Boater Alerts And Warnings

From BoatUS Marine Insurance

Got MMSI?

VHF radio with digital select calling

Your VHF radio is one of the most important pieces of safety equipment you have on board your vessel. By using a VHF radio with digital select calling (DSC) capability, you increase your safety dramatically by taking advantage of enhanced communications options. These options link your vessel to other vessels and rescuers, providing a strong modern safety net.

DSC-equipped radios interfaced with GPS will also send your position with the emergency message in a distress situation. But if you do not register and get an MMSI number (the VHF equivalent of a phone number), none of the advanced safety features will work in an emergency. It's not hard to do and it could save your life. Go to BoatUS.com/MMSI to register. MMSI registration is free for BoatUS members.

Aluminum And Stainless Don't Mix

Aluminum is a great metal for sailboat masts; it's lightweight and strong. But because it sits pretty low on the galvanic series, it can be easily damaged by corrosion when another metal that's higher up in the series (such as stainless steel) is in contact with it and is frequently wetted with an electrolyte (seawater). The combination sets up a galvanic cell that takes some of the metal away from aluminum, which weakens it. What's worse is that the corrosion often occurs behind a fitting where you can't see it. To prevent this kind of galvanic damage, mast fittings, such as cleats and winches, must be insulated from the mast. Plastic or teak pads are available for just such a purpose. Stainless screws driven into the mast should be coated with Tef-Gel, a PTFE waterproof paste, to reduce the risk of corroding the aluminum.

The next time you're in your boat examining the fuel system, follow every hose and make sure there's nothing like this hiding around a dark corner. If you're not sure how old your fuel hoses are (manufacturers typically say 10 years is their useful life), they are marked with the year they are made. If your hoses are more than 10 years old, they're due for replacement. If they're not marked, it means they aren't Coast Guard-approved and should be replaced right away.

Bad Connection

Throwing a little electrical tape around a twist connector like this doesn't make it any better (or comply with American Boat & Yacht Council standards). Twist connectors have a couple of problems that make them unsuitable for boat use. First, the connectors are designed to cut into the wire to make a connection. If the wire is tin-coated to resist corrosion, that advantage is gone. Cutting into the wire also weakens it. Second, these connectors are simply not secure like a proper crimp connector. If they get knocked around, they tend to fall off, leaving bare wires, which could start a fire. Not only that, they're not sealed at the ends and allow water in the connection, leading to corrosion. A heat-sealable crimp connector is the best choice for DIY wiring projects.

Hard Launch

Hard launchPhoto: Jeff Weymouth

Mistaking a haulout well for a launch ramp could be a disaster — especially in a place with a 12-foot tide range. Fortunately, as scary as this looks, no one was hurt, and aside from the trailer frame, a ladder at the haulout well, and the owner's pride, there was no damage. The marina operator in Everett, Washington, was able to use a Travelift to retrieve the boat. Luckily, the boat was attached to a beefy truck. But even so, with a slicker parking lot, the boat could have easily pulled the vehicle into the water. It's a mistake any of us could make if we're in a hurry to launch, especially at a new facility. Take the time to walk through your launch before you back in — you might be saving yourself from an unpleasant surprise.

Battery Charger Caution

Battery charger fire on boat

Here's a dramatic example of why you shouldn't use a standard automotive battery charger in your boat. The battery here was being charged with such a charger fed by an older 100-foot extension cord. The old charger, fine for topping up a battery in your car, was left on to charge the battery for weeks. These old devices simply keep pushing current into the battery until it's full. Then they're supposed to be manually disconnected. If they're not, they'll keep pumping current even if the battery is full. Eventually the battery overheats and the electrolyte boils away. Continued charging then heats up the battery even more until it starts to melt and eventually catches fire.

Two takeaways: First, only use a marine-rated battery charger. Marine chargers sense when the battery is fully charged and either turn off or go into "float" mode to keep the battery topped off. Second, don't use an old, beat-up extension cord because the current draw from a charger can cause defects in the cord to overheat and catch fire as well. And a 100-foot extension cord shouldn't be used for anything that will take a lot of current for a long time. Instead, use a shorter cord or a long cord rated for high current.

It's Winter — Do You Know Where Your Boat Is?

Sailboat docked for winter

You probably know where your boat is, but do you know how your boat is? For those of us in colder climates, we may think our boats are safely tucked away for winter, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't check on them occasionally. Take a trip to the marina and open up the boat for a few minutes. While you ponder next season's adventures, check the bilge for water, look at the port lights and hatches for evidence of leaks, sniff for mildew, and generally get a feel for how the boat is doing. The sailboat in the picture needs to have the snow brushed off the cover before the weight damages something on deck or destroys the cover. Show your boat a little love over winter so you won't face any unpleasant surprises next spring. 

— Published: December 2017


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