As we approach the winter months the evenings may be getting cooler but there can be still plenty of good boating to be had even as the days get shorter. Bright, crisp autumn days can be great for boating but as soon as the sun goes down it can get a little chilly and some sort of heating in the boat cabin can make things decidedly more cosy, and a place that you want to spend time with family and friends.
There is no one size fits all solution for heating a boat. The type and size of boat, budget, and personal preferences all come into play when selecting a heater for your vessel.
For a number of years I had a boat with a diesel fueled hot air system. It was reliable and cheap to operate, although expensive to install initially. If you have forced hot air at home for heat then you will be familiar with this type of system, which operates in an almost identical fashion, albeit on a smaller scale, with flexible ductwork piping hot air to almost every part of the boat. As the boat had a diesel engine, fuel for the heater was simply drawn from from the main tank. The obvious advantage of this was that the heater did not require me a to carry any special, or separate type of fuel.
Another type of heater is the 'Dickenson' type stove. This is a small bulkhead mounted unit with a shippy look, which operates on either Diesel or Kerosene depending on the model, and is well suited to more traditional style boats. Some of these stoves also have a hot plate on top and can do double duty as a cooktop although you would probably not want to use them in the summer for this purpose, as the heat would be inconvenient to say the least.
It is possible to heat your boat with electricity, not a problem if you are plugged in at the dock, but you will need a generator if shore power is not available, often not a convenient solution.
Heating with propane is also possible although the installation has to be to the highest order. Leaking carbon monoxide, a byproduct of the combustion process could poison occupants or a build up of propane in the bilge could potentially cause an explosion. Almost any cabin heater that has a chimney requires a good flow of air for combustion and this has to come from somewhere. If the boat is buttoned up tight initially this air is drawn from the cabin, but if it is not being replaced by air being drawn from outside then the heater will not draw properly, combustion will be incomplete, and the likelihood of high levels of carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas are more than likely. Always install a gas sniffer and carbon monoxide detector with this type of heater.
There are even heaters that work on solid fuels such as wood or coal. Although these types of heaters are strictly suited to the traditional style boat they are very efficient and unlike propane and other similar fuels produce a 'dry' heat reducing the amount of moisture introduced into the cabin.
Some owners consider heating their boat as an alternative to winterization, a mistake that could prove costly. A couple of electric heaters may prevent your boat from freezing in the winter months but what if the power goes out? Boats are poorly insulated and temperatures can drop quickly, it only takes a few hours on a cold night and you could end up with a cracked block and a very expensive repair bill.
When it's cold outside the last thing you may think that need is extra ventilation but sit inside a boat cabin with all the doors, windows and hatches closed and things start to get uncomfortable pretty swiftly. Compared to the average home a boat's interior is pretty small, you're also a naturally damp environment. Your clothes might also be damp if you have just come in from being on deck and when you get into a warm cabin that moisture has to go somewhere. Often damp moist air condenses on cold windows and other surfaces and before very long, it's almost as wet inside the cabin as it is outside. Ensuring that there is a cross flow of air in the cabin mitigates most if not all of this condensation. Cracking a hatch forward and another aft can do wonders for preventing the build up of condensation inside the boat. Solar powered vents that are let into hatch covers do a great job of keeping rain out but admit plenty of air below. New models have a battery back up so work even when the sun is not out, at night for instance.
Let your batteries go flat and unable to start your engine and you'll be dead in the water. Batteries tend to be forgotten about until we need them and by that time it may be too late and you could find yourself calling for a tow.
Batteries are expensive so it pays to look after them, in many cases batteries prematurely fail and require replacement more often than they should because they are not maintained correctly. It is helpful to think about how a boat's batteries are used. On a car the battery basically fulfills one function and that is to start the engine. With the car engine running the alternator takes over and powers all the electrical circuits until the engine stops. On a boat batteries are asked to work in a different way, sure they still start the engines but then when we get to that picnic spot or we drop the anchor in some quiet cove they have to supply all the electrical needs until we start the engine again. This puts quite a strain on the battery bank and one small battery as fitted to your car would soon go flat if this was all that was available on the average boat. Most boats will have at least two batteries, often one which is reserved for starting the engine and another for house loads; lights, stereo, fridge etc.
The situation is even worse with a sailboat as often times the boat is sailing without the motor running so the chances to recharge the batteries are even less. Batteries that are routinely undercharged will fail prematurely and conversely it is possible to overcharge batteries and this will also lead to their swift demise. One of the best ways to keep batteries in top condition is to connect up a battery charger when the boat is left unattended. If the vessel is kept in a slip or at a dock where power is available then this is easy. Do not be tempted to use a automotive battery charger however as these may be OK for short term use but will overcharge batteries if left connected for long periods. Far better is a proper marine battery charger which are designed to be left permanently connected to the batteries and will maintain them in tip top condition. Many marine battery chargers allow some degree of user interface because the different types of batteries require somewhat differing charging regimes but this is something that once set requires no further input unless one type of battery is substituted for another. On a boat that is trailed it might be worth considering fitting a marine battery charger that can be plugged in when the boat is stored for longer periods, this will ensure that the battery remains in tip top condition and will perform well when you next take the boat out.
If plugging in the boat is not an option then other methods are worth considering such as installing a wind generator or solar panel. Another possibility is removing the battery from time to time, taking it home and giving it a proper charge before taking it back next time you visit the boat.
It is worth mentioning that there are three types of battery that you can buy. This has nothing to do with size but is how the battery itself is manufactured. The first of these is the lead acid wet cell and these are the cheapest and also the most common. The next are gel batteries which uses a jelly like substance in place of a liquid electrolyte and the final common type is an AGM (absorbed glass mat) which gets its name from the acid which is held in a fiberglass mat between the plates of the cell. Both the gel and AGM batteries are pretty much maintenance free and do not require topping up of the cells as is the case with the traditional lead acid. However this convenience comes at a price with a good AGM costing in many cases three time the price of more traditional types. On boats that have two or more batteries in a bank it is sensible to change these as a set even if one appears still to be in good condition. As batteries age their ability to accept a charge changes and they loose some of their potential to supply their full rated output, if a new battery is added into the mix the older batteries will tend to drag down the newer battery and you could find yourself changing it sooner than you had planned.
Batteries should also be kept clean and dry, batteries that sit in a damp bilge will all suffer and in some cases this can lead to high rates of self discharging for no apparent reason. Also it is USCG requirement that batteries be properly restrained and can't come loose when the weather cuts up rough. Electrical connections to the terminal posts should be well made, secure with no corrosion. Sometimes you will see a white deposit on battery posts but this can easily be cleaned off with a baking soda solution.
Wet cell batteries need to have the electrolyte regularly checked which should be just above the level of the top of the plates when you look into the battery. Top off with distilled water if the levels are low and always exercise caution when working around batteries. Remove jewelry such as watches and metal bracelets that could cause an electrical short and wear goggles or other eye protection to avoid splashing acid into your eyes. Batteries give off hydrogen as they charge so make sure all naked flames are extinguished and never smoke near a battery as an explosion could result.
If you spend any time at all on one of the many online forums you will hear quite a lot of chatter from folks complaining that their new VHF radio does not work as well as it should. All too often it seems, many boaters go out and buy a new radio because the old one did not work, come back to the boat then screw in the existing antenna cable to the new radio, then wonder why the new radio is no better than the old one. In many cases the problem was never with the radio but the antenna. The theoretical maximum output from a fixed VHF radio is 25 watts and in an ideal world we would be getting all of this transmitting power radiating from the antenna. Sadly, however, we do not live in an ideal world and the chances of sending all those 25 watts out into the ether are the stuff of pipe dreams and legend.
There are 4 basic components in the chain from the radio to the antenna; the plug that screws into the back of the set, the coaxial cable that connects to this plug, the connection at the base of the antenna and then the antenna itself. All or any of these components, if not working correctly, affect radio performance. Let's briefly discuss antennas. There are several types of antennas but these can be essentially broken down into those for sailboats and those for powerboats. A sailboat tends to move about more than a powerboat at sea, it heels to the wind and the antenna is often placed at the top of the mast where movement is greatest. This is perfect in many ways for a VHF as transmissions are effectively line of sight, so the higher the antenna the farther the signal will be carried. Typically an antenna for a sailboat will have what is known as a 'gain' of 3db. You can read more on gain and what that means here. A powerboat, on the other hand, tends to have an antenna that is lower to the water level than a sailboat, and this antenna will be longer in length and have a gain in the 6 db category. It also means that for a sailboat the quality of the cable to the antenna is of vital importance, it's important on a powerboat too, but it is not uncommon for an antenna cable on a sailboat to be almost 100 feet long. Any resistance or loss of signal strength in the coax cable will therefore likely to be significant unless it is of the best quality.
Coax cable comes in different gauges and thicker is generally better but the thinner types are often easier for pulling through the boat. Irrespective of the thickness of the cable they need to be made off, at least at one end, and sometimes both ends with a connector which screws into the antenna outlet socket on the back of the radio. So to my main point - more transmission problems are attributable to poor or incorrect cable terminations than anything else. Connections must be of the highest order if you want to get the best possible performance out of your VHF radio. Often I hear complaints that the radio receives signals OK but as soon as the mic is keyed to transmit nothing happens or at best the signal is weak.
Shown below are two coax plugs for the end of a VHF cable. On the left is the very common Shakespeare style gold plug that is widely available in West Marine and other retailers. These fittings are pretty much junk in my opinion, connections are poor even when down exactly as outlined in the instructions. They are fitted to the cable end with a pair of pliers, the electrical continuity is suspect between the cable shield and squeeze together 'teeth' on the plug, and mechanically they are not very strong, and oh, did I mention that they are not at all waterproof and corrode in a mater of weeks further reducing their already poor performance.
The silver connector on the other hand is of the crimp on type, offers far better continuity and has a high degree of mechanical strength, it's easy to add a length of heat shrink to cover the ferrule and the end of the cable further increasing the strength of the joint and preventing moisture from wicking down the shield. This is all good, but you do need to invest in a specialist crimping tool specifically for coax cable, show in the top picture. I bought mine from a vendor on ebay for $32 and they work great. Incidentally the crimp on connectors are called PL 259 and these too are widely available online.
So the point is, that before you spend money after complaining that your VHF does not work, check out your connections, buy a good pair of crimpers and some proper PL 259 plugs. Even if you do install a new radio at least you will be sure that you are getting as much radiated output to the antenna as is possible.
All but the smallest sailboats have winches. Some sailors expect their winches to work year after year with little or no maintenance; others seem to think they are too complicated to mess with and are best left undisturbed. But winches are expensive, have a hard life, and are often subjected to very heavy loads when they are needed the most. It pays to look after them, a fresh water wash down is a good idea occasionally to remove salt. Overhauling a winch for the first time can seem daunting, but if approached methodically it should take no more than an hour to service one. After you’ve done it once or twice, you’ll wonder what the fuss was about.
You won’t need much equipment for this job, but it pays to get what you do need ready beforehand. You’ll need plenty of clean rags, some mineral spirits or kerosene, and an old coffee can to clean dirty parts in. You’ll also need a couple of screwdrivers, one small and one medium size, and perhaps a set of needle-nose pliers for replacing small parts like pawls. All the major winch manufacturers supply overhaul kits, which include grease for the bearings, oil for the pawls, pawl springs, a small brush, and an instruction booklet. These are well worth obtaining. The Lewmar kit, for example, retails for around $25 and is universal to all their winches. All the major manufacturers also have helpful Web sites; Harken, for instance, has an online parts list for their complete line.
Once you’ve got all you need, follow this step-by-step guide. The photos show a small self-tailing Lewmar winch (the differences from manufacturer to manufacturer are minor). The major parts of all winches are very similar and should closely resemble those in the photographs.
Don’t be tempted to take your winches apart at sea unless it is absolutely essential. I once took a winch apart in the middle of the Atlantic and dropped some vital part over the side, rendering the winch useless for the rest of the passage. Needless to say, this did not make me the most popular crewmember on board.
1. All major manufacturers supply kits for servicing their winches. These usually include tools, pawl springs, and instructions. Winches should be serviced once a year
2 AND 3. On some winches the drum is held in place with a spiral spring clip that sits in a shallow recess in the top of the spindle. Use a small electrical screwdriver or knife to pry out one end and carefully ease it out of its groove.
4. First you need to remove the drum. Unscrew the collar from the top of the winch. If it’s stiff, free it by placing a block of wood in one of the dimples and giving it a sharp tap. Harken uses a screw in the bottom of the winch spindle to hold the drum in place.
5. The O-ring seal under the top cap prevents dirt and salt from getting into the gears. Check the condition of this where fitted and replace if at all suspect. You may have to cut out the old one with a razor blade if you cannot pry it out with a small screwdriver or knife.
6. If the winch is a self-tailer (as shown here), lift off the self-tailing arm. It is sometimes locked in place by salt and corrosion and might require a tap with a soft mallet.
7. Remove the two half-moon-shaped retaining collets. On older winches these may be seized and might require prying out with a screwdriver. If they are really in tight, spray on a little penetrating oil. Don’t hit the collets with a hammer; they may distort in their seats, making them even harder to remove.
8. Insert your finger into the centre and lift out the spindle. You may have to twist it slightly to release it from its seating.
9. Lift off the drum. Don’t be surprised if the roller bearings don’t remain on the bronze spindle; sometimes they remain wedged inside the base of the drum.
10. Remove the roller bearings and check for wear. If they rattle in the cage or are ridged, they must be replaced. Give them a thorough cleaning with mineral spirits or kerosene to remove dirt and grime. Make sure to use a clean rag to wipe off residue. Also clean the spacer O-ring shown at the bottom of the photo.
11. Use the end of a small screwdriver to lift out the gear retaining pins, which are simply drop-fit through the winch body housing. You can now remove the gears from the winch body for cleaning and inspection.
12. Separate the two halves of the gear assemblies and check the condition of the pawls, especially the springs. Any broken or tired ones will need replacing. These vital springs are the smallest part on any winch and are the bits most likely to be lost, so take care.
13. After a thorough cleaning in mineral spirits or kerosene, dry each part, and then lightly lubricate the pawls and springs with oil. Return the pawl assemblies to the ratchet gear in the same order they came out.
14. Drop the gear retaining pins back into position with the flat on the edge of the pin facing the winch spindle. These should slide right in and fit loosely.
15. Refit the O-ring spacer over the winch body and then the roller bearings, which should be lubricated with the special grease and brush supplied in your kit. Replace the drum then lightly grease the self-tailing arm and top cap and refit. Check the action of the winch before patting yourself on the back and moving on to the next one.
Andersen winches have the top plate retained by four setscrews
This blog is normally about all things boaty but I want to take a moment to write about my dad who passed away this past week. Boats were never far from his heart and this picture was taken just a couple of weeks before he died down at the harbor in Ramsgate, England close to where he spent his final years. After spending just about all of the war in the North Atlantic he he left the Royal Navy and went to work for a number of firms supply construction equipment to help in the rebuilding efforts after London was devastated during the wartime air raids. After a few years he managed to save up enough for modest boat, a 20 foot cabin cruiser that 5 of us (yes 5) went away for vacations on. I remember those trips with fond memories; mum, dad and baby sister slept on the boat while my brother and I slept in a tent ashore.
Much later after I started working for the BBC we would take extended trips with the yacht club and traveled all over Europe but mostly to France, Spain, and frequent trips along the English south coast. Dad was meticulous in his note taking and looking back on those logs and photographs now I recall many happy memories.
So long dad, you will be missed, I hope you're enjoying your time in Fiddlers Green.
I've had a quite a lot of interest in a short review a wrote some time back about using a tablet as a low-cost chart plotter. I have mentioned it here, and also wrote about it in Spinsheet magazine and it seems to have touched more than a few readers who have written to me wanting to know more. If you read the earlier blog posting you will see that I have been using an Ipad as a plotter very successfully, and indeed, like it a lot. However, the downside is that I'm always worried that something nasty is going to happen to it, and it will be ruined. Wanting to address these points I did a bit of online research and bought myself an ASUS memo pad 7 tablet, which has 2GB of RAM and total storage of 16GB. I paid less than $100 from an eBay online retailer and I then went to the Navionics site and downloaded the required charts for free.
What is important to bear in mind is that the tablet does not have any connectivity to the cell phone network which is fine with me as this is not needed for the tablet to work as a chart plotter. The tablet does have WiFi and it was a simple matter to log onto my home network and download the charts that I will need for my next trip south. Unlike most, if not all driving apps, that require cell coverage to work the Navionics charts are actually stored on the device so you can use them for navigation even when you are totally disconnected from WiFi or cell coverage. I have Navionics on my boat's MFD, so navigating around the screen is very familiar to me, the functionality is identical to these larger units.
As an added advantage, I can connect to both the Simrad and Raymarine networks too and thus the tablet can also function as a repeater for these units but this was not the main reason why I bought it, its main function is as a small stand-alone plotter and in this capacity it works fantastically well all for a very low price.
Battery capacity seems more than adequate and I ran the plotter for more than 6 hours before it finally died on me. I had the backlight set at 50% so increasing this all the way up would undoubtedly reduce the available run time.
The ASUS may not have the panache or the larger screen of the Ipad but for the price it can't be beaten. Not that I'm going to throw the thing in the drink but the pain would be a lot less than losing a $800 Ipad to Davy Jones' locker.
So you bought the boat but now the time comes when you attach it to the back of the car or truck and drive it home. Generally speaking the larger and more powerful the vehicle the bigger the and heavier the boat that you will be able to tow will be but you should always check the vehicle manufacturers hand book or website for the maximum towing weight of your particular car or truck. After all it would be a bad move to buy a boat only to find out that you need another car to tow it with, of course the other option if you only tow infrequently would be to hire a vehicle. I used to do just this before I had a large truck, my boat is 26 feet long and the family car was not up to task. This was economical for me as I tend to put the boat in the water at the beginning of the season and pull it out in the fall, so the boat and trailer only did two trips per year.
Successful trailering begins before you even pull out from the driveway. Make sure that the boat is securely and correctly strapped down to the trailer. Do not rely just on the hook at the bow attached to the winch to keep the boat in place. As a minimum you should also have a strap over the aft end of the boat to keep the boat snug on the rollers or bunks. Some boats have U brackets on the transoms especially for strapping the boat down with ratchet straps. If your boat does not have these then put a strap or a rope over the entire boat attaching it to a secure point on the trailer. I have lost count of the amount of times that I have been overtaken by boats on trailers that are not secured properly attached only by the winch hook. If the winch were to let go there would be nothing holding the boat on the trailer and boat and trailer could separate. As you hitch the trailer to the car check the nose weight or in other words the amount of downward pressure on the tow hitch which should be about 100 pounds in most cases; too much weight and the front wheels of the towing vehicle will trying to lift off the ground too little and the trailer will wander at speed. Both situations need to be avoided as they can cause you to loose control. Then attach the safety chains between trailer and tow vehicle. With the boat strapped down plug in the lights and get a helper to operate the brake, indicator and tail lights while you check they are working. Assuming all is well have one last walk around the trailer and towing vehicle; we are now ready to set out on the road.
The first thing that you will notice is that the extra weight of the trailer unless the boat is very small will slow the car appreciably. This means that you have to allow extra time for the car to accelerate and slow down. Allow extra room and apply the brakes earlier than you normally would and do not make sudden turns or lane changes. With the boat on the back your overall length will be at least doubled and you need to make wide turns when going around corners to avoid pulling the back wheels of the trailer over the curb. Take your time and you will soon get the hang if it, just don't be in a rush. If you are new to trailering then it may be worth while taking the rig to a deserted parking lot to practice maneuvering, this is especially true of reversing which soon separates the men from the boys.
Reversing a trailer is counter intuitive and paradoxically the larger the trailer generally speaking the easier it is. The extra weight helps but it is largely due to the wheels being further back from the towing vehicle. The key to reversing is to go slow and don't panic. Start with the car and trailer perfectly in line with one another as you slowly back up. You will almost certainly start to see the trailer start to turn one way or the other. The first instinct is to turn the steering wheel away from the turn just as you would if you are reversing without a trailer on the back but this makes the turn more pronounced instead of making the trailer come back in line with the car. When starting out the easiest way to correctly steer and make the trailer go in the desired direction is to grip the bottom of the steering wheel with one hand. Then move your hand in the direction that you want the trailer to steer. Moving your hand to the right moves the trailer to the right and conversely moving your hand to the left moves the trailer to the left. If things start to get a little out of control pull forward a little to straighten up then have another go. With practice you will be able to back into almost anywhere then when you get to the launch ramp you'll look like a real pro.
The chances are that if something can go wrong, it will. With this in mind, carrying a few spare bits and pieces with which to effect running repairs is a good idea. A bosun’s box or ditty bag will keep all these items clean dry and in the same place so that if you need a spare shackle at four in the morning you know just where to find it. What you actually carry in your box or bag will depend to some extent on the type and size of boat that you have but those items that I have shown here are a good starting point and have got me out of trouble on more than one occasion. Click on the image to make it larger.
Notebook and pen Use these for all sorts of things, from making lists of jobs to be done to sketching a disassembled component.
A few lengths of cables of different gauges can be used to make temporary repairs to wiring and electronics.
Always carry a good selection of these in various sizes to lock off rigging. Cotter pins should never be used more than once.
You’ll need plenty of rags every time you check the engine oil or clean out a paint brush. Paper towels can be used as an alternative.
You can make fast, effective repairs with the correct type of tape. Carry duct, electrical, and masking tape as a minimum.
A simple way to make proper connections to the end of electrical cables. Available in a variety of sizes.
Many of the items shown here need to be kept dry; a plastic screw-down flare container makes an ideal bosun’s box.
Immensely strong and lightweight, Spectra cord is perfect for repairing your standing rigging.
These were left over from another boat, but I’m sure they’ll come in handy one day.
Nuts, bolts and screws
Carry at least a couple of every size used on the boat. They should be bronze or stainless; brass corrodes in seawater and has little strength.
Can be used for everything from rigging a spare halyard to fixing up a laundry line.
Countless uses, so carry a good selection in a variety of sizes.
Use stainless-steel clamps only. Great for everything from mending broken boat-hook handles to clamping pipes.
Carry spare batteries for on board flashlights and radios. Don’t forget the AA batteries for electronics.
Keeping spare fuses in a handy display package makes finding the correct size easy when the lights go out.
A good safety item to have if you lose your main VHF antenna and need to connect up a spare.
A yachtsman-style knife is strong enough to cut the heaviest rope; its attached shackle key can be useful.
Seals electrical-cable joints against water ingress and can also be used as a fast method of whipping the ends of a rope.
Great for use with the heat-shrink or for lighting the boat’s barbecue.
Carrying spare varnish to touch up damaged areas as they happen could save hours of work come haulout time.
Perfect for whipping ropes and great for use as a lightweight laundry line.
Pusher and fids
The only tools you need for making proper splices in braided ropes.
You can never have enough spare pieces of line.
Wearing these when working on the engine or doing any messy jobs makes cleanup easy.
Cheap disposable touch-up brushes are a perfect companion to the varnish can. Great for small jobs.
Can be used as a signaling lantern, a light for deep lockers, and as a safety aid in the dinghy at night.
The smaller Yanmar engines are probably one of the most popular engines for small sailing vessels and runabouts, and with good reason. The engines are reliable, robust, pretty compact and spares are readily available. However, one of the items that often gets overlooked come service time is the raw water pump impeller, mostly because it is so hard to get at. The easiest way to service the pump is to actually unbolt the pump from the engine which although not as hard as it sounds it is still a pain. (For reference the water pump is behind the small pully at bottom left)
But the newer small Yanmar engines have been redesigned and now have the pump in a much more accessible place as the shot below shows. The pump is now essentially reversed and the access to the impeller cover is simpler with in most cases no need to remove the pump at all. This makes the world of difference as the pump is much less likely to get forgotten, the brass plate glinting at you, a constant reminder. The shot below shows the 3 cylinder engine that was being installed into a Hampton at Yankee Marina which incidentally replaced an older Yanmar that had simply worn out.
Incidentally, a full tutorial on changing a water pump impeller can be found here.