There was a bunch of cool and interesting products shown at this years Ft Lauderdale boat show. Of course there was the usual showing of huge super-yachts, but the things that often catch my eye are not the superlative boats, but the small gadgets and electronics. One of the things this year that everyone was talking about, was the FLIR AX8 infrared camera. This camera is about the size of pack of cigarettes. Designed to be mounted in the engine and machinery room of boats, the AX8 is essentially two cameras in one. Not only is it a normal optical camera, but it also has a thermal camera built into the same housing.
Engine room cameras are not new of course, they have been around for good few years now, but by combining a standard and an infrared camera into the same housing the user is able to see not only the normal optical view of the engine room but also, as you may expect the IR view, either at the same time or on its own. But wait there's more - where the system really scores is that you can set up to six areas within the frame to monitor heat signatures individually. In other words, you can monitor the bits that tend to get hot, such as the exhaust manifold, heat exchanger and so on. If these go outside the parameters that the user has set then an alarm will sound - smart. I love this product and at well under a $1000 I think it is pretty impressive. It could well save the owner big in the long term, as it will alert the owner to something going wrong way ahead of anything disastrous happening. Best of all it can replace a bunch of individual sensors - exhaust probes etc. Set up is far easier too, as nothing has to be actually connected to the engine, so it's cheaper in the long run, especially if you have a pair of largish engines. If the field of view is not large enough to cover the whole engine room it is possible to daisy chain together several cameras so all the bases can be covered.
I'm still on the hunt for a decent quality folding boat sink that does not cost an arm and a leg. These pictures are just some that I have found on the web. I like the look of the top one a lot, it seems to be a stainless steel complete vanity station which came from an old train car, and could be good in the right boat. The bottom one is meant for RV's and shows the sink before the mixer faucet and drain have been added. It's called the Cleo and seems to be available in Europe but as far as can tell is not available in the USA. It's closer to what i was looking for but does look a bit cheap and plasticy. With the interest in tiny houses I feel it's only a matter of time before the right thing will turn up. The search continues ........
Do much electrical work on boat and you are sure to use cable ties – called zip ties by some. These are great at bundling cables and making everything neat and tidy but once pulled up nice and snug you have to trim off the excess tail. In some cases this is not a big deal, a pair of side cutters makes fast work of this, but in other cases where space is tight you can’t really see what you are doing. There is always the danger that you may inadvertently cut, or at least nick on the newly installed cables or the waste end of the tie will fly off and likely as not end up in the bilge or some other spot from which it cannot be retrieved. Trimmed ends of ties can also cut you very badly as they can end up extremely sharp which can be a hazard, I’ve lost blood to many a boat I was working on for this one simple reason.
But now it turns out there is another way. Anchor marine, makers and distributors of almost all things electrical for boats have come up with a self-cutting cable tie. With a simple twist the end is cut, no tools required, and best of all nothing to be lost in the bilge and no sharp edge to catch an unwary hand.
It’s so new there is no picture or pricing available yet. Apparently they will be in stores starting in December.
Some readers were recently asking about cleaning a Groco sea strainer. There seems to be a little confusion, especially about the stainless basket which you need to pull out to properly clean the gunk out. Here's a short viddy I did for BoatU.S to walk you through the process.
There can be few sailors that have not heard of Joshua Slocum, the first man to sail around the world single handed. Slocum was born in Nova Scotia in 1844 and was lost at sea in 1909, on his way to the Caribbean aboard 'Spray', the vessel he had used on his voyage around the world some 12 years earlier. If you are interested in Slocum this video makes interesting viewing although it does miss out big chunks of his life, such as how he was arrested in later life, and spent over forty days in jail for indecent exposure. Nonetheless, it's an interesting narrative interspersed with some sailing shots aboard replicas of 'Spray'.
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