Ask The Experts

Solutions from the BoatUS Tech Team

Photo of a 200-hp outboard, plus a 15-hp kicker motor

How To Count A Kicker

How specific is a boat's power rating? If a boat is rated for 200 horsepower and has a 200-hp outboard, plus a 15-hp kicker, is it legally overpowered?

John Adey: Boatbuilders go through a series of calculations and maneuvering tests, taking into account the weight (only on boats less than 26 feet) when stating the horsepower rating on the plate. So, only engines used at the same time would be included in the rating (duals, triples, quads, and at the recent Miami show, quints!). Your 15-hp kicker would be considered part of the "Persons and Gear" weight and should be considered as you load the boat.

Counter Rotation?

I have a Sea Ray 280 with twin 260-hp Mercruisers. The props turn in the same direction. Is it a good idea to switch to counter-rotating props? And do I have to change engines or just the sterndrives, or both? Are there significant advantages to this upgrade?

Don Casey: You can buy a left-hand-rotation sterndrive. The engine would be unchanged; it does not turn in reverse with Alpha drives. As for whether making this change is a good idea, the answer is, probably not. Counterrotation does help with low-speed tracking and handling, but beyond that and maybe the way the wake looks, you're unlikely to notice any significant difference in performance. If you're buying a new boat and have a choice, then counter-rotating props is probably the better way to go, but to go to the trouble and expense of modifying an existing boat, the benefits just aren't there.

Tying Her Down

I'm in the process of building a slip for a 42-foot Kadey-Krogen trawler. How should I attach the cleats to the dock so they have the strength to hold the boat in a storm??

Tom Neale: Not many of us actually build a dock. However, your question is important to most of us because we need to choose where and to what to tie. I prefer to tie my boat to the pilings rather than cleats because that's a much stronger way of doing it. I have very tall pilings so that the boat will be able to survive (hopefully) a hurricane surge. The main mooring pilings are doubled and through-bolted together for extra strength. We tie to those pilings and use TideMinders that allow the boat to rise and fall with extreme tides without changing the lines and that, if rigged correctly, help absorb the shock of high gusts. Obviously pilings should be driven deep into the bottom.

Photo of a TideMinder

If you use cleats, they should be better secured than just through-bolting them through the decking. In my opinion they should be through-bolted with a large heavy backing plate through multiple overlapping-longitudinal stringers that are bolted together. Cleats through-bolted to decking often pull out in storms or pull the deck plank out. You can help minimize this risk by backing the decking, holding the cleats with additional boards that are fastened to stringers to spread the load over a wide area. Cleats should never be just screwed on.

High Energy Coffee?

Which uses less power ... a 12-volt coffeemaker or a 120-volt using an inverter?

Beth Leonard: The two use roughly the same amount of energy measured in watt-hours, though the 120 volts through the inverter will use about 10 percent more due to the inefficiency of converting 12 volts to 120 volts. But energy is not the only consideration here. It takes a lot of power to heat water, and delivering that power at 12 volts takes time. The best 12-volt coffeemakers take 3-5 minutes to make a single cup of coffee and are meant to be connected directly to the batteries. With most home 120-volt coffeemakers, you'll need to have a 1000-watt inverter to handle the power requirements. In the end, it may be easiest to go the old-fashioned way: Heat the water on the stove and use a drip filter or get a stove-top percolator.

Panel Placement

The electrical panel on my Helms 27 backs up to the diesel holding tank. I was told a spark or arc from the back of the panel could ignite the diesel if there was a leak. I thought the flash point for diesel was something like 140 degrees F.

John Adey: You're correct, depending on the diesel fuel, the flash points are between 100–140 degrees F, with gasoline at -45 degrees! In gasoline spaces, we'd require that electrical devices be "isolated" from the gasoline space or "ignition protected," which means they've been tested not to ignite a flammable mixture. In the case of diesel, this is not an issue; therefore your panel is fine as is. Unintended open flames and sparks are never a good thing on a boat, so keeping the panel in good order (tight, clean connections) is always good practice.

Frightening Lightning

I live aboard a 27-foot Albin Vega sloop. One of my big concerns is a lightning strike. Returning home from the Bahamas in June, I went through a horrible squall about 40 miles offshore from Florida with cloud-to-water lightning crashing all around (but fortunately not hitting the boat). I'm headed south again for a few months and was curious if there was any validity to the lightning "dissipation" systems marketed. I've heard grounding my vessel to the water will actually make my boat, with a deck-stepped mast, more likely to get hit.

Tom Neale: Of the many areas of concern about getting hit by lightning on a boat, three stand out in my mind:

1. Not getting hit in the first place.

I've seen boats get hit when they were well-grounded, not grounded at all, and "protected" by various devices. We had a "bottle brush" protector on our mast and were hit a few inches from it. We've been in the ocean and had lightning hit the waves beside us, but not our boat with a 63-foot mast. We saw a small trawler anchored in the Bahamas surrounded by sailboats, probably most of which were grounded, and only the trawler was hit.

2. Minimizing damage when you're hit.

While there's little evidence that you can prevent a strike, or that you can induce a strike, for that matter, there's a vast amount of evidence that a straight, low-resistance path to ground will go a long way toward limiting the damage. My main concern is that if hit, the voltage finds ground (the sea) with minimum resistance. The more resistance, the more it's likely to jump about seeking a way out, and in the process do much more damage. This means straight, relatively safe conductive runs to ground.

Also, we stay away from stays, large hunks of metal, and antennae, and wear rubber boots if on deck and rubber gloves if at the wheel. A steel boat, in my opinion, is safer because the entire boat is a conductive path to ground.

3. Damage control.

If hit, assume that you've got damage. Immediately, if safe to do so, start checking. It isn't uncommon for lightning to blow holes below the waterline, ranging from many pinholes to blowing through-hull fittings out. Also, fires and loss of electronics are common. Hopefully you'll still have a working radio, with which you should call for help or to advise the Coast Guard. Get the boat hauled for careful inspection and survey as soon as you can. Damage may not manifest until months or more after the strike.

Shoot-Through Transducer

I have a 24-foot Rampage with Furuno Navnet system. I want to add a fishfinder. I bought a black box and a 1-kw sounder, which is huge. How can I install it inside the hull? Do I just glass it in?

Don Casey: I think you're talking about the Furuno In-Hull transducer that comes with a mounting tank. With this type of unit, the tank is epoxied solidly, without any air pockets or bubbles, to the inside of the hull in some location where it will have a clear shot to the seabed. Then the tank gets filled with mineral oil, with the transducer submerged in that. This type of installation can work well with a solid hull, but some Rampage boats have cored hulls. A shoot-through transducer won't work through core, so you first need to know whether you have a solid or cored hull. If it's solid, the usual trick to finding a good spot for the installation is to put the connected transducer in a freezer bag full of water and lay the bag solidly against the hull in various spots with the transducer vertical to see what kind of readings you get. You are simulating the final installation, with the transducer submerged in a liquid inside the hull. This is best tested in fairly deep water to make sure shooting through doesn't decrease the vitality of the ping so much it reduces the depth capability.

Inverter vs. Generator

Can I use an inverter instead of a generator? Can the inverter recharge the batteries at the same time it is providing 110 volts to the boat? My boat doesn't have room for a generator, and I'm looking for alternatives.

Don Casey: It sounds like you have a misunderstanding of what an inverter does. A power inverter changes direct current (DC) into alternating current (AC). This is the "inverse" of an AC-to-DC converter, hence the name inverter. Neither device generates power; they're strictly power-in/power-out devices with a small loss due to inefficiencies.

You'll see "inverter/chargers" advertised in magazines and catalogs. These are power converters that can operate in either direction. Connect one side to a DC power source (your 12-volt battery) and the inverter will make 110-volt AC power available at its outlets. But the power that's running anything you plug into the inverter is being drawn from the battery. It's worth mentioning that a 1,200-watt inverter operating at full capacity can supply 10 amps at 120 volts AC, but because the power source is 12-volt, the DC current draw is going to exceed 100 amps — a load similar to what an engine starter motor draws.

For the inverter/charger to work as a charger, the AC side becomes the source with the output in DC. In this case, the inverter/charger must be plugged into an AC source, either an outlet ashore or the output from an onboard generator. An inverter isn't an alternative to a generator.

No Speed Astern

I'm having a problem shifting into reverse. Attempted cures have included replacing the sterndrive and cable, to no avail. I'm afraid that the force needed to shift will break something and leave us stranded. Does the shift lever have a detent and could that be the root of the problem?

Tom Neale: Yes, there could be a positioning notch for the shift lever, but there also could be linkage issues that replacing the cable wouldn't have addressed. Try disconnecting the cable from the shift lever at the engine, and shifting the engine lever into reverse. (You may have to start the engine to do this, so be careful.) If the problem occurs, you know it's probably in the transmission or another connection on the engine.

Depending on your engine?s setup, there may be several linkages between that visible shift lever, to which the cable is attached, and the actual transmission. If the problem doesn't occur, then you?ll know the problem is likely upstream. Try disconnecting the cable at the console control and shifting that control to reverse. If it's still hard to shift, there's probably something wrong, such as a bent or damaged part in the shift control. Disassemble it and take a look, lubricating according to manufacturer specs.

Depending on your console control, this could be a very complex job and a distorted part may be associated with safety mechanisms, so it may be best to replace the entire unit. If the shift lever goes back easily, then the problem is probably "downstream" between the console control and the engine. There could be multiple causes. For example, you may have too sharp a bend in the cable, which you can?t readily see, or someone may have used a cable clamp that's too tight, squeezing the sheathing.

Under Pressure

Photo of venting cap for fuel tank

My boat always burned dramatically more fuel than I think it should. The gas filler cap fell off its chain, and I lost it. I replaced the filler cap and then went on vacation and did not use the boat for almost two weeks. When I returned, I noticed the lid to the fuel-tank access, on the deck, had popped up. This used to happen years ago, and I knew just what to do. I loosened the hose clamp on one of the hoses going into what I think is the fuel tank, and pulled it off the barb. There was a loud "whoosh" and a spray of mostly air mixed with gasoline. I replaced the hose and hose clamp. That day my fuel consumption was dramatically down. I used maybe half the gasoline I expected to use. Any guesses?

John Adey: I'm going to assume this is a traditional fuel system (see the note below). If your tank is swelling under the heat of the day, the fuel is expanding with no way to get out. It's the same thing as if you left a plastic jerry can in the sun with no vent. It blows up like a balloon! I'm confused about why removing the fill cap did not release the pressure without removing the hose. Many fills are a fill/vent combination with the cap serving the job that a separate vent usually does. This cap is very specific to the fill; just because the cap fits, it doesn't mean it's the right one. If this is a fill/vent combination, then my guess is that the cap you installed is generic and doesn't allow the tank to vent. Check the part number and order the proper cap that incorporates the venting. If the vent is severely clogged/blocked, the engine will not be able to pull fuel and will eventually stall out.

Photo of connecting the fuel hose

I can't make the connection with fuel efficiency here. I believe you have fuel loss. You didn't mention the engine type (for example, inboard/outboard) but my guess is, the pressure in the tank is pushing fuel through the carburetor and into the water/bilge while you're away. In an inboard you'd most certainly smell it during your pre-start check; in an outboard you may never see it!

So, locate your vent line, check for kinks, clogs, proper cap, and so on. ABYC standards require that all connections in the fuel system be "accessible," which could mean they're under a plate or panel, so you should be able to inspect all of these. Watch the vapor that comes out, it is HIGHLY FLAMMABLE. Take extreme caution with this job. My guess is, removing the cap will serve the same purpose as removing the fuel line. One last word of caution: Constant removal/replacement of the fuel line will eventually make that connection unreliable and may cause a leak. Fully inspect that connection and replace if needed.

DANGER: Working with fuel (especially under any kind of pressure) will likely cause injury or death by explosion. Never disconnect fuel lines while there's any pressure in the system. A slow removal of a fuel cap to allow vapor to escape is your best method of pressure relief. A concentrated fuel/air mixture is highly explosive. Even a slight static discharge could cause a catastrophic event.

New (post-2011 or so) fuel systems have many more components than their predecessors and come in different varieties. Valving, carbon canisters, and specialized caps have been added for automatic shutoff activation and environmental considerations. NEVER attempt a repair on one of these systems. Have a qualified (ABYC-certified, or trained by the fuel system/boat manufacturer) repair technician do this work for you.

Fiberglass Forever?

Can you please tell me if a fiberglass hull can be repaired to its original or better state if it's been severely damaged, such as a hole cut into the hull? Is a thicker hull better than a thinner hull? And once the hole in the hull is repaired, is it disconcerting that a hollow sound exists after tapping with a screwdriver?

Tom Neale: A great thing about fiberglass is that usually it can be repaired, even if it's been holed, to as good as new or better. A very hard impact to a hull may not only make a hole, but cause layer separation, or delamination, far from the point of impact, and this would also have to be repaired. But if it's just a localized hole or damage, the repair could be relatively simple. There are very specific steps, techniques, and procedures that must be followed to properly repair a hull; these depend on circumstances. West System sells complete kits and materials, which are well matched to each other as to compatibility and are specifically suited to particular jobs.

The type of construction of the "fiberglass hull" is important, as is the type of repair. In my experience, a thicker hull is generally easier to repair than a thinner hull. Most hulls, particularly thin hulls, are supported in part by liners, stringers, bulkheads, and so on. A good repair must deal with any weakening of bonding between hull and these components and any impairment to these components. A hollow sound could be simply the sound of the hull where your tapping has moved away from the stringers or bulkheads. These structural components make a much more solid sound when you tap close to them and the sound becomes more hollow as you move away. But it could also indicate voids within the hull, delamination, or blisters, which could indicate inherent problems existing before the damage, or that the damage extends out from the point of impact. Get a qualified surveyor to check out the boat before you use it.  

— Published: June/July 2013

When Distributing Weight, Beware

The 4th of July offers one of boating's great pleasures — watching fireworks from the water. But a few precautions are in order.

In recent years we've seen boating tragedies caused by poor weight distribution or loading, even on powerboats in the 30-foot range. This is especially true during holidays such as the 4th of July, when fireworks displays create compelling opportunities to fill our boats with family and friends to take in the spectacle. But when overloaded boats tip beyond a critical point, they can capsize or rapidly take on water. Here are some tips to stay safe.

Every boat 20 feet or less has a plate showing the manufacturer's designed maximum capacity, including weight. If yours is missing, find out what it is, and take that number seriously, especially on unballasted powerboats. If one of your guests is unusually heavy, reduce capacity. Even if your load is less than max capacity, or you have a boat larger than 20 feet, beware of weight distribution. Avoid everyone moving to one side, or one end, to see something such as fireworks or a big fish. Some powerboats have seating in the bow, yet too much weight there while running adversely affects a boat's balance, steering, and ability to plane, and can also create the danger of flooding over the bow.

Allowing too many people on the flybridge, or other high areas, quickly changes an unballasted boat's center of gravity, making it susceptible to capsize. Fore and aft weight distribution is important, too. For example, too many people astern can cause flooding through the outboard cutout or over the transom, especially when the boat is hit by a wave, or wash from other boats in a harbor of festivities.

Carefully distribute heavy objects, keeping them low, secured, and centered if possible. Large coolers filled with liquid on center console-sized boats can cause quick flooding from wakes if placed in a stern quarter, especially if you add several adults. If you carry an extra or heavier anchor and chain, stow and secure it low in the boat, where it doesn't adversely affect stability. Consider the fullness of your fuel and water tanks, or bait/fish wells, which impact weight distribution. If you experience sluggish steering, unusual trim when your boat is running, or unusual responses when you turn the wheel, stop and figure out if you have a loading problem. Don't attempt to “correct” improper weight distribution with trim tabs.


Meet the Experts

Photo of Beth Leonard

Beth Leonard
BoatUS Magazine's technical editor, Beth Leonard, grew up powerboating, waterskiing, and fishing on Lake Ontario. Since 1992, she and her husband have completed two circumnavigations on two sailboats, doing all maintenance themselves. They also installed the systems on their 47-foot aluminum sloop. Beth has written The Voyager's Handbook, the how-to bible for offshore sailors, and hundreds of technical articles.

Photo of Tom Neale

Tom Neale
He's cruised long distance with his family for most of his adult life. He can take apart and fix almost every system aboard, has written two books, filmed a two-set DVD on East Coast cruising, written for top marine magazines, and has won nine first-place awards from Boating Writers International and many awards for his technical writing.

Photo of Don Casey

Don Casey
One of the most consulted experts on boat care and upgrades for 30 years. He and his wife cruise their 30-footer part of the year in the eastern Caribbean. His books include Don Casey's Complete Illustrated Sailboat Maintenance Manual, and the recently updated This Old Boat, the bible for do-it-yourself boaters.

Photo of John Adey

John Adey
The president of the American Boat & Yacht Council, John has been in the industry since 1990, with experience from a yacht brokerage and boatyard to owning a marine supply store. He and his family sail their classic 1976 Irwin ketch, a boat he completely restored.


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