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Apr 26, 2016

This article addresses the age old quandry, When Should I replace it or Can I fix It? The key take away is not all things affect the structural integrity, No matter how aesthetically pleasing, safety need to take the lead.

By Austin Frye for Boating Times

Have you ever walked down the docks and caught a glimpse of that one boat in complete disrepair that looks held together mainly by duct tape? While there is a place and a time for utilizing duct tape and other quick fixes, there comes a time when you must fix a boat the right way. Aesthetics are a matter of personal choice — it’s no big deal if you’re OK with buffer trails in your boat or a tear in your mooring cover (despite the elements getting underneath). However, jerry-rigging is not OK when it comes to a vessel’s structural and electrical integrity as well as its power and other mechanical issues. First, safety is a concern and second, electrical or mechanical issues left unattended can lead to major headaches down the road.


I’ve compiled a short list of items that can rip, tear, break, or fail on board your vessel. (This list doesn’t cover everything, but gives you a general idea.) These will be fine with a quick patch if that’s all you’re inclined to do:


    Vinyl tears

    Bimini enclosure tears

    Isinglass yellowing or tears

    Mooring cover tears

    Fiberglass voids


The following must be repaired properly or replaced:


    Ripped or exposed wiring

    Deck soft spots

    Engine malfunctions

    Cracked thru-hull fittings

    Malfunctioning bilge pump or float switches

    Seacock failures


As I stated earlier, restitching a small tear in your canvas or patching a ripped section of vinyl doesn’t jeopardize anything, but a faulty seacock or non-working bilge pump may lead to a sinking. You have to know the difference and be ready to spend money as necessary.


For example, last summer I spent a weekend working on a large sport-fishing vessel, bringing it from Montauk to her homeport in Jones Inlet. Before any long run — or any run for that matter — the engine room is checked to be sure that nothing is leaking, all levels are where they should be, and nothing seems out of place. During that weekend, I advised the owner that while underway, the cabin had an excessive diesel smell and the transom on the starboard side collected more soot than usual; it was chalked up to dirty fuel.


So on Monday morning we embarked during our best weather window and headed for home, experiencing morning rain and six-foot seas until we hit the inlet and surfed our way back to the dock. After thoroughly cleaning the boat and again removing an excessive amount of soot on the transom, I opened the door to the engine room to let it cool down as I always do after a long run. After popping my head into the engine room, I found the room was completely black with soot!


An investigation found that the riser on the port engine had a small hole, which caused both the soot on the transom and the diesel smell in the cabin. The assault on the vessel by the heavy seas on the way home likely made the hole progressively worse, blowing soot throughout the entire engine room but predominately on the starboard side, where it in turn blew out through the vent and onto the transom.


There was no longer any debate — it was time to repair the boat correctly. It started with team members going through the entire engine room, using a steam cleaner to remove all the soot from every surface, nut, bolt, and crevice (it took several passes through the engine room to make sure it was free and clear). After that thorough cleaning, the insurance adjusters assessed the damage and though only the basics of the repair were covered, the vessel’s owner went above and beyond. In addition to replacing the riser and hose clamps associated with it, the owner had the mechanic go through the motor, replacing anything that may have been iffy while the engine was under the knife. This proactive approach sought to avoid future problems, including the need to replace the engine prematurely.


This was a prime instance of when it pays to repair and not patch. Sure, the owner could have duct taped that hole and not replaced anything that insurance wouldn’t cover, but the smart move was to fix it properly before it caused further financial issues. The boat now runs phenomenally well; both engines reach the proper RPM’s. There is no longer a diesel smell in the cabin and the transom no longer becomes thick with soot. Along with financial concerns, everyone on board is now safer — if left unattended, the riser could have come completely off and the boat would have pulled in sea water, and there was a risk of breathing potentially toxic fumes.


Most boaters I know have an arsenal of assorted duct tape colors. If you can live with the look, be my guest and tape everything. Everything, that is, that doesn’t affect the structural integrity of the boat or cause harm to yourself or others.