Boater Alerts And Warnings

From BoatUS Marine Insurance

Want Fries With That?

Alternator and starter motor terminals unbootedPhoto: Mark Corke

To the untrained eye, there's not much wrong with this alternator connection. You might notice that there's too much conductor showing between the connection lug and the insulation, but that's about it. Looking closer, though, things start to get complicated.

Instead of using properly crimped connections between the lug and the conductor (blue arrow), whoever made up the cable used a soldered connection. It looks like the cable got hot, possibly due to a high current draw, and the solder melted, allowing the cable to slide from the terminal lug on the alternator. Look carefully, and you can see blobs of solder in the bottom of the picture when this melted (yellow arrow). American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) guidelines explicitly state that solder should not be the sole means of connecting cables.

But wait, there's more! That terminal should be covered with an insulating boot to prevent potential short circuits, and it looks like that lug terminal is not marine-rated judging by the amount of visible corrosion. Last but not least, we dread to think what could have happened had the cable fallen out and made contact the grounded engine block. This would have led to a short likely resulting in a disastrous fire or even a total loss.

Injection Inspection

Rusty hose clampPhoto: Alison Mazon

This is a traditional stuffing box or, more accurately, the water injection hose to the stuffing box. This small-diameter black hose feeds water from the exhaust system into the stuffing box when the engine is running and lubricates the packing, preventing overheating. It's a simple and highly effective system that operates without intervention by the operator. However, because stuffing boxes reside in the bilge, they are often overlooked and infrequently checked. This hose is retained with a very rusty hose clamp. Should the hose or clamp fail, water will leak into the boat, and it could sink. Stuffing boxes require periodic repacking and adjustment — a good time to check the integrity of hose clamps and hoses.

MacGyvered Mess

Shower sump pump lid held by rubber bandPhoto: Alison Mazon

Often, temporary fixes become permanent installations, and this shower sump pump is one of those. Water from the shower flows by gravity to this plastic box. When the integral pump and float switch senses water, it pumps it over the side. It's a simple system that works well, but the pump does need periodic maintenance because hair and other debris can clog it up.

To service the pump, the lid lifts off after removing four screws. In this case, the threads have been stripped, so the owner came up with a fix that would make MacGyver proud. A combination of a rubber band, cable tie, and paperclip are holding the lid in place. Apart from looking unseamanlike, if any of those components fail, the top will come off and soapy water will end up in the bilge where it will start to smell. Although this is not something that's likely to cause a significant catastrophe, it nonetheless needs to be corrected. A surveyor who finds this can expect to find other problems.

Hot And Bothered

Flexible exhaust hosePhoto: Mark Corke

Shown here is a flexible exhaust hose between the engine and muffler that is correctly clamped at each end with two hose clamps, as ABYC recommends. There are several things wrong that may not be immediately apparent, however. The most serious is that the wrong type of hose has been used. Exhaust hose needs to be reinforced and able to stand up to high temperatures. There's limited access and getting the correct, very stiff replacement hose into place is impossible without unbolting the muffler to give proper access to the manifold outlet and muffler inlet that the hose clamps to — something that should have happened here. To save time, a more flexible hose was squeezed into place without moving anything — the wrong move. ABYC standards state that hose used in wet exhaust systems shall comply with the performance requirements of SAE J2006 or UL 1129. Any replacement hose used should have one of these numbers clearly marked down its side. You'll also note that the missing paint indicates that the hose is too short and may not be forming a proper seal, which could allow dangerous exhaust gases to escape into the boat.

Battery Blues

Bad battery connectionPhoto: Mark Corke

The owner of this large diesel-powered sportfishing boat was complaining that the ammeter on his battery charger was very erratic. One minute it was showing the batteries were fully charged and the next indicated 30 amps were going into the battery bank. The mechanic found nothing wrong with the charger and turned his attention to the batteries.

After removing the cover on one of the large 8D AGM batteries, he immediately spotted the issue. The positive terminal post on one of the batteries had somehow sheared off level with the top of the battery case. As the boat bounced in its slip, the terminal post, still held by the connected cables, periodically made contact with what remained of the terminal on the battery. Replacing the battery fixed the problem, but it was clear that the terminal had been arcing for some time. Had the boat been gasoline- and not diesel-powered, the outcome could have been so much worse as an errant spark could have ignited any lingering gasoline vapors.

Lesson learned: It pays to check battery connections when conducting routine engine room inspections.

Rotten To The Core

Here at BoatUS, we receive more than our fair share of complaints about water finding its way into core materials. Coring can be extremely useful: It stiffens the hull or deck, offers some measure of insulation, and gives significant weight savings compared to boats made from solid laminates. Balsa wood is one such popular material but, unless properly sealed, it will suck up water with alarming speed leading to delamination, mold, and costly repairs. The only proper way to fix large areas of rotten core is to cut it out from the fiberglass and insert new core — a very time-consuming job.

Underside of drain through cored swim platformPhoto: Mark Corke

This picture shows the underside of a drain through a cored swim platform. When the boat was manufactured, a couple of 3-inch drains were added to each side of the platform. Holes were bored through the laminate, but the core was left unsealed, allowing water to be absorbed into the balsa. The surveyor reports that the swim platform was an integral part of the deck molding and, even though less than three years old, it was saturated with water and required extensive and costly repairs.

The best way to prevent water from saturating a core is to completely seal it, which often means cutting away the core around fasteners and filling the void with solid epoxy before installing hardware. 

— Published: August/September 2018

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