No Hope For Old Rope?

Boat lines illustration
Illustration: Bill Roche

Is there a good way to renew three-strand nylon docklines that have become stiff and hard? It's almost too stiff to tie off on a cleat.


Tom Neale: Some folks recommend soaking nylon docklines in fabric softener and various other products. Some just recommend soaking it in warm water with laundry soap or dish detergent. I don't recommend this because of the issue of weakening the lines. Nylon isn't forever, and when it gets stiff like you describe, it's probably time to replace it. Sun exposure over the years can cause aging. Replacing it can be expensive, but not as expensive as repairing the damage to your boat if a line breaks or chafes through. I use higher-quality line, which pays off in the long run. Braided lines are easier to handle and don't get stiff as quickly as stranded nylon, but they're more expensive, and you do have to be even more careful with abrasion.

Time To Wake Up

I'm considering buying a boat that hasn't been used since the 2006 season. The engine has less than 30 hours and was winterized by the marina at the end of that season. What should be done to this motor prior to and after a sea trial?


John Adey: The fuel in the boat's tank should be considered suspect. The engine should be operated from a portable 6-gallon tank for this sea trial. I would also check the lower-unit oil to make sure it's up to the proper level and looks clean (e.g., not milky white or burnt smelling). Assuming this is a two-stroke, I'd inspect the oil for contamination (water) and consistency (like oil or syrup?). If either of these cases exists, properly dispose of the oil, and clean/refill the reservoir.

If you decide to purchase the boat, invest in a fuel-tank pumpout. Take this into account when looking at a purchase price. My immediate maintenance list would include a lower-unit oil change, water-pump impeller change, a new battery, and any and all fuel filters — both boat side and engine. If you're buying the boat with a trailer, have the bearings repacked, and take a good hard look at the tires for signs of dry rot.

Better Batteries?

I was about to put a Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery in my microskiff, but the shop working on the boat declined to install it because of the fire issue. They said that this past summer they were going to install Li-ion batteries in a customer's boat and the battery spontaneously burst into flames. Has there been any follow-up from the industry regarding these issues?


Beth Leonard: Li-ion batteries are an attractive technology that offers much greater energy storage capacity at a fraction of the weight of lead-acid batteries. Unfortunately, some of the Li-ion chemistries are also prone to "thermal runaway." Once a Li-ion cell gets overcharged, it gets hot, and the temperature can continue to rise even when the cell is taken off charge. Depending on the battery chemistry, the cell may get hot enough to spontaneously catch fire or to overheat neighboring cells. To keep their concentrated power in check, Li-ion batteries rely on a sophisticated management system that provides over-voltage and short-circuit protection for each cell in the battery. These battery-management systems are vulnerable to failure in the event of a lightning strike or power surge, so even they are not yet foolproof.

There have been a number of high-profile fires associated with this technology. BoatUS continues to monitor developments in the industry, and the American Boat & Yacht Council is leading the discussion about creating a standard for Li-ion batteries. However, that process will take time — probably years rather than months — as both the battery-management technologies and Li-ion chemistries continue to change and develop. Your shop is smarter than some uninformed boat owners who don't understand the dangers and install the Li-ion batteries without the proper management system. If you decide to install a Li-ion battery in your boat, I suggest talking to the technicians at Mastervolt, who have considerable experience configuring these systems.

Hole In The Anchor

What is the purpose of the hole on the weighted end of some anchors?


Tom Neale: Some use this to help secure the anchor on board. It can also be used to attach an anchor buoy or trip line. I don't like to use anchor buoys because the boat, while swinging, can catch the anchor buoy and its line in the boat's prop or rudder and pull the anchor out backward. When you realize you're dragging and start the engine, things get much worse very fast. Also, other boats and dinghies going by in the anchorage can snag them and pull out your anchor (as well as damage the boat). If your anchor gets snagged under a rock or big log, a trip line or anchor buoy can help to free you. But there are other methods that also usually work, such as working a line down under your rode to the anchor, keeping both ends on deck, and, when this line is at the anchor, pulling against the snag.

Photo of crowded anchorage
The little hole at the weighted end of an anchor can be used to lash it to the deck.
Some boaters will also tie a trip line with a float attached to the anchor at this point,
but this can lead to complications in a crowded anchorage.

Winter Wondering

I just bought a Sea-Doo Speedster with a Mercury engine. I've never had a jet boat before, and the book I got with it doesn't say a thing about how to winterize it. I'm in Arizona but will be hauling it to Michigan this season. I looked online but only found how to flush it out.


John Adey: According to Mercury literature, the 240 jet has a "self-draining cooling system" that eliminates the need for adding antifreeze. Other winterization procedures are mentioned on the Mercury website, including fuel and oil information. But from a freezing standpoint, it looks like Mercury has you covered with the self-draining design.

Windlass Sizing

What windlass is appropriate for 60-pound Manson Supreme anchor? I have a Cruisers 3750 aft cabin, so I need a low-profile, gypsy-only (no drum) windlass. What maximum pull and working load should I be looking for?


Don Casey: The rule I follow is that a windlass should have a pull capacity of not less than three times the total weight of the ground tackle you want it to retrieve. Your anchor weighs 60 pounds. Perhaps you have it mated to 150 feet of 3/8-inch high-test chain. This size of chain weighs about 1.5 pounds per foot (weight charts are available online and in many catalogs) for a total chain weight of 225 pounds. That means this combination requires a pulling capacity of not less than three times 285 pounds (225 + 60). I'd make a pull capacity of 855 pounds my minimum. Against the possibility of deciding to increase the size of the chain or the weight of the anchor in the future, or simply for the assurance of extra capacity if needed, it can be a prudent move to raise the minimum pulling capacity to four times the tackle weight. When it comes to anchoring gear, it's hard to be too conservative.

Bronze or Marelon?

I have a 30-year-old fiberglass sailboat that I use on San Francisco Bay and for coastal sailing. I'm considering using Marelon fittings to replace most if not all my thru-hulls and seacocks and would like your opinion.


Don Casey: Bronze is a wonderful marine metal and I prefer bronze for lots of boat parts over other choices. However, bronze thru-hulls are always a risk for corrosion, and every bronze seacock I ever had eventually wept or out and out leaked. I switched over to all Marelon on my own 30-foot sailboat more than 20 years ago. Those same seacocks are as easy to operate and as leak-free today as they were when first installed. The only maintenance they get is regular exercise and a bit of Teflon grease applied to the balls with the end of a wooden dowel whenever the boat is out of the water for bottom paint. I'd never go back.

Barrier Bottom Line

I have a 25-year-old boat that's never been bottom painted. I'd like to keep it in the water this season, and the bottom will have to be painted. Do I have to apply a barrier coat first?


Tom Neale: If it were my boat, I would. The purpose of a barrier coat is to prevent blisters. A 25-year-old boat is probably a candidate for blisters. The best time to apply a barrier coat is before you've painted the bottom. If you decide to do this later, the labor cost will be much greater because you'll have to remove the bottom paint and take other extra steps. It's probably worth it to avoid the hassle and expense of repairing blisters.

Hooking Up

I've got a backup camera on my truck, which I use for towing. Is there a fix to bypass the backup alarm when the hitch ball is in place? All is well until the hitch is inserted into the receiver; then the sensor sees the ball and triggers the alarm.


Beth Leonard: Some car- and truck-model cameras are designed to recognize when a trailer is being pulled so the alarm doesn't sound when you're backing up. But some models don't have this feature, and even if they do, the backup-camera system may not recognize smaller utility or boat trailers.

In the most extreme cases, as you describe, just the ball in the receiver is enough to set off the alarm. If the alarm is sounding when you don't want it to while you're towing, the only solution we're aware of is to turn the camera off in your car's "systems settings" on the touch/navigation screen. Find instructions in your owner's manual or ask your dealer.

Wire Woes

I just found out what a battery cable that gets chafed can do. It continued to corrode and almost welded itself to the fiberglass. The cable runs from the batteries under the console to the rear of the boat, then up and over to the battery switches. The original cable appears loose, and I'll be able to fish a new cable without pulling up the deck. But this is also where the fuel tank is, and it appears the battery cable is running down the side of the fuel tank. Is this normal? What if the cable chafes down there? This doesn't seem safe.


John Adey: The battery cable should be supported every 18 inches and protected against chafe. An unprotected battery cable can come in contact with the opposite pole (negative or positive) and create a fire. One that creates a huge amount of resistance through corrosion can also lead to a fire. Add a fuel tank, and you have a real-world situation that can result in a catastrophic failure. Try to gain access to the whole wire run, put your new, properly sized and protected wire in the original run, then bundle and support the whole run. Some builders do this very nicely by using a PVC pipe or a large-diameter hose (white sanitation hose works nicely). This method gives continuous support along the wire — just support the hose or pipe. Wire loom could also work.

You have a chance to correct what the original builder or previous owner did. Trust me, the more you get to know your boat by taking on these projects, the more confident you'll become as an owner. Who knows, you might find another issue lurking under the deck that you can take care of! 

Our tech expert and editor-at-large Tom Neale creates this column from conversations he's had with our members. If you have a boat problem you can't seem to solve, and you've exhausted the wisdom of the Internet, make sure you also search our website for answers.

— Published: June/July 2015


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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