Blog August 2018


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Posted On: August 30, 2018

I attended a casual boating get-together that reminded me of the importance of respecting personal boating space. A wide variety of boats showed up, and probably 50 crowded the docks. It was a little windier than ideal, so I wasn't too surprised when a young sailor came in slightly out of control and raked his boom along the side of my boat. There was no physical damage to either vessel, but he'd definitely made a mark on my attitude. I called, "Hey, be careful!" and sent an annoyed glare in his direction.

I could easily forgive the kid for ignoring me, especially since he seemed shaken up. But his dad, who'd come down to catch a bow line, didn't say anything to me, either. Then, after only a short pep talk, dad calmly pushed his son off the dock again, whereupon he and his boat ran into mine twice more before eventually finding a way out to open water.

Only a few minutes later, two boats that were tied up side by side at the dock were ready to leave at the same time. The inside boat pushed off before the outside boat was ready, failed to make a sharp enough turn, and BANG! Luckily, there was only cosmetic damage, and both vessels continued out to enjoy the day — but without a single word of apology from the offending skipper.

Obviously, collisions like these are unacceptable, even when they don't result in an insurance claim. But when we're maneuvering in tight quarters around unfamiliar vessels, how do we figure out what constitutes an appropriate amount of personal boating space? Right-of-way rules refer only to "passing at a safe distance."

The definition of "too close" will hinge on many factors, including the size and type of boat, the size of the harbor or channel, and probably the size of other things as well. As a result, different boating fraternities have developed their own rules of thumb for what constitutes "too close."

Large powerboats, for instance, can have blind spots under their bows big enough to swallow a small whale, so their operators understandably get antsy when another vessel strays too close. Racing sailors are accustomed to tacking less than a boat length away from a competitor's bow. Within the confines of each specific fraternity, both approaches may be "correct," but they're just plain incompatible — and for good reason. In any situation, therefore, thinking like the other guy can help everyone maintain a comfortable distance.

Another incompatibility occurs between boats of different speeds. When one passes another, both going in the same direction — say in a waterway, river, or channel — the faster boat's skipper might think it best to maintain speed and get the passing over as quickly as possible. But this wreaks havoc with the slower boat; a big wake will hurl kettles across galleys and topple unsuspecting crew. Ideally, the boat being passed should slow down, allowing the passing boat to maintain a moderate wake while still getting by fairly quickly. Checking in with your fellow boater on the VHF (or even waving hello to each other) doesn't hurt, either.

The plot thickens even more once we realize that what's considered polite by one group of boaters directly contradicts the preferred behavior of another. Fishermen think the polite way to cross another boat's course is to steer across the bow. Why? Because there might be fishing lines hanging off the stern. Sailors underway think other boats should know to cross their stern, if at all possible. Why? Because even a small wake in a sailboat's path will send it wildly bobbing or stop it altogether.

So how do we learn to share the water amicably? Two ways. First, communicate. Use your VHF, hand signals, or anything else available to tell the other skipper what you're planning to do, and give him or her the opportunity to suggest a different approach. And ­second, whenever you have a chance to get out on another type of boat, take it. Appreciating other perspectives is much easier once you're standing in a different wheelhouse.



Posted On: August 28, 2018

Your All-Important Float Plan

There are too many stories of police seeing an empty tow vehicle and trailer at a boat ramp after sunset and beginning the search for a missing or overdue boater. Sometimes it's the result of a worried family member calling to say the angler in their household hasn't come home yet, adding, "This has never happened before." It's not enough to say "See you later" when heading out for a day on the water. Bad weather, a misfiring engine, even a grounding can get in the way of the original plan. To keep your family, and the families of your passengers, informed, let everyone know the following:

  • Names and cellphone numbers of all on board
  • Intended destination, route, and stopovers and phone number(s)
  • Description of the boat (make, model, color), name, and registration number
  • When you plan to be back


Posted On: August 23, 2018

Many boaters would like their dogs to enjoy being on and around the water as much as they do. After all, who wants to leave Fido behind when the rest of the family is headed to the lake for a day of waterskiing and swimming?

Dog's Aboard

Regardless of whether your dog was bred for the water or simply loves boating, you should take steps to prepare your boat and canine pal for a day on the water. Life jackets are a must for dogs who are not strong swimmers or are venturing with you offshore or at night. A variety of sizes are available from several manufacturers. Harnesses that do not restrict swimming movement are ideal for keeping dogs aboard and boarding ramps and ladders can help them back aboard after a refreshing swim. There are even doggy "heads," patches of artificial grass that you can keep aboard.

While many familiar breeds associated with the water such as labs or retrievers make excellent boat dogs, some boaters may not have the space either at home or on their boats for a "full-sized" or large dog. And while just about any adventurous dog, whether full-bred or mixed, can become a great boat dog, there are less common breeds that are specifically raised to love the water and work on, from and around boats.

Portuguese Water Dog

Though the word "water" is in their name, boating is in the blood of these dogs. Bred for centuries to assist commercial fishermen, these dogs served as messengers, watchdogs, and even as foghorns. Portuguese Water Dogs helped haul in nets, jumped in the water to herd fish, swam messages between boats in the fleet in the days before radios, retrieved items lost overboard, and if the fog rolled in, sat in the bow listening and barking at other dogs as a sort of primitive radar system. In fact the breed nearly became extinct in the 20th Century as modern electronics diminished the fishermen's need for the dogs.


Originally developed in Flanders to work on the canal boats of the Dutch low country and Belgium, Schipperke means "Little Captain" in Flemish. These all-black dogs pack a mischievous attitude and funloving nature into a 15- to 20-pound frame.

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

While still rare in the U.S., Canadians have enjoyed the company of these energetic and hardworking retrievers for decades. With a reddish coat and a head and muzzle similar to a golden, some mistake "tollers," as they are called, for small or stunted retrievers. Tollers are water-loving, working dogs bred to aid hunters and retrieve waterfowl.



Posted On: August 21, 2018

Is It Towing Or Salvage?

The difference between getting towed due to an on-water breakdown and being pulled off a sandbar because your boat is hard aground may not seem like much when you're sitting in your cockpit, but it can be huge when it's time to pay the commercial tower who responded. While the average coastal tow typically costs about $750, salvage costs can easily hit five figures. The average boater may not know which service — towing or salvage — is being offered, especially if the weather is bad and stress levels are high when a towboat shows up.

But the question as to whether something's a tow or a salvage has one easy answer. It doesn't matter, if you're covered. If you have unlimited on-the-water towing service, and an all-risk boat insurance policy with hull coverage, like most policies  we recommend , whether your boat is towed or salvaged, someone else picks up the tab.

Towing service gets you back to the dock if you break down (depending on your selected service level), while your insurance policy covers salvage costs.

Having both in force takes the worry out of the towing-or-salvage determination.



Posted On: August 16, 2018

Need a repair yard?

You can tell a lot about a facility by looking at it.

Is it neat and orderly, or are there pieces of boats in every corner with no obvious organization? Are the equipment and tools rusty and poorly maintained?

If the shop won't invest in equipment and upgrades, they may not invest in the best technicians, and you won't get the highest-quality work. Are the boats in the yard well-supported on stands? What are the people like? If you're greeted with indifference by the service manager, or he's not interested in hearing the details of your situation, you're more likely to have problems after the work starts.

Look for shops that invest in American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) certifications for their technicians; they've made a commitment to make repairs that comply with crucial safety standards. There are eight areas of certification: electrical, systems (plumbing, water systems, tanks), diesel engines, gasoline engines, corrosion, air conditioning/refrigeration, composite boatbuilding, and ABYC standards.

Ask if they're a certified clean marina?

Chances are if they are taking care of their waterways they will take care of you.



Posted On: August 14, 2018

A Sea Trial Is Not A Boat Ride

The purpose of a sea trial is to check the boat's systems, engines, generators, electronics, and other parts that cannot be inspected while the boat is not under commission or is "on the hard." The surveyor will need to pay close attention to the engines, helm, and systems, and how the boat handles.

To get the most from a sea trial, leave the kids, dog, and Aunt Kate at home. They can get a ride on the boat later, assuming you buy it. Too many folks on the boat makes it difficult for the surveyor to do the job properly.

Surveyors Are Happy To Talk Things Over With You

Most surveyors will be only too happy to talk to you about the survey process, especially if this is your first time employing a surveyor. They will also answer questions after the survey, so don't be scared to call them up if you see something in a survey report that you don't understand. Surveyors are on boats every day, but owners and buyers may not always understand some of the technical terms. 

Remember surveyors often get concerned when a client asks for a cheap survey because "it's only for insurance." Most surveyors are professionals and want you to be happy with your boat and ensure your safety on the water. In return, you want him or her to spot any deficiencies with the boat. Surveyors need to be able to stand behind their work (possibly even in the courtroom), and doing a "light" survey doesn't help anyone.



Posted On: August 09, 2018

What causes boats to capsize?

Our friends at BoatUS had a great article on the causes.

In a word, instability. Boats are inherently stable until something causes them to become unstable. And that something is weight — where it is and how much it is determines when a boat will tip over far enough to capsize or fill with water.

A capsize is defined as a boat rolling over onto its side or completely over; swamping typically means that a boat fills with water (often from capsizing) but remains floating. So to simplify, we'll use the term capsize from here on. As mentioned, boats capsize because they become unstable, but there are three main reasons for that instability: too much or unbalanced crew or equipment weight; leaking water, which also creates too much weight; and bad weather, which causes instability as a boat is rocked and filled with water.

We Hope It Floats

There is always a very real possibility of injury when passengers unintentionally go in the water with nothing to hold onto. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) has addressed this by requiring monohull powerboats built after 1972 under 20 feet in length to float when filled with water. This is a good thing, because without it, most of the small boats in the study would have sunk out from under the crew, leaving nothing to hang onto while waiting for rescue. The bad news is that boats larger than 20 feet that don't have built-in flotation will eventually sink if capsized, and even smaller boats with flotation can still sink if grossly overloaded. (Note: Boats up to 26 feet built to the American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) standards adopted by the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) also have flotation). Inboard and sterndrive boats have less rigorous basic flotation requirements than outboard-powered boats. If your boat was built before 1972, it wasn't required to — and probably won't — have flotation at all.

Which Boats Are More Likely to Capsize?

Small boats are most likely to capsize. Almost 10 percent were 8-footers, mostly dinghies, and capsizes here often didn't cause much damage. But the biggest group, according to a BoatUS study were the 15-19 footers, representing 41 percent of all capsizes. These boats were typically fishing boats, often with large, hard-to-drain cockpits, sometimes out in poor weather, and were sometimes overloaded.

The next most common group are boats in the 20-24-foot range, representing a quarter of the total; half of those were outboard-powered 22-footers. Larger boats tend to be more stable and rarely capsize, though there were several boats over 38 feet that capsized.

Why They Capsize

Nearly all capsizes can be assigned one of three causes. The most common is too much or poorly distributed weight. Small boats are much more susceptible to an extra person or two or a couple of heavy coolers aboard than larger boats. Older boats especially may have gained weight over the years as more gear is stored aboard. On boats with cockpit drains, an extra beefy friend or a second cooler might be all it takes to make the water come back in through the drains, filling the boat. While most of these under-20 foot boats are required to have flotation, they also must have a capacity plate that states how much weight and how many people can safely be aboard. Pay attention to this number, and keep in mind that the number of seats in a boat is not always an indication of the number of people it can carry safely. Exceeding the capacity limits, even in calm water, is asking for trouble; and in many states, operators can be ticketed for it. All it takes is a stiff wind, a large wake, or an unbalanced load to flip over.

The bottom line is that loading too much cargo or too many passengers in one part of the boat can affect its stability, even if the total load is within the boat's maximum capacity. Weight needs to be evenly distributed, especially in smaller boats. One other thing worth mentioning is that capsizes can also be caused by modifications that affect the stability of the boat. Even a small tuna tower can severely change the center of gravity, especially on a smaller boat.

The second major cause of capsizing is leaks. Sometimes it's as simple as forgetting to put the drain plug in; other times it's leaking fittings. Water sloshing around in the bottom of the boat affects stability and waves or a wake can cause it to flip. Tying the drain plug to your boat key is a simple way to remember the plug. On the other hand, leaking fittings that can fill the boat with water are usually out of sight, often in livewells and bait boxes. Several claims were reported when an owner installed a livewell fitting using cheap PVC pipes and valves, and at least one livewell had no shut-off valve at all with no way to stop the ingress of water once it began leaking. Any fitting that penetrates the hull needs to be closeable and should be made from stainless steel, bronze, or Marelon. One more thing the claims revealed: Some livewells are plumbed in such a way that they'll flood the boat if the valve is left open while underway.

Many older outboard-powered boats have low transom cutouts that can cause the boat to flood simply by slowing down too quickly, especially with excess weight in the stern. Newer outboard boats have a well that reduces the risk.

Some boats have cockpits that drain into the bilge (generally considered a poor design), requiring the use of a bilge pump to even stay afloat. Bilge pumps are designed to remove nuisance water only, not to keep a boat from sinking. If your boat's cockpit drains into the bilge, be aware that if the bilge pump fails, your boat can fill with water and capsize or sink.

Weather is another major cause of capsizes, sometimes in concert with overloading. Small boats are easily overwhelmed by modest waves or even wake, especially if they've got a full load and sit low in the water. A sudden squall can flip even a larger boat. Check the weather forecast before you go out, and keep a weather eye on the sky. In most areas, NOAA broadcasts continuous weather via VHF radio. If you're within range, smartphone apps can show you detailed weather maps, including radar, which can indicate approaching storms. Weather changes quickly on the water, so at the first sign of bad weather, head back to the dock. If you're caught out in a squall, have your passengers stay low near the center of the boat to maintain stability.




Posted On: August 07, 2018

Troubleshooting Tips

What good is all the fancy electronics you spent a fortune on, if they don't work? Sometimes, as is often the case in many things in life, simple is the solution. Continuing on the previous blog, here's a continuation on tips for keeping your equipment functioning.

Pull the plug! Just like your computer, when your GPS/chart plotter, fish finder, radar or other gear locks up or fails to respond to the controls, sometimes disconnecting the power cable or switching off the set’s circuit breaker and reapplying power can restore normal operation.

 In extreme cases, when all else fails, you can perform a “master reset.” Follow the instructions in the owner’s manual for the unit. Be advised that this is a last-resort procedure. A master reset can also delete all your waypoints, routes and custom settings.

 Quick tip: Regularly back up your waypoints and other entered data on a blank data card (refer to the unit’s owner’s manual for instructions on how to back up your waypoint list and other valuable data).

Be sure you know the location of every fuse for every electronics instrument you have. And keep an adequate supply of each fuse size on board.

Redundant Systems

Consider installing a second VHF radio and GPS/chart plotter. With a modest investment you can have independent redundancy for these essential instruments.

Keep a handheld VHF and GPS as part of your electronics lineup. Basic models are very affordable, serve as portable second stations and stand ready to go with you if you ever have to leave your boat in an emergency.

 The bonus is that the radio and GPS are already connected internally, so the set’s DSC emergency button is ready for use as soon as you obtain, register and enter your personal Mobile Maritime Service Identity (MMSI) number These sets are waterproof and floatable and will operate even in the event you find yourself in the water.

Always keep fresh batteries for every portable device you carry on board. And, if you don’t already have one, install a 12-volt cigarette lighter outlet to charge all of your handheld devices that have rechargeable batteries.