Mailboat Letters

Published: January 2012
Power Line Heights (And Liability)

I anticipate moving my boat in a few years to Cape Coral, Florida, where I have a house on a canal. My concern and question is, what is the difference on nautical charts between the "clearance" quoted for bridges and "authorized clearance" quoted for power cables?

I must transit a canal with a 55-foot authorized clearance and my boat has a 53-foot mast height. I talked to the Coast Guard and the power company, neither of which will say whether it is safe to cross under this line. The Coast Guard (young guy) just beats around the bush talking about tides. I talked to someone in the engineering department at LCEC, the local power company, and he refused to give me the height of the lines. The reasoning was that the NOAA charts were the only determinant, and if they gave out specific information, they might be held liable. Amazing!

I'm not too worried about the 55-foot bridge as long as it's low tide, but if the power line arcs to my mast, it could be disastrous.

Finally, it's easy for everyone to say "give the power lines 25 feet of clearance," but that's just not realistic. What really is acceptable?

Michael Hailey
Cape Coral, Florida

Nick Perugini at NOAA said that if a utility company wants to build anything around the water, they need a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). The USACE will approve a permit for an "authorized clearance"— usually relative to Mean High Water (MHW). A utility company that gets a permit for a minimum clearance of 50 feet at MHW can build the wire with a true clearance that might be 60 feet, but it cannot be less than 50 feet. However, NOAA doesn't chart the true vertical clearance.

According to the U.S. Coast Pilot, "The charted clearances of overhead cables are for the lowest wires at mean high water unless otherwise stated. Vessels with masts, stacks, booms, or antennas should allow sufficient clearance under power cables to avoid arcing. It is up to the prudent mariner to build in a 'safety factor' for arcing.

As for what is 'safe', several years ago Seaworthy put the question to several electrical experts and was told that power lines could arc 'several inches to a foot or more, depending on the voltage in the wire.' You'll notice everyone seems to be a little vague (note the 'or more'). Power lines sag in hot weather, adding to the discomfort. If your power company is prudent, the power lines should have been built to something well above the 'authorized minimum clearance.' You're probably safe, especially at low tide, but since you won't be moving to Cape Coral for a year or two, you may want to continue to press the power company for a more specific answer.

Keeping An Eye On The Weather

Regarding your article on Weather ("Keeping An Eye On The Weather"), why didn't you discuss combining XM Satellite with a Garmin display to actually watch and track storms and fronts?

David Smith
Largo, Florida

Seaworthy focused on the vast free resources available to boaters. Subscription satellite services, like XM Weather, charge a monthly fee (from $10 - $50 per month) and require a special receiver. They include most of the information the free services provide, along with some extras, but with the ability to receive it without an Internet or cell phone connection or when you're out of VHF range. Other subscription services use single-sideband radio or Inmarsat receivers.

GREAT caution article on weather. After owning Windward for two weeks, I got caught on the St. Johns River in Jacksonville in a storm that deserved a name! Yes, it was a smallish river but it scared me to death. I have never owned a boat and just had to try out my 34-foot Tollycraft.

Now I have the weather channels on 24/7!

Tom Beames
Jacksonville, Florida

Misdiagnosing Fuel Pump Problems

I just read in your October issue about John Bickford's problem with his fuel cooler module failing and fuel exiting through the exhaust. I think the MerCruiser service director should be made aware of this problem, as it seems to be misdiagnosed by MerCruiser mechanics.

My 2005 Sea Ray Amberjack with 350 MAG MPI engines had the problem with fuel leaking in the exhaust. The mechanic began by replacing the fuel injectors. This was expensive and the leak persisted.

Eventually the cause was diagnosed correctly and the problem corrected, but I think my mechanic and all MerCruiser mechanics should be instructed to look at the fuel pump/cooler before replacing the expensive injectors!

Dave Tappan
Hopkinton, Massachusetts

Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel

In reference to your article on ultra low sulfur diesel (ULSD), since 2002, I have owned a 1978 Fisher Motor Sailer that still has the original diesel engine, a 22-hp Yanmar 2QM20. I use this boat year round (averaging around 250 engine hours per year). I mix my own B20 biodiesel fuel using 80 percent marine low sulfur diesel, 20 percent B100 biodiesel, and Hammerdown DFT 1500 diesel treatment. I have had no fuel problems at all with this B20 biodiesel mix during the last nine years. In fact, one time when the old rubber seal between the crankcase and the fuel pump ruptured and filled the crankcase with B20, no harm was done to the engine because of the very high lubricity of the B20 fuel mixture. Since I have switched to the Hammerdown-treated B20 Biodiesel mix, the engine always starts immediately (even in the winter), runs quieter, and no longer puts out any exhaust smoke.

Dave Herndon
White Stone, Virginia

I'd like to share some additional information on ULSD. I've been using ULSD since it came on the market in my boat with only frequent filter changes in the beginning from system scrubbing by fuel. During winter storage I keep the tank about 7/8 full with a stabilizer and use a conditioner at the start of the season. With extended storage, the fuel tank should be pumped out, as asphaltenes in the fuel will drop out. These organic compounds form a black goo in the tank's bottom and will plug filters if you manage to get the engine started.

Andy Kriscoe
Toms River, New Jersey

Very helpful article regarding diesel fuel in the latest Seaworthy.

Question: What is the general consensus regarding adding over-the-counter diesel fuel additives to diesel?

I use both biocide and stabilizer additives.

Kim Coleman
San Francisco, California

Both a biocide and stabilizer are a good idea. You could check with your marina to see if the distributor is already adding one or both. Adding a cetane booster or lubricity additive should not be necessary.

I have a 1980s John Deere three-cylinder backhoe. From the time I bought it through an engine rebuild, the dealers told me to avoid ordinary pump diesel. They felt the low sulfur content could be harmful—cause valve problems—to older engines. I began using biodiesel, which I buy from a farmer friend who buys 5,000 gallons at a time, with additives. I haven't had any problems, except it smokes a little more and seems to have slightly less power.

I live in Pennsylvania but spend as much time as possible at Kentmore Park on the Sassafras River in Maryland (my boat is gasoline powered). Another interesting note, we just found a zebra mussel on one of our floating docks several weeks ago. Verified by a DNR inspection.

Jack Edson
Berwyn, Pennsylvania

Mini Lifesavers

Good article on mini lifesavers. I have had SPOT for years and didn't know about the linkup. I like that I can afford both an EPIRB for my boat/ditch bag, and a SPOT that I wear on my inflatable life vest. If I get knocked out of the boat while sailing, I have a beacon; if the boat is in trouble, I have the EPIRB. I likely will never carry my EPIRB in my dinghy, but I will have my SPOT.

Art Grant
Dana Point, California

Good Night, Irene

Many thanks, BoatUS, for the communication before Irene, letting me know that you would pay half of the cost to haul out my boat. I keep it at the Ocean Gate Yacht Basin at the mouth of the Toms River in New Jersey. The staff worked night and day to haul well over a hundred boats (including mine). When the storm finally hit, I felt much more comfortable knowing my boat was (on the hard) and well chocked.

John T Wagner
Bayville, New Jersey


I was recently out on my Catalina 36 and returned to dock and was going through my checklist before leaving the boat for the week. Lines secure, all power off, through-hulls closed. While closing the through-hull under the sink, I noticed more water than usual in the bilge.

I removed the floorboard and there was significantly more water than usual. I checked the float switch and discovered the problem. My girlfriend's flip flop was wedged above the switch, thus preventing it from activating. I showed her the offending item and her comment was, where is my other flip flop? After more searching, the other one was found wedged way up in the bilge. I assume when I opened the bilge cover earlier, they must have fallen in unnoticed.

Now added to my checklist: Check the bilge for obstructions and do not store items on the cabin sole that can fall into the bilge. The flip flops must have been on top of the hatch when I opened it. The table was down, converted to a bed, so I didn't notice them fall in.

Bob Landini
Pasadena, Maryland

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