Entering An Unfamiliar Inlet

The owner of the sportfisherman being salvaged at the St. Augustine Inlet in Florida was following the markers through the inlet and failed to notice a small, temporary marker that indicated the shifted channel. Capt. Scott Strebleton of TowBoatUS St. Augustine says several boats a year find themselves on the very same shoal, which has been gradually getting worse and now runs about halfway across the inlet. A lot of people have been complaining about the need to have the inlet dredged, but money is tight these days and thus far nothing has been done.

In the meantime, Capt. Strebleton notes that the juxtaposition of permanent and temporary markers can be confusing and he advises visiting skippers who are planning to pass through St. Augustine Inlet to contact TowBoatUS St. Augustine to get the latest advice on how and when to get through. The problems at the St. Augustine Inlet aren't unusual. There is always the potential for problems when big, big oceans and bays are squeezed through narrow little openings to quieter harbors, and contacting the local TowBoatUS tower is a good strategy for cruising skippers at any unfamiliar inlet.

More On Wires And Fires

Looking at this photo, it's tempting to conclude that the fire started at the stereo speakers, especially when you read in the claim file that the speakers had recently been installed by the boat's owner. As it turns out, the speakers and speaker wires weren't the culprits; fire investigators found that when the speakers were installed, some high amperage wires to the boat's air conditioning system had been pinched and shorted.

Even simple do-it-yourself electrical jobs must be done with considerable care and attention to detail. Carelessly pinching a group of high-amperage wires presents a fire hazard and maybe a shock hazard. With any wiring job, take your time or, if you're not sure what you're doing, hire a professional. The boat, incidentally, was a total loss (Claim #0504376).

Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detectors and Boat Cabins

According to BoatUS Marine Insurance claim files, the number of deaths on recreational boats from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning has been declining, if only slightly, over the past decade. There are several reasons for this fortunate turn of events, the most notable being that CO detectors are now much more reliable and found on more boats than in years past. Starting in 1998, changes in the American Boat & Yacht Council standards meant that most boats with enclosed accommodation spaces and gasoline propulsion engines or generators would be sold with CO detectors installed. (Detectors are not required on boats with diesels, which produce far less CO than gasoline engines.) Carbon Monoxide is colorless and odorless and the only way to know that the deadly gas is present is with a CO detector. Any boat with gasoline engine and accommodation spaces must have a CO detector. No exceptions.

Note that whenever a CO alarm sounds, it must be taken seriously; NEVER assume that because you can't see or smell anything, the detector must be giving a false alarm. There have been serious injuries and even deaths from CO because someone shut off an alarm instead of the boat's engine or generator.

Inspecting Your Rig

You might think the cause of this dismasting was rot in the boat's aging wood mast. But, as with most dismastings, the culprit was a cracked metal fitting.

It's a good idea to inspect the fittings on a sailboat at the start of every season. (You can download a guide to inspecting your boat's mast and rigging at If your rig is more than 10 years old, it's a good idea to hire a professional to do the inspection; signs of imminent failure are often subtle and are more likely to be discovered by someone with an experienced eye.

Selecting An Anchorage

The boats shown here were blown up on the beach in Santa Barbara, California, last winter when a sudden storm swept up the coast. Jim Wood, a marine surveyor who handles claims for BoatUS Marine Insurance, said boats anchored in Santa Barbara's free anchorage wind up on the beach every winter. Some of the fault is with the undersized anchors and chain that are sometimes used, but the biggest factor is the anchorage's lack of protection from storms coming up from the south.

Jim's advice is simple: Always anticipate the worst when you are looking for a secure anchorage.

Portable Air Horn Canisters and Heat

You have no doubt seen the warning on the back of pressurized aerosol cans — "CAUTION: Contents under pressure, do not store in direct sunlight, in enclosed vehicles, or high-temperature areas above 120 degrees F/49 degrees C. Exposure to heat may cause bursting of can." You've probably also seen an air horn rolling around near the helm — in direct sunlight — so that it could be reached quickly. Warnings are on just about every product these days, which is why people tend to ignore them.

That was likely the why the owner of a 24-foot powerboat didn't think much about leaving an air horn behind the windshield when he buttoned the boat up with a full-length cockpit cover that extended to the top of the windshield frame. The following afternoon, the canister burst, spewing safety-glass fragments from the windshield onto a neighbor's boat and puncturing his boat's cover.

Being inquisitive, the surveyor who was handling the claim for BoatUS, pointed an infrared sensor gun at a similar vessel with the same cover to ascertain the onboard, midday temperature. The weather conditions were the same as on the day of the explosion (92 degrees in the shade) and the readings on the outside of the windshield varied from 118 degrees to 122 degrees; reaching under the cover with the sensor gun, the temperature on the console just behind the windshield shot up from 136 degrees to 142 degrees, well above the 120 degree caution range. On vessels without cockpit covers, but with bimini tops, the console temperature hovered around 120 — right on the edge.

Considering the damage to the windshield and cover, storing the horn canister at eye level on the console is risky to anyone nearby. The solution is to keep the horn lower in the cockpit where it is cooler and out of direct sunlight. It may not be as readily accessible, but the trade-off is well worth it.