AskTheExperts

Solutions from the BoatUS Tech Team

 

Dangerous Fumes

Published: April/May 2014

Boat tools illustration
Photo: Bill Roche

The last two times I fueled my 2001 C-Hawk center console, I could smell gas fumes from under the console. With all doors and hatches open, the fumes dissipated after a few hours. Finding no evidence of a fuel leak, my mechanic says the fuel hoses on a 2001 boat weren't made to handle ethanol and could be deteriorating. Do you agree, and if so, do you feel I should replace all the fuel hoses with ones made to handle ethanol?

 


Don Casey: No, and yes. Proper fuel hoses, marked "J1527", have been compatible with ethanol-containing fuel since the early '90s. However, that doesn't make them impervious to aging. Manufacturers typically assign a 10-year lifespan to gasoline hoses. That makes replacing the fuel hoses on your 2001 boat a good precaution. Hopefully that will solve your problem. Gasoline fumes can be an extremely dangerous condition, so if the smell persists after replacing hoses, find the source before continuing to use this boat.

Stopping Surge

We've had major damage to our inverter-charger following a thunderstorm. Two years ago, we had a large claim with similar damage involving much of our electronics as well. Most recently, the boat was plugged into shore power but the batteries were switched off, so just the battery charger and inverter were damaged. Would a surge protector help avoid damage in the future? I leave the boat unplugged when a storm is predicted, but the last one snuck up on us.

 


Beth Leonard: First of all, with lightning there are no guarantees. But a good surge-protection system might prevent more damage. There are a couple of grades of surge protection. The little ones, often used in home power strips, use metal oxide varisters (MOV) that fail pretty quickly in a surge situation and are unlikely to provide adequate protection in your situation. Industrial-strength surge protectors, known as WVRs (Wide Voltage Range), work differently and have a better track record of protecting delicate electronics from "normal" power surges. These also provide some protection from lightning surges, though a direct lightning strike could still overwhelm them. For a detailed description of MOV vs. WVR technology and a discussion of the products available, go to www.zerosurge.com. You'll have to decide if the cost of one of these is justified based on the likelihood of losing another inverter-charger to lightning.

In theory, it would be possible to get a unit to provide whole-boat protection, but it would be costly. If you decided to go this route, don't go to a residential electrician because they won't understand the nuances of marine electrical systems. Marine electricians are more likely to know how to install this type of surge protection in a boat.

It's The Law!

I'm looking at a boat with a 200-hp engine and only a 175-hp rating on the capacity plate. What are the legal consequences of exceeding the horsepower rating? Would BoatUS insure this boat for me in Florida? What happens if I get boarded by the Coast Guard?

 


Tip iconCapacity plates provide information on safe load limits and are required on all motorized boats less than 20 feet in length, but are often included on boats up to 26 feet in length.

John Adey: Insurers will typically consider a boat that exceeds the stated rating as non-insurable. In addition, a 200-hp engine on a boat with a 175 placard is against most state laws and violates a federal requirement (that the states will enforce). Engine weight is taken into account when considering the capacity and flotation of the boat. A completely different “powering” test is undertaken by the manufacturer to determine what horsepower the boat can safely handle. The manufacturer executed several tests and determined that the boat did not perform in a manner that they considered safe or exhibited some behavior that they were not comfortable with at a higher horsepower.

Just like getting a ticket for having your boat overloaded and exceeding the capacity, I expect you'd get a similar ticket if you were pulled over. I can assure you the USCG Auxiliary would not pass the boat during a vessel safety check. Find another boat that complies with the manufacturer's recommended horsepower. It's given for a reason.

Are We There Yet?

I have a 42-foot Regal sport coupe that can cruise comfortably at 27-30 knots. We have no height issues regarding bridges. How long would it take to go from Daytona Beach, Florida, to Key West given no wake zones?

 


Tom Neale: While this is specific to a particular trip and boat, we get many similar questions. First, it's good to know you're planning ahead rather than just starting out on a trip. But boat travel means you must expect changes and be prepared to throw destination plans out the hatch. In this case, doing the math as to ICW distance (statute miles) divided by your miles per hour gives an answer, but not a reliable one.

The distance between Daytona and Key West along the ICW is 413 miles, and your slowest speed converted to mph is 31, which means that in theory you could do the trip in 13.3 hours. But it would be better to plan for at least two or three days for this trip because of necessary slowdowns, to avoid dangerous situations and excessive fatigue, and to allow yourself to enjoy the trip.

Open water where you can run at speed is more and more limited in many areas. The last we checked there are areas where it's allowed in most of Indian River, parts of Lake Worth, most of Biscayne Bay, a few of the canals (although with strict wake-height restrictions), and offshore runs such as Hawk Channel. Inside waters south of Biscayne Bay have areas of fast running allowed, but there are shallow depths and the penalties for running aground and damaging sea grass and reef are severe. Many prefer to not run fast in areas with these features.

Even if you don't have to wait for a bridge to open, you'll still have to go at slow speed through all the bridges, and you may have issues with slowing down and passing long lines of waiting boats at opening bridges. Manatee areas have seasonal and variable speed restrictions. Going in and out of inlets may involve slowdowns and add miles to your trip. There are idle-speed/no-wake zones at marinas and private docks, dockside restaurants, generally congested areas, etc. You'll have to slow down to idle speed any time you pass a slower boat in a narrow channel. Speed zones change. Construction, shoaling water, and dredging operations result in slow areas that normally have fast running allowed.

Some may prefer to do most of this trip running outside. Out in the ocean you could run at speed except when passing close to smaller boats and in areas where there's diving or other restrictions. But you'd have to have enough fuel, very good weather, and be prepared to not go outside unless weather is ideal, and have good information as to inlets. Always study the charts and one or two good guide books before you go, to get an idea of what the trip will bring.

Under Pressure

When conducting a propane-system test, the ABYC standards state that the pressure indicated should remain constant for three minutes.

This is the case with my system, but after 20 minutes or so there's a drop in pressure. Soap tests show no leakage in the system.

 


John Adey: Great use of the standards! If everything is working properly, and the appliances check out, I wouldn't be concerned with a drop in 20 minutes. The three-minute test is that length to avoid any change in pressure due to atmospheric influence (e.g. high/low temps). You're probably observing the gas equalizing to the ambient temperature. It will probably only drop to a certain point. If something isn't working properly, then you should look at your regulator and/or solenoid (if you have one) to see if either is causing a restriction, which slowly allows the gas to pass by.

Too Old?

We have a 20-foot center console with a very soft deck. It's more than 30 years old. I also question the shape of below-deck structure. Is this worth repairing?

 


Don Casey: There's no reason that a well-built fiberglass boat cannot do exactly what it was designed to do for way more than 30 years, so the answer to your question is: What's it going to cost to repair what is really wrong with your boat? If you're thinking of doing the work yourself, chances are you'll end up with a boat worth much more than your repair costs.

If you plan to turn the job over to the boatyard staff, the likely outcome is less clear, particularly if there really are structural problems. However, the tone of your question suggests that maybe you're just ready for a different boat. If that's the case, forget about trying to justify the change with problems your old boat could have. You'll be more content with a newer boat regardless of the prognosis for the old one. A boat you really like will get you out on the water more. That, after all, is the real objective.

Fixed Vs. Collapsible

I have to replace the stand for my trailer and need help deciding on fixed vs. collapsible. What are the pros and cons? What would you recommend?

 


Ted Sensenbrenner: It comes down to the size of the trailer. For small boats on a single-axle trailer (maybe 21 feet and under), I prefer the stand that has a wheel and swings up out of the way on the trailer tongue. For larger boats with two axles (maybe greater than 25 feet), I'd go with a fixed stand that cranks up. If you're in between, it's a preference call, but a solid stand is just that, more solid.

Smaller boats can take advantage of having a wheel to move it around in a lot or to help it get closer to your hitch ball. Boats that are larger take a great deal of effort to push around by hand so having a wheel is almost useless anyway. The fixed stand tends to be sturdier. I've seen the collapsible one actually collapse as someone was tightening lug nuts (usually because it wasn't secured in the down position). The one with a wheel can also roll unexpectedly; however, we recommend chocking wheels anytime a trailer is not attached to the tow vehicle.

The only problem with the fixed stand is that sometimes when it's fully retracted, it still tends to hang a little low. Most of the fixed retractable stands have a “foot” that can be removed and that increases ground clearance. Both should be inspected every so often so that it functions properly when needed. The one that swings out of the way can get rusty and I've seen several that took some real encouragement to get up and down.

No Dingy Dinghy

I bought a used 2009 West Marine Hypalon RIB 350 in great shape. I'll be using the boat year round in Florida. It sits on a trailer in my backyard and I have a tent cover made from a tarp. I've read that I shouldn't cover it because of trapped heat, but what about exposure to UV? Is Roll-Off safe to clean it with or do you have any other suggestions for cleaning?

 


Tom Neale: Check with the retailer or manufacturer. They have the best info. I emailed the customer service specialists of West Marine about this issue. They said West Marine inflatables are best stored dry and indoors preferably in a closed storage bag or container. Past experience has shown that various rodents have a taste for both PVC and Hypalon. While UV exposure during use of the boat is not a problem, long-term exposure during storage isn't good for the boat. They offer West Marine Two-Part Inflatable Boat Cleaner and Protectant for cleaning inflatables; 303 Fabric Cleaner is an excellent product also.

Looking Up

I have a Lund Pro-V boat in which I'm going to install an external GPS antenna. Other than a clear view of the sky, can you give me any advice as to location?

 


Don Casey: For reception, the only requirement is a clear view of the sky. Deck level is better than up high because the antenna will be moving just with the boat, not due to increased rolling and pitching from elevation, which can cause erratic speed and course readings. This is a bigger issue with sailboats than powerboats. Beyond this, locate the antenna where it's not at risk of damage and perhaps where routing the cable to it will not be too difficult.

Thruster Buster

My boat has a 12-volt bow thruster. When running, it doesn't have enough thrust to maneuver the boat in any wind conditions. When I run it, the voltage, measured at the thruster, drops from 12.6 volts to 8.6 and stays at 8.6 volts while the thruster is running. Is the voltage drop causing less power output from the thruster? If I correct the voltage drop, will the additional thruster output be noticeably better?

 


Tip iconThe cross section of wire roughly doubles for every three gauge decrease (American Wire Gauge scale), which also cuts the resistance of that wire in half. So 14 gauge wire has less than half the resistance of 18 gauge wire and so on.

John Adey: Motors put out what they're supposed to when they get the right voltage. So, if the thruster is sized correctly for the boat (verify that based on specs), then you'll notice improved performance. Imagine your car starter at 8.6 volts (basically the same motor). Do you think it would rapidly turn your car over? Based on your statements, the wire size may be the problem, or possibly the connections. These can be a significant cause of voltage drop. Check each connection and quality of the crimp/fitting. You can even use an infrared thermometer to check the temperature of the connections while the thruster is engaged. Remember, heat means resistance. So if one connection is much hotter than another, check it out.

A second bank is a common choice if you have the room (a ventilated area suitable for batteries) and the charging capacity. This would allow you to keep the existing wire, but with a shortened run. However, it will probably cost more in batteries than replacing the too-small wire. The install you have is just on the edge of being acceptable. Getting to 10-11 volts is going to be a vast improvement!End of story marker

 

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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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