Small Stuff

None of us are getting any younger and among the many irksome changes we have to cope with as we get older is our eyes' inability to see well in the dark. If you're 50, you need twice as much light to see as well as you did when you were 30; it's a lot like having to wear sunglasses at night. Yet another effect of aging is that it takes longer for your eyes to make the transition from daylight to darkness. Normally it might take half an hour for your eyes to adjust, but if your eyes weren't well protected during the day, the time can be extended to several hours. For older skippers who are boating at night, this means basic colors, like red and green running lights, which can be difficult to see when eyes are rested, will be especially hard to see if your eyes had been exposed to bright sunlight for many hours.

You'll never be a kid again, but if you're going to be boating at night, you can improve your vision by:

1. Protecting your eyes during the day. This is critical. Sitting under a Bimini and wearing wraparound sunglasses and a hat protects photoreceptors and reduces the time it takes for your eyes to adjust to the dark. Gray lenses work best.

2. Slowing down! Studies have consistently found that 90 percent of a driver's reaction time depends on vision. Everyone, regardless of age, will have more trouble seeing at night and should throttle back. If you're over 50, you'll need to throttle way back.

3. Doing whatever you can to maximize visibility from the helm. If your boat has a windshield, clean it outside and inside. A dirty windshield (and, for that matter, dirty eyeglasses) scatters whatever light there is. With "clear" plastic spray dodgers, most of which are at least slightly foggy, it's best to open the panels.

4. Eliminating "backscatter" from your boat's lights. Backscatter from the all-round white light can create glare that makes it impossible for your eyes to adjust to darkness. Raising the all-round light and/or putting an oval shield under the light creates a shadow that will protect your vision. Dimming the instrument panel as much as possible is also recommended.

5. Avoiding alcohol. Studies have shown that as little as .04 percent BAC (roughly the equivalent of two beers) can degrade a person's ability to discern faint lights or other objects; notice objects outside the direct line of sight (peripheral vision); respond to a constantly changing stimulus; and select a response based on the nature of the stimulus.

6. Having your eyes examined once a year. Eyeglass prescriptions should be up to date and cataracts, if any, should be removed. There is nothing to be gained by procrastinating.

When he isn't towing boats, Capt. Mike Dunn and his wife Stacy (also a Capt.) of TowBoatUS Crystal River, Florida, "relax" by doing a lot of volunteer work, including helping injured or trapped manatees with an organization called Manatee Rescue. The manatee shown above had been caught in a crab trap on the Homosassa River and couldn't move.

Note that adult manatees can grow to over 13 feet long and weigh over 3,500 pounds! That's a lot of weight. As for the group trying to lift the thing out of the water, Capt. Mike is the guy in the red shirt with the bright red face.

A BoatUS member in Maryland — Patrick — sent along a newspaper account of three beefy men aboard a 24-foot boat that was too small for the blustery conditions on the Chesapeake and had started taking on water. The bilge pump couldn't keep up with the rising water and the boat capsized. Fortunately, two men in a larger boat pulled the trio out of the water. Unfortunately, their larger boat was only a foot larger and with five beefy men aboard, it too started sinking. All five had to be rescued by the Dept. of Natural Resources.

Patrick's e-mail ended by saying, "There has to be a lesson here somewhere."

Seaworthy put the question to readers on its Facebook page: What's the lesson? Many of the responses were practical. Reggie Good made the point that they should have paid more attention to weather reports and maybe had a better method for getting water out of the boat. Jim Bennet wondered if only transferring one or two of the crew to the rescue boat would have helped both boats. All good points.

Caroline Ajootian, the director of the BoatUS Consumer Protection Bureau, thinks some of the problem could be with the Coast Guard's capacity labeling. To arrive at a boat's rated capacity for the number of people that can be safely aboard, the Coast Guard assumes that the average American's weight is 160 pounds. According to the Center for Disease Control, however, the average American now weighs 191 pounds. So if a boat is rated to carry four passengers, it could be carrying 124 (or more) extra pounds.

The people aboard are only part of the problem. In addition to a weight capacity plate, the Coast Guard also requires that outboard-powered boats be rated for maximum horsepower. The system used until recently by the Coast Guard to arrive at a boat's horsepower was based on two-stroke outboards. Something like 70 percent to 80 percent of all outboards sold these days are four-strokes, however, which weigh considerably more than their two-stroke counterparts. A 115-hp Honda four-stroke, for example, weighs 496 pounds. A 115-hp Yamaha two-stroke weighs 407 pounds — a difference of 89 pounds. That would be double for dual engine outboards and all of the weight will be on the transom, which is where it has the potential to cause the most problems. Doing the math, a boat with four passengers aboard that was repowered with two, four-stroke outboards could have several hundred more pounds aboard than it was designed to carry.

It's something for owners of small boats to think about when the weather is rough and they're thinking about going fishing.

A good man-overboard story, this one from Rick Saber, a member in San Rafael, California. On a flat-calm day, Rick was by himself on his trawler Eagle and had been getting lines and fenders ready for docking when his "well-fed center of gravity" shifted and he suddenly tumbled into San Francisco Bay, about 400 yards east of Alcatraz. The inflatable life vest Rick had been wearing inflated with a reassuring whoosh and he quickly bobbed to the surface. Eagle kept plowing through the water toward its eventual encounter with a pier (Claim #1014005). He said watching his boat heading for the horizon without him was devastating.

Rick is by nature very safety conscious; he is the safety officer of two yacht clubs and, ironically, had recently given Coast Guard Auxiliary seminars on man-overboard procedures. In 50 years of boating, this was his first accident. But while he was familiar with techniques for getting other people back aboard Eagle, he was still a little fuzzy on how to get himself back aboard a boat. Any boat. Rick remembers thinking, "This is going to be a very interesting day." He reached for his iPhone, which, after 15 seconds underwater, was kaput. That left him with only one signaling device — his arms, which he waved occasionally to attract the attention of boats passing in the distance. Finally, after bobbing up and down for maybe half an hour, he attracted the attention of Alma, a well-known sailing scow built in 1891. As Alma hove-to a few yards away, Rick asked sheepishly if they had any Grey Poupon aboard. One of Alma's crew responded by asking, "Where's your boat?"

Nobody can accuse Rick of not learning from his mistakes. While he has always been diligent about wearing a life vest, he is now planning to carry, at a minimum, pocket flares, a strobe light and maybe even a waterproof VHF. If he ever goes overboard again, other people are going to know about it. Of course no one expects to tumble overboard, but as he said, "If the safety officer of two yacht clubs can fall overboard on a calm day, it can happen to anyone."

Nobody cares much for the smell of water that's been sitting in a boat's water tank. Skippers cope by carrying bottled water for drinking and maybe installing a filter and adding a couple of tablespoons of bleach to the water each time the tank is filled. There is one smell, however, that you can't cope with, at least not for long: the rotten egg smell that can sometimes waft out of the tap when the hot water is turned on.

Jim Schofield, who retired last year as director of the BoatUS Coop Marina Program, noticed the smell on his 34-foot sailboat and assumed it had something to do with the boat's aging hot water heater. The solution, he initially thought, was to replace the water heater. It turns out, though, that the eye-rolling smell wasn't the heater itself but the heater's anode — or lack of an anode. (Jim confessed that he didn't even know the water heater had an anode.) All he had to do was change the anode and the smell went away.

A few other things you should know about smelly hot water heaters. • Not all marine water heaters have anodes and if that's the case, you'll either have to replace the heater or try to live with the smell. • Since water in the tank is fresh, the anode is magnesium. • Anodes can usually be ordered directly from the water heater's manufacturer. • Depending on the composition of the water, the anode may need replacing in as little as four years, although most water heater anodes typically last much longer. In Jim's case, his boat was over 25 years old and he's confident that the anode had never been replaced. • Your water heater at home probably has an anode.

Photo: Marine Travelift, Inc.

Finally, anyone who has spent much time around boatyards (or anyone with a really big boat) will appreciate this photo of the mother of all Marine Travelifts, taken at the Grave One Marine Shipyard in Lumut, Malaysia. According to Ghafar Sanusi at Grade One, the travelift is capable of hoisting 700 tons and is used routinely to haul everything from oceangoing ships to megayachts.