Published: January 2012

Shrinkwrap And Heat Guns
Almost every year there is at least one fire in the BoatUS Marine Insurance claim files that involves a boat owner who started a fire while using a heat gun to shrinkwrap a boat. In this case, the owner put down the heat gun for a minute while he moved a ladder. When he turned around, he saw flames and ran to get a hose, which, after fumbling around for a few valuable minutes, he discovered was too short. Back he went to look for a second hose. By the time he finally coupled the hoses together and turned on the water, the fire was so intense that he had to call the fire department. Even though they arrived within minutes and quickly extinguished the flames, the damage had been done; the boat was a total loss (Claim #1028291).

Two suggestions: Before you begin your shrinkwrap project, make sure you have hoses and fire extinguishers at the ready, and keep the heat gun away from flammable surfaces.

Chainplates And Bulkheads
Some winter projects are simple, while others may require a little more effort. Maybe a lot more effort. Case in point: On most sailboats, chainplates pass through the deck and are anchored to a bulkhead. Over time, the sealant around the chainplates breaks down and, depending on how your boat was constructed, water can begin leaking into the deck core and even the bulkhead. Potential problems that may need to be addressed include delamination (deck), rust (chainplate), and rot (bulkhead), none of which qualify as a simple repair.

To begin an inspection, take the handle of a screwdriver and tap the deck surrounding the chainplate. Start by tapping a foot or so from the chainplate, so you can recognize the sound of a "healthy" deck (thwap, thwap). Next tap around the deck next to the chainplate. If it sounds "softer" (thump, thump), you likely have delamination and possibly a rusted chainplate. The only way to know for sure is to remove the chainplate.

If the problem has been neglected for too long, water may have leaked into the bulkhead. The same tapping technique used on the deck can be used on the bulkhead. Any problems should be addressed immediately, either by you or, more likely, a professional; removing chainplates and repairing decks and bulkheads takes considerable skill.

The photo above shows the inevitable outcome of neglecting to rectify the problem (Claim #1014201).

Shore Power Fires
If your boat is going to stay in the water this winter, check the ends of your shore power cord — the connections — looking for blackened connections, corrosion, or melted plastic. Over time, especially in a saltwater environment, the metal blades on the boat's inlet and the plug at the pedestal can corrode, which causes electrical resistance and heat. Damaged connections are another source of heat.

If you find any sign of overheating, you can start by replacing the cable. It is also likely that the shore power inlet on the boat will need replacing. This boat (Claim #0811588) was destroyed when the shore power inlet overheated and ignited the cabinet where the electrical connections were located. The owner had never had any problems with the system until hours before the fire when the boat's electrical system quit. After jiggling the shore power connection a few times, the power returned, a clue that should have warned the owner that a thorough inspection of the cable and inlets was in order.

Fittings On Deck, Part I: Boats In The Water
One of the things Seaworthy has always advocated over the winter is visiting your boat occasionally, especially if it's kept in the water. A preemptive visit can identify chafed docklines, prevent dock rash, or find a stuffing box leak before it sinks your boat.

A deck fitting that's overlooked can also sink a boat. In this case, (Claim #0804746), the boat sank after a hose slipped off a cockpit scupper and rain gushed directly into the boat's hull. As a practical matter, a boat doesn't have to sink very far, maybe a few inches, before seawater finds a way into the boat. Sometimes the seawater enters the boat through a submerged exhaust port. In other cases, water pours in through a cracked fitting near the waterline. The remedy when you visit your boat is to check all of the fittings — below the waterline, above the waterline, and on deck.

Fittings On Deck, Part II: Boats Ashore
Another example of an overlooked deck fitting causing severe damage, in this case to a 41-foot sailboat that was stored ashore. The fittings and hoses were all intact but water backed up into the cabin via cockpit scuppers that were clogged with leaves. In the months that nobody came to visit, water continued trickling into the hull whenever it rained. The result was mold and mildew, which ruined much of the interior. The repairs took months to complete (Claim #1015899).

Fittings On Deck, Part III: Fuel System Vents (And Fills)
Deck drains that are ignored don't just sink boats. This boat's fill fitting crumbled, allowing gasoline to spill into the bilge when the boat was refueled. The vapors accumulated and exploded when the owner started the boat. One person was injured (Claim #0614148).

This spring, one of the most critical jobs will be to check the condition of your boat's fuel fittings and hoses. Joints in the fuel system should also be checked for leaks (use your fingers or look under the fitting for stains) and make sure fuel lines are well supported with non-combustible clip or straps with smooth edges. Other potential trouble spots include the fuel filter, fuel tank, and brittle or mushy hoses.

One more important point: The claim is also a good example of why it's important to open the hatch and sniff — using your nose — for odors before starting the engine. Running your blower won't eliminate vapors from spilled fuel!

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