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Published: April 2011

Pulling A Waterskier? Four Eyes Are Better Than Two

Most states have laws requiring operators of boats to post a lookout (usually someone at least 12 years old) to keep an eye on the skier. Having the second person aboard — referred to as a spotter — leaves the operator free to concentrate on what's up ahead; an operator whose attention is elsewhere has a significantly greater chance of being involved in a collision.

Consider the claim for a ski boat in Tennessee. The operator was watching the skier come out of the water when his boat slammed into a second that was stopped to pick up a skier. Several people were injured, fortunately none seriously (Claim #1007772).

Even if there is no state law, common sense and Rule 5 of the Nav Rules — the need to maintain a proper lookout — mean that having a spotter aboard makes good sense.

Photo of a waterskier being pulled by a powerboat

Picking Up A Waterskier? Shut The Engine OFF

While any competent ski-boat operator knows to put a boat's engine in neutral while retrieving a skier, an even safer option is to shut the engine off completely — that way, there is no possibility that the skier can come in contact with a spinning propeller. Claim #1006981 involved a young girl who was getting back onboard after tubing. The operator put the engine in neutral, but as the girl was climbing aboard, her foot touched the still-spinning propeller. In an instant, she received a severe gash that required over 100 stitches.

Even if the transmission is in neutral, the prop on an idling engine could still be turning, and a sharp metal object like a propeller doesn't have to be turning very fast to cut a limb.

Photo of waterskier being retrieved by a boat

Alcohol Stoves

Only a decade or two ago, alcohol was the cooking fuel of choice on many, perhaps a majority of, boats. Since it doesn't explode, alcohol was often regarded as a "safe" cooking fuel, but the fact is that it has been involved in many onboard fires.

Lighting a pressurized alcohol stove could be downright scary, and once burning, the alcohol would sometimes dribble out of the burner and down the back of the stove with the potential to engulf the boat. The canister-type stoves aren't pressurized but could be equally as temperamental. Note that these stoves are still around. In a claim last year, the boat shown here caught fire when the owner's wife poured alcohol into a still-hot canister. The heated alcohol vaporized and caught fire, burning the woman's face and igniting her clothing. Her husband threw her overboard to douse the flames (Claim #1011782).

Alcohol that is heated becomes extremely volatile. If you have one of these stoves, NEVER pour alcohol into a canister that is not completely cooled. Even a canister that is slightly warm could be risky. There have been instances where someone was burned while trying to light an unused canister that had been next to one that was burning.

Photo of cabin fire damage from alcohol stove

Spring Reminders, Part 1 — Plastic Transducers

The American Boat & Yacht Council standards require that all through-hulls below the waterline have seacocks that can be closed in an emergency. These seacocks must be able to withstand 500 pounds of impact from the side; there's no telling when it could get smacked by an errant foot or anchor. Despite the ABYC requirement, there is at least one through-hull where a seacock is never used: transducers.

As it ages, a transducer has the potential to become an Achilles' heel a boat. Jonathan Klopman, a marine surveyor in Marblehead, Massachusetts, sent Seaworthy this photo of an old Data Marine depth sounder transducer. The owner of a 29-year-old sailboat removed the depth sounder transducer and was startled to discover that the insides were disintegrated. All it took was a slight push on the transducer and a tug on the wire to pull it out of the plastic sleeve.

This spring, carefully examine your boat's transducers (speed and depth). Any signs of cracking or leaks are an indication that the transducer needs to be taken out and inspected or, better yet, replaced. The older the transducer, the more likely its useful life is coming to an end.

Photo of an old Data Marine depth sounder transducer

Spring Reminder, Part 2 — Disposable Propane Cylinders

Whatever cockpit barbecues do to make your onboard cooking easier, the disposable propane canisters that fuel them require the same respect accorded a full-size propane tank. Aside from being frighteningly volatile, propane is heavier than air and will settle in the bilge, which means it is essential that any gas that might find its way out of the canister be directed safely overboard. With full-sized, refillable tanks, this is accomplished by storing them in a dedicated locker that's vented overboard.

Unfortunately, not everyone realizes the danger of storing disposable tanks improperly. During an inspection for an unrelated problem, a surveyor noticed no less than 10 cylinders stored in the forward bilge area of a member's 46-foot motoryacht. Since each of these cylinders contains over 16 ounces of propane, this member was carrying the equivalent of three-quarters of a full-size tank in his bilge— precisely where they could do the most damage. The canisters are made of mild steel; a slight scratch or chip in the paint is all that would be needed to start corrosion. And because they're equipped with a pressure relief valve, canisters will vent propane gas if the temperature should go beyond about 150 degrees.

The American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) standard A-30, concerning these LPG cylinders, states that, "A means shall be provided for storing unattached fuel cylinders in a protected self-draining location on the exterior of the boat where vapors can only flow overboard." A small polyester bag, called a Propane Storage Locker/Tote Bag, meets ABYC's requirements and is available at West Marine. The bag holds several cylinders and hangs on a rail or lifeline.

The Risk Of Getting One More Season Out Of An Impeller

As impellers wear out, which can happen after only a year or two of hard use, they become increasingly more brittle with the potential for the vanes to break off. At best, a failed impeller means your day on the water comes to an end when the engine overheats. At worst, you're faced with a wrecked engine. That's what happened when the impeller shown here came apart; the cost to replace the engine was $14,000. Damage caused by a worn-out impeller is considered maintenance and is not covered by a boat's insurance policy.

Impellers are usually good for a couple of years, although many owners replace them annually at the start of boating season. Considering what's at stake, a new impeller is an inexpensive insurance policy.End of story marker

Photo of a worn impeller

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