The Trend Toward Complexity
A call to the marine industry to stop apologizing for it, and simply get on with making systems work reliably.
by Steve D’Antonio
photos by Steve D’Antonio
Modern cruising vessels have a variety of complex systems that afford users all the luxuries of home. Contrary to popular belief, there is no reason why these systems can’t be made reliable.
It’s a truism, vessels get more complex with each passing year, however, as an industry do we need to lament or apologize for that? I don’t believe so.
I’ve noticed a trend of late that is becoming fashionable with many industry journalists, pundits, and soothsayers and it’s trickling down to some would-be boat buyers as well; it involves adoption of the KISS or keep it simple principal. Perhaps adoption isn’t the right word; it’s more of a call for adopting this principal because boats are getting too complex and too expensive and that’s scaring away boat buyers and turning off boat owners.
While I applaud approaches that make boats and boating more affordable, more economical, and more efficient, I have to call a trickle down “feel good” statement, which in effect does little good, when I see it, and I believe the admonition for failing to KISS as just that, an effort to sound trendy and offer the appearance of doing something about the complexity, reliability and expense problems faced by many boat owners, builders and yards. In fact, while simplicity can be sublime in a variety of forms, I’m convinced that striving for simplicity, where marine systems are concerned, isn’t the panacea many believe it to be. Is it a noble effort? Perhaps, but one that is, I believe, misguided and one as a professional you shouldn’t fall for and one you shouldn’t let your customers fall for either because, ultimately, it’s one with which they will be dissatisfied. That’s not to say we, as an industry, aren’t facing a problem with reliability where many vessels are concerned, indeed, we are, however, don’t confuse this scenario with a need for a return to simplicity, it represents two steps backward and one forward.
Massive battery banks are becoming more prevalent and the wiring, circuit protection, and containment need to be up to the task.
A few months ago I completed an inspection aboard a recently finished cruising vessel belonging to one of my clients. Among other things, the 68-foot FRP expedition passage maker is equipped with a single main engine (that’s a type of simplicity I can embrace), a wing engine, twin generators (of different sizes), a 15 kW true sine wave inverter (yes, 15 kW, it can operate 50% of the vessel’s HVAC system while underway), quadruple HVAC chillers, a centrifugal fuel polishing system, an integrated vessel monitoring system, twin 1400 gpd water makers, hydraulic stabilizers, thrusters, crane and windlass, a retractable sonar, 12 and 25 kW radars, twin isolation and boosting transformers, a sea chest, etc. You get the point; this vessel is systems-intensive, some would say complex, – more on that in a moment – to cruise virtually anywhere in the world. That was the owner’s goal, as an experienced mariner and a full-time live-aboard; he wanted to be able to cruise far afield with as much autonomy as possible, while not sacrificing the comforts to which he and his wife had become accustomed in their daily life ashore.
Those “comforts” included, among others, toilets that flush reliably, along with a sanitation system that doesn’t smell, comfortable and efficient heating and air-conditioning, refrigerators and freezers, satellite television, and clean hot and cold running water of course. These systems have, for all intents and purposes, become de rigueur aboard even smaller, more modest vessels. The desire for more home-like comfort and amenities have in turn bred more complexity aboard today’s boats. That’s no sin, unless that complexity in turn breeds unreliability and excessive maintenance costs. Hold that thought.
Larger battery banks require larger charge sources that are capable of charging them in a reasonable time period.
Walking the Walk
As I write this column, this vessel is hauled for routine work in North Carolina after having completed a two-year long journey that took her from Florida and the Bahamas to Bermuda, Newport, Rhode Island, Halifax, Nova Scotia and on to a circumnavigate Newfoundland, where I joined her, down the East Coast and back to Florida, to the Bahamas again, Florida and then North Carolina, totaling about 10,000 miles and 1500 hours on the main engine, approximately 1800 hours on each of the two gensets, and 75 hours on the wing engine (the wing serves as a hydraulic pony engine, too.)
Power management, as well as generator usage, was of significant concern to the owner during the design phase. Toward that end, virtually every light aboard the vessel is LED, and it was the driving factor behind the large inverter system, which is designed to derive power from the main engine’s twin high-output alternators. During the design phase of this system, there were more than a few naysayers who believed an inverter of this size and a system of this complexity could not be made to work reliably. Many said “it’s been tried before, and it’s failed”. I don’t blame them for being skeptical, many such systems have failed. An electrical design engineer prepared the technical proposal, which was then reviewed by yet another electrical engineer. After a few changes, all parties ultimately agreed that it should work, although, as is often the case with a relatively uncommon system, there were no guarantees.
The twin, high-output alternators on the front of this engine had to be engineered for proper support and belt alignment. There is a limit to how much horsepower can be taken from the crankshaft and the loads also need to be balanced to keep bearing loads to a minimum.
The plan was then sent to two inverter manufacturers who both agreed their gear could deliver what was required. The one that was ultimately selected, Mastervolt, also agreed to inspect and approve the system as installed, to ensure it would be not only reliable, but warranted as well, a value added to be sure, considering the less-than-common installation arrangement. Interestingly, when presented with the finished design, the vessel’s builder refused to install the system. However, I believe that was a bold step and the right one; they weren’t prepared to own this design or installation, which wasn’t their own. I often counsel my clients on not pushing builders beyond their technical comfort level with untried or cutting edge systems, and I nearly as frequently counsel boat builders to avoid allowing themselves to be pushed beyond this point. In many cases, in an effort to please the customer, and/or to avoid losing the sale, they acquiesce to an installation that, in their boat builder’s heart or hearts, they are not fully comfortable with. In this case, this builder was confident in their abilities and what they were willing to take responsibility for, they knew when to say no and for that I commend them. To their credit, however, they did agree to pre-wire the vessel to ease installation of this system and reduce the cost of doing so. The components were installed after the vessel was completed.
The system was conservatively designed to operate one of the four chillers, to cool select portions of the vessel while underway. The vessel’s 1100 amp-hour, 24 volt battery bank will carry one chiller for about four hours, along with the vessel’s other loads. However, it was not designed to operate under these circumstances. It’s primary goal is to supply power for the HVAC system while under way and thereby reduce accrued generator run time and maintenance. In fact, in practice, it will run two chillers without difficulty.
Neatly laid out and well labeled and secured wiring and circuit protection may take longer to accomplish, however, it will pay dividends many times over during the life of the vessel. Finding faults (if there are any) or adding future systems will be more easily accomplished.
In August of 2011, I spent ten days aboard her as she cruised Newfoundland’s North Coast, getting a feel for how her web of systems operated and, more importantly, how functional and reliable they really were, from the retractable sonar transducer installed in the forward engineering space to the mother of all inverters in the lazarette.
My work and interaction with this client began before the vessel’s keel was laid and continues to this day. Over the course of the build, the owner and I poured over the vessel’s various systems specifications, CAD drawings and related documentation. Taken as a whole, the task was herculean. However, when spread over the course of the build’s eighteen months (the actual construction time for the yard was eleven months) it was more than manageable. Systems decisions included everything from domestic plumbing design (in addition to being heated electrically, should the water heater receive heat from the engine or one, or both of the generators and should such a system rely on a heat exchanger and circulation pump to minimize the risk of loss of coolant for the engine?) to engine room ventilation (should standard, generic intake and exhaust blowers be used, or should a more sophisticated, more complex, fully-engineered ventilation system that monitored and automatically acted on temperature input while maintaining pressure be employed?)
In every case, the pros and cons were weighed and evaluated. Evaluation criteria included the presumed benefit the design would offer – accessibility and serviceability (this was especially important because of the desire of the owner to do as much maintenance and repair himself, particularly while in remote locations), weighing that against added complexity and the increased potential for failure it might bring. Above all else, decisions took into account ensuring the greatest possible reliability, redundancy, ruggedness, safety-of-operation and yes, simplicity, when and where that feature made sense. Simplicity was never a goal unto itself.
Using this vessel’s manifold system, fuel can be taken from or directed to any source. Every valve is clearly labeled and documented. This approach affords the user a variety of options and work arounds in the event of a problem.
Complexity, Cost and Reliability
The primary complaint I hear from my clients isn’t predicated on the complexity of their vessels, in most cases their dissatisfaction revolves around systems that are unreliable or expensive to troubleshoot and repair or, they simply haven’t gotten what they’ve paid for. This is, I believe, the impetus for the keep it simple tag line. Thus, the call for simplicity, it’s not a trend because so few truly simple vessels are being built, is, in my opinion, a hollow one indeed. It is, instead, reactions to failures on what I believe are several fronts.
First, in the consulting and vessel inspection work I carry out, I encounter many vessels’ systems that were installed with a disparate rather than unified approach. Yet, the challenge resides, first, and without a doubt most importantly, in the design and integration of many of these seemingly complex onboard systems, on someone’s drawing board, desk or monitor rather than on the shop floor. This amounts to little more than the designer or installer doing his or her homework – efficiently utilizing space, fully absorbing manufacturers’ installation requirements, and carefully considering installations for the exceptionally important aspect of ease of access for service and repair. Systems-rich vessels that afford users and repair personnel poor access to critical components amount to little more than a delayed dirty trick perpetrated by the builder, or those installing gear, on the owner. If you have to remove two pieces of gear to get to another for repairs or routine service, someone hasn’t given the design enough thought, a practice for which there is little excuse.
This water heater utilizes multiple heat exchangers and multiple electric heating elements to heat water within its microbe resistant copper tank.
When systems are not planned and appropriately integrated, the realizations that owners often face are, they cannot carry out preventive maintenance because of poor access, the equipment fails, often after the warranty period because it was improperly installed, they can’t see problems developing because they’re hidden under layers of other equipment, and they’ve paid extra for something that fails prematurely. Think of the seacock that seizes, or fails all together, because it can’t be accessed for inspection, exercise or service. It’s up to the designer, builder and/or installer to be alert to these potential problems. They are not an issue whose genesis is over-complexity; instead, they are all too often rooted in poor design, poor installation technique, and a failure to integrate systems.
Regrettably, in many cases, there is little or no design per se, installation decisions are left to those on the shop floor, and no emphasis is placed on looking at the big picture and how many systems integrate with or affect each other. The piecemeal approach, almost inevitably leads to operational conflicts, unreliability, and excessive maintenance costs. Oh, and an unhappy customer who quickly loses faith in his or her vessel.
Avoiding such problems could be as simple as ensuring that the vacuum pump that’s been installed for the sanitation system doesn’t impede access to a seacock or washdown pump, or the air-conditioning compressor doesn’t impede access to the vacuum pump. There’s no doubt, taking such a planned, integrated approach requires a greater investment on the part of the designer or installer and perhaps added labor; however, it’s an investment that will pay dividends.
Not your average depth sounder, this retractable sonar is extremely accurate and takes much of the mystery of what lies ahead. In this case, it’s worth it; this particular vessel goes places where the charts may have last been sounded with a lead line, or not at all.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that the builder of the vessel or installer of the gear fails to provide the necessary documentation, schematics or instruction for the user. In such cases, when the gear doesn’t work as advertised, it’s all too easy for observers to proclaim the system as “too complicated”.
Simply put, inadequate forethought can lead to inability to reach an important piece of gear. In other cases, the problem is more insidious. Installation of a large bank of AGM batteries with a standard, off the shelf engine alternator, and a small, dockside maintenance battery charger will lead to chronically under-charged batteries and their premature and costly demise and/or poor performance, along with, again, the user’s deep dissatisfaction and loss of faith in the builder or installer. It’s not uncommon for someone to proclaim this poorly designed system too big, trying to do too much or, too complicated. In fact, electrical systems and charging and battery systems in particular, are a frequent source of frustration for vessel owners. It’s little wonder; too many builders and refit yards apply too little effort in designing an integrated system, one whose charge output appropriately matches the capacity of the house battery bank, along with providing the user a relatively easy way of monitoring use and rate of charge. In most cases, it simply and literally comes down to doing the math – what are the loads, how long will they operate for, what size battery bank does that require, and how much charge does it need for a reasonable recharge interval? They also fail to teach the owner how to operate it and ensure it’s properly maintained as well as supplying adequate documentation and schematics.
There are a lot of choices for propulsion on a cruising power boat and opinions abound about which is best. Single engine, twin engine, main engine with wing engine are just some of the choices. Whatever the choice, the systems must be correctly installed for maximum reliability and serviceability.
Second, subscribing to the axiom, “forget about support, if you build it, they will buy it”. Many equipment manufacturers/suppliers introduce products that, while often well designed, and made of high quality materials, are poorly supported. To be fair, many do so with enthusiasm, as well as the best of, albeit naïve, intentions. I’ve encountered this scenario on countless occasions, from stoves and anchors to battery chargers and engines.
When individuals or industry clients consult with me for my take on a new product they are considering using, or an idea they have to manufacture or distribute a product (in the latter case, it’s often a product from overseas, whose literature has been poorly translated, if at all, or relies on pictograms for complex tasks), my first refrain is often “how will you support it, what service literature will you provide, will literature and all service manuals be available on line, will you have a dealer network, will you have an expert on hand who knows the product thoroughly, will you be able to respond knowledgeably to e mail queries and phone calls requesting installation and troubleshooting support, etc, etc?”
Simply put, few things frustrate installers and vessel owners alike more than products that, regardless of how well they are made, are poorly supported. In many cases, the word gets out and these manufacturers or distributors aren’t around for very long. However, in the time they are around, they can wreak untold damage on vessel owner’s and boat builders’/yards’ wallets and patience as well as on the reputation of the marine industry in general. Every such shortcoming and every poorly supported product represents a further degradation in the reputation of the industry as a whole.
In the interest of ensuring reliability of any system, complex or otherwise, I strongly recommend that builders, yards and installers carefully consider the use of any product, particularly a new product, based not only on how well it may appear to do the job or fill a particular niche, but also on how well it is supported. On a related note, I’ve noticed a tendency among industry end users of equipment to use a new product because it’s new. When I managed a boat yard, I resisted this temptation. Just because it was new, it had a compelling ad, and my peers were using it, why should I do so as well? Be discerning – a manufacturer or distributor of a new product or one that is new to your region or country, should have to work to earn your trust. Make them detail for you the products advantages as well as the means of support.
Sophisticated systems merit sophisticated monitoring. Top, a Delta T engine room ventilation system touch screen control panel. Bottom, interface hubs for a Krill vessel monitoring system.
Most boat owners I know aren’t willing to give up all or even some of the comforts of home, and in some cases more, when they go cruising, nor should they. While I personally don’t watch much TV, I recognize that many folks want to do just that while they are off cruising and thanks to satellite TV receivers they can do so, on multiple TV’s, simultaneously if they wish. They also want cold beer, cool wine and ice cream, fresh water showers, lights, heat, air-conditioning and electric toilets, among other “luxuries”.
Yet another aspect of successfully achieving a balance between complexity, reliability and comfort involves installation of gear in the very strictest accordance with manufacturer’s installation instructions. I’m simply amazed at the number of times I review a vessel or individual installation and note in my report
“The (fill in the blank, it’s a potentially long list) inverter/watermaker/engine/generator/exhaust system is not installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines and is in danger of (again, fill in the blank) failing/ collapsing/catching fire/electrocuting crew, see page XX of the manufacturer’s installation instruction manual, available at www.ABCXYZ123.com/installationmanual for the necessary corrective action”.
Indeed, in so very many cases, the installation instructions are readily available in pdf format on the manufacturer’s website, leaving little excuse for not following them, to the letter.
The good news; the solution to this problem is relatively easy and I’ve advised vessel owners on countless occasions not to settle for less. In fact, I’ve made it clear to them that they should expect more of those designing, building and working on their boats. Professionals need to adhere to a not so tall order; do your homework to ensure complex systems are properly laid out, well-integrated and installed in accordance with the manufacturers’ guidelines. That’s it.
The ultimate in fuel polishing, a centrifuge is capable of cleaning even the dirtiest fuel without requiring cartons of filter elements.
Returning to the systems intensive expedition vessel and her design, the owner struck a reasonable balance with the builder that weighed integrated design and installation of a variety of disparate and, yes, complex systems, which afforded him and others excellent access for service with a goal for high reliability and ease of use.
Among, and in addition to, the features already mentioned, a whole vessel monitor is employed. It provides information and historical data on disparate systems including hydraulic temperature and pressure, the vital signs of all battery banks (house, start, gen and wing engines), including voltage and amp-hours, bilge water levels, the 120/240 volt electrical system including generators, inverters and shore power, all exhaust temperatures, fuel filter(s) vacuum, HVAC raw water flow/temp, all tank levels, stuffing box temperature and all four engine instrument sets. That’s not the complete list, all told; the system monitors over fifty parameters. Displays are large and easy to read and the user can set alarms for virtually any threshold or event frequency.
At the owner’s request, and using his design, the vessel was also equipped with a sea chest. As all true sea chests do, the goal was to limit or at least centralize through hull fittings to one location in the engine room, providing raw water to gear located in that space (it does not eliminate below the waterline fittings throughout the vessel, just in the engine room). The chest lid is located above the waterline and it incorporates a removable screen that can be serviced while under way. This is the only model of this vessel the builder has made with a seachest like this one.
Minimizing holes in the boat was a priority for the owner. A sea chest was specified for much of the equipment using sea water and its design required considerable thought. Reliability and ease of service were prerequisites.
Charging the large house battery bank is accomplished via four, ganged 100 amp (each), 24 volt, temperature compensated battery chargers. These chargers are capable of being electronically interlinked, ensuring that they work as a set and thereby provide maximum current when needed, rather than individually. The main engine is equipped with twin alternators, 175 amps at 24 volts each, and externally regulated with temperature compensation (the monitoring system reports alternator case temperatures, too.)
Harking back to my admonition regarding documentation, the vessel carries aboard her a full set of service and repair manuals as well as specifications, documentation and schematics from the builder, and for equipment that was installed after she was commissioned. In addition to this, the vessel is also equipped with WheelHouse Technologies’ vessel maintenance management system, which not only provides the user with maintenance requirements for every piece of gear aboard, it also affords the user access to every owner’s and service manual for that gear electronically, in PDF format.
Has it worked? While she’s still new by cruising vessel standards, most, including the author and the owner, would answer with a resounding yes, and as mentioned previously, she’s no slip queen; she’s been run hard and in a variety of conditions.
Twin, identical pumps used for black and gray water discharge. Using a series of three way valves, either pump can be used as a back up for the other.
While returning from Newfoundland, she encountered the most unsettled seaway yet. During one run south of Nova Scotia, conditions were simply atrocious (and not in keeping with the forecast), 15-18 foot seas at their peak, while the wind speed remained steadily above 30 knots and gusting to 45 for seven solid hours. For the crew’s sake, the owner eventually sought shelter in Lunenburg. Yet, the vessel and her systems performed well. Aircraft-style twist locks over the athwartships oriented pilothouse refrigerator drawers were wrenched free of the joiner work, and the stabilizers tended to overcompensate. Beyond that, all systems worked normally and my hat’s off to the autopilot and hydraulic steering pump manufacturers, Simrad and Accu-Steer respectively. They worked overtime and never missed a beat. I’ve been aboard vessels in far more benign conditions in which bilge pumps clogged, steering failed, batteries came adrift, leaks developed, electrical systems got wet and caught fire, appliances walked out of their garage spaces and so on. One of the design criteria for this vessel was extreme robustness. While the true test will involve long-term cruising, tumultuous offshore conditions are often a good arbiter as to whether systems and gear design and installation meet this rigorous requirement. Failures early on do not bode well for the long term reliability. The more systems are aboard and the more complex they are, the more challenging it will be to meet this goal. However, I firmly believe it’s achievable with, once again, careful design and proper installation technique.
There have been some teething problems, the centrifugal fuel polishing system has been balky at times, the sanitation system needed a larger hose size in order to work properly and the hydraulic stabilizers still require some fine tuning, along with a few other minor issues. Still, in light of the size of the vessel and the sheer number of systems she has, she’s proven herself remarkably reliable, seaworthy, safe and comfortable.
What differentiates this complex and comfortable cruising vessel from her less reliable, more troublesome and more expensive to maintain brethren? That’s easy, someone, or some group of people did their homework, and they did the math, figuratively and literally. To be sure, the vessel’s design is a sound one and that’s a prerequisite, as is high quality construction and craftsmanship (it’s important to point out, good designs can be, and often are, poorly built and vice versa, one is not a guarantor of the other). The design and integration of equipment was carefully scrutinized, keeping in mind throughout the importance of functionality, reliability, robustness and ease of service, all the while achieving the goal of comfortable life aboard. Distilled into a paragraph it sounds easy. In fact, while it does take considerable effort, along with the associated expense to achieve this lofty goal, it’s well within the grasp of competent naval architects and designers, boat builders and trades folks and, the dividend it pays is equally worthwhile.
Returning to the opening theme, should the marine industry seek simplicity, or perhaps more importantly, should the industry avoid complexity in building and refitting vessels that suit the needs of their customers? Or, instead, should they strive to build and refit vessels that meet the needs of their customers? You can now be the judge. The marine industry would do well to remember however, what most customers expect is comfort and safety as well as reliability and reasonable economy of operation and ownership. These should be the goals of builders, repair and refit yards, in execution of any design. Do so, and the rest will fall into place.
Retractable, searchlight sonar enabled this vessel to safely thread the needle, the narrow entrance into Irelands Eye on Newfoundland’s rugged Northeast coast.
For more information on the services provided by Steve D’Antonio Marine Consulting, Inc. please e mail Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org
or call 804-776-0981
Text and photos copyright © 2018 Steve D’Antonio Marine Consulting, Inc.
From the Masthead: Simplicity vs. Reality
Not long ago I met with a potential client who was excited to discuss a vessel he wanted to have built. During our meeting he shared a list of items he wanted to incorporate into the project, forward looking sonar, water makers (two of them), ultrasonic anti-fouling, fuel polishing, a diesel furnace (with heated head soles), stabilizers and hydraulic thrusters, and a vessel monitoring system, to name just a few. I took notes as we talked, and while doing so thought, “This is all pretty common gear, it should be straightforward to properly incorporate it into this design, and make for a very nice systems package”. Then the he dropped the bomb, “I read a blog post by a cruiser who said it’s very important to keep the vessel as simple as possible, so I want to make sure we do that as well”.
Every vessel owner is familiar with the ‘keep it simple’ phrase, and I see it on the forums in which I participate, in magazine articles, and I hear it invoked at boat shows by buyers and sellers alike. While it has merit, there’s just one problem, few people truly understand exactly what it means; “simple”, after all, has a range of definitions.
We live in a world that long ago left behind roll-up windows and push lawnmowers; and embraced automatic lane keeping, blind spot cameras, individual driver and passenger climate controls, integrated household pest control, intelligent thermostats, video door bells, smart phone-controlled gas fireplaces, and touch activated faucets. While we may genuinely believe simplicity is better, because the things you don’t have can’t break, most buyers and owners simply aren’t prepared to spend a lot of money on a boat, only to not have the things they want, and to which they’ve become accustomed.
Having said that, one of the primary emotions I encounter in new boat owners is a sense of being overwhelmed, ‘there’s so much to learn just to use the boat, and that doesn’t include troubleshooting and repair’ is a sentiment I hear often. It’s true, today’s cruising vessels are complex, it’s virtually unavoidable; however, it should be noted, some are unnecessarily complex and some manage complexity far better than others.
If you had outboard motors, minibikes, and cars you fixed up as a kid, or if you helped your dad (or mom in some cases) work on the washing machine and change mufflers in the family car, then your threshold for things mechanical, and for systems in general, is almost certainly higher. For the mechanical and electrical engineers among us, well, you have a significant head start.
If, however, you aren’t comfortable with tools and things mechanical, if you don’t have a favorite ratchet, wire stripper, or caliper, one you’ve owned since you were a teenager, then your threshold for complexity will be lower, and you’ll need to plan for that. While complexity can be done well, and not so well, where boat building and systems are concerned (I wrote an article on this very subject a few years ago), this, your gearhead quotient, must be kept in mind when you are searching for, building or outfitting your vessel.
For those who have less experience with systems and hands-on service, there are things you can do to improve a vessel’s user and service friendliness, and your peace of mind.
- Ensure every valve, switch, fuse and circuit breaker is clearly labeled.
- For a new vessel, make certain it comes with a detailed owner’s manual (make the sale contingent upon this detail, ask to see a copy), which includes drawings for electrical, fuel, potable water, sanitation and other key systems.
- Make certain you can perform key engine tasks, including primary and secondary fuel filter, impeller and belt replacement (I covered this subject in a recent column ).
- Get systems and troubleshooting training by attending training seminars and workshops; learn how to use a multimeter.
This month’s eMagazine feature article is part two of a two part series; it covers the subject of conducting a pre-offer evaluation of a vessel. I hope you find it both interesting and useful.
I’ll be headed to China and Taiwan in October. If you’d like to chat with me about inspecting a vessel you are having built, or visiting a yard you are considering for a new build, please feel free to contact me.
A Boat Buyer’s ‘Top Ten’ Guide to a Pre-Offer Evaluation Part II
(This article is based on a lecture delivered at the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show)
Following these steps can make navigating the vessel offer and survey process less risky, less stressful and less costly.
In last month’s eMagazine feature I discussed the importance of, and value in, conducting a pre-offer evaluation. This included areas such as compliance with recognized standards and installation instructions, construction material options, tanks and electrical systems.
In this, the second and final segment of this series, I’ll review vessel maintenance, record keeping and management programs; running gear and alignment issues; fluid analysis; raw water plumbing and seacocks; and damage disclosure and warranties.
- Vessel Maintenance Management Programs
Several years ago an individual contacted me and asked if he could schedule a meeting, to run an idea by me, one for a new marine business he was contemplating. I agreed to give him half an hour, at a boat show I was planning on attending. I get these calls often, and while I like to remain open-minded, many of the ideas are wildly impractical. In my opinion this one was no different; it involved distilling, from hundreds of equipment owner’s manuals, the critical service protocols and intervals, and then inputting that into a program that would alert users when preventive maintenance was needed. The task seemed gargantuan to me, accessing all the information, and then accurately entering the data would be, in my estimation, overwhelming. I told him it had been tried, without success, but wished him luck.
Some deferred maintenance is difficult to identify without disassembly; ultimately, however, it manifests itself either during the survey or, worse, after you’ve taken possession of the vessel.
Two years later I wrote an article, in which I happily admitted, in this case, that I could not have been more mistaken. The company was SeaKits, now WheelHouse Technologies, and the program they offered actually worked, very well. Today they support hundreds of recreational, commercial and institutional vessels with their marine maintenance program. Today several firms offer a similar product, which is good for boat owners, as competition brings out the best in any business.
Among other things, WheelHouse, and other programs like it, offers users peace of mind in knowing that their vessel’s systems are being properly maintained, and it helps users keep track of what’s been done and when. A few years ago a reader contacted me with a tale of woe, the windlass on the vessel he’d owned for several years failed; he was distraught that it had done so with little warning and seemingly for no reason. I inquired about service and his response spoke volumes, “Service, what do you need to do to a windlass except wax it?” In fact the windlass had failed because it had never been serviced, never disassembled, cleaned and greased; the oil level was never checked. When I alerted him to this he said, “I had no idea this had to be done, if I did I would have done it”. That’s a common refrain after a failure, ‘I had no idea I was supposed to…” fill in the blank.
Vessels with up to date maintenance programs are nearly always more reliable, and initially less costly to own because deferred maintenance issues are significantly reduced. Such vessels are more valuable and should be more attractive to buyers, and for sellers.
Pre-owned vessels that have a marine maintenance program, one that has been utilized and whose tasks are up to date, is very unlikely to suffer from the aforementioned “spontaneous” windlass failure, and others like it. The value of this sort of upkeep is considerable; when I perform inspections on such vessels, the defects list is invariably shorter than similar vessels, those that have not had the benefit of being proactively maintained.
If you are purchasing a new vessel, strong consideration should be given to implementing WheelHouse or an equivalent, for two reasons. One, it makes for an inherently more reliable vessel, with fewer unplanned yard visits. Two, it increases the vessel’s value when to comes time to list her for sale. You can learn more about WheelHouse/SeaKits in this article
7. Running Gear
A few years ago I inspected a vessel for a client; during the sea trial I felt a distinctive vibration, one I’d not encountered previously on the same model from this manufacturer. Upon hauling the vessel I was certain I’d find a bent propeller blade, or a lobster pot wrapped around the shaft, but there was nothing, props, shafts, struts, rudders, stabilizer fins, everything checked out just as it should. Still, I knew the vibration wasn’t typical for this vessel. I noted my observations in my report, which the seller questioned, indicating he’d owned the vessel from new and had never run aground or hit anything (there’s a familiar and apropos axiom for this claim, ‘there are cruisers who have run aground [and hit things], and those who will’). Whether or not that was true, there was no evidence of this. Furthermore, he denied there was a vibration. While some vibration is subtle and subjective, this was unmistakable, joinerwork in the aft crew quarters was literally buzzing in the resonant rpm range. Having said that, if you’d driven a car with unbalanced tires all your life you may never notice just how bad it was, until the day came where you drove a car whose tires were balanced, the difference would be immediately apparent. On many occasions I’ve encountered vessel owners who could not feel a vibration, hear a rattle, feel sloppy steering, or smell an odor, because it was all they’d ever known.
I made a suggestion to my client, ‘If the vessel meets your needs in all other major categories, have an acknowledged running gear alignment professional evaluate the system, the cost will be minimal, and well worth it’. He did; the problem was insidious but undeniable, the pilot bushings of both propeller shaft couplings were off center, which meant that the shafts were revolving around, rather than rotating on, an axis. The installation of new couplings, fit and faced, eliminated the vibration entirely. The sale proceeded, and the seller paid for the repairs once the problem, and results, were clearly demonstrated. Furthermore, while ignorance may be bliss, the seller was retroactively furious that he’d lived with the problem for so long.
Shaft alignment, propeller condition, shaft tolerances, all of these can have an effect on a vessel’s operating characteristics, efficiency and reliability.
Ask if the vessel you are considering has had any shaft, bearing or propeller repairs during the seller’s ownership. If so ask for details and receipts. Has the shaft and engine alignment ever been checked, have the propellers been scanned and adjusted recently? If so, ask to see the scan reports, for most vessels it makes sense for props to be brought into ISO Class 1 compliance. This two part article on engine and shaft alignment, as well as this two part article on propellers and propeller service may be useful in learning more about this process.
Related to this subject, as part of your evaluation process, ask of the vessel has had any major mishaps, flooding, fire, collision, lightning strikes, major engine failures or replacement etc. In most regions sellers are required to disclose this information, particularly if asked.
- Fluid Analysis
I’ve likened fluid analysis to a mechanic’s crystal ball; it’s a look into the sole of machinery, including engines, gensets, power steering and hydraulic stabilizers and thrusters. In the right hands, analysis reports are a valuable tool that can be used by buyers and sellers alike. The fluids that can be tested include crankcase and transmission oil, hydraulic fluid and coolant.
Some will say that the value of fluid analysis is limited unless there is a trend to be followed, unless testing has been carried out on a regular basis. While that’s true to some extent, I’d argue against that logic as an overall concept, I’ve conducted hundreds of analyses, on a one time basis, and in many cases they definitively and accurately identify noteworthy issues.
Analyzing key fluids such as crankcase oil, transmission and hydraulic fluid can yield invaluable, and otherwise undetectable, information about some of a vessel’s most expensive equipment.
In a recent case, a client carried out oil analysis on a vessel equipped with twin diesel engines. The iron content on one engine showed 190 parts per million, while the other was 34 parts per million. The sharp disparity between the two engines was cause for concern. The oil was changed, the engines run for 10 hours and the test repeated, and still one engine’s iron content remained abnormally high even when taking into account residue. The seller chalked it up to the vessel having not been used much, which generated rust inside the crankcase, but if that logic were accurate then both engines should have shown high iron content. Ultimately the seller arranged to have the cylinders bore-scoped. The results were definitive; the cylinder walls on the engine whose iron content was high were noticeably pitted. A subsequent compression test confirmed the issue, the pitted cylinders yielded below normal compression readings. The mystery was solved, and the analysis proved accurate and telling.
In spite of stories like this, many still do not place a great deal of faith in fluid analysis, citing the need for “trending”, and to some extent I understand their wariness. There are many ways fluid analyses can be misinterpreted, which could in turn scupper an otherwise sound sale. I’ve seen this occur as a result of poor oil sampling technique, where the pick-up tube is pushed too far into the dipstick tube for instance, and dragged across the bottom of an oil pan, dredging up years’ worth of sediment; a sure fire means of sending any analysis lab’s computer’s into tilt mode.
Worn components, such as engine bearings like those shown here, are virtually impossible to detect without oil analysis.
On the other hand, a miss-read fluid analysis report, which includes incorrect data, could give the all clear for a sale, when in fact an underlying problem exists. I encountered just such a case recently. I reviewed an analysis report for a client in the midst of a purchase, all the bars were green, and he believed my review was, therefore, perfunctory, saying “it’s all green so what could be wrong?” In reviewing the report, however, I noticed that the mechanic who took the sample, and completed the form that accompanied it, had inadvertently transposed the lube and unit times, the number of hours on the oil and the number of hours on the engine respectively, the latter had over 1,000 hours on the “clock” (disappointingly, the lab did not catch this gross error). If the oil was genuinely that old, its contamination threshold would be very high, and virtually nothing would cause it to drive boxes on the report into the yellow or red zone. Once the numbers were corrected, and the report rerun (the oil does not have to be retested to make a correction of this sort), the analysis yielded red warning signs, identifying high aluminum, iron and chrome, an indication of a piston, cylinder and/or ring problem.
Ultimately, there is value to purchasing a vessel that has had regular fluid analysis. It is indicative of a conscientious owner, and it affords the buyer additional peace of mind. If the seller is willing to make available copies of reports, take the time to review these; if you don’t know how to interpret reports (as the above story illustrates, red, yellow and green bars alone should never be relied upon as an interpretive tool), find someone who does and ask for assistance. Some analysis labs offer training, as does an outfit called Noria, they hold training sessions around the country, as well as online. I’ve participated in formal fluid analysis training and consider it money well-spent; without formal education in analyzing analysis reports, you are at the mercy of a mechanic’s, one who may have no formal training, interpretation, or the yellow, red and green bars.
While any fluid analysis can be valuable, vessels that have been subject to regular testing offer buyer’s added peace of mind; ask to see the reports of a vessel you are considering.
For all but new vessels, a pre-purchase survey, when you reach that stage, should include a full round of fluid analysis, including crankcase oil, transmission and hydraulic fluid and coolant; this applies to propulsion engines and gensets alike.
For more on fluid analysis, see this overview article and this SDMC instructional video and you can read a more detailed account of fluid analysis here
- Seacocks and Raw Water Plumbing
Keeping water from entering a vessel is among the highest of priorities, and no place is this more important than in below the waterline plumbing, including through hull fittings, and seacocks. The rate at which water can enter a vessel in the event of a failed seacock should not be underestimated; few bilge pump systems can contend with even a single, small seacock breach.
The standards established by the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC), for seacock installations are clear and comparatively brief. Each seacock installation must be capable of withstanding exposure to 500 lbs of static force, at its most vulnerable, i.e. most inboard, location without leaking or failure per se.
Additionally, seacock plumbing must utilize compatible threads. In other words, parallel or NPS threads found on nearly all through hull fittings must not be mated, as they so often are, to tapered or NPT, threads found on many inline ball valves (purpose-made seacocks utilize NPS threads, and are thus fully compatible with through hull fittings). This is an all too common violation encountered on pre-owned as well as new vessels. The use of such incompatible threads violates every engineering standard in the book, and makes it very likely that the installation will fail the aforementioned 500 lb. 30 second test.
Ideally, the seacocks themselves, as well as the installation, should be ABYC compliant, and the valves themselves stamped, or embossed with an ABYC H-27 or UL 1121 Sea Valve approval .
At first glance these two seacocks may look similar, however, they are dramatically different, and only one (top) fully complies with ABYC Standards.
Beyond seacocks, plumbing used for raw water applications, engine and genset cooling, air-conditioning systems, wash-down and watermakers, should be robust and reliable. The list of raw water materials that I would approve of is relatively short, bronze (and never brass), glass reinforced nylon (Forespar’s Marelon and TrueDesign are two common brands that utilize this material), fiberglass and 316 stainless steel. With rare exceptions, PVC should not be used for conveyance of raw water, particularly pressurized raw water, wherein a failure would result in flooding. Exceptions include air-conditioning systems engineered by air-conditioning system manufacturers (and not modified thereafter), as well as plumbing supplied with water makers.
For all its above the waterline durability, stainless steel can prove problematic when used in seawater applications. I have seen, and photographed, countless crevice corrosion-related failures in both 304 and 316 grades of stainless steel, in both welded tubing and cast pipe components. Any signs of leakage or rust on stainless steel raw water plumbing are worrisome.
The range of metals that are suitable for seawater applications is comparatively narrow. Using the wrong metal, like this brass elbow, can lead to flooding or worse.
Hose used for raw water should be specifically designed for the application, which means the manufacturer of the hose approves it for use with seawater. There is a wide range of manufacturers of approved raw water hose, much of which will be marked “SAE J2006R Wet Exhaust”. Be wary of clear hose when used for raw water applications, even when reinforced with a spiral wire. The vast majority of clear hose is PVC-based; it lacks the necessary robustness, chafe and crush resistance required for this role.
Finally, raw water plumbing should be selected, designed and installed in such a way as to be rugged. It must be well supported and protected. While ABYC is mute on the subject once the plumbing progresses beyond the seacock, my own criteria is simple enough, if it’s not robust enough to stand on, then it’s not robust enough.
- Warranty Coverage
For new vessels, warranty coverage, and how it’s administered, should be an important part of your decision making process. This is especially true of manufacturers who do not possess dealer networks.
Warranty periods vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, one year “bumper to bumper”, covering everything that isn’t covered by individual equipment manufacturers, is common and the minimum, while two years is preferable. “Structural” which may include hull, cabin, cabin, deck (decks, including teak, are sometimes excluded) and gelcoat/paint warranties should be no less than five years, and they should include coverage for osmotic blisters. Gelcoat cracks and crazing are also often excluded, and “blisters” may be defined by the manufacturer as being recognized as a defect only if larger than a given size and depth.
Gelcoat defects and water penetration should be covered under vessel manufacturer warrantees, both above and below the waterline, for at least five years.
Ask for a copy of the warranty policy and be sure to read it in its entirety, make sure you fully understand the coverage details. Ask questions. What happens of you have a failure and you are hundreds or thousands of miles from the dealer/manufacturer? Will you be charged for travel and lodging if manufacturer personnel must come to the boat to carry out repairs? Are you expected to transport the vessel back to the builder at your own expense, and can they keep it for an indefinite period to carry out repairs; will they charge you for storage? Will registering the vessel as an LLC have any effect on the warranty coverage? Will performing your own maintenance void your warranty? Can local professionals carry out repairs with approval from the manufacturer, and if so, will the manufacturer pay them directly, or are you expected to do that and then be reimbursed? (Always get approval from the manufacturer, in writing, before having anyone other than a dealer carry out warranty repairs). Do the warranty periods for gear that is installed in the vessel begin when you take possession, or when they are shipped from their respective manufacturers (the latter is not unheard of)? If the latter, the warranty may be expired by time you take delivery of the vessel. Are the appliances covered by their respective manufacturers for use aboard a motor or sailing vessel? Better boat builders will begin all warranties upon delivery of the vessel to you, even if they have to provide coverage themselves. If you have a warranty claim for a component supplied and installed by the boat builder, a crane, air-conditioning system or engine/genset, the expectation is you will go directly to that manufacturer, however, if necessary, will the boat builder assist you and act as your advocate? They should, it’s likely they have far more pull with the equipment manufacturer than you do, especially if they selected and purchased the part.
Confirm that the primary warranty is provided and administered by the boat builder themselves, rather than a third party warranty company. While some are reputable and honest, many third party warranty providers have marginal records at best. If the primary warranty for the vessel you are considering is served by a third party provider, research the company and read the user reviews.
If an extended warranty is offered for the vessel or engines, the same caveats apply, confirm who is providing it; again if it’s third party then check their references. Extended warranties for diesel engines, particularly those that are larger and/or more complex, including pod drives, are often well worth the expense, provided they are backed by the manufacturer directly, or a highly reputable third party provider; once again for the latter it’s a case of caveat emptor.
With some caveats, extended warranties for larger, electronically-controlled engines make good sense; be sure to read the terms of the policy.
In the case of third party or extended warranties that are purchased directly from the vessel or equipment manufacturer, make certain you will receive written proof the warranty has been purchased; I’ve encountered a number of instances of extended warranties that were paid for by buyers; however, when they’ve attempted to make claims, often years later, it’s discovered the plan was never actually purchased by the vessel builder, or dealer.
Finally, for a pre-owned vessel, is the warranty transferable? If so, doing so may require an inspection by the builder or engine manufacturer, filing of paperwork and paying a fee. Do your homework in advance, you may have a grace period to effect the transfer which, once expired, may leave you adrift where warranty coverage is concerned.
Ultimately, all of the above-mentioned pre-offer tasks can usually be accomplished with no more than a day or two of effort, most of which without ever setting foot aboard the vessel.
From the Masthead
It’s no understatement to say access to critical machinery, engineering and bilge areas is vitally important. It’s a subject on which virtually all boat owners and most builders agree, and yet I routinely encounter inaccessibility, and in many of those cases it’s the result of carpeting. For several reasons, hindered access being chief among them, I am no fan of carpeting, in fact I really hate it; I find myself cursing it on so many occasions, especially when inspecting a vessel or troubleshooting a problem.
A couple of weeks ago, while conducting an inspection aboard a 58-foot motor yacht, I encountered a fuel leak; several inches of diesel sloshed beneath the aft berth. Accessing the bilges around the berth required the removal of wall to wall carpeting, which had been installed with tack strips. The only thing I hate more than carpeting is tack strips. In another recent case I found myself executing an unintended gymnast-like split (I’m limber, but not that limber) when carpeting in a lazarette slid as I stepped onto it.
If carpeting in a cabin is bad, carpeting in engineering spaces, engine rooms and lazarettes, is worse. In many cases gear is installed on portions of it, making lifting to access hatches difficult and time consuming. In the event of flooding, where seconds can count for access to a leak or seacock, carpeting can take far too long to remove. When placed over gelcoat, carpeting can, as noted above, slide, setting up an injury scenario. If all that isn’t bad enough, carpeting in engine rooms represents a fire hazard. Even if the product is flame-retardant, if soaked with fuel, oil or even coolant, it will burn. Did I mention I hate carpeting?
This month’s eMagazine feature article is part one of a two part series; it covers the subject of conducting a pre-offer evaluation of a vessel. I hope you find it both interesting and useful.
I’ll be headed to China in August and Taiwan in October. If you’d like to chat with me about inspecting a vessel you are having built, or visiting a yard you are considering for a new build, please feel free to contact me.
A Boat Buyer’s ‘Top Ten’ Guide to a Pre- Offer Evaluation
(This article is based on a lecture delivered at the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show)
A little pre-offer research may prevent considerable heart ache down the road.
It’s a scenario I encounter far too often, the listing looks great, and the boat seems to offer everything the buyer wants, the right number of staterooms, galley layout, range and speed. An offer is made, a deposit provided and the acquisition wheels are set in motion. In many cases, however, the would-be buyer fails to undertake the proper amount of pre-offer research and analysis, which ultimately leads to disappointment, soul searching and a re-evaluation of the new boat budget.
Of course no one wants to make an offer on a boat, and arrange and pay for hull and engine surveys, oil analysis, systems inspections, sea trial and a short haul, only to find out it is afflicted with problems that could have been identified much earlier on in the process, and with far less expense; in some cases without even setting foot aboard.
You can perform such a pre-evaluation by following these guidelines.
Is the (new or relatively new) boat built to any recognized standard? If so, which ones and is compliance guaranteed by the builder? While assisting clients in selecting a new vessel I’ll suggest that they ask the selling broker/dealer or builder if the vessel is built to any standard. In some cases the answer is an all too quick, “Yes” however, when elaboration is requested it isn’t forthcoming. In some cases sales literature may make mention of “ABYC (American Boat and Yacht Council) membership” (‘membership’ is no guarantee of compliance, and ABYC does not ‘certify’ vessels, although the National Marine Manufacturer’s Association (NMMA) does offer a voluntary certification program), or “following CE (Conformité Européenne) Standards” (‘following’ doesn’t mean ‘conforms to’), however, this is far from a definitive, “Yes, this vessel is built to comply with the following ABYC Standards, AC and DC Electrical, Exhaust Systems, LP Gas, Bilge Pump Systems…” or, “Yes, this vessel complies with all CE certification requirements at the time of manufacture”. As an aside, there are over sixty ABYC Standards, and very few vessels comply with all of them, and thus when a representative responds “All of them” when asked with which standards the vessel complies, it should immediately make you suspicious, and at the very least prompt a request for additional information, in writing. For more on new builder compliance you can read this article.
The value of compliance with standards cannot be overstated. In the case of ABYC, CE/RCD, Canadian Small Vessel Regulations, AS/NZS (the Australian/New Zealand 3004.2:2008 electrical standards) it represents a rigorous third party threshold the builder must meet. In other cases, typically for larger or chartered vessels, there are a slew of other guidelines established by “classification societies”, compliance with one of these yields what’s known as a “classed vessel”. These include American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), Det Norsk Veritas (DNV), Registro Italiano Navale (RINA), and the Maritime and Coast Guard Agency (MCA) to name a few. Again, not all are created equal, some are more rigorous, others introduce complexity whose value is debatable for the application, or they are related to chartering, which is of little value of you don’t intend to charter the vessel. While not mandatory in the US, third party compliance is mandatory for vessels sold in the European Union, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Vessels built to comply with third party standards can offer added value, reliability and safety. The standard or classification placard should be clearly visible.
While it’s no guarantee of overall quality, design, comfort or sea-keeping abilities, standards compliance and classification frequently results in a more reliable and safer (and typically more expensive when compared to those that are not built to a standard or class) vessel.
Of course if the vessel is pre-owned then compliance with standards remains important, however, you are unlikely to receive any guarantees from the seller. Never the less, any repairs that are agreed upon as part of the sale should stipulate compliance with ABYC and/or other applicable standards. If the vessel is pre-owned and classed, i.e. ABS, DNV or others, determine if the classification is up to date.
- Follow the Instructions
For a new vessel, ask the broker, dealer or builder to agree that all equipment is installed per the manufacturer’s installation instructions. It seems strange that I need to say this, and yet the issue comes up repeatedly; in many cases, when I conduct an inspection I’ll make an entry that reads something like this, “The stuffing box installation fails to comply with the manufacturer’s installation instructions, the incorrect hose has been used, set screws are not stacked, the water supply pick up is located in the incorrect location”. And just as often, the builder or selling dealer will say, “We’ve done it that way for years, and it’s never been a problem”.
While seemingly obvious, many equipment installations on both new and pre-owned vessels fail to follow manufacturers’ requirements.
That response implies that the builder believes he knows more about installing this stuffing box than the people who manufactured it, and as such it means he is in fact agreeing to warrant it, forever. No one wants to do that and once that’s pointed out they’ll often agree to make the installation compliant.
When installers dutifully follow manufacturer instructions when installing equipment, the likelihood of failures are reduced considerably, as well as ensuring warranty coverage. Doing so is also indicative of a level of overall good attention to detail.
- Construction Material
What material is used to build the vessel, fiberglass, steel, aluminum, wood, or wood/epoxy (cold molded)? Most recreational vessels are fiberglass or FRP (fiberglass reinforced plastic); it’s a relatively low risk option, provided it’s built properly. While there are a few notable exceptions, most FRP vessels are solid below the waterline, while relying on a cored sandwich or “cored composite construction” above the waterline, and for cabin sides, tops, and decks. This consists of fiberglass skins inside and out and a timber or synthetic, of which there are many, core material.
Each construction material carries with it advantages and disadvantages.
While attractive, teak decks add a maintenance dimension to any vessel, which must be carefully weighed.
In a valid effort to decrease weight, some builders choose to core their hulls both above and below the waterline, and while that’s not a deal killer by any means, it does increase the risk of water migration into the core, even if the core is not hygroscopic. Unlike balsa (or any timber) synthetic core that will not absorb water because it is made from a closed cell material, however, water can still migrate into the gaps or kerfs between the core blocks, in a process known as channeling. These gaps are supposed to be filled with resin during the lamination process; and yet, for a variety of reasons, this often does not occur.
There’s no denying the beauty and romance of a timber vessel, however, ownership is appropriate only for those who understand its needs, and are prepared to carry out necessary and regular maintenance, or pay others to do so.
Ultimately, virtually all core saturation is problematic and costly, water can enter core anywhere it’s present, above or below the waterline, however, it’s of considerably greater concern, and expense, if it does so in the hull below the waterline. Solid FRP bottoms don’t suffer from this problem, with the trade-off being they are heavier. If it’s a displacement vessel it’s a non-issue, while “heavier” and “planing” don’t necessarily go well together (weight and fuel efficiency are directly related for planing vessels), making a cored bottom potentially more attractive. Naturally there are exceptions to every rule; many semi-planing vessels are solid FRP below the waterline, and for the amount of time they spend at planing speeds the weight, and trade-off, is for the most part a non-issue. Once again, cored bottoms done properly are stiff, strong and light. That’s no guarantee, however, that they weren’t mistreated at some point. A grounding can expose core, causing water migration, as well as after-market installations like transducers or trim tabs.
When properly executed, an aluminum vessel is indistinguishable from fiberglass. Painted aluminum, does, however, require far more in the way of upkeep.
A few years ago I encountered a vessel that simply refused to float on her lines. It was ultimately determined that a transducer had been installed just a few years prior, by the selling dealer, when the vessel was new, using fasteners screwed directly into the cored bottom. Over time water migrated throughout nearly the entire bottom, adding weight and compromising structural integrity. The builder and dealer had gone belly up, leaving the hapless owner holding the bag on a vessel that was essentially worthless and could not be sold.
Cold-molded vessels are in a similar category as cored FRP, if done right they are strong and long-lived. Failure to seal or ‘close out’ penetrations into the timber core, or failure to properly seal it during the build process, however, can lead to significant and costly water damage that is not immediately obvious.
With a moisture meter, in the right, skilled hands, most of these issues can be identified relatively easily. Even a careful visual inspection can often yield meaningful results, i.e. brown water dripping from cored or cold-molded structures almost always is indicative of water saturation. For more on the subject of cored composite construction, see this article.
Cored composite construction is strong, light and stiff, it’s been proven over many thousands of hulls. It is, however, susceptible to water entry at hull and deck penetrations, during or after the build. All penetrations on cored structures must be properly sealed in a process known as “close out”. Sealant must never be relied upon to keep water out of core, and simply coating exposed core with resin is a half-measure at best.
The other issue to be conscious of where FRP is concerned is osmotic blisters. It’s a complex subject, around which a veritable fire storm of misinformation swirls. Today, osmosis is easily prevented in the build process, every FRP boat should be built utilizing a vinyl ester ‘skin coat’, or the entire laminate should be vinyl ester or epoxy, both of which are blister -resistant. Be sure to ask if this is the case, and if osmotic blisters are covered under the warranty; they should be for at least five years. For a pre-owned vessel the issue is of equal concern, and perhaps more so since there’s no warranty.
Traditional, all polyester hulls are more prone to osmosis, however, it is by no means a given. I’ve encountered 30 year old polyester hulls that were pristine, and three year old polyester hulls that were riddled with blisters. Be especially mindful of vessels that have recently been moved from one type of water to another, fresh to salt for instance, as this can trigger a blister outbreak. For more on this subject you can read this article.
Aluminum is versatile, easy to work with and naturally corrosion resistant, however, it is susceptible to poultice and galvanic corrosion.
Steel and aluminum vessels have much to offer. While they are noted for their durability, resilience and fire resistance, they also enable builders to conceive of and build a unique design without investing in a mold (the same is true of cold-molded vessels). For traditional FRP vessels molds are a necessary and costly evil, an expense that must be amortized over several vessels, while changes to the design can be difficult and expensive. With steel and aluminum, however, changes can be made with relative ease in the design program, even during the build process by cutting and welding.
Steel offers advantages of customization, fire resistance and extreme strength; it will deform considerably before failing. Rust of course is an issue, however, it can be kept at bay if properly coated and maintained.
As is often the case, there’s no free lunch, however, as steel and aluminum are prone to rust and corrosion. And while corrosion prevention coatings have advanced significantly in the last decade, it remains a potential problem, especially for aluminum, or at least a concern for buyers, thereby affecting resale value (aluminum’s corrosion resistance can actually be greater if it’s left un-coated). Like every vessel, those made from steel and aluminum must be carefully inspected, signs of rust and lifting paint are frequently worse than they look, so keep a sharp lookout and don’t let a seller tell you, “It’s only cosmetic”. The jury is out until you have confirmed otherwise. For more on painted aluminum issues see this article and for more on aluminum corrosion see this article
Tanks play an exceptionally important role in vessel operation, reliability and cost of ownership. Most are not designed to be replaced, and as such making certain they are in good condition, properly installed, and made form a material that is known to last, is an important evaluation factor.
One of the more common forms of failure for steel tanks is from the outside in, or top down, the result of water leaks from the deck. Access to tanks, metallic tanks in particular, for inspection is, therefore, essential.
A range of materials can be used, each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. For fuel they include aluminum, mild steel, stainless steel, polyethylene and fiberglass; (ideally) for sanitation polyethylene and fiberglass; and for potable water stainless steel, polyethylene and fiberglass.
Perhaps more important than which materials are ideal are those that are less than ideal. For fuel mild steel tanks are prone to rust, often from water dripping onto the top of the tank, while aluminum tanks suffer from poultice corrosion, a phenomenon that occurs when a tank is continuously exposed to stagnant water. Stainless steel tanks, while seemingly indestructible, also suffer from stagnant water exposure, which can lead to crevice corrosion. For all of these reasons, any metallic tank whose exterior cannot be inspected is cause for concern.
The range of tank materials is considerable, from steel and aluminum to polyethylene and fiberglass, with the latter being among the most durable and long-lived.
Given the choice, and provided the right resins are used, fiberglass is perhaps the best material for fuel tanks; it is long-lived, durable and corrosion-proof. I’ve opened and cleaned 30-year old fiberglass tanks, after which they looked like new. I can’t say the same of any of the metallic options. While polyethylene tanks are equally as resistant to decay, they do have some limitations regarding customizability, baffling and inspection ports. They do not, however, corrode.
Interestingly, black and potable water tanks have much in common where materials are concerned, and non-metallic options are the best, with aluminum offering perhaps the worst of all worlds.
Strong consideration should be given to cleaning the fuel tanks of pre-owned diesel-powered vessels, particularly vessels that have remained dockside in warm climates for extended periods, as they are notorious for accumulation of debris in tank bottoms. Primary fuel filters can offer a glimpse to the interior of a tank, however, if they’ve been recently cleaned then that observation is no longer valid. Proper tank cleaning requires access to the entire tank interior, which means entry into every baffled chamber, either though external inspection ports or via a “manhole” and removable baffle sections. Determine if the fuel (and other) tanks on the vessel you are considering have this capability.
I’ve written extensively about tanks on several occasions, including fuel tank installation and design ; sanitation systems and tanks and potable water systems. Additionally, this article covers cleaning diesel fuel tanks.
- Electrical Systems
A vessel’s AC and DC electrical system should be able to provide you with the power you need, for your intended cruising style. It also often represents the longest deficiency section in the inspection reports I write.
In the broadest of terms, if your goal is to minimize generator run time and maintenance, and hang on the anchor for days at a time, then you want a DC-centric vessel, one whose battery bank is capable of supplying the necessary amp-hours, as well as a system that is capable of replenishing that bank in a reasonable period of time.
Vessels may be designed with an emphasis on AC or DC use.
While air-conditioning can be made to operate from batteries and inverters, generally speaking, while at rest and away from shore power, cooling the vessel typically requires use of a generator (it is possible to operate air-conditioning indefinitely while underway using large alternators and inverters). This arrangement would be AC-driven, relying on a generator for most vessel power needs, as well as heating and air-conditioning. Vessels that rely heavily on AC power, with no redundancy such as an inverter that can carry critical loads such as refrigeration, are typically equipped with two generators.
Neither system, AC or DC centric, is better than the other, both can work well, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. The primary goal in a preliminary evaluation of such a vessel is in avoiding the error of selecting one that is designed to operate primarily on AC power, shore or a generator, while expecting long periods of battery-powered quiet ship operation at anchor.
Broadly speaking, vessels designed primarily for DC rather than generator operation tend to be more electrically complex, with larger battery banks, alternators, chargers and inverters, which often requires a higher degree of user understanding, input and management. Generator-dependent vessels, on the other hand, offer more in the way of turn-key operation. This article covers the subject of large battery banks used on DC-dependent vessels.
The other electrical issue worthy of consideration is the shore power on which the vessel is designed to operate, or more specifically the frequency. The US, Canada and Mexico, and much of Latin America, as well as a handful of other countries utilize 60 Hz, usually at 120/240 volts AC, while the rest of the world, with a few hybrid exceptions, relies on 50 Hz, at 240 volts. Voltage is relatively easy and comparatively inexpensive to convert using a transformer, therefore, a vessel requiring 120/240 volt “split phase” power can cruise to Europe and plug in to 240 volts and, using a transformer convert this to 120/240 volts. However, what the transformer can’t do is convert frequency, in Europe it’s 50 Hz, while in the US it’s 60 Hz. Converting frequency is complex, and expensive. Frequency converters are often large and they generate heat (which is wasted energy), which must be removed from the compartment. Without using a frequency converter, appliances, including refrigerators, washers and dryers, microwave ovens, stoves and air conditioners, may be damaged if operated on a frequency for which they are not designed.
Some, but not all, air conditioning compressors are designed to operate on 50 Hz or 60 Hz, with an adjustment in voltage, and consequent change in output.
The alternative to the frequency converter, one that’s become more popular in the past five or seven years, involves using inverters and battery chargers to power a vessel’s frequency-sensitive loads while traveling, or living, abroad. While this approach often has power limitations, it can be made to work well, and it’s less costly and more versatile than a frequency converter.
I frequently receive calls from potential buyers, who have interest in purchasing a vessel, whose frequency is not native to the area in which they intend to cruise. While the vessel can be fully converted, (that may be mandated for registration in some cases, such as Australia), that’s no small task and often cost-prohibitive, making the frequency conversion or inverter route the only viable option.
If you are evaluating such a vessel, make certain you have a full understanding of the details and cost associated with conversion, and safely operating the vessel in areas other than its parent frequency. I’ve encountered ‘quick and dirty’ conversions that were rife with ABYC violations. I covered the installation and operation of shore power transformers in this article .
In part II of this article I’ll cover vessel maintenance record keeping and management programs; running gear and alignment issues; fluid analysis; raw water plumbing and seacocks; and damage disclosure and warranties.
Text and photos by Steve D’Antonio
Copyright © 2017 Steve D’Antonio Marine Consulting, Inc.
From the Masthead
I recently encountered a question, posed by a participant in an online boat owner’s forum, which caught my attention. “I’m preparing to take delivery on a new vessel”, the forum member said, “and I’m wondering what others think about having it surveyed”. I waited for a few days before responding, I was curious to see what others had to say. Much to my surprise there were only a couple of brief responses.
I encounter this question fairly often. In short, I strongly recommend that both new and pre-owned vessels undergo a full inspection prior to a would-be owner taking possession.
A boat is a complex product, with all the systems found in a modern home, heating and air conditioning, potable water, sanitation, entertainment etc, as well as those required to be independent of land, and to propel it safely and reliably in a variety of conditions. Getting it right is a tall order, and because of this complexity, as well as constant changes and improvements in both equipment, and within industry standards that relate to proper installation of marine systems, no two new vessels from a manufacturer are ever exactly the same, especially those built for cruising; making consistency and the value of repetitive construction, an elusive target for even the most conscientious builders. In many cases, the issues I uncover in a new vessel inspection are entirely unknown to the builder, and the reputable ones are only too happy to make corrections, in an effort to maintain the customer’s confidence and satisfaction, as well as to improve their product. Ideally, as a buyer of a new vessel, the pre-acceptance inspection should be written into the initial purchase contract. Builders and dealers, again the reputable ones, are almost certainly prepared for this. If they balk, it’s a red flag to be sure.
A pre-acceptance inspection for new vessels allows you to insure that the boat meets the safety, reliability, comfort and ease of maintenance requirements that you expect from the builder, and may have contracted for, along with any other standards to which the builder claims to adhere to, including and especially those set forth by the American Boat and Yacht Council. Again, these expectations should be included in the build/purchase contract. Furthermore, pre-acceptance is when you, the buyer have the greatest leverage for encouraging a builder or dealer to correct defects, flaws or oversights in the agreed upon equipage. In my experience, once you’ve taken possession, the builder or dealer has less incentive, or at least there is less of a sense of urgency, to make corrections. In some cases it also makes sense to have the vessel inspected prior to the expiration of the warranty period.
This month’s eMagazine feature article covers the subject of coolant recovery bottles. I hope you find it both interesting and useful.
The Benefits of Coolant Recovery Bottles
Coolant recovery bottles are available in a range of shapes and sizes. Bottle selection is driven by the overall volume of the cooling system, larger systems require larger bottles.
Most boat owners, even those with limited technical abilities, know that the cooling system on their engine and generator operates under some level of pressure, and most also know it’s a potential safety issue as the pressure cap, much like the one on an automobile, cannot be opened when the system is hot. However, have you ever thought about why that’s the case, what advantage does a pressurized system offer? In some ways it seems counter-intuitive, pressurizing this system makes leaks more likely. While that’s true, it’s worth the risk as you will see in a moment.
Pressure Caps, Pressurized Systems and Expansion Tanks
The cap itself is worthy of some discussion, it’s outward simplicity belies its complex inner workings, which typically incorporate two calibrated springs as well as two gaskets and a check valve. The primary spring controls the pressure at which relief will occur, i.e. when coolant will be allowed to leave the engine’s expansion tank, the assembly on which the cap is typically mounted (although some systems have remote expansion tanks). The second spring regulates the check valve operation. As the engine heats up so too does the coolant; the latter expands and must be given route to do so, typically into a recovery bottle, but sometimes into the bilge under the engine.
Not all cooling system pressure caps are alike. Those with a brass upper bushing are not designed to be used with recovery bottles; and the bushings, like the one shown here, are prone to cracking.
Cooling system caps are often rated for pressure of somewhere between six and fifteen pounds per square inch (41 and 103 kilo-Pascals) and this rating is nearly always embossed on the cap. The pressure rating is designated by the engine manufacturer and replacement caps must never deviate from this specification.
Pressure caps carry pressure ratings, which are nearly always embossed on their surface. Using a cap that carries the proper pressure rating is critically important; if it’s too high it can lead to leaks, if it’s too low it may not provide proper boil and cavitation protection.
The cooling system’s gaskets, pump seals and hoses are specifically designed to operate at a given pressure, exceeding it can lead to failures of these components and leaks. The cap gaskets serve several purposes, they keep coolant from leaking out of the system, they maintain pressure and, if equipped with one, they allow coolant, and not air, to be drawn back into the system from the coolant recovery bottle.
Pressure caps are comprised of several parts, including gaskets, springs and a check valve, all of which must be in good working order for the coolant recovery bottle system to work properly.
There are several reasons why a cooling system benefits from pressurization (look for an upcoming article on the subject of cooling system cavitation erosion, where more of these issues will be covered in greater detail). For the purposes of this discussion, the primary reason for operating under pressure is to increase the boiling point of the coolant and thus the efficiency of the cooling system. For every pound of pressure that the system operates under, the boiling point (of water) is raised three degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, a fifteen pound pressure cap raises the boiling point 45°F, affording an additional margin against boiling and overheating.
The coolant recovery bottle’s primary purpose is to capture expanding coolant, as well as keeping the cooling system from ingesting air, which could lead to pump cavitation and overheating. Among the recovery bottle’s most valuable traits, however, is its ability to alert the user to trouble within the system. If, for instance, the level drops steadily over time, it’s an indication that coolant is leaking from the system, whether it’s visible under the engine or not, it’s being “consumed” from the bottle. Unlike crankcase oil, which may require periodic topping off, you should never have to add coolant to the system once it’s undergone the first few operating heating and cooling cycles. In larger systems, and those with keel coolers, it may take a few dozen cycles for stabilization to occur, however, coolant in the recovery bottle should not need to be replenished.
Coolant recovery bottle plumbing should be routed so that it is not in harm’s way, and so that it does not impede access around the engine. Most recovery bottles are plumbed from the bottom, however, some, like the one shown here use an internal pick up tube.
It comes as a surprise to many users that the bottle’s coolant level should fluctuate during an operating cycle, which is from cold start up, to full operating temperature and back to cold. That is, the level of coolant in the recovery bottle should rise as the engine reaches operating temperature. Once the engine is shut down and cools off, it should drop back to its original, starting level. Mark the cold level so you will immediately note an irregularity. If there is no movement, or if it drops below the starting level, it’s an indication of a problem. No movement often indicates a problem with the cap’s filler neck port, which is connected to the bottle via a hose; it sometimes becomes clogged with debris or it may be cracked. Or, the hose itself may be crushed or breached. In other cases, a lack of intra-heating cycle movement may indicate a defective pressure cap. Its internal mechanism and gaskets are somewhat delicate and can cease to retain a vacuum, which is necessary to draw coolant from the bottle to the expansion tank during the cool-off period.
When the system is cool, remove and inspect the cap to ensure its gaskets are clean and free of tears or other damage. Inspect the filler neck as well for dents, corrosion, or cracks and to ensure the overflow port is clear. An accumulation of black gritty or oily flotsam in the coolant recovery bottle, a dire warning sign, should not be ignored, as it can be an indication of a head gasket or oil cooler leak. Lightly lubricating the cap’s larger gasket with a thin film of Teflon grease will improve the seal and prevent the cap from getting stuck.
The port located in the expansion tank fill neck allows coolant to flow to the recovery bottle when the cap reaches its rated pressure. When the system cools and contracts, a vacuum is formed, drawing coolant back through this port and into the expansion tank. In order for this to work, the cap’s upper gasket must form an airtight seal, and thus it must be rubber or a soft gasket material.
Not all cooling system pressure caps are alike, most are designed to be used with a coolant recovery bottle; they rely on two rubber gaskets, a large one directly under the cap, and another smaller one located at the end of the spring, which also supports the check valve. Others, however, are not designed to create a vacuum and draw fluid back into the expansion tank when the engine cools off, they use one gasket, the smaller one, while the large one is absent, using a brass bushing instead (which is prone to cracking). Connecting a coolant recovery bottle to a system that uses the latter of the two caps isn’t harmful, however, it simply will not allow the bottle to work, coolant that flows into it will never return to the expansion tank, these caps are designed to be used without recovery bottles.
For systems not equipped with an expansion tank, an air void is maintained at the top of the expansion tank when the engine is cold, into which coolant expands when the engine heats up. There’s no serious harm in this approach (for expansion tanks that are cast iron, the air void can allow rust to form within the tank), however, the user has no outward sign of the coolant level or consumption, the cap must be opened to check coolant level unless the expansion tank is equipped with a sight glass. If coolant is routinely moving into and back out of a recovery bottle with each heating cycle, there’s little doubt about the coolant level in the expansion tank. Having said that, the cap should be removed periodically, while the system is cool, to verify coolant level as well as inspecting the gaskets and check valve.
Because they must maintain an air void within when not used with a recovery bottle, steel and cast iron expansion tanks are prone to rusting.
Bottle Placement and Size
Coolant recovery bottle placement is frequently a source of confusion for boat builders, mechanics and boat owners. Because the bottle operates on the principles of pressure and vacuum, gravity plays little or no role in its proper operation. Therefore, contrary to popular belief, the bottle need not be placed above the engine. If it is, opening the pressure cap for inspection purposes virtually guarantees that coolant will run out of the bottle, and overflow from the expansion tank filler neck.
Ideally, the bottle should be placed so that the cold coolant fill mark is roughly level with the height of the pressure cap. The hose should be routed in such a way is to avoid blocking an engine room thoroughfare and prevent damage from chafe or being stepped on. Finally, while it is ubiquitous, clear PVC hose should not be used to connect the recovery bottle to the expansion tank. While the clear nature is attractive, this hose lacks the chafe, temperature, crush and kink resistance necessary for this vital application. Instead, a more rugged, coolant resistant hose such as Type B fuel line should be used.
While it’s all too commonly used, clear PVC hose is not robust enough for coolant applications, it collapses, chafes and melts far too easily. Type B fuel hose makes for a far better choice.
Coolant recovery bottles are available in a wide array of shapes and sizes, from diminutive units designed for gensets (yes, they benefit from them too), and sail auxiliaries, to larger models are used with high volume systems. Volume is the operative word when sizing such bottles; as an undersized unit will overflow when the engine is hot, and register no coolant when cold. The more coolant the overall cooling system holds, the larger the bottle must be. In the absence of guidance from the engine manufacturer, and for keel-cooled systems, whose volume may be considerably larger than an equivalent heat exchanger, the 7% rule of thumb can be applied. This would mean, for example, a 40 liter system (I find it’s easier to convert measurements to liters for these calculations) would require roughly 3 liters of recovery, which can be rounded up to 4 liters, which in turn is roughly one gallon. It’s worth noting, a coolant recovery bottle can be retrofitted to virtually any pressurized closed cooling system provided the cap is designed to, or can be replaced with one that does, draw fluid from the bottle.
Your coolant recovery bottle is the window to your engine’s cooling system, make sure yours is properly installed and in good working order; it may very well alert you to problems long before they otherwise manifest themselves.
Text and photos by Steve D’Antonio
Copyright © 2017
From the Masthead
Taiwan Has Ruined Me
I travel to many parts of the world for my work, domestically as well as Europe, Asia, Australia and South America. While I’ve had the good fortune to gaze upon land and seascapes whose majesty takes one’s breath away, of all the cultures I’ve encountered Taiwan’s remains unique and among the most memorable. The regions in this country where I work are anything but picturesque, it’s crowded, industrial, smoggy and gray, yet there’s something about its people that I find irresistibly magnetic. I write this editorial while in flight, returning from yet another trip to this small island (it’s about the size of Maryland, with a population of 24 million, roughly equal to that of Texas). With the experience fresh in my consciousness, I’d like to share with readers a glimpse of what I experience while there.
“Made in Taiwan”, it’s a phrase that inaccurately conjures up thoughts in the minds of many that aren’t flattering, inexpensive, cheap, or throw away. In fact, while Taiwan seemingly is one giant workshop, and steel mill, and while much of what comes out of this land is no doubt mass produced, my interaction with Taiwanese boat builders and related craftsmen has been one of boundless admiration. If you can imagine, describe, and draw it, they can build it to whatever specification or standard that suits you, including everything from fine teak and cherry cabinetry, to sophisticated electrical systems, precision drive trains, and of course complete vessels. When I walk through boat yards and shops while there I often marvel at the quality and ingenuity, and what’s more, they almost universally achieve this level of perfection with the simplest of tools, many of which are made by the craftsmen who use them. In all the trips I’ve made to Taiwan, I’ve never seen a store-bought plane, awl, broom or tool box; all are handmade. The roll away tool cabinets owned by mechanics in American boat yards could only be dreamed of by even the most skilled, experienced Taiwanese boat builders. They achieve a great deal with very little.
When I carry out inspections in a Taiwanese boat yard those working there are universally deferential and friendly, most shop floor workers speak little or no English. On virtually every occasion on which I crawl into the recess of an engine room or lazarette, flashlight in hand, within seconds a Taiwanese worker appears with a drop light and a smile. They know I’m there to critique their work, yet they are helpful. Most yard owners and managers are eager for constructive criticism, and virtually all the staff I encounter are sponges for knowledge and learning new and improved techniques. I often think to myself, ‘if they came to an American boat yard to inspect the work we do, would they get that sort of treatment’?
Night street markets are, by the way, not to be missed. The country is essentially devoid of violent crime, and now that I ponder it, I’m not sure I’ve ever even heard a raised voice in public. Taiwanese are simply too busy working or studying, it seems, to descend to this level of unproductiveness.
This attitude does not stop at the shipyard gate; it universally permeates Taiwanese culture, from those working in airports and hotels, to restaurants, airline cabin crews (the national airline, China Airlines, is in my top three favorites) and taxi drivers. In the latter case, every one I’ve encountered, without fail, has been professional and courteous, scrupulously honest, endeavors to get you to your destination as quickly as possible (always wear your seatbelt) and every cab spotless. When they pull up to a curb drivers literally run from their door around to the trunk to unload your luggage, and if you beat them to it they look genuinely disappointed (I’ve learned to walk slowly). They neither expect nor rely on tips; however, if you provide one, and I always do, they are likely to shake your hand, bow or salute. When they send you off, whether it’s at the airport or a train station, it’s as if you are being dropped off by a family member, they always wave, and flash a big smile, and while few speak English, some say a well-practiced “Have a nice trip!”
Service nationwide is orders of magnitude beyond anything you’ve probably ever experienced in Western cultures. Even those doing the most menial jobs, washing windows and mopping floors for instance, take their work seriously and give it their maximum effort, running, as noted previously, is the norm for hotel clerks, and bell hops.
Taiwan’s high speed train, on which I can travel nearly the length of the island, about 200 miles, in 90 minutes, is staffed by some of the most squared away transit workers I’ve ever encountered, anywhere. Their precision, and uniforms, complete with white gloves, leather pouches slung across their chests, and sharp creases, would put many of the world’s armed forces to shame.
Taiwan’s people have, therefore ruined me in many ways; I’m forever measuring service and attentiveness against this impossibly high standard. They are a tough act to follow, and a culture in which I very much enjoy immersing myself.
Photo Essay: Exhaust Temperature Alarms
Most vessel operators, and many professional mechanics alike, believe that the first line of defense against an engine overheat scenario is the engine’s own audible overheat alarm. While the coolant temperature gauge, and audible high temperature alarm are no doubt critical components, by the time the latter sounds, there is a good chance damage has already occurred, either to the engine itself or the water-cooled portions of the exhaust system. Engine blocks possess significant mass, and as such it takes some time for the coolant temperature to reach a point where it will trigger the alarm. By the time that happens, if cooling water has been interrupted by a blocked seacock or strainer, it often means the exhaust system has been operating without cooling water for several minutes. While that may not sound like a lot, consider that the normal temperature of the wet exhaust is somewhere around 150°F, while the dry, uncooled diesel exhaust can range from 400°F to 1,000°F. That sort of heat will very quickly turn a normally water-cooled exhaust hose or fiberglass pipe into toast, which can in turn lead to thousands of dollars’ worth of damage, or worse, lead to a fire.
A wet exhaust temperature alarm will alert a user to this sort of impending scenario long before any damage occurs. In some cases vessel operators have reported to me that in the process of cleaning a strainer they inadvertently left the seacock closed. Anyone who has ever done this knows, in addition to feeling very foolish, it nearly always results in a cooked impeller. In most cases the helmsman is alerted to the oversight when the engine’s high temp alarm sounds, at which point he or she no doubt thinks, “I can’t believe I did that!” For vessels equipped with exhaust temperature alarms, this scenario is all but eliminated; it reacts so quickly, typically within 30 seconds, and it’s threshold is so low, usually around 165°F, that no damage is done; in most cases even the impeller survives unscathed.
When I mention the importance, it’s a requirement for ABYC compliance, and value of a wet exhaust temperature alarm, some skippers, those whose vessels are equipped with raw water flow alarms, believe it’s unnecessary, but they ignore its importance at their own peril, and here’s why. Consider this especially insidious and potentially disastrous scenario, one I’ve encountered on several occasions; the raw water hose between the engine’s heat exchanger outlet and exhaust injected elbow parts or slips off its pipe to hose adapter. Because the engine is still receiving cooling water, it doesn’t overheat, the flow indicator registers no problem, and no alarms sound, all the while seawater is being pumped into the engine room, and possibly spraying onto the engine. The first sign of trouble is often the sounding of the high water alarm, if the vessel is equipped with one and it’s working. The wet exhaust temperature alarm offers the greatest protection against a range of failure scenarios, including this one.
There is one additional nuance worth mentioning when selecting or evaluating a wet exhaust temperature alarm, which involves the placement of the sensor. In order to ensure the most rapid reaction time, the sensor, which should be a quick-acting thermistor, must be strapped to the exhaust hose immediately downstream of the injected elbow. However, some installations, particularly those installed by production boat builders, rely on a sensor that is screwed to the metallic injected elbow itself. While this is better than no sensor at all, most injected elbows are made up double wall pipe, with the void between them normally filled with seawater. If the water supply is interrupted, however, that void is filled with air, which is a poor conductor of heat, which in turn delays the alarm from being triggered, as it takes longer for the metal’s temperature to reach the trigger point.
Under no circumstances should the sensor pierce the hose, or be exposed to directly to seawater. Such an arrangement, if it fails, could lead to the introduction of atomized seawater and exhaust into the engine room, a catastrophic occurrence if ever there was one. This is entirely unnecessary; a sensor strapped to a hose will react rapidly and last far longer.
In the accompanying images are examples of both the hose (top) and metallic injected elbow-located sensors. The former is not only more effective, it uses a thermistor, it’s easier to install, it’s simply strapped in place. Because most do not include a self-test feature, wet exhaust alarms should be tested at least annually using a heat gun and infrared pyrometer, with the sensor being heated until the alarm sounds, and the pyrometer registering the temperature at which it was triggered. Power for exhaust temperature alarms should be drawn directly from the engine’s ignition circuit, to ensure they are passively active whenever the engine is running.
In your Ask Steve column you had a reader requesting a way to get the last little bit of water out of the bilge, wouldn’t a system such as the Arid Bilge be a better choice for really dry bilges?
The Arid Bilge system is effective at removing small amounts of water from shallow bilges without bilge wells, where a conventional bilge pump will not work. I have no reason to believe using it in an application like the one included in the ‘Ask Steve’ column wouldn’t work, albeit at comparative high cost, with greater complexity, and with a larger foot print, when compared to a conventional low profile bilge pump like the one I recommended. The Arid Bilge claim to fame is its ability to remove virtually every drop of water, whereas even a small self-priming bilge pump is likely to leave some water behind, albeit a small quality.
A few years ago a client inquired about such a bilge drying system. I asked him why he believed he needed it. His response, “Because there’s always water in my bilge” gave me pause. I knew the vessel well and I could think of no source of water that would lead to a perpetually wet bilge. I suggested he have a technician come aboard and carry out a thorough check of the raw water plumbing before investing in the bilge drying system.
I received a call a week later, in which he revealed the source. During the refit a technician had used a high zinc-content red brass close pipe nipple for the air conditioning raw water discharge fitting. Brass with a zinc content greater than 15% should never be used for raw water applications, this one lasted roughly eight months before it corroded and sprang a leak, several actually, whenever the air conditioning ran it behaved like a miniature sprinkler. When it ultimately failed, the vessel would have flooded rapidly.
The moral of the story applies to any bilge water, regardless of the pumping system; identify the cause before dealing with the symptom.
We have corresponded before and this is a question about dripless stuffing boxes. After reading your recent article on dripless stuffing boxes I thought I would write you about my experience with them to see if any of your readers or you have had the experience I had.
I have a 1984 Jersey 40 with cat 3208 300HP engines and 1 3/4 inch shafts. When I first got the boat I had dripless stuffing boxes installed and I had a lot of problems with vibration. After having the props worked on and the shafts checked I was told it was the stuffing boxes, the shafts have a fairly long run that is unsupported. I removed the dripless stuffing boxes and put the old ones back (packing type) the problem seemed to stop but I still had some vibration. Finally I took the props to a prop shop that had the latest technology in prop tuning and balancing and the problem went away.
Do you think that the problem was a prop problem and I could put back the dripless stuffing boxes or do some stuffing boxes act as an intermediate support?
I do not see any indication of wear or rubbing of the shaft in the stuffing box and it runs nice and cool even after many running hours.
Thanks for a great column.
When it comes to shaft support, formulas to calculate the required bearing spacing are available in the ABYC Standards. Barring the use of those, the rule of thumb is as follows, supports should be no further apart than 40 shaft diameters (and no less than 20 shaft diameters), which in this case is 70 inches. If the distance between the shaft coupling and the bearing is greater than this distance, then shaft whip or vibration is not uncommon, and it sounds as if that’s what’s occurring. Because of its rigidity, it’s possible that your conventional stuffing box was acting as a support, stifling vibration or whip. If the stuffing box is rigidly mounted, without a hose as some are, then this is almost guaranteed, and such installations are considered supplemental support.
The fact that the vibration was eliminated or diminished after the props were reconditioned is encouraging. However, I would not consider returning to the dripless stuffing boxes if the distance between shaft supports or bearings exceeds the above-mentioned formula, as it’s likely the conventional stuffing box is providing a measure of support, and keeping shaft whip under control.
I attended your spring Trawler Training workshop, which was great by the way, and thought I would touch base with you on this.
This past weekend I had an unfortunate encounter with a submerged uncharted rock that damaged one of my props on my 1999 Azimut 46. After the boat was hauled and the yard manager took a look he asked if I knew anything about the discoloration of the props. He said it looked like a “halo” effect possibly from heat treating or corrosion. I’ve only owned the boat for a little over a year and nothing was ever mentioned about them. I purchased the boat from the original owner. Can you tell anything from these pictures?
Appreciate any insight you may have.
Ouch…operating vessels without keels places special burdens on navigators. I hope the repairs weren’t too costly. On the bright side, whatever the cost, if you had pods you probably could have tripled it.
I love a good metallurgical mystery. Unfortunately I don’t believe this is one of them (and once cast, bronze propellers are not heat treated per se). If this were a corrosion issue the metal would be bright and clean, and pitted, and that doesn’t appear to be the case. If I had to hazard a guess, based on the photos alone, I’d say it’s a mild case over-zincing, which is a bit like the opposite of corrosion. In that case, an alkaline solution is formed around protected underwater metals, which can cause this sort of discoloration. It’s not harmful per se (other than to aluminum and timber vessels). If you were concerned, it could be tested and verified by a (preferably ABYC certified) corrosion technician using a reference electrode and a multi-meter.
What is the best way to deal with a shore power receptacle that does not match our cord?
We have finally arrived at a marina with power. But the receptacle is a different configuration. Should we have a marine electrician change the end on our power cord??
I read in a boaters blog that “serious boaters” (not sure who that is or is not) often have a junction box at the end of their shore power cord, and then wire the local plug fitting to the junction box.
Is this feasible? Advisable? Dealing with high voltage is daunting….
Thanks for any guidance here…
Chilean shore power is 240 volts 50 hz. Are you going to supply this to the whole boat? If so there are a slew of caveats that go along with doing this. The primary issue is the 50 Hz frequency, not everything you have aboard can run on it properly including refrigeration, some compressors and motors. Some HVAC compressors and systems are designed to operate on either frequency, others are not. Of those that do, some specify that when running a system designed for 60 Hz on 50Hz the voltage needs to be reduced as well. While many users report being able to run household appliances designed for 60 Hz on 50 Hz with no issues, other than clocks running slow, you do so at your own risk, many manufacturers prohibit it and failures do occur. Again, there are many issues to consider.
To answer your question, unless you are comfortable wiring the adapter then yes have an electrician either changer your cord end or preferably make an adapter. For the latter he or she will need a local male plug and a North American 50 amp 240 volt female plug, this is really the preferred option, because you can then wire any other male plug to this “pigtail” .
I wouldn’t go the junction box route. As noted above I’d simply have a female plug that plugs into the male end of your shore power cord. Into that plug you can then wire any local male plug, which will then be your adapter.
Photo Essay: Core Exposure
Virtually every fiberglass vessel afloat today, even those that boast of solid fiberglass hulls rely on core material to add stiffness and strength to a variety of structures, from decks and cabins to stringers and longitudinal supports, as well as hulls both above and below the waterline. In spite of the fact that solid fiberglass has about it an aura of resilience and indestructibility, cored composite construction offers stiffer structures, at a fraction of the weight of solid composite; the inner and out skins act like the horizontal panels of an I-beam, with the core as the web or interconnecting structure. I-beams, for their weight, are immensely stiff.
While this design concept has been proven in the construction of thousands of fiberglass composite vessels, it’s not without its weaknesses. Core material can range from the commonplace, plywood or solid timber, to the exotic, synthetic foam and honeycomb. Regardless of which product is used, it must be securely adhered to the inner and outer skins, and the core itself must remain sound; if that bond is broken or if the core deteriorates in any way (the latter often leads to the former), then the I-beam concept is compromised. If the cored structure is a deck or cabin top, it may forfeit stiffness, becoming flexible or spongy. If it’s a hull, or stringer, repeated flexing caused by movement in a seaway can lead to resin crystallization and eventual structural failure or weakness that is revealed during a collision or gounding.
In the accompanying image, a hole has been drilled through a plywood-cored stringer, exposing the wood’s end grain. Plywood is a suitable core material, when oriented vertically, as it is here, it is very stiff. However, because of its long grain structure it is susceptible to water migration. That is, water enters an area like this limber hole can travel through the stringer for long distances, upwards of several feet. If exposed to water for long enough, even marine plywood will deteriorate, thereby compromising the stringer’s, and possibly the vessel’s, structural integrity.
This scenario can be avoided by properly closing out all penetrations into cored structures, decks, cabins, hulls and support structures like stringers. Proper “close out” often means more than simply slathering the end grain with resin, such coatings are too thin and too fragile to offer more than marginal water resistance. Visit core closeout for more on the correct approach.
Thanks for a very interesting article on conventional stuffing boxes. The only type I would have aboard my vessels.
Although your article does not give exact instructions for making mitered cuts on the ends of the packing material, many other articles do, and they do it wrong… They show it being cut in one of the two methods shown in the attached sketch. One of which leaves the piece too short and the other leaves it too long when cut against the shaft or a mandrel of shaft size.
Better to hold the razor blade parallel to the shaft and cut down at a 45 degree angle.
Thanks for your comments and sharing this information. Indeed, properly cutting and packing a stuffing box is a bit of an art form, professionals with whom I’ve worked pride themselves on their ability to do it well, resulting in stuffing boxes that leak little and don’t require frequent adjustment.
Personally, I’ve always done my packing cutting on the work bench, rather than on the shaft itself. Because I’ve nearly always carried this out in a boat yard environment, I’ve had the luxury of having a section of shaft on the bench to enable me to adjust the length until I have it just right. Boat owners can do the same thing by getting a short section of shaft, the same diameter as theirs, from a shaft shop or boat yard (the latter often have stacks of discarded shafts, the former can cut a section for you). A section of pipe of the exact same outside diameter will suffice, but I prefer an actual shaft.
Thanks again for your many contributions to the marine industry. Your thoughtful consideration of important issues that so many of us face is greatly appreciated.
My question today has to do with the best practices for operating Diesel engines for maximum efficiency while preventing engine damage from under loading.
As I understand it from attending one of your seminars, your rule of thumb is that engines which run at very low loads all day should be run at 80% load for at least 15 minutes at the end of the day. My boat has twin Series 60 Detroit Diesels which are 825 hp each. So following the aforementioned rule obliterates my fuel economy for the day. I noticed recently that I can monitor oil temperature on these engines and I have since logged the following temperatures at various loads.
Load(%), Oil Temp(F)
I assume, the specific best practice is to raise oil temperature to a certain level for a certain period of time. Is that correct? If so, what temperature and period of time do you recommend. Of course, I am hoping that 196F is hot enough to keep my engine healthy.
I’ve been surprised by how little help the engines manufacturer has provided on this topic so I am looking for your advice.
It never ceases to amaze me how often this subject comes up, and that’s a good thing, I’m gratified to see so many boaters who are aware of this all too important issue. It’s one I’ve written about on many occasions.
It sounds as if you are well-acquainted with the problem and its causes, however, for the benefit of other readers I’ll detail them briefly. Chronic under-loading leads to a variety of maladies, including carbon accumulation on piston rings, exhaust valves, turbo exhaust turbine and in the exhaust system; wet-stacking, a phenomenon wherein unburned fuel accumulates inside the exhaust system and turbo intake air turbine; and sludge and varnish accumulation in crankcase oil. All of these issues can be reduced by operating an engine at higher load, typically over 50% and ideally at about 75%. However, I realize that’s not practical, as most boats are over-powered, running at these loads is uneconomical. The root cause of the problem is over-cooling, or under-heating as it were, the engine combustion chambers and crankcase oil run comparatively cool, even if the coolant, which is thermostatically controlled, operates in the normal 180-195F range. Most vessel skippers operate in this over-cooling zone because there’s no practical alternative. There are however, ways to mitigate if not eliminate entirely, these issues. Operating the engine at increased rpm periodically, roughly 75% load for 10-15 minutes, will heat up the exhaust system and oil, reducing soot, carbon and sludge accumulation. For crankcase oil, the ideal temperature is between 180F and 220F (it sounds as if you are hitting that), and a dry exhaust gas temperature over 500F. If you are achieving these in your high power run, regardless of load or rpm, you are in the sweet spot.
In the absence of a permanently installed gauge, oil temperature should be read using an infrared pyrometer, shooting the mid-level of the side of the oil pan. Ideally, the area you shoot should be flat black, and certainly not shiny silver or gloss white as these highly reflective surfaces can confuse IR pyrometers. Exhaust temperature is a bit more challenging. In the absence of a probe in the dry exhaust stream, you can shoot the outside of an uninsulated (it should all be insulated, you’d have to carefully peel back a portion) portion of the dry exhaust immediately after the turbo. This isn’t as accurate as measuring the exhaust gas itself, however, for these purposes it’s close enough. Once you established the temperatures of these areas under various rpm, you wouldn’t have to re-measure them often as they aren’t likely to change unless there’s a malfunction.
Alternatively, you could try, for longer runs, operating on one engine at a time, alternating every four hours, at a higher load. Doing so will load that engine more, achieving the desired effect. Check your transmission manufacturer’s instructions for their trailing engine protocol.
Just read Nigel Calder’s article in PassageMaker about stacking inverters to smooth out and supplement a smaller generator for high start loads.
My magnum inverter (not installed yet) is not stackable. I am taking a look at the Victron products showcased in his article.
I didn’t know this capability existed before, but it seems to me that by stacking 2 inverters and thereby supplementing the generator to meet high 240 start loads (e.g. AC), I get the best of all worlds – a smaller generator and running 240 “appliances” such as the Grunnert pack or an electric BBQ grill off the batteries.
When the inverters decide the banks are too low, the generator is auto started to charge them. This keeps the generator running at a nice load rather than just biding its time most of its life waiting for a start load, the rest of the time running way under loaded.
We had redesigned the electric system into 2 shore cords, one dedicated to AC, the other for everything else. Seems to me we might even be able to lose the second shore cord with this system at the same time as stepping down from the 20kw northern lights to something substantially smaller. Maybe that’s going too far, but if anything I could really reduce the size of the genset.
Where are the pitfalls here?
You’ve posed some good questions, and wisely asked about the associated pitfalls. Magnum, by the way does offer power sharing capability, although that’s fairly recent. Let’s begin with the argot of inverters, as I believe you are mixing or misusing inverter terminology. “Stacking” refers to increasing inverter capacity by ganging or connecting two or more units together. Most modern high quality inverters, including Magnum, are capable of being stacked. Stacking in parallel simply increases capacity, essentially more 120 volt Wattage capability. Series stacking can provide 120/240 volt capability, enabling you to operate 240 volt appliances from an inverter. Not all inverter models are capable of stacking and load share/support, however, it’s often not necessary as large single inverters are available. Caution is, however, the watchword, as the battery capacity to operate these loads could be substantial. In many cases this arrangement is used to operate both light and heavy loads, 120 and or 240 volts, while the engine is running, and supplying DC current to the battery bank via a high output, externally regulated high output alternator.
Load sharing, as described by Magnum is as follows, “Available on all ME, MS Magnum models, it is related to the shore, or input AC amps setting. Output loads are always a priority. Based on the input amp setting the total input between the charger amps and load amps will try to equal the input amp setting. As load amps are increased the charger amps will decrease in order to equal the input amps. If the charger amps equal 0 and the load amps exceed the input breaker, the breaker will still trip.
Load Support on all MSH Magnum models is also related to the shore or input AC amps setting. Again Output loads are the priority. The charger amps will still reduce to 0 but with the MSH the inverter will pull current from the batteries in order to support the ac input amps. The Load Support mode will continue until the batteries reach +.5VDC ABOVE the Low Battery Cutout set for the inverter.”
This arrangement can be used to support or augment either shore power or a generator, particularly during momentary, high current start up loads.
Victron has received a great deal of press from folks like Nigel for its ability to do this, however, once again, thanks to the growth in photovoltaic energy generation, most modern inverter manufacturers offer this capability, including Magnum. Most of these manufacturers produce far more gear for this industry than for boats, which is good because of they were making it only for our needs, their research and development funding would be much smaller, and consequently inverters would be far less capable than they are today.
Using the load support/sharing function, yes, it is conceivably possible to install a smaller generator. The cost savings in installing a smaller genset may be marginal, however, as it’s offset by the need for a larger, more capable inverter. However, there are other benefits, chief among these being a heavier load being placed on the genset, staving off the effects of chronic under loading.
Additionally, while generator auto start sounds attractive, it can be complex and even dangerous. In order to operate without unduly stressing the genset, the auto-start/stop mechanism must be able to disconnect and reconnect loads before starting and stopping the genset, i.e. it should not be started or stopped under load. Also, the notion of a generator starting and stopping automatically gives some genset manufacturers, engineers and marine systems consultants, pause.
Finally, keep this in mind, if you opt for the load sharing route, it’s a technically sound approach, if your inverter packs it in, you have no redundancy, which means you may not be able to use air-conditioning…while on vacation in the Bahamas; not a pleasant thought. It is here that Nigel and I differ, he takes more of a shop bench, knows his own boat and its systems, theoretical approach (we need folks like this to investigate and adopt bleeding edge technology), while I, as a former marine electrician and mechanic, and boat yard/boat building shop manager, take more of a ‘from the trenches’ bullet proof, been there done that, redundant tack.
I had to smile this afternoon. As I was opening up your monthly email, I was thinking I ought to unsubscribe. After all, I am a firm believer in simplicity. I would never own a boat with wheel steering, let alone an inboard engine, and you specialize in nautical complexity. Imagine then my delight in finding a very informative article on hose clamps. I learned a lot. And even on a very simple cruising boat, I’d have a cockpit with the two through-hull seacocks, hoses and clamps (although Peter Tangvald famously ripped out his cockpit on Dorothea, decking it over and having a hull completely free of through-hull fittings).
I am hoping that in next month’s article on clamps, you might address their use in cobbing together a jury rig, especially their use in splinting broken spars. Are they strong enough for this application? I would think they would be better than a Spanish windlass made of synthetic line. It would have to long enough to encircle the broken spar and all the splints too, perhaps 24″. Since industrial hose comes in all diameters, no doubt there are very large clamps available too. Do they comes in 316 stainless? Am I correct in thinking galvanized steel clamps would suffice for a jury rig since they’d be used for no more than eight weeks.
I’m hoping you might comment on clamps for this application next time. In any event, thank you for an interesting and informative article. I remain your faithful subscriber,
Paul J. Nolan
Thank you for your note and comments, they are always appreciated.
I hadn’t intended to cover jury rig (this phrase, by the way is derived from the word “injury”, I’m a nautical etymology enthusiast as well) uses for hose clamps in that column, however, I’ll do so here.
Hose clamps are available in a wide range of sizes and diameters (and in 316 stainless steel), and I have used them for a variety of ‘field expedient’ repairs both ashore and afloat. The drawback to hose clamp use in an application of this sort is their limited range, making it difficult to get the right size into place, and then being able to fully tighten it, it’s challenging. As the (nautical) axiom goes, however, any port in a storm, stainless steel, galvanized, spliced clamps, use whatever you have. Having said that, I wouldn’t dismiss the time-tested Spanish windlass for emergency repairs by any means, it’s just one simpler tool to keep in your damage control kit.
Typically, Vessel and Systems Inspections require a minimum of two days for the inspection, and a total of five days when the time required for travel and report writing are taken into account. They include a sea trial and haul out.
An inspection of this sort includes a thorough overview of the vessel’s major and minor systems including electrical, engine and peripherals, decks, hull, plumbing, bottom, running gear and underwater hardware among others. I’ll literally crawl through and into every accessible, and some not so accessible, space and compartment with pad, pencil and cameras in hand. I’ll conduct a sea trial to test propulsion and other underway systems. I’ll detail in writing and photographically any and all flaws, defects, safety issues, problems, potential problems and recommended changes or improvements I encounter. The report is specifically designed to be used by you, as well as to task those carrying out service and repairs aboard the vessel. My goal will be to improve your peace of mind along with the vessel’s reliability, safety and economy of operation.
The information I record will be distilled into a detailed, referenced, photo-documented, prioritized report that I’ll provide to you in pdf format, along with an online link to the photos.
The inspection fee is based on a vessel’s complexity, systems, manufacturer, age and size; fees begin at $4500.00, plus expenses. I’m firmly convinced that every client for whom I’ve carried out an inspection would agree that the actual financial value far exceeded the inspection fee. I encourage you to read what other clients have said about this process, there is a testimonials page for both owners and buyers.
In addition to the above-described services, where necessary I will also provide guidance on fluid/oil analysis and tasking mechanics with complete, thorough engine inspections. Finally, if you also choose the Captains’ Club program, SDMC stays with you to continue to build your confidence in your boat and in yourself.
Call or email for further details on these and other programs and services and the benefits they provide.
A series of marine industry specific topics offered by Steve includes a wide range of technical subjects, from fuel system design and tank installations to corrosion causes and prevention; along with a series of management-based lectures geared toward enhancing efficiency and customer satisfaction.
Aftermarket Installations: Follow Best Practices by Learning from the Worst Examples
After-market installations, including everything from watermakers and cranes to liferafts and windlasses, can make or break a vessel. Boat owners often remember far more clearly the gear that didn’t work, rather than vessel itself no matter how good it may have been. If you’ve installed it, you want your customer’s memories of this equipment to be positive and reflect well on you. In this photo-intensive presentation Steve will share with attendees examples, good and bad, he has encountered in his day to day work as a systems consultant, as well as providing guidance on how to best avoid the most common, costly and dangerous errors.
Raw Water Plumbing: Ensuring Reliability and Avoiding Common Errors
A few years ago a multi-million dollar, nearly-new 75-foot sport fishing vessel sunk overnight, while moored at a marina. A “tuna tube” had recently been installed by a contractor and the plumbing he used failed. Raw water plumbing failures lead to flooding, costly damage and sinking, along with ruined reputations. If this had occurred at sea, it might be more than just an insurance claim and a loss of face. Virtually all such failures are avoidable; in this photo-intensive presentation you’ll learn how to identify and avoid the most failure-prone raw water plumbing components and designs (hint, much of this subject isn’t covered under ABYC Standards), making sure you’ll never have to explain to a customer why his or her boat sank.
Tanks: Best Practices for Design, Installation and Inspection
Fuel, water and waste, every boat has some of not all of them, and because of the difficulty involved in replacing them, failures are almost always a heartache, and costly. This presentation will guide attendees through identifying the most common causes of tank failures, whether they are design, installation or material-related, as well as how to spot clues that signal an impending failure before it occurs. Steve will then walk attendees through best practices for tank design, installation and inspection. Properly designed and installed, there’s no reason every tank shouldn’t last the life of the boat.
Understanding and Avoiding Electrical and Electronic Interference
Have you ever tried to track down electrical or electronic interference or noise? Do you know how to minimize the effect and interaction of electronics on other onboard systems? In this session, I’ll share with attendees hands-on experience regarding conducted, radiated, and combined interference, as well as means of mitigation. This topic is often misunderstood, blindly attacked, and frequently never resolved. If you want to know how to find those gremlins that attack and disrupt electronic and electrical systems, this session is for you.
Exhaust System Design and Installation
There are many ways to install a marine exhaust system, some of them right, many wrong. In many cases, however, flawed systems are not immediately obvious, and the failures that result often don’t occur right away. That can prove inconvenient for boat owners and costly for installers, particularly if it means traveling long distances to carry out repairs. Failures of exhaust system design can lead to poor performance or worse yet, catastrophic and irreparable engine damage. In this photo-intensive, interactive seminar you’ll learn how to quickly identify and avoid the most common exhaust system design and installation defects and faults, as well as how to interpret engine manufacturer requirements. Based on his 30 years of experience as a marine mechanic, boat yard manager and systems consultant, Steve will share with attendees his insights and experience regarding this critical marine propulsion component.
Nuts, Bolts, and Fasteners
In the world of boat building and repair, it’s the small stuff that matters and in no place is that more true than in the case of nuts, bolts and other fasteners. Using the incorrect fastener, or installing it incorrectly, can and has led to the loss of rigs, running gear and entire vessels. Avoid becoming a statistic by making certain you understand proper fastener selection and use. In this presentation Professional BoatBuilder Technical Editor and ABYC Master Technician Steve D’Antonio will share with attendees the wide range of fasteners options, and proper applications, as well as explaining how to avoid the most common examples of misuse. Using a range of photographic examples he will help attendees decipher fastener types, alloys and installation configurations, techniques and torqueing, as well as providing them with the tools they need to make proper fastener selections.
Isolation Transformers and Galvanic Isolators
If you are unsure about how these components operate, when to use them, or how to properly evaluate their selection and function, then this presentation is geared toward you. Professional BoatBuilder Technical Editor and ABYC Master Technician Steve D’Antonio will guide attendees through the operation of galvanic isolators and transformers, how they operate, what they can be expected to do (and not do), and how to identify faulty and dangerous installations and operation. With the advent of more and more docks equipped with ground fault protection devices, the popularity of transformers is bound to rise, this seminar will allow you to provide your customers with solutions that will be effective and safe.
The Case for Fixed Price Quotes
Do you like arguing with customers about invoices after a project or repair is complete? Do you enjoy crediting a bill because a customer is irate about the bill? If the answer is no, then you are a prime candidate for this seminar, as it will teach you what you need to know about fixed price quoting. The most common source of boat owner frustration and dissatisfaction is unknown costs. Providing quotes eliminates the bulk of billing disputes, while simplifying billing format. As the decade-long manager of a boat yard that quoted 85% of the work it carried out, Steve is uniquely qualified to introduce attendees to the most essential components of building a successful quoting program, one that will increase efficiency, and profitability while minimizing customer dissatisfaction and disputes.
Designing and Installing a Bilge Pump System
Few onboard systems are more important than those that keep water out of the boat, or remove it efficiently once it gets there. Here, we’ll show you how to evaluate or troubleshoot an existing bilge-pump system, and how to install a brand new one. You’ll have an opportunity to view detailed images of pump systems and specific parts as we cover key topics such as voltage drop, hose type and size, float switch placement, and centrifugal versus displacement pump styles. Be sure to bring your questions to this very practical seminar.
Check Valves, Seacocks and Anti-Siphon Valves, ensuring reliability and robustness
Often misunderstood, frequently misused and routinely incorrectly installed, this trio of important raw water plumbing is the source of untold heartache for boat builders and yards, as well as boat owners. Reliability begins with understanding each of these components and the manner in which they are most effectively used. In this presentation you’ll learn about proper selection and installation practices, recommended materials that yield the greatest reliability and service protocols, as well as how to avoid common errors and application faults. Subjects including thread compatibility requirements, the right and wrong places to use check and anti-siphon valves, as well as understanding their limitations and weaknesses will also be covered.
A Case for Complexity; Why complex, when done right, is OK and even desirable
There’s simply no going back to the days of ice boxes and oil lamps. Today’s boat buyers and owners want all the comforts of home, whether it’s a 26-foot day boat or a 62-foot blue water capable passage maker. Unless there’s good reason, avoid falling into the trap of telling your customers “keep it simple”, because they don’t want simple, they want comfortable and capable and, after all, if you can’t deliver what they want, your competitor will. The easy part is finding out what your customer wants, the hard part, however, is getting systems right, and making them reliable so that they deliver that dream. In this presentation you’ll learn about the philosophy of complex done right, when it makes sense, and how to ensure that the myriad systems you install make a vessel more enjoyable to cruise aboard rather than a maintenance nightmare.
Critical Systems Review, Failure Prevention and Analysis
The right equipment and predictive maintenance are the keys to more enjoyable, less stressful and less costly cruising for your customers. In this interactive and photo intensive seminar the focus will be on fuel, electrical and running gear systems. For each system Steve will discuss the equipment options, the pros and cons of each and the top predictive maintenance actions you can take to keep each of these critical mechanical systems healthy…while keeping your customers’ vessels and their systems seaworthy, reliable and safe.
Customer care; it’s something every business owner and manager recognizes as critically important, but what exactly does it mean and how do you make it outstanding and memorable? More importantly, how do you craft it to ensure your customers’ satisfaction and, above all else, loyalty? Your goal, after all, is to make sure your customers return year after year.
In this presentation, delivered by Steve D’Antonio, former boat yard manager with over a decade of experience in the field of customer care, as well as Professional BoatBuilder Magazine’s Technical Editor and marine industry consultant, you’ll learn how to anticipate, understand and deliver on the needs of your customers’. How, for instance, do you make certain customers leave your yard or business brimming with satisfaction, and tell their friends and dock mates about their experience? Or, how do you communicate, from the very first contact through completion of a project, in a manner that instills confidence in your customers, providing them with the information they need, while economizing on the volume of communication you must provide. Steve will also cover methods of avoiding conflicts and misunderstandings, as well as how to deal with them quickly and effectively, while winning back the customer’s confidence and loyalty, in many cases more than if the conflict had never occurred. Finally, Steve will cover common phrases and words to use, as well as those that should be avoided, in the customer care process.
Developing Customer Confidence through Improved Communication
Whether you’re a boatyard manager, a subcontractor, or service writer, the first step toward guaranteeing customer satisfaction is effective communication. In this presentation you’ll learn how to manage your customers’ expectations from the first phone call or e-mail through project completion. My emphasis will cover both communication protocol and communication skills. You’ll discover how to build customer confidence by establishing a policy of explaining procedures in the yard; and by relying on standard, understandable definitions for essential terms such as estimates, quotes, T&M, cost-plus, list, and cost. I’ll also provide guidelines for avoiding and resolving billing disputes, including how to deliver more than you promise.
Improving Customer Satisfaction through Enhanced Attention to Detail
If you’re in the marine-repair business, you’ve probably had customers tell you they wish their boat were as reliable as their car (read: Lexus or Mercedes). You can, of course, try to explain that a yacht is more complex than an automobile; but the comparison isn’t likely to go away unless you can show your customers that you offer the same attention to detail that they find elsewhere. In this illuminating photo-intensive session for hands-on repairers, boat builders, mechanics, electricians, managers and service folks, I’ll explain how you can develop a very satisfied customer base by practicing attention to detail in every aspect of your company and in your work, such as: selecting the right hose-clamp style and size; clearly labeling every single switch, fuse, circuit breaker, and valve aboard; providing spare parts for impellers; and adding chafe gear to hoses. How about avoiding overspray on cables and hoses, masking hardware when sanding brightwork so you don’t scratch it, or bedding canvas snaps to prevent water migration into the core? All these seemingly minor details pay off big time in the long run. Join me in discussing the many ways your shop can reach the top of your customers’ A list of reliable attention-oriented businesses.
Dealing with Difficult Customers
The focus of this workshop is on how to work with your toughest, most difficult customers to improve your operation and turn them into your best marketers. When you create the right environment for them to complain constructively, they can be a valuable source of information, guidance and constructive criticism and you can you turn them into loyal clients and advocates for your business. After all, you’d rather they complain to you than walk away and tell others. In this session presented by long time boat yard manager and Professional Boat Builder Contributing Editor Steve D’Antonio, the subject of handling customer complaints will be covered in detail. Steve will teach attendees how to avoid the common pitfalls of dealing with complaints and the customers who make them and he’ll reveal methods that can be used to defuse tense situations and turn otherwise unpleasant scenarios into responses that respond to the complaint positively and constructively as well as winning increased customer loyalty.
Diesel Fuel Systems, Filtration and Polishing Explained
Clean fuel, it’s the very lifeblood of any diesel engine and for that reason its importance cannot be overestimated. Contaminated fuel not only raises the risk of unexpected engine shut down, it increases the likelihood of damage to metallic fuel tanks. One of the most effective ways of making certain the fuel that reaches an engine is clean is to use supplemental, stand alone filtration while the fuel is still in the vessel’s tanks. In this photographically intensive, interactive PowerPoint presentation you’ll learn about the details of fuel polishing, from how it works to how to design and install an efficient and effective system. You’ll discover why all fuel polishing systems are not created equal and how to distinguish between supplemental filtration and true fuel polishing systems. While a variety of off the shelf polishing products are available, there are both major and subtle differences between these products and what can be expected from them. Common misperceptions and myths about fuel polishing will also be dispelled and clarified. Making heavy use of images from the field, an emphasis will be placed on material selection as well as proper design and installation techniques.
Diesel Fuel Tank Design and Installation
On any inboard-powered vessel, fuels tanks are often the most difficult items to repair or replace, so ensuring that they are both reliable and long-lasting is of paramount importance. During this presentation I will discuss a variety of topics related to the design and installation of diesel fuel tanks including best practices for selecting fuel tanks, providing access, avoiding corrosion, and mounting the tanks correctly.
Achieving Electrical Independence: How to design and maintain an electrical and charging system
How to design and maintain an electrical and charging system that will enable sailing and power vessels to cast off their shore power cord. In this PowerPoint presentation marine technical journalist and marine systems consultant Steve D’Antonio will dispel common misunderstandings and myths about marine charging and electrical systems, while detailing a systematic approach to achieving energy independence. An emphasis will be placed on robust installations that offer users the greatest reliability, safety, value and practicality. The presentation will include details on alternator selection, AC chargers, battery types and installations and relative American Boat and Yacht Council recommendations. This is an interactive session, questions are encouraged.
Engine Room Ventilation
Excessive engine room temperature is a problem that plagues many vessels. The immediate and most noticeable side effect includes reduced combustion efficiency and fuel economy, as well as a failure to meet engine manufacturer installation requirements, which in turn could result in a denial of warranty coverage. More insidious and long term issues include accelerated deterioration of “soft goods” such as hoses, wiring, microprocessors, belts and motor mounts. The connection between these otherwise inexplicable failures and elevated engine room temperature is often overlooked. Then there’s the issue of supplying adequate combustion air for engine sand generators, another area that is frequently overlooked by builder sand those carrying out repowers.
In this photo-intensive presentation, industry veteran and Professional Boat Builder Technical Editor Steve D’Antonio will guide attendees through easy to understand dos and don’ts, and ventilation rules of thumb, while helping them understand engine manufacturer ventilation guidelines. You’ll learn how to avoid the most common engine room ventilation pitfalls, while making certain your customers’ engine rooms are ventilated for maximum efficiency and longevity.
Hose Selection, Installation and Use
Hoses tasked with carrying everything from seawater and fuel to effluent and coolant play a large role in determining the reliability, safety and compliance of nearly every vessel afloat. Yet, many hoses are chosen or installed without proper or complete regard for their capabilities and design features. In this photographically intensive, interactive PowerPoint presentation you’ll learn which hoses should be selected and how they should be installed in order to ensure maximum functionality and safety. The discussion will include service and inspection access, common failure modes, longevity expectations, as well as the reinforcement and termination techniques of hoses used for a variety of liquids found aboard recreational or commercial vessels.
LP Gas Systems, Design, Installation and Avoiding Common Problems and Safety Issues
LP gas affords boat owners a convenient way to cook and heat their vessels, enabling them to do so without the need for a generator. While the ABYC’s LP Gas System chapter is one of the shortest, at just nine pages, it is also one of the most challenging to comply with, violations are all too common. In this presentation Steve D’Antonio, Professional Boat Builder’s Technical Editor will review proper design and installation principles, as well as detail common errors and how to identify and avoid them. Steve will detail how you can offer your customers peace of mind, while ensuring your work complies with the standards and best practices of the industry.
Metal corrosion, identify and avoid the most common mistakes, select the right metal for the job
The causes for metal corrosion are many and varied; however, they are often not well understood by both boat owners and marine industry professionals. In this photo-intensive presentation, ABYC Certified Corrosion specialist Steve D’Antonio will identify the most common types of corrosion, and explain how they occur and how to avoid them. Explanations will be offered in simple, clear terms that will be easily understood. Best practices and ideal metal selection, and where to avoid using metal all together, for specific applications will be detailed. Terms such as galvanic, stray current, electrolysis, crevice, pitting and weld decay corrosion will all be define din easy to understand terms. If corrosion and the failures it causes have remained a mystery to you, attend this seminar and get the answers you’ve been seeking, and avoid future failures.
Oil Analysis, The Mechanic’s Crystal Ball
It’s an invaluable tool that’s been effectively used by the aviation and rail industries for over half a century. Today, most manufacturing facilities and over the road trucks as well as commercial, institutional and military vessels rely on oil analysis, to reveal defects and impending failures long before ordinary potentially costly or dangerous problems manifest themselves. In this presentation the “mechanics” of oil analysis will be detailed, including establishing an oil analysis program for your customers and your own equipment, sample taking procedures, selecting analysis labs, reading analysis reports (and avoiding miss-reading these reports), establishing condition-based maintenance protocols and explaining the value of a comprehensive fluid analysis program to your customers. Oil analysis is no longer cutting edge technology, it’s proven and common place where ever users of internal combustion engines wish to extend equipment life, prevent failures and save money.
As the fleet ages more and more customers are considering the repowering of their boats or conversion from gas to diesel power. During this session we will answer the questions related to comprehensive repowering solutions. We will look at both inboard and outboard repowering considerations such as weight differentials and how this can impact boat handling and performance and safety. Fuel system modifications and major updates to engine bed configurations may be required. Some boats may also need major upgrades to their electrical systems to accommodate the needs of modern engines. Transmission and drive system modifications may also be required. All of these topic areas will be addressed and questions regarding each will be answered by our expert panel.
Running Gear Alignment
Shaft Alignment: A commonly overlooked aspect of running gear installation, proper alignment of propeller shafts, their support bearings and related components along with their relationship to the engine. In this photo-intensive presentation ProBoat Contributing Editor Steve D’Antonio will provide attendees with an in-depth look at the various details that must be considered during this important process, both from a new vessel build and refit point of view. Among other things, Steve will address support, placement and adjustment of bearings, logs and struts, engine alignment to the shaft and the use of alignment tools. There’s more to alignment than simply adjusting motor mounts, if you attend this presentation you’ll see why.
The Art of Conducting a Thorough, Effective Sea Trial
Having conducted hundreds of sea trials, and having watched many others conduct them as well, the presenter has developed strong ideas about what works and what doesn’t. A proper sea trial will tell you a great deal about a vessel, from the obvious handling and sea keeping characteristics to details about charging systems, exhaust temperature, back pressure and vibration issues. In this presentation you’ll learn how to turn a boat ride into an effective test, demonstration, pre-purchase, repair evaluation and troubleshooting tool, by running a vessel in a manner that will reveal defects, faults and errors as well as prove system reliability. Data collection and recording as well as engine manufacturers’ guidelines will also be covered in detail. If you have ever taken a vessel on a sea trial to verify a customer’s complaint or observation, only to return and say “I couldn’t duplicate the problem” it’s probably not your fault, you simply haven’t learned how to conduct a sea trial, until now.
Steering Systems Explained
Few systems are as important as the one that controls the direction a vessel travels. In this presentation, Steve D’Antonio—technical journalist and marine systems consultant–will review steering-system installation guidelines, recommend best practices, and detail common oversights, defects, and modes of failure. As he describes the protocols established by steering-system manufacturers, D’Antonio will emphasize reliability, longevity, and seaworthiness of different designs. During his presentation, Steve will review both hydraulic and cable over-sheave systems as well as rudder, tiller-arm, and related component installations.
How to Avoid the Most Common, Costly and Dangerous Systems Failures
Nearly all of the systems problems and failures boat owners face are avoidable. In this seminar Steve D’Antonio, will share with attendees guidance and wisdom that will help them… avoid fuel tank contamination and corrosion, running gear misalignment, saturated fiberglass core, batteries that die prematurely, clogged heat exchangers and unreliable electrical systems, to name a few. Steve will also share tips on avoiding disputes and working effectively with the marine industry. The session is interactive, so come prepared with your questions.
Thrust Bearing Systems – selection, installation, maintenance and use
Thrust bearing systems provide the boat builder and ultimately the boat user with a variety of benefits, albeit at a cost. Because they transfer propeller thrust from the motor mounts to the hull, via a flexible medium, the engine can be mounted on softer, more resilient supports, thereby reducing noise and vibration transmitted to the vessel. In this photo-intensive and interactive PowerPoint presentation, Professional Boat Builder Magazine Contributing Editor Steve D’Antonio will detail the advantages, challenges and common pitfalls of installing and maintaining thrust bearing systems. Steve’s approach will be on the practical, hands on side of these systems, detailing for industry professionals best practices and avoidance of errors.
If you live in places that never experience sub-freezing temperatures, snow and ice then winterization something you’ll never have to worry about. For the rest of us, it’s an ever-present deadline that looms every fall. There’s more to winterization than running anti-freeze through engines and water systems and in many cases winterization also means an opportunity to inspect vessels for service and repairs that will take place over the storage period, read: generating work orders for the winter. In this seminar, based on my experience of 20 storage seasons, using a variety of high quality images, I’ll share with you techniques and processes for thoroughly winterizing and inspecting a variety of onboard systems, from potable water and engines to batteries and sanitation systems. The processes I share will not only preserve your customer’s vessel they will ensure quicker and more reliable commissioning in the spring.
Avoiding Paint Failures on Aluminum Structures
Avoid costly, embarrassing, warranty-prone paint failure on aluminum structures, doors, hatches, cranes, arches, and spars. Painting aluminum components can problematic; aluminum itself doesn’t require paint in order to remain corrosion resistant, however, unless you like the utilitarian look, it isn’t very pretty. Thus, many boat builders and hardware manufacturers choose to paint it, yet they do so unaware of the potential pitfalls, and how to easily avoid them. In this photo-intensive presentation Steve D’Antonio will explain to those building, using, maintaining and repairing painted aluminum structures, from hatches and ports to hulls and cabins, how to avoid the most common types of paint coating failures.
Customer Care Continued
With over a decade of experience managing boat yards, as well as author and consultant with nearly 30 years of experience in the field of customer care, Steve will detail for attendees what’s needed to ensure technical proficiency, as well as how to educate customers and deliver on their needs, while avoiding surprises and common customer care pitfalls. How, for instance, do you make certain your customers aren’t surprised with unforeseen costs, thereby avoiding disputes and dissatisfaction? Or, how do you communicate in a manner that instills confidence in your customers, providing them with the information they need, while economizing on the volume of communication you must provide? This is a must attend seminar for those on the customer care front lines and anyone who comes into contact with customers, from service managers and technicians to those in sales and support roles.
Conducting a Pre-Refit Vessel Inspection
Having supervised scores of major refits, marine industry consultant, ABYC Master Technician, and Professional Boat Builder Technical Editor Steve D’Antonio, is well suited to share with those attending this seminar the value and importance of conducting a thorough vessel inspection before beginning, or quoting, a refit. Among the most important of goals where refits are concerned, is to avoid surprises for both the yard and the vessel owner. In this presentation attendees will be guided through the steps involved in carrying out pre-refit inspections (and getting paid for them), and then preparing reports detailing their findings, which can then be used by the customer as well as in the estimate/quote process.
Founder and CEO of Steve D’Antonio Marine Consulting, Inc.
An interview conducted by blogger (www.pendanablog.com) and Nordhavn owner James Ellingford in January 2015
So, Steve, tell us a little something about your cruising to date and where you have been so far?
SDA: I have a passion for off the beaten track cruising destinations and high latitudes, as my readers know. I cruised in Antarctica and the Falklands aboard an ice-class expedition cruise ship, and cruised aboard smaller vessels in Alaska, British Columbia, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Bahamas, the Faroes, the Galapagos Islands, Greenland, Newfoundland, the North Sea, and the Windward Islands. I’ve sailed, powered and raced to Bermuda on countless occasions. In 2002 the founder and former editor of PassageMaker, Bill Parlatore, and I made a passage to Bermuda aboard a 30-foot Willard. To the best of my knowledge it’s the smallest inboard-powered vessel to make this trip. It was memorable, I took to calling it the Vomit Comet because it arced from wave to wave. I have about 50,000 sea miles under my belt on small craft.
On the ice in Antarctica.
Bill Parlatore, left, and Steve prepare to depart for Bermuda aboard the diminutive “Willie”, a Willard 30.
The boat looked even smaller upon arrival.
I understand that you were aboard Shear Madness on their run to the chilly north, what was the best thing about that trip?
SDA: I was a guest aboard a client’s vessel for that passage, N68-19 Migration, which cruised in concert with Shear Madness for part of that voyage. That voyage was pure high latitude ecstasy for me, spectacular land and seascapes, unrivaled visibility when it wasn’t raining or foggy, very few people, icebergs and countless photo ops. An added bonus…lots of beautiful and photogenic sled dogs.
..and the worst?
SDA: The guest cabin I initially occupied had a very nice, high end foam mattress. As much as I’ve tried, I can’t sleep on foam mattresses, they just kill my back. After three nights of agony I eventually retreated to the saloon settee. Fortunately my clients, who have become close friends, took pity on me; they allowed me to switch to another guest cabin that was mercifully not equipped with a foam mattress.
You obviously do a load of work on many different boat brands but what is it about Nordhavn that you love?
SDA: For the most part, their approach is businesslike and anything but seat of the pants. I have spent my career crawling over engines and through bilges, I can spot a, “we’ll just put this here, no one will need to get to it, and we’ll install this gear because it’s new and everyone is writing about it” design a nautical mile away. These stars burn bright for a time, and then they fade away. Not Nordhavn, their staying power is for good reason. While I don’t agree with everything they do, and am no doubt a thorn in their side as a result, they nearly always do things the way they do them for a reason, and they are appropriately resistant to change. For production boat builders, change equates to risk, and it’s something to be minimized. Of course there’s a balance to be struck between complexity and reliability, and that’s where I try to plant seeds for the new builds or pre-owned vessels with which I work.
From the top of the mast…
To the bottom of the bilge, there aren’t too many parts of Nordhavns, and other boats, I don’t enjoy seeing.
What has been your cruising highlight so far?
SDA: There have been so many; I’d have to say Antarctica, with the Faroe Islands as a close second. Both are enchanting, and years after having cruised there I still have dreams about them. According to my wife I talk in my sleep regularly, alternating between telling her stories about Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic exploits, he’s one of my personal heroes, and the preferred technique for repacking stuffing boxes.
Paying homage to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s, at his grave, located at the former whaling station of Grytviken, on the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia.
Do you have any animals?
SDA: Indeed I do. Nemo is a rescue mix Australian Shepherd Border Collie. Prior to that I had a black Labrador retriever named Cherokee, she came to work with me from the time she was about 2 months old. I’ve always had dogs, most of whom I’ve taken to work with me. When I negotiated employment at a boat yard I ultimately managed for eleven years, I had my employer include a clause in my employment contract that stated I’d always be able to bring a dog to work with me. It was a very stressful job; however, having my dog with me made that stress more tolerable.
On the job with my trusty companion, Nemo.
In your past life what did you do or have you always been in the marine business?
SDA: I’ve been in the trade for 27-years, nearly my entire adult life. Like so many others in this industry, my interest in boats began at a young age. Our family bought our first boat when I was about five years old, a well-used 15-foot Larson run about with a 40 hp Johnson.
Doing my Gilligan impersonation, while standing proudly in front of our first boat, a 15 foot Larson with 40 hp Johnson, on a gray day in Huntington Harbor. The resolution isn’t good enough, but if it was you’d see that the lens for the stern light is actually a baby food jar held in place with electrical tape. ‘Jury rig’ was the order of the day for our family’s early boating (mis)adventures.
We had neighbours who guided us newbies through this process; they were the quintessential boat owners of the day, a family of four they had an immaculate, gleaming white plywood Chris Craft cabin cruiser, every inch of which sparkled, including and especially the engine. He was a former coxswain in the navy, piloting landing craft in the Pacific during WWII. He was Popeye incarnate; there was nothing he and his wife didn’t know about boats, which was a good thing because our family knew so little, we were in desperate need of an example. It seemed we were always learning the hard way, our boat sank in its slip once, our oars and fuel tank would get stolen, my dad leaned overboard one day and lost his wallet and watch. Most memorable for me, however, was the ignominy of powering back into the harbor after a day on the water, in our new “larger” 16 foot run about with its more powerful 55 HP Evinrude, in reverse. The electric shift would fail periodically; it would stay in whatever gear you were in at the time. We were towed in several times of course as well. I’m convinced, however, that these challenges, and the helplessness my family felt as a result, inspired me to become a gearhead. For the most part, however, we had good times and great memories, we water skied, picnicked on the beach and just had a ball. For a kid, it was heaven.
As a 14-year old Sea Cadet, aloft aboard a destroyer in Charleston, South Carolina. Even then I was looking for problems.
During my junior year at Boston College I came across an advertisement in the student centre for a program called Sea Education Association, or SEA. Located in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, the organization ran semester-long sail training programs using their1962, 120-foot steel staysail schooner as a classroom, with graduates receiving a full semester’s worth of credit. I read the program description and was hooked, it sounded like high adventure and a perfect way to cap off my college career.
Semester at Sea aboard RV Westward; It was no picnic, salt water showers, term papers, biology, celestial navigation and sail handling exams, however, it also cemented my path toward the marine industry, without it I wouldn’t be where I am today.
And of course there way galley slave duty…
I pitched my parents on it and to my great relief they agreed to let me go, and pay for it, during my final semester. The ship, R/V Westward, sailed from Cape Cod to the Virgin Islands via Bermuda (without stopping here, the captain opted not to, he said because he was sure if he did most of the students would have disembarked, never to return, the October passage up to that point was miserable) and Grenada. It was a life changing three months during which I learned a great deal about seamanship, celestial and coastal navigation and how to work with a close knit crew. Not surprisingly I befriended the engineer and thus spent a lot of time in the engine room, with its original vintage MaK air-start propulsion diesel and GM manually governed generator. He gave me a few tasks, which I presumably performed well because he called me a ‘gearhead’, the first time that title had been bestowed upon me. I’ve worn it as a badge of honour ever since.
Learning celestial navigation aboard Westward opened up a variety of offshore opportunities, primarily aboard racing sailing vessels. The best part, the navigator stands no watches.
After graduating I initially worked for a commercial electrical contracting firm, which belonged to my fiancé’s father. It was a great job and he was very good to me; however, it was dreadfully boring. After nearly a year I resigned and broke off the engagement, both of which ended amicably and for the best. I then went to work for my brother’s New York City law firm. I had no burning desire to be an attorney, however, as the saying goes; it seemed like a good idea at the time. By the third day I realized I’d made a grievous error, the scene just wasn’t me, now I was bored and miserable. Still, I plodded on, I studied for and took the LSAT and applied to law school, but my heart wasn’t in it. During my lunch breaks I used to walk a few blocks to New York Nautical Supply. There were once scores of these shops in lower Manhattan, supplying ships with charts and nautical instruments, and this was the lone survivor. Standing amongst sextants and sight reduction tables I felt at home. I struck up a friendship with one of the owners, a Scotsman called, what else, Scotty. One day, after being on the job for nearly a year, I shared with him my dilemma and in his brogue he said, “What would you want to do that for, it sounds too much like work to me?” He was right, but I didn’t know what to do next.
Fate then smiled upon me, a friend of another brother, called me, having been alerted to my intense unhappiness in the legal profession, and said, “I’m starting a marine repair business, would you like to…”, and before he could complete the sentence I said “Yes!”. A few days later I submitted my resignation at the law firm, much to the chagrin of the “boss”, my attorney brother. He looked at me incredulously and said “What are you going to do?!”
When I responded, “I’m going to be a marine mechanic”, his jaw dropped, it was one of the few times I ever recall him being speechless. That was 1988. I worked in the trenches turning wrenches for the next six years, as a marine mechanic and electrician. I made it a point of almost never saying no to a job, even if I didn’t know how to do it. Once I committed I’d scramble to buy service manuals or microfiche. This was pre-Google, books were still the primary means of learning a skill on your own. As a result, to this day, I have a huge collection of factory service manuals from Mercury, Evinrude, Perkins, Cummins etc.
I absolutely revelled in working as a marine mechanic and electrician. The field of fulfilling employment for a gearhead-intellectual is narrow indeed. I found it in the marine industry.
I clearly recall a few months after starting this new career, it must have been November, huddling behind an outboard motor I was winterizing, snow was blowing horizontally, I was ducking down in its lee for protection as I removed spark plugs. I thought to myself, ‘I love this, how lucky am I, I’m getting paid to do this’, and I’ve felt that way ever since. I ultimately went on to manage a boat yard in North Carolina, then a custom boat building and refit yard in Virginia for the next thirteen years. In 1992 an acquaintance shanghaied me into writing an article for a sailing magazine on marine electrical systems; I was reluctant to say the least and never would have volunteered, I had too much respect for him, he was an author and circumnavigator, and didn’t want to let him down, thus beginning my literary career. Several thousand articles and columns later hardly a day goes by that I don’t write something for print. Shortly after that I delivered my first lecture at the Mamaroneck Yacht Club, in New York, using a slide projector and index cards for prompts. I’ve never looked back since then, and never regretted leaving the law firm. I’ve had some bad days, however, I’ve never had a dull day in the business, and I absolutely love what I do.
Steve, if there is one thing boat owners do that irritates you what would that be?
SDA: Failing to ask those in the industry, boat yards, contractors etc. for quotes on work that is to be performed. Getting blindsided with unexpectedly high invoices is the most common business-related complaint I get from my clients and readers. Then, fail to familiarize themselves with their vessels. I often tell boat owners, ‘if there’s something on your boat, a piece of gear, valve or switch, you can’t identify, you have some work to do, nothing should be a complete mystery, even if you don’t know exactly how it works, you should know what everything does’.
Onto irritating things, have you ever run out of something while at sea that has caused problems?
SDA: Who hasn’t? Several years ago my wife to be and I were transporting a vessel the yard I managed had built, it was a lovely Bruce King-designed, 57-foot, cold molded wishbone ketch. We made a little three day vacation of it, sailing south through Chesapeake Bay. As summers there often are, it was windless, so we motored much of the time.
The jury- rigged flag halyard fan belt.
At one point the fan belt broke. I shut the engine down, dug out the spare and my tools, only to discover it was the wrong size. I made one out of a flag halyard, some wire ties and electrical tape. Each one would last about two hours, at which point it would fly into pieces and I’d have to reeve another. The lesson was clear, never assume a spare part is right unless you’ve confirmed it, and always carry plenty of jury rigging supplies.
Most of my vacations are “working”, here with my family, my wife Sandy, me and my daughter Katie far right, and my son James fourth from left, aboard the 70-foot wooden tugboat Union Jack. It had been converted to a luxury fishing charter vessel and cruised British Columbia. We spent a week aboard and had the time of our lives, I then wrote an article about the cruise. The vessel had its original gargantuan Union Diesel, 25,000 lbs, 400 rpm, 400 hp, an open valve train and immaculately kept. I spent a lot of time in the engine room.
What percentage of your work is new boat inspections Vs old boat refits?
SDA: It ebbs and flows, however, generally, new build consultations and new vessel inspections probably account for 30% of my time.
I love crawling through boats looking for issues and problems, as well as for examples of superior craftsmanship.
I know that your moto is “To Bring the Fun Back to boating by making our boating experiences safer, more reliable and less costly.” But how do you make this a reality?
SDA: This is one of the most enjoyable questions I’m asked. In short, by empowering boat buyers and boat owners with knowledge, and thereby instilling in them the confidence they need to make informed decisions. When I poll my clients about what concerns them the most about boat ownership, the majority invariably point to unexpected cost, buying a lemon, and fear of not being able to deal with failures.
Steve, what is the most common mistake boat owners make on the maintenance side of things?
SDA: Waiting for gear to fail, rather than maintaining it per the manufacturer’s guidelines. I realize very few owners do this intentionally, when gear fails and I note it was as a result of a lack of maintenance, many are genuinely surprised. It’s challenging to keep up with the maintenance requirements of all the gear found aboard the average serious cruising vessel, and most yards and contractors can’t be relied upon, nor should they be, to alert owners to all predictive maintenance. This responsibility falls to the owner, and it is for this reason that I am a proponent of Wheelhouse Technology’s maintenance program. And, failing to carry out, or dismissing the validity of, fluid analysis. In defence of those who don’t attach the importance to fluid analysis it deserves, precious few in the industry are trained to interpret the results, and thus most folks simply look for the red flags. If there are none they assume everything is OK, if there are flags, they assume, or are told, the report is inaccurate and another test should be carried out in 50 hours. They don’t check the accuracy of the data supplied to, and then from the oil analysis lab. 75% of the reports I review contain flawed data, making the results suspect.
If there were three things that top your list for maintenance what would they be?
SDA: Regular fluid analysis, including crankcase oil with every oil change, transmission oil with every crankcase oil change, hydraulic fluid and coolant at least annually, every six months for full time cruisers.
Shaft alignment and running gear inspection, if you’ve never checked this, or had it checked by skilled folks who understand how to do it properly (there’s more to it than simply inserting feeler gauges into coupling gaps) during your ownership of a vessel, do so. Many of the vessels I inspect suffer from improper shaft alignment, worn shaft bearings, inadequately adjusted or cooled stuffing boxes and/or bearings, deteriorated stuffing box hoses and clamps, incorrect grade or improperly torqued coupling fasteners.
Make certain each primary fuel filter is equipped with a high quality (sadly this means not the one from Racor) vacuum gauge and water in fuel sensor. Make sure you are comfortable changing the primary fuel filter, secondary fuel filter, raw water pump impeller and belt on every engine aboard.
Inspecting vessels for the Smithsonian Institution in Panama.
Tell us a little about the invitation only Captain’s Club that you run?
SDA: In fact it’s far from invitation only; although membership is limited, anyone may take advantage of this program provided there are vacancies. It is an annual membership, providing access for members to me via voice and e mail, without a limitation on the time of volume of contact. A full page on my website describes the program; however, in short, it’s designed to provide peace of mind and technical support to vessel owners and cruisers. In 2015 SDMC will introduce a web page, which will be accessible only to Captains’ Club members, it will include recommendations for approved and vetted products, service providers and manufacturers. I provide this resource to members now; however, it’s on a request basis, while the web page will be accessible at any time.
Would you describe yourself as more hunter or more gather?
SDA: Hunter. I left a secure, fulfilling, well-paying job managing a busy boat building and refit yard. I loved my work, and looked forward to going in every day. Yet, after eleven years I wasn’t an owner and couldn’t become one, so I resigned to start my own consulting business. I took a similar path with my resignation from PassageMaker in 2014. I crave autonomy and freedom to conduct my business as I see fit, providing my clients and readers with the very best and highest quality product, over which I have control, and to not hold
back when it comes to sharing my opinions, of which I have no shortage when it comes to the marine industry.
One of my earliest repair projects, my mom’s ironing board. It’s not ABYC compliant but after 44 years it’s still going strong.
If you had a boat what would you call her?
Why would you call her that?
SDA: Because I’m never finished looking for ways to do what I do better or to pursue my interests. At this stage in my life, I’m 50, I have one primary worry, I won’t have enough time to do all the things I want to do.
What’s the funniest thing that has ever happened to you while at sea or while working on a boat?
SDA: I was cruising in Newfoundland a number of years ago aboard a sailing vessel. We had ventured out on a leg of the passage, and then turned back because the weather had deteriorated so badly. It was a crew of three, one of whom was too sick to stand watch. I was sick too, but I knew that if I didn’t share in the watch standing we wouldn’t get safely back to port. I had been at the wheel in cold rain and darkness for about three hours; I was chilled, to the bone, sick and dead tired. I ran below to look at the chart and noted that the buoy marking the entrance to the harbor had a bell, I returned to the cockpit and strained my ears listening for its peal, I was willing it to ring so we could drop anchor and go to sleep. As I stood at the wheel, rain dripping off my porkpie hat onto my freezing wet gloves, fog swirling around me, I heard the bell, and to my shock and horror it sounded as if we are about to collide with it, we were right on top of it, my heart skipped a beat, and I thought, ‘how could I have missed it, why didn’t I hear it sooner, I’m going to poke the bowsprit of my friend’s boat right into a 2000 pound buoy!’. Then I realized, it was simply the ship’s clock that had struck. In my fatigued state, my ears and brain registered a bell, but not its Lilliputian intensity. The lesson for that day, one to which I’d be exposed many times in my career, fatigue can have an amazing and debilitating effect on one’s mind and senses.
Hiking in Newfoundland during a cruise aboard a 47-foot sloop. Pre-GPS, it was among the most challenging navigation I’ve ever encountered
I went aboard a boat to work on the galley sink drain one time and when I touched it a bat flew out.
What’s the biggest mistake you have ever made on the water?
SDA: Excluding running aground? Seriously, I was once forced to change a primary fuel filter while underway, in extremis; I’ve mentioned part of this story on the NOG in the past, under the ‘you can do it in less than 60 seconds if sufficiently motivated’ category. I was aboard a boat that was passing in front of, well in front of, the Staten Island Ferry. As the boat I was aboard crossed its path, the engine began to sputter. The helmsman looked at me and just raised his eyebrows, as if to say, ‘I’m just driving, you’re the gearhead’. I looked at the tachometer needle and it was bouncing around 500 rpm, I was surprised the engine hadn’t stalled. I instructed my companion to throttle back and shift to neutral. He looked at me and then at the ferry, no words were necessary. I said “I know”. I ran below and sure enough the filter was clogged, I don’t recall the vacuum gauge reading but it was high. Fortunately, or so I thought, the filter was a tandem so I quickly threw the vale 180° and then ran back to the helm while shouting, “Go, go, just give it throttle!”. The ferry was now sounding its whistle. The helmsman complied, advancing the throttle all the way forward, the engine roared life, the stern dug in, I exhaled, and then all was silent, the engine had stalled. Again he looked at me, but this time he said, “What do we do now?!” I ran back to the engine room and spun off the offline filter lid and pulled out the element, it was as black as coal and impacted with what looked like roofing tar. I grabbed a spare element from the shelf over the fuel tank, ripped the box open, slammed it into the housing, swung the valve around and prayed that the level of fuel in the tank was high enough to gravity feed, and displace the air I’d let into the housing. It was, fuel overflowed as I spun the lid back into place, and I switched the valve back to that filter. I once again vaulted back to the helm and said, a little less confidently, “Try it”. My now very frightened shipmate hit the start button, the engine coughed and wheezed at first but then caught and ran; he shifted into gear and throttled up. I recall feeling the bow wave from the ferry lift our stern; I suspect the ferry had already altered course and wouldn’t have run us down, however, it probably cleared us by no more than 50 yards, it felt much closer, far too close for me. My mistake…the standby filter in the tandem was as clogged as the one we were operating on; we, I got underway aboard a vessel I didn’t know without making sure both filter elements were clean.
Are you scared of spiders?
SDA: No, much to my wife’s chagrin I’ve saved many from her broom and shoe.
What’s your favourite photo ever taken while at sea and why?
SDA: That’s a difficult question to answer, as my maritime stock photo library numbers in the hundreds of thousands. I was fortunate enough to fly out to an aircraft carrier at sea and spend a few days aboard. I was still shooting film back then and probably shot 30 rolls in two days. I was able to stand between the bow catapults and photograph aircraft as they were launching. I then stood aft adjacent to the arresting wires and was able to capture aircraft as their hook caught the wire. It was exhilarating. From a yachting perspective, the Faroes and Iceland are among the most memorable photographic locales, and of course the images I recently captured of Shear Madness and Migration through a hole in an iceberg while in Greenland.
At sea aboard the USS Enterprise.
The coast of Iceland swathed in volcanic ash, looking dark and foreboding.
The Faroes are simply enchanting; I’d recommend them as a worthwhile destination for those willing to make the passage. I spent a week there; however, I would have gladly stayed for a month.
It’s hard to take a bad photograph in Antarctica; everywhere you turn the vistas are simply breathtaking.
What would you never leave behind when heading out to sea?
SDA: My Streamlight Pro LED flashlight and Myerchin rigging knife. No good mariner should ever be without a flashlight and a knife.
Tell us something about yourself that nobody knows?
SDA: I don’t have any secrets of that sort; however, there are things few people know. Like Nelson, and Hornblower, I suffer from seasickness. I attribute my willingness to continuously return to sea to a short memory (some would say foolhardiness). It’s gotten better as I’ve gotten older and I try to stick to the boat length/age rule, that is, I try to avoid offshore passages aboard vessels that aren’t at least as long as my age.
In 2011 my daughter Katie joined the company. She handles a variety of important tasks including managing the website, invoicing and travel arrangements (the latter is nearly a full time job). I reverently refer to her as SDMC’s Radar O’Riely of MASH fame
And finally, where to next?
SDA: Literally, as I write this I’m preparing for a trip on which I’ll circumnavigate the globe, by air. I head to New Zealand, then Australia, from there to China, then on to Turkey and finally back to my humble little airport in Richmond, Virginia. In 2014 I flew 245,000 miles. Figuratively, as I’ve said several times, I am so fortunate to enjoy my work as much as I do. I plan to keep doing it, along with expanding SDMC’s services with more training workshops, online lectures, a Concierge Inspection and Lecture Program for owners’ groups, and continued unbiased editorial coverage.
Thank you very much for your time, I for one look forward to meeting you when state side end of next year!
Good luck with your business and your future travels!
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Copyright 2015 SDMC, Inc.
From the Editor
When you last heard from me I was still in China. I’m preparing this month’s feature column while returning from the Miami International Boat Show. A week prior to this show I completed a month-long travel odyssey, which began inVirginia and took me to New Zealand, Australia, China and Turkey. When I returned to the Richmond, Virginia airport, 30 days after leaving, I “crossed my outbound track” as sailors say, completing a circumnavigation by air. Turkey was an eye-opening experience, I found the people warm and inviting, the food and especially the bread particularly tasty after a week in China, and the historical landscape, as well as the geography, stunning. Turkey boasts over 10,000 registered sites of antiquity; the Roman ruins rival those in Italy. While there I visited several boat building shops, and undertook sea trials on an unusually calm Mediterranean Sea. In the coming weeks Katie will post photos from all of these locations to the gallery section of the SDMC website.
Depending on your point of view, boat shows are either a much anticipated event or a necessary evil (undeniably the former for me, I love each and every one I attend). On the day before the show began I shared an elevator with a marine industry professional from a well-known, large firm. We exchanged a few boat show pleasantries after which he said, “I hate rich people”. I’ve encountered this attitude on too many occasions. Before he made this fateful statement I recognized the ‘industry thousand yard stare’, one that cries out, ‘In spite of the fact that I spend all day on boats in idyllic locations I still hate my job”, and the show hadn’t even started. That encounter reminded me of another I had while on a pre-purchase inspection sea trial a couple of years ago. The professional captain, hired by the broker, to pilot the boat for this purpose, handed me his business card with a smirk, under his name it said, “It’s not my fault you bought a boat”. I handed it back to him and said “I won’t need this, and the boat business doesn’t need people like you”. Folks like these are also fond of using the worn out tag lines, ‘The happiest days of a boat owner’s life are…’, ‘A boat is a hole in the water into which…’ and ‘Boat stands for break out another…’. Because I detest them so much, and because I have no wish to perpetuate them, I’ve intentionally left these axioms incomplete. When I hear my professional peers use these phrases, I take them to task, pointing out that if their boat owner customers laugh at them it’s only because they are being polite. As a boat owner, when you encounter this unprofessional attitude, I encourage you to make it clear, sometimes that can be accomplished with nothing more than silence, it’s unappreciated. If you are a professional, I appeal to you to assist me in eradicating this mindset, if for no other reason than it’s bad for (your) business.
The show itself was busy, with a variety of new and interesting products, some of which I recently wrote about on the SDMC Facebook page. These include Fleming’s new 58 model (hull #4 was on display, I took hull #3 from the UK to Germany last May and subsequently wrote a review of the vessel, which will be printed in PassageMaker, my final submission to this publication, next month). Burr Yacht Sales’, the Fleming East Coast dealer, display was a hive of activity, the boat has garnered strong interest, and with good reason. I also spoke with Jeff Druek, proprietor of Outer Reef Yachts. Jeff shared with me photos of Outer Reef’s first, soon to be completed, all vinyl ester resin infused fast cruiser, the Trident series, which is being built in 55, 65, 75 and 98 models. Their first T-550 will be launched at the Cannes boat show this September. They will also premier in the US at the fall 2015 Fort Lauderdale Boat Show. These are being built at Outer Reef’s yard in Croatia.
There was no shortage of hybrid vessels and systems at the show, and on that subject, as many readers know, I’m a skeptic of these systems. In brief, they are extremely complex, and most manufacturers are only able to offer limited dealer support. The 600 pound gorilla in the room is, of course, a minuscule, if any, enhancement in efficiency. When I debated this editorially with my colleague Nigel Calder last year, he admitted that for trawlers (his testing has been on his own sailing vessel) the added “gain” is realized in enhanced support for house loads via a much larger battery bank. That logic was lost on me then and remains so now, as we already have proven large battery banks and high output charging systems, which don’t impinge, for the most part on the reliability of the apex system, propulsion. When I bring this up with hybrid propulsion manufacturers, as I did during the Miami show, they point to small gains under very narrow operating circumstances. Even then, the gains are in the low single digit percentage points, to which I can’t help think, ‘is it worth it?’ When I brought up the issue of support with a sincere and knowledgeable hybrid manufacturer, one who espoused the virtue of his redundant Airbus-inspired system, he responded by saying most troubleshooting, and even some repairs could occur via the internet. Let that sink in for a moment, via the internet…using a Wi-Fi, cellular or satellite modem.
When boat owners ask me how they should prepare for extended or offshore passages, aboard vessels that use already complex yet conventional propulsion and other systems, I advise them to become as knowledgeable and self-sufficient about their vessel and its gear as possible, and assume they will have no outside assistance. Now add to that equation an esoteric, aviation-like in its complexity, hybrid propulsion system and you can understand my reluctance to embrace this technology. I believe it’s no coincidence well-respected production builders of blue water capable vessels, Fleming, Grand Banks, Kadey Krogen, Marlow, Nordhavn, Outer Reef and others have continued to avoid hybrid propulsion, in spite of the fact that many buyers would purchase them if offered. Does this mean there’s no place for marine hybrid propulsion systems? No, there are applications where it can be made to work, while offering enhanced efficiency. However, for the time being, I don’t believe these include offshore passage making vessels. For hybrid propulsion, and for that matter all marine systems and manufacturers, I advise both boat owners and industry professionals to ask sometimes difficult questions regarding support, warranty coverage and of course efficiency vs. cost/complexity before considering this path.
This month’s Marine Systems Excellence column delves into the subject of propeller removal. I hope you find it both interesting and useful.
Proper Propeller Removal
Don’t Let this Happen to You
A number of years ago, as I was strolling through a boat yard, my idea of sightseeing when I travel, I came across a mechanic who was in the process of removing a propeller. He was using a technique which, even writing about it well over a decade later, makes me cringe. He’d removed the propeller’s nuts and in their place had installed what was later aptly referred to as a “bang nut”, an over-sized, closed end brass nut. The bang nut was screwed onto the shaft; however, it was stopped short of making contact with the propeller hub. Once the nut was installed, it was hammered on using a substantial maul.
As each blow connected with the bang nut, the shock wave was transmitted up the propeller shaft, through the coupling, into the transmission’s bearings and gears, on to the engine block, where it was ultimately absorbed by the flexible motor mounts. After a score of mighty swings the mechanic was visibly fatigued and perspiring heavily, yet the propeller remained fast with the shaft. With each swing the propeller reverberated with an ear-splitting twang. After a brief rest he resumed and the propeller ultimately yielded, sliding aft into the nut with a subdued clunk.
This strut bears mute testimony from abuse by blunt force. A hammer was likely used to strike the forward end of the propeller hub, landing glancing blows on the strut in the process.
The physics of this approach are straightforward enough, with each blow, the shaft, transmission and engine were driven forward a fraction of an inch. The mass of the propeller encouraged it to be left behind in that forward advance, eventually forcing it to separate from the shaft taper. The technique worked, but at what price? It’s likely that removing a propeller using blunt force of this or any kind, including striking the forward end of the propeller hub directly, driving the propeller aft, damages or shortens the life of transmission components, gears, bearings etc. Pound for pound, transmissions are among the most costly pieces of gear aboard your boat, and repairing or replacing them is always a pricey and unpleasant experience. In short, this technique and others like it should never be employed for propeller removal.
It’s Tempting But…
Some have proffered that the way to make it easier to separate a prop from its shaft is to take removal into account during assembly. Toward that end, using anti-seize, grease or another release agent on the shaft taper is often advocated. Make no mistake about it; under no circumstances, once again, should this practice be used. Virtually every propeller manufacturer’s installation guidelines make it clear that props should be installed “dry”. The one exception to this rule is an extremely thin application of lightweight machine oil, onto the shaft taper, is acceptable in that it will help prevent binding.
This propeller was installed with grease, remnants of which can be seen at the propeller to shaft interface. The propeller was ruined in short order because it shifted on the taper each time the transmission was engaged. Grease is viscous and incompressible, traits which virtually ensure that the propeller will fail to fully engage the shaft.
The primary goal is to make certain a propeller, once installed, stays put. Using anything (grease and other viscous materials are incompressible, making a hydrolock scenario very likely) between a propeller’s bore and the shaft taper only increases the likelihood of movement between the two, which in turn can lead to sheared keys or worse, a lost propeller. If removal is challenging, that’s a good sign, machine tapers like those used on shafts are truly amazing in their ability to reliably unify disparate parts, a desirable trait where propellers are concerned (I’ll cover propeller installation next month).
As desirable as it is to ensure a solid fit between a propeller and shaft, there will come a time when the two must be separated. Fortunately, there are a variety of means of easily doing this, without damaging the propeller, shaft or transmission.
Hydraulic propeller removal tools are versatile and will work with most propellers. They are, however, costly.
For boat yards, the Cadillac of propeller removal tools relies on the power of hydraulics. Combination tool kits are available to remove propellers, shaft couplings and strut-mounted cutless bearings. These tools enable yards to quickly and easily disassemble these components using a hand operated hydraulic pump, which actuates a ram, which in turn applies thousands of pounds of continuous rather than shock force to an assembly. If you are in need of propeller service or shaft coupling removal, it’s well worth finding a yard that relies on a tool of this sort.
The “Dura-Mate” hydraulic prop puller kit manufactured by Durant Machine Company of Mystic, Connecticut. This tool can also be used to remove propeller shaft couplings and shaft bearings.
It’s worth repeating, under no circumstances should it ever be necessary to use shock force to disassemble any of the aforementioned components, propellers, couplings and cutless bearings. As you might imagine, the convenience of this tool comes at a price. A combination hydraulic prop, coupling, and cutless bearing removal tool costs several thousand dollars, and it’s large and heavy, in most cases it’s housed in a rolling dolly that’s about the size of a baby carriage.
Alternatively, mechanical, scissors-like prop removal tools are also available. These are comparatively compact and lightweight, and much less expensive. While useful, these tools do have limitations. Primarily, they are incapable of imparting as much force a hydraulic tool, and they must be able to “reach” between two adjacent propeller blades, a requirement that may not be possible with some four and most five blade propellers.
A scissors style propeller removal tool. These work for smaller, and three blade props. Four blade props often don’t offer enough clearance between blades.
Yet another option relies on a custom made yet exceedingly simple pulling mandrel. This arrangement consists of three high strength threaded rods and a plate that uses the propeller shaft end as its fulcrum. The rods are screwed into matching threaded holes that have been bored and tapped in the aft end of the propeller hub. Some propellers come from their manufacturer with these holes (If you are ordering a new prop or new boat, request them); some include just two holes which I would argue is inadequate for this process, some have no holes. In any event, the holes can be easily added by most propeller shops; however, this cannot be done while the propeller is installed on the shaft.
In order to use some propeller pullers, the propeller’s hub must be drilled and tapped, with two and sometimes three holes. To keep them free of debris, these holes should be filled with stainless steel or plastic Allen head screws.
With careful measurement and a simple drawing, most machine shops could make a custom tool for you at relatively low cost (I would argue that these should be provided as an option or standard by every boat builder, for their propeller arrangement). The plate need not be made from exotic alloys, ordinary mild steel is more than adequate provided it’s painted and lightly oiled. The threaded rods should be high strength; they can be easily purchased off the shelf.
The PropSmith is a compact, low impact means of effectively removing as well as installing (no other puller can make that claim) propellers, it is virtually fool-proof. No inboard vessel should be without one.
The PropSmith, when stored in its plastic box, takes up roughly the same area as two hardback books.
The final approach, and one I favor, relies on a method that bears some resemblance to the pulling mandrel, however, it uses a purpose made tool known as a PropSmith. The PropSmith also requires a trio of threaded holes in the prop’s hub, however, its fulcrum plate engages the shaft’s threads, holding it rock steady and making it especially useful for in water use by a diver. Because of this threaded shaft engagement, an added benefit of the PropSmith is its ability to aid in installation of a propeller, pushing it firmly onto the taper.
A custom-made screw type puller. These are simple and relatively easy to make, most machine shops could fabricate one for a few hundred dollars from readily available materials.
It’s not unreasonable to suggest that every vessel carry its own means of propeller removal, even if you never intend to undertake this task yourself. Why is this necessary? If you find yourself in a boat yard for planned or unexpected propeller work, and you see a mechanic making his or her way toward your boat carrying a large hammer and a bang nut, you can intercede with your own tool; you know it will work well, it will work quickly and you can be confident that it won’t cause any damage in the process.
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