protect against surge damage.

Bellows Should Be Inspected Annually

The rubber bellows of your sterndrive plays a crucial role in maintaining your boat's watertight integrity — unless it looks like the one above. Not all damage will be as obvious as this, however. Cracks and splits often occur within the folds of the bellows and may only be noticeable when the bellows is fully extended.

Check Shore-Power Cords, Plugs, And Receptacles

Most AC electrical fires occur when these overheat, so inspect them often. Loose or corroded connections generate heat and the potential for fire, a problem especially prevalent among vessels that continually run high-energy loads, such as air-conditioning, water heaters, and the like. Plugging and unplugging connectors while energized contributes to the problem. The micro-arcs and sparks generated each time you do so create tiny pits on surface connections, which in turn lead to resistance and heat buildup.

Burned boat

Continually Check For Corrosion And Get Rid Of It

Routine maintenance not only prolongs the service life of your equipment but can also keep you out of trouble. The corrosion on this battery post was so gnarly that it prevented the battery from charging, which kept the engine from starting and required the owner to call for a tow. He was (luckily) able to do this from his cellphone, because the dead battery also made his VHF radio useless.

Being towed

Bad Hoses Cause Bad Things To Happen

In this case, the water in the cockpit always drained and everyone was happy — until a series of unfortunate events resulted in another at-the-dock sinking. Rain during a heavy downpour dumped gallons of water into the cockpit, which (due to the badly deteriorated hose) drained into the bilge rather than overboard. The vessel had no operational bilge pump, and the excess amount of bilge water caused the boat to settle, submerging the thru-hull and sinking the boat.

Sinking boat

Corrosion Is Your Trailer's Enemy

One insidious problem is corrosion inside a trailer's axle tube as a result of trapped water. This can lead to a catastrophic failure of the axle — and it will never happen at a convenient time. Verify after each use that the axle is completely sealed or, if not, that it drains properly. In addition to the routine checks you do before each tow, you should regularly give your trailer a more in-depth maintenance inspection for problems such as bent or twisted members, nonfunctioning lights, cracked welds, missing hardware, and, of course, corrosion. To further hedge your bets while on the road, consider purchasing TRAILER ASSIST® offered by BoatUS.

Boat trailer failure

Routinely Pull A Dipstick And Check Fluid Levels

When it comes to protecting your engine and transmission, there are few things simpler or easier. While there's no set rule on how often it should be done (each time you start and stop is good), checking the oil and transmission fluid before starting your engine is a good habit to develop. If the owner of the scorched transmission shown below had checked his fluid level, he wouldn't have had to raid the kid's college fund to pay for repairs.

Scorched engine

Hoses Have A Finite Life Span

UV damage, age, stress (due to lack of support), and chafe all contribute to hose failure. While there's no hard-and-fast rule on how long hoses last, some fuel-hose manufacturers suggest replacement every 10 years, regardless of appearance. A cracked fuel line (like the one shown above) can easily result in an abandon-ship type of conflagration. Routinely monitoring the engine for leaks and giving the entire fuel system a thorough inspection annually are important steps in preventing both breakdowns and potential fires. 



Posted On: April 03, 2019

How To Handle Propane On A Boat

Here's a great article by Mark Corke about Propane handling.

Propane is heavier than air, which means any escaping gas can end up in your bilge. The results could be deadly.

Propane illustration

A locker for propane should contain the cylinders, often called bottles, properly secured, and nothing else                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    . Note the drainpipe to safely vent spilled gas overboard away from the boat interior. (Illustration: ©2018 Mirto Art Studio)

Propane (also knowns as LPG) is a great fuel for heating and cooking aboard. It has a high calorific value, meaning it produces a lot of energy for its weight; it comes in handy cylinders; and is readily available. What's not to love?

Not much! But propane does have one flaw — it's heavier than air. This means that any escaping gas from a cylinder, gas line, or faulty appliance will sink to the lowest point it can find, often unnoticed. Because a boat is a confined structure, any leaking propane is likely to end up in the bilge. If enough collects, an explosion from a stray spark is a distinct possibility. While fortunately not common, the BoatUS Marine Insurance files contain numerous claims for propane explosions, which often result in serious injuries. This is another reason, if you needed reminding, for having ignition-protected electrical equipment. Ignition-protected equipment, such as starter motors and alternators, is safe for gasoline-powered engine spaces because they will not produce a spark when operating — one reason why most automotive electrical equipment, often not ignition-protected, is unsuitable for use afloat.

Problems are rare when sensible precautions are practiced in storing and using propane. But as our claims files show, things do go wrong, often with little or no warning, and the results can be tragic. To avoid problems, it's critical that propane is stored and used correctly. The American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) has strict guidelines as to how any propane system is installed on a boat.

Cylinder Storage

Whether in use or spares, cylinders should be contained in an approved storage locker. Any locker must be above the normal level waterline of the boat, it should drain any leaking gas to atmosphere, and it must not allow any escape of gas to find its way into the interior of the boat. The gas locker should be used for the sole purpose of storing gas cylinders and no other equipment.

ABYC also specifies that the locker be constructed, or lined, with corrosion-resistant materials. Fiberglass is an almost perfect material for any such locker. Additionally, any gas locker must only be able to be opened from the top and have a latch so that it can be properly sealed closed, although the latch should not require tools to be opened. Finally, because propane is heavier than air, any locker must have a drain at its lowest point that leads over the side so that leaked gas is safely vented away.

Even if a cylinder that is in use is stored properly, all too often we see spare bottles simply tossed into a locker. Not only can these spare cylinders become damaged with the movement of the boat and gear, but should the valve be dislodged or gas escape for some other reason, it likely has nowhere to go except into the boat's bilge.