Mailboat Letters

Published: April 2012
Charging Batteries

Just a note to thank you for the article in Seaworthy about batteries ("Emergent Technologies, Evolving Hazards"). In the article on lithium batteries, there is a paragraph about how normal marine batteries and the charger heat up without proper air circulation. That caused me to change how I charge the batteries on my center console. The four batteries—two for the outboard and boat electronics and two for the trolling motor—are all located underneath the center console just above the gas tank. Usually charging the batteries overnight, I would put back the compartment cover and mostly close the center console. No more. I am going to leave it open to the air. Thanks again.

J.L. Lagestee
Chino, California

You might note that lithium-ion batteries are usually built-in systems with individual cell-voltage monitoring and charge control, among other protections. There is no trickle-charge allowed current; continuing any current beyond optimal charge level can damage the cell.

A useful resource…

Eugene Day
Washington, DC

I Saw A Boat Explode Once…

Regarding the Alert on boat explosions (January 2012 Alerts), I saw a boat explode once, and I vowed that it would never happen to me! People died in the explosion.

I ALWAYS open the engine hatch for 10 minutes before I start the engines. That goes for diesels, too. I have a nice 47-foot Harbor Master houseboat, which has a very large engine room hatch on the aft deck. I open that and sniff, then LOOK around before starting the engines. I do it every time—EVERY TIME—no excuses.

Roy Gallucci
Stockton, California

Never Finished

Regarding the Personal Account about Never Finished, the clamps on a shaft log can come off easily. Temperature changes cause diameter changes. Shrinkage caused by cold water on clamps installed on a hot day, for example, will loosen the clamps. I recommend using clamps with the beveled washers that provide constant torque even during expansion and contraction. These clamps can be purchased at a Caterpillar dealer or possibly any other large-equipment dealer. They are not expensive, especially compared to the results incurred by using the inexpensive clamps. Save a buck, sink a boat. These better clamps should also be required on all below-the-waterline line connections. My boat and another boat at my marina also had a similar clamp issue. Both boats were saved from sinking, one by being hauled out at the last minute and mine by simply sliding the new hose and new clamps back in place and retightening the clamps.

Vibration from a folding prop that does not open correctly will also move that loose hose and sink the boat. I would check the shaft bearings and all other tolerances for excessive wear, wrong parts, or just a bad design on the Never Finished. Had the shaft tolerances been less, the sinking would have not have been so quick.

Greg Spring
Cincinnati, Ohio

Three lessons came to my mind that weren’t mentioned. First, whenever something unusual happens, check for damage. Second, install a bilge-level alarm. Third, always carry a handheld VHF. You might end up in the water on short notice, and a radio would come in handy.

Ted Fautz
San Diego, California

Thanks for the story about The Sinking of Never Finished and the important insurance/salvage issues. I’d like to add a couple of thoughts. Boaters should understand the dangers of hitting any submerged object—even a seemingly harmless crab pot. If you hear a “thump, thump, thump,” stop all engines and check the engine room and bilges. One should assume that there might be damage, especially water coming in at the shaft. That was perhaps the main lesson of the story along with that of not running over them in the first place, but the author “figured those expensive cutters on the props had cut loose whatever it was we hit.” One should regularly check bilges and engine room, anyhow.

One could argue about whether this particular situation called for a mayday or a pan pan since it was a calm, warm summer day, but I was surprised about the author later saying he was ashamed that he did not activate his EPIRB. I say that based on the conditions just noted, time of year, proximity to land, the other modes of communication, and other nearby boats. It is slippery to second-guess in hindsight, but it would seem that activating that global emergency system after contact was made with so many others nearby and prepared to assist would have been unnecessary and perhaps unwarranted. Making sure the EPIRB would be handy if needed would seem to be more reasonable.

Real lessons other than the important insurance concern: 1. Bad things happen on nice days—there are always risks. 2. Don’t hit crab pots; a good lookout is prudent and required by law on navigable waters—high seas, international water—everywhere! 3. If you hear a thud or think something is wrong—check it out! 4. The engine can always be used as a pump—and two engines pumping might have saved his boat.

Paul Foer
Annapolis, Maryland

Thank you for the great article on the sinking Never Finished; it was very informative and helpful as we have had close calls with lobster traps in the past.

The Tigchelaars
Ontario, Canada

I read the recent Seaworthy article by John Zalusky and Susan Rork, ”The Sinking Of Never Finished.” Under the sidebar, “A Few Lessons,” the authors offered the following observation concerning hoses and, more specifically, hose clamps:

“Use the strongest possible hoses and stainless steel clamps, especially with through-hulls below the waterline. Since the unfortunate run-in with the crab pots, I’ve installed ‘T’ bolt clamps, which are much more secure.”

As an Accredited Marine Surveyor, I fully agree with the author’s advice. All too frequently, while inspecting vessels I have noted the use of automotive-type hose clamps on through-hull fittings and at stuffing box hoses. Although automotive-type hose clamps may have a stainless-steel band, the screw is almost always cadmium-plated steel. Steel screws are subject to severe corrosion degradation, which could lead to failure of the clamp’s ability to properly attach the hose to the fitting.

I am a firm believer in the superior quality of marine approved “T” draw bolt-type clamps and frequently recommend their use. Although not actually required by ABYC and the USCG, I also recommend, when practical, that all below-the-waterline through-hull fittings be double-clamped as an additional safety factor.

Captain Jay Michaud, SAMS, AMS
Marblehead, Massachusetts

I would like to add another safety idea to the story about the sinking of Never Finished: I did not read anything about a bilge water alarm in the story. Every boat with a bilge pump can install an alarm for less than $20. Using an automotive backup alarm from Whitney Auto Parts, you can simply connect the 12-volt DC alarm to the bilge pump positive wire and ground. It will sound anytime the pump is “ON“ and should be located near the helm or anywhere it can be heard throughout the boat. I will not complain if it wakes me in the middle of the night. I have installed this system on each of the 27 boats I have owned.

Capt. Haley
USMC Air Safety Officer
Edgewater, Maryland

Checking Through-Hulls

I find the accounts of boat sinkings, collisions, failures, etc., fascinating and educational. This falls in that category.

In November, I purchased a 1990 Luhrs Allura Express Cruiser that had sunk in shallow water at the owner’s private dock. The boat was raised, towed to a marina, and cleaned by a competent crew with a mechanic tending to the engine. When I purchased her, BoatUS required a survey by one of its approved surveyors.

Among the recommendations he made was to replace the plastic through-hulls in the transom that drained the relatively large cockpit. When I attempted to remove the inspection port covers, accessible only through the transom lockers, I discovered that the one had evidently been painted over with epoxy-type paint and could not be removed. I unscrewed the entire fitting for access to the through-hull and hose. To my surprise, the hose was connected to the cockpit drain and attached with a single hose clamp. The other end was lying on the floor, not connected to the transom drain! Because the single inspection port for the starboard drain had accidentally been sealed with epoxy paint, it had never been checked in 20 years.

The moral of this event is not only to check your oil and water levels, but also find each through-hull and make their inspection part of your regular maintenance program! And if my surveyor had not insisted I replace the plastic through-hulls with bronze, I would probably never have checked them either, especially the one with a sealed access port!

Lamar F. Neville
Annapolis, Maryland

Locating A Mysterious Leak

I have a 1988 Pearson 31 sailboat. During the last year, I have noticed that the boat takes on about a gallon of water underway. No water comes in while the boat is berthed at the dock. It doesn’t matter if we are sailing or powering; the boat must simply be moving. I have checked the obvious places, such as around the shaft through-hulls. I drained the water tanks. I have determined that the water is not back-siphoning through the bilge pump.

My marina is going to check the keel bolts to see if one or more of them may be loose. They will also check the seal around the bolts. Can you offer any suggestions as to the cause?

Bill Ludlom
Apollo Beach, Florida

First, be certain the water is salt and not leaking from a freshwater component (water heater, fitting, pump, and so on). Once you’ve established that the leak is salt, check the rudder shaft and keel bolts. If you still can’t find the source, sprinkle baby powder inside the boat below the waterline when the bilge is dry and then go sailing; you’ll be able to find the source by following the
water trail.

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