Blog May 2019


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Posted On: May 30, 2019

Great article for BoatUS By Tim Murphy
Illustrations By Joe Comeau

Leaving your boat in a slip doesn't have to leave your brain tied in knots — here's how.

Close-up photo of a cleat hitch

Simple and neat, and tied to a cleat. A proper cleat hitch goes a long way toward tying up quickly and easily.

Tying up at a dock is one of those techniques that's most elegant when it's done simply. The trick is to get the fewest number of docklines serving the greatest number of functions. And doing that means paying attention to three things: Strong points, a good hitch, and the right combination of lines.

"Notice anything different?" the skipper bellowed. The houseboat's rail — we'd tied our stern line to it — was now just a mangled pretzel of aluminum, thoroughly separated from the rest of the boat. The boat's builder had secured the rail to the deck with nothing but short self-tapping screws. The lesson: Make sure all your lines are tied to a strong point — both on the boat and on the dock. Usually this is a cleat, but a strong point may be a ring or an eye; it may be a bollard or a bitt; it may be a piling. The important thing is that whatever you tie off to needs to be stronger than the loads coming from the docklines. A good cleat or other strong point will be bolted through the hull or decking, with robust fasteners finished off with a nut, fender washer, and backing plate on the underside to spread the load. The lifting or towing eyes on a runabout are good strong points.

The Cleat Hitch

Walk down any dock, and you're bound to see a bad cleat hitch — either a tangled mess of excessive line or a series of insufficient loops that will slip apart under strain. Among charter fleets, the number of dinghies lost to bad cleat hitches is beyond counting.

Photo of tying a cleat hitch step 1
Photo of tying a cleat hitch step 2
Photo of tying a cleat hitch step 3
Photoof tying a cleat hitch step 4

The trick to a good cleat hitch is to keep it simple: Three turns around the cleat's horns; no more, no less. Pass the line once completely around the cleat's base (under the horns); next, make a figure-8 over the two horns; finally, turn the line under itself to make a half hitch.

Often you'll see people layer on the turns, crossing and recrossing the cleat. Extra turns provide no extra holding strength. None. What's worse, they may make it more difficult to untie if things start moving fast.

Docklines — Tying Up Alongside

Docklines limit a boat's motion. That motion can be either in a fore-and-aft direction or a transverse direction — or a combination of the two. The key is to identify the fewest number of docklines that will limit the boat's motion in every direction. Breast lines (lines that come off the boat at a right angle to it) limit how much the boat can move toward or away from the dock. Springlines (lines that run at a shallow angle along some portion of the length of the boat) limit how much the boat can move forward or backward. Bow lines and stern lines (lines from the bow forward to the dock or from the stern aft to the dock) may do some of each.

Docklines illustration with all possible lines
A glossary of all possible lines.

Figure A shows virtually all the possible docklines you could use — but hopefully not all at once! Docklines are named according to this convention: [direction from boat] [position on boat] [line's function]. So, a "forward quarter spring" is a line that runs forward to the dock from the cleat at the boat's stern quarter; it prevents the boat from moving astern. An "after spring" is a dockline that leads aft; it limits the boat's forward motion.

Docklines illustration using a few lines as possible
But when tying up the goal is to use only the ones needed to safely secure the boat.

For a short stop alongside a dock, you should be able to tie up with just three lines (Figure B). Breast lines have a disadvantage in places with tidal ranges or even wakes from passing boats: being so short, they limit a boat's vertical motion. Even stepping on the gunwale to get out of a small boat may strain a breast line. The best combination of docklines is typically at least one springline, plus a bow line and a stern line. If you run the bow line forward and the springline aft, you'll limit the boat's motion in both directions yet still allow for some motion up and down. Likewise, run the stern line aft from the side of the boat farthest from the dock. This will limit both transverse and forward motion. Place good fenders between the boat and the dock, then tension up the lines. For heavier weather and longer stays, add a second springline in the opposite direction of the first.

Docklines illustration tying up with only 4 lines

Docklines — Tying Up In A Slip

Tying up in a slip typically works best with four docklines: two bow lines, and two stern lines (Figure C). As for leaving room for the water to move up and down, the same caveats still apply. Try to avoid breast lines. Instead, run your bow lines forward a bit and cross your stern lines. This way, all the lines are working together to limit motion forward, aft, and side to side. If your boat is over 35 feet or you expect lots of wind or current, add a set of spring lines. 



Posted On: May 28, 2019

Great article to help you estimate distance.

By Dick Everitt

Got a tape measure and a piece of string? You can use them to find out how far away you are from, say, a lighthouse.

Measuring distance off

In this example, I know from my chart that the height of the center of the light is 100 feet above sea level. So holding a vertical ruler 60 cm from my eye, I measure from the center of the light to sea level, which is 20 mm. Using the formula below, I multiply that by 10 for a total of 200. Then I divide 100 (the height of the light) by 200, which equals 0.5. That means I'm about half a mile from the light.

Distance off by vertical sextant angle is an old navigation technique used for keeping a safe distance from an object of known height, such as a lighthouse, the height of which is shown on a chart. With modern GPS, there's no longer need to know how to calculate this, but it's a fun trick to show the kids, and it's a useful backup if you're ever forced to use basic navigation techniques. But as many of us don't carry a sextant, or a set of tables, we can copy what the ancients had been doing for centuries before the sextant was invented. They simply exploited their knowledge that the ratio of 60:1 is equal to an angle of 1 degree. To find this distance, simply measure the angle of the center of the light above sea level and look up the "distance off" in a set of tables, such as those found in a nautical almanac, or use a simple calculation (below). The center of the light itself, not the height of the top of the tower, is used because that's the height marked on the chart. Usually we can forget any tidal height allowance, as less tide will put us farther off in safer water.

In its simplest form, you'll use something that measures 60 units from your eye attached to a vertical ruler marked in the same units. (Using a metric rule to do this exercise makes your math calculation simpler because you can work in whole numbers instead of fractions.)

Hold a piece of string 60 cm (about 2 feet) in front of your eye. (I find a loop of string of the correct length around my neck more comfortable than holding a knot in my teeth.) Sight across the ruler and measure the height of the center of the light above sea level, in millimeters. Then use the formula below.


It's a rough-and-ready technique, but one day it might save you being set in too close to a nasty reef or rocks.



Posted On: May 23, 2019

This weekend is Memorial Day and unfortunately that usually means multiple mishaps on the water, I feel compelled to address safety on the water.

Few things are more enjoyable than being out on the water to watch a special event, but when it's over, it may be dark, and there'll certainly be lots of other boats all trying to get home at the same time. Here's how to make sure that your summer outing stays fun from start to finish:

This excerpt from an article in BoatsUS Reports is dead on.

Manage the guest list. An overloaded boat doesn't handle well, and when this gets combined with washing machine-style wakes generated by a pack of boats making their getaways, it can lead to swamping or capsizing. Be mindful of your boat's capacity, keep extra people off the flybridge, and have a properly fitted life jacket for everyone aboard.

Check your navigation lights. In the dark, the only way for another boater to determine your boat's direction is by tracking your navigation lights. Fix any broken lights before you go, and make sure that nothing blocks any part of the arc of the light. If your boat has a combination bow light, check that the lens hasn't been reversed during installation. Make sure you're showing red on port and green on starboard.

Don't paddle your own canoe. Standup paddleboards, kayaks, and canoes are great — but not in the middle of a crowd of boats after dark.

Boat responsibly. Wait until after you've tied up for the night before consuming alcohol. Operating a boat while under the influence is illegal, and in some states it could cost you your car driver's license, or worse.



Posted On: May 18, 2019

Steps To A Season of Eating


Cleaning  Tips to Get Your Grill Party-Ready

The weather has finally broken, It's about time to fire up your grill for another season of outdoor cooking.

What Materials You’ll Need  

  • heavy-duty grill scraper
  • abrasive grill brush
  • scouring pad
  • sponge
  • microfiber cloth
  • dish soap
  • warm water
  • large, plastic bucket
  • latex gloves or work gloves
  • natural grill degreaser (optional)


Assess the Mess

Determine if you need to simply clean or replace the grates and burners. Rusty or crumbling grates require disassembly and replacement.  Be sure to check your owner's manual, and take a photo before you pull the grill apart. And, always turn off the gas when disassembling a grill

Warm It Up

For a basic deep clean, keep the burners in place and focus your attention on the grates. First, turn on the grill to warm up the unit.

Start Scraping

Once warm, use a heavy-duty grill scraper to remove the top layer of cooked-on grit and grime.

Scrub Warm Grates

Scrub the heated grates with a wire grill brush. If you need more power, opt for a battery-powered model. When you're finished, turn off the grill.

Soak Grates

Once the grates are cool to the touch, place them into a bucket of warm, soapy water. Soak the grates for a few hours, then scrub off any excess grime using a scouring sponge.


Use a degreaser to clean up the grates as well as the grill’s exterior. Wipe clean with a damp sponge, then dry with a fresh microfiber cloth.

Shine It Up

Shine up the exterior with a stainless-steel cleaner or equivalent if not stainless; this will also help protect the exterior in the coming months.





Posted On: May 16, 2019


Knowing how to read a tide table can mean the difference between a good day and a bad one.

If you've ever waited anxiously for the twing of your antenna against the underside of a highway bridge, you know that playing with tides can be a game of inches. To pass safely under that bridge or over the bar that lies between here and home, we need to understand all the components of the tides. Along most of the coast, tides rise twice and fall twice each day. These are called semidiurnal tides. In some places, the tides cycle only once per day; these are called diurnal tides. And in still other places, one daily high tide is much higher than the day's second high tide; these are called mixed tides. Tide tables, provided by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at, tell you three important things for any given place: the time of high tide, the time of low tide, and the heights of each. But what about the times in between? For that, you'll need the Rule of Twelfths (see chart ).



Posted On: May 14, 2019

Understanding the Waves         

The first rule of waves, especially in the open ocean, is that there are no rules. Kind of a hypocritical statement considering the intent of this, but it is a cold hard fact. There are simple physical factors that makeup the "normal" wave, but within the forces of nature, there a myriad of other factors that need be considered. Regardless, an understanding of what makes a wave can be of considerable benefit  to the everyday sailor.

There are three factors that make up waves:

  • Wind speed Length of time the wind has blown
  • Distance of open water that the wind blows over; called fetch

All of these factors have to work together to create waves. The greater each of the variables in the equation, the greater the waves. Waves are measured by:

  • Height (from trough to crest) Length (from crest to crest) Steepness (angle between crest and trough)
  • Period (length of time between crests)

Waves are never created in one uniform height. Waves fall into a systemic pattern of varying size. Therefore, in order to classify wave height we determine the significant wave height, which is the average of the highest 1/3 of the waves in a system. This is how weather reports will specify wave height. Once you have the significant height, it is simple to determine the theoretical average height, the highest 10% and the highest wave sizes in a given area. Mathematically speaking, it's simple arithmetic based on predetermined ratios:


Average height


Significant height


Highest 10%





Waves take their time to develop; they don't spontaneously erupt from the ocean. It takes a certain speed of wind to blow over a certain distance for a considerable length of time to create lasting waves.

There are three different types of waves that develop over time:

  • Ripples
  • Seas
  • Swells

Ripples appear on smooth water when the wind is light, but if the wind dies, so do the ripples. Seas are created when the wind has blown for a while at a given velocity. They tend to last much longer, even after the wind has died. Swells are waves that have moved away from their area of origin and are unrelated to the local wind conditions -- in other words, seas that have lasted long beyond the wind.

The definition of swells can be a bit confusing when you understand that waves never actually go anywhere. The water does not travel along with the waves, only along with the current -- two mutually exclusive elements of water animation. If two people stand at either end of a long rope and undulate their arms up and down in an equal rhythm, waves will develop along the length of the rope that appear to move from one end to the other. The rope fibers aren't actually moving at all, other than up and down. This is exactly what is happening with waves. The speed, or velocity of the wave is measured by how long it would take a wave to pass a given point crest to crest -- say a line drawn on the ground beneath the rope. There is a slight movement of the water particles within a wave, Waves can be further described as:

  • Non-Breaking
  • Breaking

A non-breaking wave, is a "normal" rolling wave. A breaking wave is one who's base can no longer support it's top and it collapses. Depending on the size, this can happen with considerable force behind it -- 5 to 10 tons per square yard. Enough force to crush the hull of a ship. When the ratio of steepness of a wave is too great, it must break. This happens when a wave runs into shallow water, or when two wave systems oppose and combine forces



Posted On: May 09, 2019

Checking "under the hood" of his outboard

Boat Safety Checklist For Summer

Good spring prep increases safety and fun for the entire boating season.

Follow these tips to help you build your own list.

  • Check things that might have deteriorated during winter, including exterior wiring connections for navigation lights, dock lines (chafing or freeze damage), life jackets (mold, rotten threads or fabric), paper charts, pipes including cockpit drains that were subject to ice damage, and hose clamps.
  • Move the rudder. If it turns with undue resistance or if there is too much play, find the cause and fix it. Check steering and control systems (cables, control box, linkages, hydraulic systems). Replace swollen, stiff, or rusty control cables.
  • Replace deteriorated zincs. Clean contacts of wires attached inside the hull to zinc bolts. If the wire is corroded at the terminal, replace with tinned boat wire.
  • Check engine oil levels, particularly if your boat was left in the water. High levels may indicate water intrusion that requires work immediately to save the engine. Check oil reservoirs including tilt/trim on outboards, some windlasses, and hydraulic fluid in steering systems.
  • Check that vent hoses haven't become clogged.
  • If your boat has been under cover, check for deck leaks, particularly around wooden areas. Run water from a hose over possible problem areas.
  • Check things that might have deteriorated during winter, including exterior wiring connections for navigation lights, dock lines (chafing or freeze damage), life jackets (mold, rotten threads or fabric), paper charts, pipes including cockpit drains that were subject to ice damage, and hose clamps.
  • Move the rudder. If it turns with undue resistance or if there is too much play, find the cause and fix it. Check steering and control systems (cables, control box, linkages, hydraulic systems). Replace swollen, stiff, or rusty control cables.
  • Check for freeze damage where water may have entered confined areas. Examples are around gel coat cracks, the rudder shaft seal, prop shaft seal, and thru-hull fittings. Examine cored transoms on outboard boats for cracks that could have allowed water into the transom.
  • For I/Os, carefully check the bellows for any deterioration.
  • Check and test communications equipment. Test EPIRB/PLB batteries, and verify that the registration is current. Verify that your MMSI is correctly entered into your DSC radio, and/or update your information at
  • Test navigation equipment. Depth-finder transducers may be damaged by cold, particularly if water has migrated through cracks in the plastic.
  • Load test batteries. Check the electrolyte level and specific gravity if applicable. A simple voltage reading with a volt/ohm meter won't tell the whole story, nor will just testing to see if it can turn over the engine.
  • Replace fire extinguishers if needed. Invert hand-helds, tap hard on the bottom with the palm of your hand, and shake. Do automatic extinguishers need servicing?
  • Replace flares if they show any sign of damage or are outdated.
  • Is your toolbox wet inside from condensation or leaks? Are tools such as pliers and adjustable wrenches rusted?
  • Test bilge pumps and alarms. If the float and alarm switches for your bilge pump(s) can't be activated manually, or you can't reach them, use a hose to fill the bilge enough to see that the pumps and alarms work.
  • Test bilge blowers and check their hoses for tears or disconnected fittings.
  • Check for moisture in the fuel tank. If you didn't leave your tank topped up to almost full with appropriate additives and you've been using E10 gas, you may have water in the tank from condensation and phase separation, which could damage your engine. Draining and replacing the fuel is sometimes needed. If it is, hire a qualified professional. Replace fuel filters even if new.
  • Check fuel lines and fittings. Look for signs of leaks such as discoloring around a fitting. Replace any line or fitting looking impaired, per ABYC and USCG standards or better. Secure any loose lines.
  • Carefully examine the galley stove. Check connections and plugs for the electric stove and check the burners. For gas stoves, check fittings, line, and emergency shutoff solenoid valve and solenoid wire connections at the switch and solenoid.
  • Check end plates of engine heat exchangers for white or greenish discoloration indicating water seeping past seals. Many manufacturers recommend these seals be replaced every year. Check all other water seals, including around the raw-water pump, freshwater pump (where it mates to the front of the block and weep hole underneath). Look for signs of corrosion, salt, or antifreeze residue.
  • Remove antifreeze in drinking lines. Check heads and hot-water heater for cracks, even if you drained them or added antifreeze.
  • Test smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and change batteries.
  • Check prop(s) for dings, bent blades, or damage. Consider sending them to a prop shop for refurbishing. Grab the shaft and try to wiggle it. If there's play, the cutlass bearing needs replacing. Check the hull and all underwater components. If you have a bolted-on keel, check for seepage or signs of rust or other deterioration.
  • Check thru-hull fittings and hoses before launch, lubricate (per the manufacturer's instruction), and work each.
  • Clean raw-water strainers for the engine, generator, air conditioning, head, and any others. Check gaskets and/or O-rings.
  • For waxed twine stuffing boxes for the rudder and prop shaft, replace the twine and tighten. While the seal is disassembled, check the shaft where it's normally concealed by the seal, for crevice corrosion or wear, particularly if the boat sits for long periods without running. Don't over-tighten; a slight drip is OK. Tighten again once you've run the boat, if needed. Inspect "drip-less" shaft seals including the lubricating water hose for free flow of water to the fitting, if you have that type.
  • When the boat is launched, check bilges, all thru-hull fittings, below-water hoses, and any other relevant areas for seepage.
  • Run the engine(s) at the dock at idle, or slow for at least 15 minutes, and then away from the dock, at varying speeds, but within easy towing distance.
  • Sailboats: In addition to the above, check and service winches, furling gear, blocks and cars, all standing rigging before the sails are put on, then check and work all running rigging with the sails on. Check swage fittings for any signs of cracking or other deterioration. Also check tangs on the mast where stays are attached. Check chain plates above and below deck for cracks or other deterioration, and check the structure where plates come through the deck for leakage or deterioration. Look for broken strands in stainless cable. Remove any tape covering turnbuckles or other areas, inspect underneath and replace tape if needed after servicing


Posted On: May 07, 2019

A marine survey can offer a wealth of information about your boat — if you know how to read it.

At some point in the process of buying or selling a boat, you're likely to come across a marine survey. If you're buying a boat, you'll probably hire a marine surveyor to get one. If you're selling a boat, you may see one the buyer has commissioned. This document, which can be a couple of dozen pages long, is a snapshot of the condition and valuation of a boat on a specific day. Think of it this way: Buyers and sellers can speak for themselves, but an independent marine survey speaks for the boat. Because of its depth of information, it has several uses: It's designed to give a potential buyer a clear picture of the condition of the boat with respect to U.S. Coast Guard regulations and nationally recognized standards, to provide a fair market value for the boat, and to document any potentially dangerous deficiencies in the boat's systems.

A marine survey is also a useful tool for buyers when negotiating price based on what repairs or upgrades the boat needs. And finally, insurance and lending companies that need to know the true condition and fair market value of a vessel often require it. Insurance company underwriters carefully read through a marine survey to make a determination as to whether the vessel is a good risk, and may require an owner to address certain deficiencies. To drill down through a marine survey to find out what you need to know, read on.

The Basics

Not all surveys are the same, but they generally begin by describing the boat overall. This part of the survey lists the year, make, model, hull identification number (HIN), and the basic specs of the boat, such as length, beam, and weight. It should also explain the scope of the survey, which describes the limitations. For example, it may say that hard-to-access areas were not inspected, that electronics were only powered up and not tested, or that engines were not part of the survey. From there, the survey goes into meatier stuff. It will document the condition of structural components, such as hull and deck, running gear, bulkheads, and engine beds. Things like the fuel, plumbing, and electrical systems are inspected and discussed with respect to relevant standards; living spaces are inspected; and safety items are noted, such as the existence — or the lack — of carbon-monoxide alarms and fire extinguishers. A good survey is more than just an inventory of the boat's equipment. The surveyor will comment on each section of the inspected boat. Finally, near the end of the survey are the recommendations, arguably the most important part.

The Recommendations

Recommendations are just that — issues the surveyor found on the boat that may need to be addressed. It's the "may" part that's important here. Typically, a surveyor will list recommendations in order of importance, often as A, B, or C. A-list recommendations (more properly called must-dos) are the most important ones to pay attention to, and you can be sure your insurance company will — not just for your boat, but for the safety of you and your crew. These are issues that, unaddressed, can cause your boat to sink, burn, become involved in an accident, or cause serious injury. Even if you're not financing or insuring a boat, these recommendations need to be addressed before the boat is used.

A-List Examples:

  • Worn or damaged below-waterline hoses, seacocks, and thru-hull fittings that pose a sinking hazard
  • AC or DC wiring deficiencies that could cause a fire
  • Lack of or nonfunctioning USCG-required equipment, such as fire extinguishers, flares, or navigation lights
  • Propane system deficiencies that could cause an explosion
  • A vessel with too much horsepower that could make it unstable
  • Lack of operable carbon-monoxide alarms
  • Unsecured batteries or fuel tanks that could break loose and damage the hull, or cause a fire
  • Missing oil-spill and waste-management placards. These are required by law and will be checked during a USCG inspection.

B-List Recommendations:

Tend to include either (1) items that are not an immediate risk but will pose an unacceptable hazard if left uncorrected for too long; or (2) things that may enhance the safety, value, and enjoyment of your boat. Some of these may cross over into A-list recommendations as far as underwriters are concerned, and may also need to be addressed before your boat can be insured. For the most part, they're things you'll want to do, anyway. Here are some examples:

  • Hoses and wires that are chafing or not installed to ABYC standards
  • Worn cutlass or rudder bearings
  • Stiff or corroded steering or control cables
  • Engine maintenance needed to forestall a larger problem
  • Cleats or stanchions that need to be re-bedded to prevent deck-core rot
  • Heavy corrosion on fuel or water tanks

C-List Recommendations:

Generally normal upkeep items that should be addressed as you can. Examples include:

  • Water leaks through ports or hatches
  • Anodes in need of replacement
  • Loose or worn engine belts, hoses, and engine mounts
  • Cosmetic issues
  • Winches in need of service

Keep in mind that while surveyors inspect a boat with an eye toward industry safety standards, such as those written by the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC), they recognize that newer standards were not in place when older boats were built. But some of those standards, like the need for carbon monoxide alarms or proper wiring, are critical enough that insurance underwriters may still require boats to comply with them.

All of the recommendations can be used as negotiation points for buyers. Any purchase contract should specify that a sale may be voided if the survey results are unacceptable to the buyer. In some cases, a seller may choose to do the required repairs before a sale, but make sure the boat is reinspected before the sale is finalized. Typically, surveyors will reinspect specific items for a fee, once the sale is made, and sign off that they have been properly done. If, after the sale, the buyer choses to make the repairs, insurance coverage can begin immediately, while the repairs are in progress. But, either way, the insurance company will usually require a written statement from the owner, or yard bills, to confirm the recommendations have been completed correctly.