Hose Handling

By Tom Neale, 2/2/2012


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Dealing with hose problems on your boat can be a bloody, angering, frustrating disaster. They clog up, they leak where they shouldn’t, they leak where they should, they won’t come off when you need them to and they do come off when you don’t need them to. Hoses are a big deal on a boat.

If your hose is clogged it could be from some piece of trash sucked in from overboard, a piece of trash which went down the sink drain, soap and grease or whatever. Usually these clogs are a fairly straight-forward fix. A clog from a sink, shower or scupper drain can often be fixed with that handy plumber’s helper you should have aboard. Like many other household tools, the plunger is also great on a boat. A high pressure squirt with a dock hose may also clear it. However, usually you shouldn’t pour in a household product that’s designed to dissolve waste, because your drain isn’t going to be household plumbing. It’ll probably be hose and possibly hose that could be damaged by pour-in products. I’m going to discreetly leave the subject of head hoses for another time. I don’t want to even think about that today.

Cracked exhaust hose with rusty wire insert.
One hose issue that people often overlook is that sometimes the inner lining will separate from the outer walls. This is most likely to occur in a suction house, as you might find on the raw water intake for your engine(s). The water, as it is flowing past that area, gets under the loose lining and billows it out, impeding or completely blocking the flow. When you shut down the engine or whatever and look into the pipe, all seems fine because the lining has returned to its place, since there is no more suction and fast flowing water. If you have an unexplained stoppage and you can’t figure out anything else, consider this as a possibility. The only thing you can do to fix it is to replace the hose, but if that’s your problem you obviously need to do that anyway.

Another issue often overlooked is deterioration of wire inserts. These will often be found within the hose wall to keep the hose from collapsing when making a sharp bend. You know when you have them (if you didn’t already) when you cut a hose and ruin your knife when you try to saw against the insert. Usually you must use a wire cutter or hack saw. And cutting them requires extra care because many of us have a tendency to follow the insert with the cutting tool, resulting in a very uneven cut. I prefer not to have wire inserts, but sometimes they’re necessary. Eventually water is going to permeate the hose wall and reach the wire inserts. This can cause them to break inside and weaken the hose, as well as sometimes breaching the inner or outer wall, causing a leak. Once again, the only thing you can do as a practical matter is to replace the hose. You can temporarily patch a seeping hose with a product such as Rescue Tape, but that’s not the ultimate solution. The wire will continue to rust and deteriorate and do a number on your hose’s integrity. The point here is that it’s important to recognize this as a possibility and to keep an eye out for the problem. Symptoms include a crinkling sound when you bend the hose, rusty areas outside the hose surface, and, of course, leaks through the hose surface.

Regardless of your problem, you’re likely to have to remove hoses from barbs. I haven’t found a hose yet that didn’t eventually stiffen and clamp around barbs. This is fine, because you don’t want the hose to slip off and hose clamps aren’t forever, but it can be a real pain when you’ve got to pull the hose free. To make matters worse, you probably won’t have a lot of clearance around the barb so your hands are in danger of being mutilated, and if you exert too much force you may break the barb or break something nearby if the hose decides to let go its death grip when you’re not expecting it.

Boil some water in a large pot. Place a towel, hand towel or wash cloth in the water. What you use will depend on the size of the hose and its location. Carefully remove the towel after it’s thoroughly soaked and heated. Obviously you don’t want to burn yourself but you do want the hose to be hot. I use gloves suitable for the purpose. Next, wrap the towel around the hose end that you want to remove from the barb. Let it sit for a few moments. The amount of time you let it sit depends on the size, thickness and tightness of the hose and the ambient temperature. If you let it sit too long the hose will begin to cool down and stiffen again and you’ll need to repeat the process, but that’s no big deal. Usually this will soften the hose enough for you to pull it from the barb. I’ve also used (very carefully) heat guns and even hair dryers to heat the hose, working the gun around and around the hose to heat it evenly. If you can do the job with a towel I think it’s better because there will be less chance of burning the hose or overheating it which may make it brittle, and less chance of creating an electrical crisis. Also, it’s much easier to spread the heat evenly around. You usually don’t have clearance to move a heat gun all around the hose.

Tom’s Tips on Hose Clamps

1. Although hose clamps are set up for use with a straight slot screwdriver, they can also be torqued with a socket wrench.

2. Have a socket wrench, of the correct size, handy when you go to work. The screwdriver may be faster and may require less clearance, but sometimes the socket wrench will do a better job more easily.

Click Here for More Tips

Putting the hose back on can also be a problem, but seldom as bad as removing it. Heating the hose helps, again, as long as you don’t heat it so much that you make it brittle. This can destroy the hose and perhaps sink your boat. I prefer to stick it in a small bucket of hot water for this purpose.

Some people will spread grease around the barb and inside the hose to make it slide on easier. This isn’t a good idea because the grease will stay there and perhaps make it slide off easier when you don’t want it to. Also, some hose material can be damaged by some oil based products. I use dishwashing soap. It lubes the surfaces very well and eventually “goes away” after you’ve gotten the hose on, so you don’t have to worry about it. Whatever product you use, be sure to avoid getting it on the outside of the hose which you’ll need to grip tightly, and be sure to have ample rags handy so that you can remove it from your hands before you grab that hose.

Use only good hose clamps. The cheap ones are not all stainless and even the stainless band may be of such quality that often it’ll corrode through and break, usually where you seldom see it, such as around the shaft log. They also have sharp edges which can cut the hose, not to mention you. I use only AWAB clamps. I think they’re worth it. I also use good work gloves when I am working with clamps or trying to pull off the hose. Saves a lot of blood.

Remember that many hoses on your boat are below the water line and a breach in the hose or connection can sink your boat. Even if a hose is mostly above the water line, if it breaks or disconnects, it may slip down below the waterline and, if the other end opens to the water, it could still sink your boat.



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