Published: October 2012

Overloading Larger Boats
You don't need to be a naval architect to realize that overloading a boat increases the chances of a capsize by raising the center of gravity and making it less likely to recover when hit by a wave. Every boat under 20 feet in length carries a capacity plate within sight of the helm that specifies the maximum carrying capacity of the boat in pounds, the maximum allowable weight of persons on-board in pounds, and the maximum horsepower recommended for the boat. For these smaller boats, a simple rule of thumb is not to carry any more people than there are seats. But even if your boat is larger than 20 feet and doesn't have a capacity plate, there is still a limit to how much it can carry. Powerboats with flybridges can be particularly vulnerable—there were over a dozen people on the flybridge of the submerged 50-foot trawler in the photo when it was hit by a large wake and capsized (Claim #0601022). Miraculously, all 28 people onboard at the time survived.

The passengers on the 34-foot Silverton Kandi Won were not so lucky. The boat was heading out of Oyster Bay, Long Island, on the 4th of July with close to 1,000 other boats after the fireworks had ended. A large wake struck the boat, and it capsized, spilling 24 people into the water. Three children who had been playing cards in the cabin drowned. While the causes of this tragic accident are still under investigation, overloading was very likely a factor.

On July 15th, the parents of 7-year-old Victoria Gaines, one of the victims, joined U.S. Senator Charles Schumer in calling for the Coast Guard to set capacity limits for boats over 20 feet in length. Whether the Coast Guard chooses to do so or not, owners need to be aware of their boat's carrying capacity and be careful to avoid overloading; keep weight low and evenly distributed. Make sure the boat has not sunk more than an inch or so below its normal waterline. On powerboats with flybridges, don't let everyone join the helmsman even if it means they don't have as good a view. A variation on the rule of thumb for boats under 20 feet offers some guidance: Don't allow any more people in the flybridge than there are seats.

Zombies In The Bilge
Once your boat is safely on the hard after the winter haul-out, it's a good time to get down on your hands and knees and peer into the dark recesses of the bilge. Hopefully you won't encounter any of the undead under your floorboards like these below-waterline fittings. They may still be functioning, but the vital force has been leached from them. If left to themselves, they could sink your boat.

So how do you recognize the undead? Bronze fittings that have become pitted or developed a pinkish cast may be suffering from dezincification. Green or red streaks running off the fitting, fuzzy white deposits, signs of rust, or valves that do not open and close easily indicate corrosion that can turn seacocks into zombies. Seaworthy has addressed both dezinctification and corrosion over the years, but the member photo below had us revisiting the topic.

Two dissimilar metals in contact with one another in an electrically conductive fluid (like seawater) make a battery. The "less noble" metal will be eaten away. Zinc is one of the least noble metals (which is why we use it for sacrificial anodes), but it is used in brass and bronze fittings for several reasons including its viscosity (ability to be poured), ability to be machined, and cost. Brass has a high percentage of zinc (up to 45 percent) and most commercial bronzes have 15 percent or less. A brass fitting that loses a large portion of its zinc resembles Swiss cheese and becomes the undead. With its lower zinc content, bronze does not usually suffer from dezincification. That's why you should only use bronze (or Marelon) for below-waterline fittings. But there are some boat manufacturers who continue to use brass thru-hulls.

So when peering around your bilges after you haul out, look for any below-waterline fitting that has become pitted or developed a pinkish hue (above), the classic signs of dezincification. While dezincification may be a factor in the undead fittings in our member's photo on the left, the white fuzz suggests something more is going on. We consulted metallurgist Mark Bell who, based solely on the photo, suggested the ugly white residue could be corrosion due to too many dissimilar metals combined with condensation on the fitting. "It seems that the stack-up is copper/brass threaded nipple to a brass fitting to a stainless steel valve," he wrote. When this fitting comes off the boat in October, we intend to take a closer look.

Hopefully you won't see anything this ghoulish when you inspect your below-waterline fittings, even if you do it around Halloween. But if you find anything amiss, you'll want to replace the undead with good bronze fittings from a reputable chandler like West Marine before you splash in the spring.

Sniffing Out Fuel System Problems
Everyone knows or should know that a gasoline leak in the engine compartment can be deadly. Gasoline dripping from a damaged hose, for example, would get anyone's attention. But explosions are caused by fumes, which can sometimes come from a hose that looks healthy — no tears, cracks or dripping gasoline. Fuel lines have a limited lifespan and need to be checked at least annually by running a rag over them; if the rag smells like gas, the hoses need to be replaced. It's a good winter project.

Aside from the hoses, the rag test should also be used at the fuel system's fittings and connections. The claim files show that gas can leak where the hoses attach to filters or the engine, so special attention should be given there. Often a hose clamp is used for the connections, but sometimes metal fittings can be found, and they can leak as well — either gasoline or maybe just fumes.

The fitting shown here was probably damaged when it was swaged onto the hose, most likely by a shop, since the manufacturer didn't use this kind of fitting when they built the boat. Any damaged fuel system component — hose, clamp, or fitting — needs to be replaced immediately.

Reading Labels
Do you always take a moment to read labels? Probably not — life is too short for labels. But the next time you reach for your motor oil, it's worth at least a quick glance at the label to make sure what you're putting in your engine is actually motor oil. Putting heavy gear oil, or transmission fluid, or even the wrong-viscosity oil can do damage to your engine, maybe serious damage. Likewise, filling your transmission or lower unit with the wrong lubricant.

The containers on the left are obviously different, with clearly different labels. But the ones on the right look almost identical and it would be easy in your rush to get the oil changed this fall to make an expensive mistake. To make matters worse, the easily recognizable labels were introduced overnight to the nearly identical ones, so anyone who was used to the old style might not pay close attention and could easily pour from the wrong container.

The Winter Of Your Engine's Discontent
The method to winterize an engine varies depending on whether the engine is fresh water or raw water cooled, as well as a number of other factors. In fact, it's not possible to generalize on the procedure other than to say that water needs to be drained out of places that could be damaged if it freezes. Some engines have a single drain plug while some have several; miss just one and you can ruin your engine. One boat owner winterized his new inboard/outboard by following the procedure in the manual that stated he needed to remove three drain plugs. Unfortunately, the manual also had a procedure to drain the engine if it was equipped with a different drain system, which it was. That procedure required removing five drain plugs. The engine block was cracked over the winter and had to be replaced. Make sure you check your manual if you're doing your own winterizing and double-check that the procedure for draining the water is the right one for your engine.

An alternative is to run non-toxic antifreeze through the entire system via the cooling water intake. This has the added benefit of inhibiting corrosion over the winter. For more on winterizing, visit:

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