Boater Alerts And Warnings

From BoatUS Marine Insurance

Clamp Fail

Missing cockpit hose clampPhoto: Greg Group

There's a lot of hose going on in the background in this picture of a 2013 boat. Fortunately, all the hoses have proper stainless-steel hose clamps, except one. The large cockpit drain hose in the foreground was delivered to the new owner without a hose clamp. When, not if, this hose comes off the cockpit drain, a rainstorm will quickly fill the bilge, potentially sinking this boat. The moral of the story is that just because your boat is fairly new (or new to you), don't put off routine bilge inspections.

Gas Hose Fail

Gas hose failurePhoto: Greg Group

On quick inspection, a gas-tank setup may look fine. But peer a little closer (see photo above) and you'll see that it's everything but fine. Where the hose makes a bend, it's cracked and a failure is imminent. This kind of hose failure can send gas into the bilge, where vapors can build up and then be ignited by the smallest spark.

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.

Protect Against Damage and Corrosion

DriveSaverPhoto: BoatUS Marine Insurance

Drivesavers (the red disc shown above) are used to absorb some of the shock between the turning shaft and the transmission, especially if the prop strikes something underwater. These devices work well, but they also electrically isolate the propeller shaft and propeller from the engine. Normally, there is a direct electrical connection from the prop shaft to the engine. The engine is in turn connected back to the battery negative by a heavy-duty grounding cable or strap.

If installing a Drivesaver breaks this electrical connection, it is essential to connect the prop shaft and the engine together. This can be done with the addition of a jumper cable as shown in the photograph. This green bonding strap electrically ties the prop shaft and the engine together via the common ground inside the boat and ensures that no rapid deterioration occurs due to differences in electrical potential. If you have a Drivesaver, make sure you have this jumper as well.

Winterizing Fail

Powerboat sinking while tied to a dockPhoto: BoatUS Marine Insurance Files

Freshwater expands in volume by about 9 percent when it freezes and can push outward with a force of tens of thousands of pounds per square inch. That expansion can crack an engine block, damage fiberglass, split hoses, or crack a sea strainer and sink your boat.

Damage happens all over the country, not just from the states that get snow every year. Boaters in the frozen north know they need to winterize, so their freeze problems almost always involve an issue with how the boat was winterized. In the temperate south, there are many more problems where the boat wasn't winterized at all, or where the boater was depending on a heater to keep the engine from freezing, and the electricity went out. For a complete guide to winterizing your boat, download the "BoatUS Boater's Guide to Winterizing," complete with checklists to make sure you don't miss anything.

Navigation Fail

Powerboat stuck on seawallPhoto: BoatUS Marine Insurance

Aside from going way too fast for the conditions (dark), one reason the boat in the photograph ran afoul of this seawall in Lake Michigan was because the skipper had zipped up the aging cockpit enclosure to stay warm. While it cut the wind, the old vinyl was not transparent enough to see the looming hazard. One man was hospitalized, and a couple of others were bruised. The boat was a total loss.

Wiring Fail

Wiring failurePhoto: Greg Group

This picture is an example of what can happen when someone who may be familiar with house wiring works on a boat. In a house, the neutral and ground wires are connected together at the fuse box. But on a boat, this is a serious safety concern, and especially in freshwater, it's potentially lethal.

Tying the neutral to ground could allow 120 volts of deadly AC current into the boat's ground and bonding system. If there's also a problem with the safety ground going ashore (not unheard of in marinas), all the underwater metals of the boat can be energized with 120V shore power. This can result in electricity in the water and, especially in freshwater, could injure or even kill nearby swimmers. Called electric shock drowning (ESD), the energized boat hardware creates a large electrified circle around the energized boat. When a person in the water enters that circle, he or she becomes paralyzed, loses the ability to tread water, and may drown. The other clue that this installation was not done by a boat pro is that the wire is typical "Romex" solid-core type that's fine for a house, but because it's not made from stranded, flexible wire, can be subject to cracking from vibration and become a fire and shock hazard on a boat. 

— Published: October/November 2017

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