Blog June 2020

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CHANGING YOUR OUTBOARD'S ENGINE OIL

Posted On: June 30, 2020

Make your routine fluid changes as painless as possible.

With any maintenance procedure, the easier it is to do, the more likely it is to get done. So rather than put off changing your engine oil or transmission fluid, take a few moments to master the procedure so you'll stop dreading it in the future. Such tasks are necessary, of course, to keep your systems running, but routine fluid changes can also provide opportunities to spot signs of potential problems, such as wear or contamination, before they can morph into catastrophic failure — and equally catastrophic repair bills.


Part of your oil-changing routine should be inspecting the old oil once it's drained. Oil that's milky in appearance is an indication that water, antifreeze, or fuel is present, which could mean anything from a blown gasket to a cracked block. Rub a little engine oil between your fingers. If it feels abrasive or has a burnt odor, be concerned about bearing wear, although it could also simply mean that the oil hasn't been changed in a while.


The specific steps for your outboard will be outlined in your manual, but the basic process is: Drain, Change, Replace, Fill.

  • Photo of removing or installing oil drain screw
    Photo of draining oil into catch pan

1. Drain the old. This Suzuki has a drain plug you can access easily. Other models will require an oil extractor that goes through the dipstick.

2. Pass the working end up through the overhand loop as shown.

  • Photo of removing lower cowl from Suzuki engine
    Photo of removing oil filter

3. Change the oil filter. On this engine, part of the cowling needs to come off to get at the oil filter.

4. Remove the old filter carefully to minimize spills.

  • Photo of installing a new oil filter
    Photo of adding new engine oil

5. Replace with a new filter. Lube the O-ring at the top with a bit of new oil. Replace the drain plug if you removed it.

6. Add new engine oil. The amount and type are specified in your manual. 

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GET THERE ON COURSE

Posted On: June 25, 2020

Here's an excerpt of a great past article from BoatUS.


A Low-Tech Necessity

Compasses, used on boats for centuries, work because a permanently magnetized needle always points to north, irrespective of the position of the boat. Many boaters think that, in these days of modern electronic-charting aids, compasses are no longer needed. Nothing could be further from the truth. A magnetic compass requires no electricity to operate, so it could be the one piece of navigational equipment that still operates on your boat when the proverbial you-know-what hits the fan.

As the boat turns, the compass continues to point at magnetic north, and the course is shown (relative to magnetic north) in reference to a line, which represents the boat's heading. A compass has what is known as the "card," divided into 360 degrees. Thus, if the card reads 90 degrees, you will be steering a course due east; 180, due south; and so on.

For a compass to work well, it has to be correctly installed and properly adjusted. Unfortunately, on a large number of boats, the compass has been installed incorrectly. And with the ever-increasing strain on dashboard real estate, the compass is often pushed out, literally. Electrical interference from chartplotters, radios, speakers, and other electronic aids may affect compasses if they are too close to each other, so an effort should be made to keep these as far away from the main steering compass as possible. A good minimum is 12 inches.

The skipper needs to be able to easily see the main steering compass. This usually means that it must be placed directly in front of the helm position with what is known as the lubber line — two pins or some type of marking — parallel to the centerline of the boat. The skipper merely glances down to see the course being steered.

When North Is Not North

In a perfect world, a compass would always point to true north, but there are factors that make this not so. Two errors have to be accounted for: variation and deviation. Magnetic north is not the same as true north, and this difference is written on the compass rose on the chart of the area you're cruising. This difference, in degrees, between true and magnetic, is known as variation, which must be compensated for when plotting a position.

A nautical chart has two compass roses, one inside the other. The outer one always points to true north, and the inner shows, in degrees and minutes, the variation in the area, either east or west of true north. Variation, which is caused by differences in Earth's structure, differs from area to area and changes by a very small amount each year. This is annotated on the chart inside the inner compass rose. For example, variation changes from about 16 degrees west in Maine to 6 degrees in Florida and 0 degrees in Louisiana.

The other compass error that must be accounted for is deviation. Deviation refers to errors in the compass itself that cannot be adjusted out. Factors that affect deviation include nearby boat electronics, electrical wiring, metal fittings, and radio equipment. Other things, such as the boat's engine, may also affect deviation. Anything magnetic (such as speakers) placed close by will surely increase deviation. To calculate the error in the compass, it must be "swung," whereby the boat is put on several known headings that are checked against the compass reading. This is typically done by lining up a set of transit marks and comparing the boat's course to the indicated reading. Any error is corrected by adjusting the built-in magnets on the compass, which are attached to compensator rods.

To keep track of compass deviation, you'll need a deviation card, which shows the difference in degrees between the compass reading and the actual course shown on the compass. Compasses that are professionally adjusted will be supplied with a card. But if you do the adjustments yourself, you need to make up your own card. Deviation should be no more than a few degrees on each heading, while variation could be quite a bit more, depending on location. Both deviation and variation (each of which may be added or subtracted) must either be accounted for when working out the plot on the chart or when communicating a compass course to steer to the helmsman.

No-Pressure Practice

Practice steering a compass course rather than following the chartplotter. It takes some getting used to, but when you need it, you'll know how to do it. You'll have more situational awareness and less strain on your eyes. On a sailboat, an added bonus is that steering by compass can keep you attuned to the wind. As the wind shifts, you may be able to harden up or crack off a few degrees, rather than trying to follow that line on the plotter. Novice helmsmen often complain that the compass is constantly moving, but it's worth remembering that the compass does not move. It's the boat that's moving!

A properly installed and adjusted compass is a valuable navigation tool. Buy the best one your budget will allow, and take good care of it. You'll be rewarded with years of service and accurate
navigation

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GETTING IT IN GEAR

Posted On: June 23, 2020

A quick review of shifting gears and smoothly working the controls and throttle.

Shifting gears and throttle control are two skills that, in conjunction with steering-wheel control, will dictate how well you handle your boat. If you drive a car, you're used to working the gears and using a gas pedal, so it's tempting to ask, how different can it really be? Well, if you've ever been to a busy dock area, especially on a windy day, you already know the answer. There are a variety of shift and throttle controls on boats; some have separate controls, some combine them. Here we'll use a control that combines both functions into a single lever.

Shifting gears is all about smoothly and decisively working the controls to avoid lurching or picking up too much speed. Sudden or excessive throttle adjustments can lead to loss of control and cause your boat to strike the dock or another boat, so your goal is to shift into gear without exceeding idle rpm. Remember, "slow is pro," and everything you need to do to properly control your boat can be done at idle speed. Shifting from neutral should be done decisively, but without exceeding idle throttle. If you shift too slowly, you'll probably hear the gears grind. If you shift too far and begin to throttle up too quickly, you'll make the boat lunge and give your passengers an unwelcome surprise (or worse, an unexpected swim).

If you're moving from forward to reverse (or reverse to forward), always allow for a pause in neutral, long enough to say "one-one-thousand," before shifting to the next gear. Shifting too quickly can cause the engine to stall or damage the transmission.

Practice makes perfect and one simple first step you can rehearse is to find the wheel and throttle by hand, without looking. This will help build muscle memory for the ergonomics of your boat. You should also pay close attention to the sound of the transmission as you shift gears, and the change in sound of the engine as you raise or lower the throttle. Watch how your boat responds to your shift and throttle movements, and feel where the throttle changes from forward to neutral to reverse.

In close quarters, staying in gear too long or using too much throttle results in more boat speed than necessary, which forces the driver to take corrective action, and can easily turn into a series of over-corrections. By using short applications of throttle, you should be able to maintain better control of your boat's motion, and give yourself time to maneuver. Short shifts buy you the time to decide what you need to do next.

Practice Low Speed Control

Engage forward gear at idle speed for one second only, then return to neutral to assess your situation.
Engage reverse gear at idle speed for two to three seconds only, then return to neutral to assess your situation. (Boats aren't as efficient in reverse as they are in forward; that's why you can be in gear for a slightly longer time.)
When in neutral, pause several seconds so that you can assess your situation before shifting into gear.
When in gear, do not raise the throttle; stay at idle rpm

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NEW TO BOATING?

Posted On: June 18, 2020

Remember to "Walk Before Your Run"

Ease into the boating lifestyle with short trips that don’t take you too far afield. You don’t need to start off with a long-distance cruise or an overnight camping trek right off the bat. Most people will be best off if they build up to bigger trips by starting with smaller, shorter ones that help build confidence.

You’ll quickly figure out what sorts of provisions and gear are best to keep on hand, how to respond to different situations that may arise out on the water, and how long the crew enjoys different activities before a change of pace is due. As any parent can probably guess, this is particularly important if you have kids.

Check the Weather

Pick your weather carefully. Although we’d all like to go boating each and every time the schedule allows, it is an activity that Mother Nature has a big impact on. If a stiff breeze or thunderstorms are in the forecast, it’s best to keep your powder dry and wait for a better window of opportunity.

Life Jackets for Everyone!

Pick out life jackets that are comfortable, not because they’re the cheapest option available. Again, this is particularly important if you have kids. Ill-fitting or poorly designed life jackets will grow less and less comfortable as the day wears on, and there are so many types and choices these days that it’s quite easy to find a comfy life jacket for anyone of any size or age.

Slow Down for Waves

This may sound a bit simplistic, but the truth of the matter is that after hopping over a few small waves, most new boaters leave the throttle open for larger and larger ones—right up until they hit the one so big that it hurts. Remember that wave impacts are often worse for the passengers than they are for the captain, who is more likely to see the wave coming and be prepared for the impact. So if you’re running the boat and you feel a thump, other people aboard may have felt a slam or a bang.

The solution is quite simple: pull back on the throttle, before the boat hits big waves.

Learn How to Adjust the Trim


When you get your boat up and running, play with the trim a bit to find the boat’s “sweet spot.” Many inexperienced boaters forget all about trimming, because the boat seems to be running just fine. And it may well be running just fine. Play with the trim, however, and you’ll almost always discover that it could be running even better. Trimming will change how the hull meets the waves, can affect speed and maneuverability, and can make the ride a lot more (or less) comfortable.

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SO YOU FELL IN LOVE WITH BOATING?

Posted On: June 16, 2020

Now that you have decided to embrace the boating lifestyle, you'll want to establish a budget so you can start building and prioritizing your wish list. That budget will likely be a key factor in the decision to buy a new or pre-owned boat. Either way, the considerations for size and type of boat will be the same.

When it comes to determining the right size for your boat, there are a number of factors to consider:

  • People: How many people will you regularly have on board? Will you host just your immediate family or will you bring extended family and friends?
  • Towing: If you are trailering your boat, keep in mind that the size of boat will directly impact the size of the vehicle needed to tow it.
  • Location: Think about where you’ll be using the boat. If you’re planning to boat on larger waterways, then a slightly larger boat with a deeper hull might make more sense. Smaller waterways or shallow water might require a smaller vessel.
  • Storage: If you are storing your boat at the marina, boat size will likely impact monthly storage costs. If you are storing it at your personal dock, what space constraints already exist? You’ll also want to talk to your dealer or marina manager about the potential need for winter storage
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FOR THE BIRDS

Posted On: June 11, 2020

Turns out an extended number of the bird family are more than happy to take a perch, or hover over your boat as though it had a flashing neon restroom sign on it.

When it comes to outwitting them, the birdbrain tends to belong to the humans.

The results, like the birds, were large and varied.

Unfortunately what seemed to work great for one boater had little effect for another, but clearly birds were a big problem.

West Marine sells 13 different items ranging from tape that starts at $5, to bird-repelling spikes ($20+), to a multi-speaker system that emits prerecorded distress calls of geese and runs on a loop every 10 minutes, for $150.

Here are some do-it-yourself ideas:

  • Stop feeding the birds. It might seem obvious but when you throw seagulls or other birds bread near your boat, they'll keep coming back.
  • Plastic owls work great for some, but problems include the owl blowing away or the birds getting used to it and coming back. One reader wrote that hanging an owl from the spreader, so it moved slightly, made it more effective.
  • Cormorants tend to like being high up (sorry, sail boaters) so one reader found covering the top of the mast with tacks stuck through sail repair tape did the trick. Before you say that's cruel, our reader pointed out it was no different from a thorny branch.
  • Stringing monofilament line on favorite boat perches has worked well for many. Just don't tangle yourself up in it, and don't let it fall overboard. Recycle if you can, and otherwise, dispose of it in covered receptacles.
  • Pinwheels, multicolored flags, and shiny string or ribbon festooned around the boat is another good tip to try.
  • Large wind-driven "rotors" work well, as do bird "spiders." They're easy to put on the hardtop, bow, or back deck, and easy to stow when it's time to use the boat.
  • A large feather duster (preferably ostrich) stuck in a box on the deck allegedly worked for one reader.
  • Got trouble with birds of the webbed feet variety? Hot sauce diluted in water on the final wash down where your unwanted guests like to walk is said to keep them off the boat. No word on whether it'll repel the visitors you want onboard, too.
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BOAT CLUBS & RENTALS REACT TO COVID 19 CONCERNS

Posted On: June 09, 2020

Many Boat Clubs add special cleaning in response to Covid-19 concerns.

Do I Need to Disinfect the Boat?

Many boat cubs, like Freedom and Carefree Boat Clubs—along with other rental and club organizations have made disinfecting their boats between uses a standard practice, at least for the time being.

In any case, you may want to disinfect the boat prior to use for your own peace of mind. If so, remember:

  • Wear nitrile or latex gloves prior to disinfecting the boat.
  • Wipe down solid surfaces with EPA approved disinfectants.
  • Some approved disinfectants, like bleach or acids, can harm certain surfaces of a boat. So make sure you’re using product that’s safe for boats and be particularly careful about the canvass and vinyls. These are a bit more susceptible to damage from chemicals.
  • Rinse down the entire boat after disinfecting, to make sure chemicals don’t remain behind.

Some peer to peer services may be a bit less regulated. However, most people are being pro-active and doing what they feel is best for the boating community.


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THUNDERSTORM STRATEGY

Posted On: June 04, 2020

Powerful, dangerous, highly unpredictable — all are common descriptions of lightning storms. A direct strike that results only in ringing ears and a few roasted electronics would be considered lucky. Unlucky would be through-hulls blown out, a sunk boat or worse — possibly serious injury or death.

A strategy of boating only on sunny, cloudless days may work well in places like Idaho and California, but that would mean almost never using the boat in places such as Florida, Louisiana and much of the Midwest. For example, most of Florida — the Sunshine State — has at least 70 to 80 thunderstorm days per year, with some parts having more than 100 thunderstorm days per year (with increased activity during the summer months).

Boaters should track VHF, Internet and television weather reports and make responsible decisions about whether to go boating depending on the likelihood of lightning storms. Short-term forecasts can actually be fairly good at predicting bigger storms, but small, localized storms might not be reported. This is when knowing how to read the weather yourself can come in handy. (The U.S. Power Squadrons offers great weather courses for boaters, and there are many books that cover the basics.)

Lightning strikes typically occur in the afternoon. (Florida estimates 70 percent occur between noon and 6 p.m.) A towering buildup of puffy, cotton-white clouds that rise to the customary flat “anvil” top is a good indication to clear the water and seek shelter — or move out of the storm’s path if possible. That’s if the storm is at least somewhat off in the distance (most storms are about 15 miles in diameter and can build to dangerous levels in fewer than 30 minutes). If lightning and thunder are present, just count the seconds between the lightning and corresponding thunder and then divide by 5 — this will provide a rough estimate of how many miles away the storm is.

We all learn in grade school that it is not safe to be outside during a lightning storm. We also learned that lightning seeks the highest point, and on the water that's the top of the boat — typically a mast, antenna, Bimini top, fishing rod in a vertical rod holder or even the tallest person in an open boat. If possible, find a protected area out of the wind and drop anchor. If the boat has an enclosed cabin, people should be directed to go inside and stay well away from metal objects, electrical outlets and appliances (it's a good idea to don life jackets too). Side flashes can jump from metal objects to other objects — even bodies — as they seek a path to water.

Lowering antennas, towers, fishing rods and outriggers is also advised, unless they’re part of a designated lightning-protection system. Some boaters also like to disconnect the connections and power leads to their antennas and other electronics, which are often damaged or destroyed during a strike or near strike.

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