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Mailboat Letters

Electricity and Drowning

In the past year, there have been at least five fatalities involving people swimming near boats that were leaking current in the water. I suspect there have been others that were classified as "drownings." In accident studies, as many as 26 percent of boats in a marina are leaking some amount of current into the surrounding water. All of these have been in fresh water and connected to shore power. Because saltwater is more conductive than the human body, swimmers in saltwater are not susceptible to this sort of hazard.

There is a new device that boat owners will start noticing on the 2010 and newer boats that will eventually reduce these sorts of untimely accidents: an Electrical Leakage Circuit Interrupter (ELCI). The ELCI is now required by the American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) electrical standards in all 120/240V AC electrical systems. The ELCI is a residual current device that detects equipment ground fault current leakage and disconnects all ungrounded 120/240V AC current carrying conductors from the supply source. If there is current leaking into the 12V DC system or water surrounding the boat, it will detect the missing current between those conductors. If the difference between the hot and neutral conductors is greater than 30 milliamperes, it will trip the ELCI breaker. Shore power is not the only time you have 120/240V AC power on your vessel. Whenever your generator or inverter is operating, it can have the same effects if there is improper or damaged wiring on your vessel.

Until ELCIs are used on all boats, it's important to remember why it is not safe to swim in the marinas. You should also make sure your boat and your marina are tested for any stray electrical current. I would strongly recommend that you have your vessel inspected and tested for any issues. You can start by contacting an ABYC-certified electrical technician to have your and neighboring vessels tested.

Marc Nugent
Manitou Boatworks & Engineering
Traverse City, Michigan

A Plea to Slow Down

As a member of BoatUS and a resident of Alabama living on the Tombigbee River, I have a couple of issues that need to be addressed. First, the larger vessels that travel through residential areas without slowing throw enormous wakes, which cause severe bank erosion. Moreover, when the river has risen, the wakes caused by these vessels wash up the bank leading to further erosion.

Additionally, in the summer, some yachts do slow for small fishing boats; however, those that don't slow cause a dangerous situation for smaller boats. For instance, just yesterday, my family and I encountered a yacht as we were traveling to the closest sandbar from our house. We signaled to the driver to slow down as we approached the boat, but he disrespectfully continued at the same speed; we then pulled toward the bank and braced ourselves for the impact of the wake as the yacht continued by without regard to our safety. Unfortunately, this situation is not uncommon.

At least in residential areas of the river, [practice] common courtesy in nowake zones and slow down for smaller crafts during the summer, as this is our recreational season. A little respect would allow us to preserve our banks and share the waters safely during the summer months.

George and Susan Carpenter
Mile Marker 172, Tombigbee Rive

July Seaworthy Issue

As usual, the new edition of Seaworthy grabbed my attention. Lots of illumination about important things. A few comments:

About chain plates and rigging failures: We (i.e., at Cherubini Yachts, where I keep my boat and serve as webmaster) recently heard of a boat that suffered a broken whisker stay. In our restoration, we generally replace bobstays that suffer from crevice corrosion. I once picked up a piece of stainless steel from the ground, and it sure looked like the end of a whisker stay chain plate. The key point is that owners of boats with bowsprits should be examining the bowsprit rigging very carefully and consider periodic replacements. The same would apply for the rigging of a boomkin.

I replaced the chain plates on my boat a few years ago. I had them made of duplex stainless steel (grade 2025). It is supposed to be more corrosion resistant and stronger.

About 10 years earlier, I had removed chain plates for inspection and discovered that the studs that secured the chain plates were made of stainless steel and had extensive damage from crevice corrosion. I had Monel studs made for replacements.

About possible requirements to wear life preservers: I am not against regulation, but I do think regulation should be based on accurate, empirical survey data. It is likely that a carefully targeted requirement could substantially reduce the fatalities, without impinging on lots of other boaters.

My impression in the past is that when regulations were enacted in no discharge zones, there was little or no empirical survey data to clarify whether or not people were using their holding tanks properly and legally, and whether or not the Type I and Type II treatment systems were working satisfactorily. The result was more or less outlawing the treatment systems without empirical data. The people who were obeying the law were the people who had to pay (by junking their MSDs and installing holding tanks), and the people who were polluting were never punished for not using their holding tanks (I guess).

Is there a database that shows boating drownings, and includes significant variables such as sail, jet ski, outboard motor boat, inboard motorboat; size of boat; ages of the persons who drowned; age of the captain; whether alcohol was involved? Was the boat anchored or drifting (swimming, fishing)? Was the boat underway, and what was its speed?

Boating accident that claimed two lives: Last summer, there was a fatal accident on the Delaware River. A barge, pushed by a tugboat, ran over and sank a "Duck" (amphibious) boat in the Delaware River, right in front of the Philadelphia waterfront. Two passengers in the small boat drowned. The case was in the courts, and what happened is clear.

On the duck boat, before starting off, a crewmember checked the engine, including the coolant. Unfortunately, he forgot to put the cap on the coolant tank. When the boat was underway, the coolant boiled and released steam. The crew thought the steam was smoke and that there was a fire in the engine compartment. They stopped the engine and anchored. The duck boat was immobilized and "not under control." The duck boat captain used VHF to call and warn the tug that he was anchored, unable to maneuver.

On the tug, the first mate was in command, on an elevated bridge, and with good visibility. He got a phone call about his son, who was undergoing eye surgery. The surgery was going badly. He went down to the regular [lower] bridge, which had much poorer visibility, and went to his computer to go online and learn more about what was happening. He turned down the VHF radio volume so it wouldn't interfere with these activities. Unfortunately, the captain and a deckhand were off watch, sleeping, and two other crew members were in the galley. Obviously a disaster was waiting to happen. It did.

The first mate agreed to plead guilty to "misconduct of a ship operator causing death," the maritime-law version of manslaughter.

Note: I navigate through the very spot where this accident occurred at least twice a year, and I am very careful about maintaining lookout (at least two people on deck) and [staying] in VHF contact with commercial vessels.

Ben Stavis
Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania

Frequent Pump Failures

I am looking for information on a potentially dangerous situation with a fuel pump/cooler part I have been replacing almost every other season. I own a 2001 Stamas 310 Express with twin Mercruiser 350 Mag MPI engines. The issue is that a large amount of fuel is passing through the fuel cooler and out the exhaust, and there is a large sheen of fuel around the boat. The part number is 861156A02 Fuel Pump/Cooler Kit and the design seems to be flawed. My mechanic is a certified Mercury mechanic but he cannot explain why this is happening.

I am hoping Seaworthy and their resources can help me with this and hopefully prevent a possible fatal situation from occurring. Could the U.S. Coast Guard investigate?

John Bickford
Bolton, Massachusetts

According to Mercruiser's service director Kevin Clark, "Fuel entering the cooling system through the 'Cool Fuel Module' is not a known failure mode." He said the symptoms described by this boat owner suggest either that the engine is running very rich or that a cylinder is not firing.

"Either would result in unburned fuel exiting the engine through the exhaust system and the sheen on the surface of the water," Clark added. He recommended that taking the boat to an authorized Mercruiser dealer was the best first step, but mentioned that they had no record of the owner's mechanic contacting their technical staff for assistance.

Because of the engines' age and their out-of-warranty status, Mercruiser has no obligation to provide repairs at no cost. However, BoatUS has found the manufacturer to be helpful in providing technical assistance, even with older engines. Regarding possible recall action by the U.S. Coast Guard, the federal defect statute for marine products lasts for 10 years from the date of manufacture. The Coast Guard does not mandate recalls of products older than 10 years.

Whale Watching

I have been watching "Whale Wars," for a few seasons now (Animal Planet, Friday, 9 p.m. ET) and am amazed at the lack of concern or care of the captains and pilots of the various boats they use (i.e., Steve Irwin, Bob Barker, Gojira, and some inflatables)

I cannot believe that these people are aware of any rules of navigation on the ocean, and that they have not had licenses pulled. They have made some very dangerous maneuvers — for example, crossing directly in front of a larger, faster moving vessel — and have put their crew in danger. They have caused their own boats to be damaged and even sunk!

We had to take a boating safety course and get a certificate to drive our small boat here in New Jersey. So much of what they do goes against everything we were taught.

Bette Barr
East Windsor, New Jersey

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