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Top Heavy Accessories

Last fall, Captain Mike Dunn from TowBoatUS Crystal River near Tampa Bay called Seaworthy to report a disturbing trend: several capsizes of pontoon boats and skiffs outfitted with hardtops. The weight of these structures six feet or more above the deck increases the already high center of gravity on what are essentially flat-bottomed boats. Add a large wave, a big wake, or a bunch of guys on the hardtop as in the photo, and the boat may well be happier upside down than right side up. The weight of the hardtop in combination with a full load of partiers in the stern can also lead to backfilling of livewells on skiffs, causing the boat to capsize or sink. Bottom line: If you're thinking of accessorizing, check with the manufacturer to be sure the boat can safely take the weight, and don't allow passengers to ride on your new upper deck. If the boat came equipped with a hardtop but doesn't have a ladder or seating up top, it's not meant to be used for sightseeing. Even if the hardtop is clearly designed for passenger use, pay careful attention to the builders' recommendations as to how many people can safely be on top of the boat as opposed to in it.

Getting Your Bearings

The beauty of trailerable boats is their portability: As long as there's a boat ramp, trailer-boat owners can go to a multitude of places not accessible by marina-bound boats. But key to getting to those places is a trailer that's properly maintained. One of the most common failures on trailers is their wheel bearings, and a frozen bearing is almost sure to ruin your outing. Bearings on trailers have a particularly hard life. They only get used occasionally, so the grease tends to dry out, but worst of all is that they get routinely dunked in water, often corrosive salt water. Bearings tend to get pretty warm when they're carrying the boat's weight over a distance, and submerging them while they're still warm instantly cools them, which can force grease out, and water in. After a few dunkings, there may not be enough grease left. This spring, check your bearings and if it's been a couple of seasons, repack them. Installing Bearing Buddies is a smart option; they protect the bearings and keep the grease under pressure so the bearings always have proper lubrication between repacking.

Lift Safety

Seaworthy regularly reminds readers with boat lifts to inspect cables and all associated parts annually to be certain they're not deteriorating due to corrosion or wear. But neither of those caused the cable in this photo to snap. Member Roger Sands wrote in to tell us how his wife had just stepped off the lift and onto the dock after riding the lift up on their Waverunner when the 1/4-inch stainless steel cable snapped. The galvanized steel cradle of the 1,500-pound lift and the Waverunner went crashing down into the water. Fortunately, she was not injured, and the Waverunner was not damaged. But the cable appeared in perfect condition, so why had it broken? When the technician came out to do the repairs, it turned out that the culprit was the auto-stop. Despite its name, when it got to the top the motor continued to crank on the cable until it snapped. Sands was informed that this is a common problem affecting owners of PWCs and boats alike. So make sure to inspect your entire lift this spring looking for any signs of wear or corrosion, and replace suspect parts. And if your lift has an auto-stop feature, check to see if it also has a failsafe cutoff if the load gets too high. If it does not, don't rely on the auto-stop. And don't ride up and down with the boat or PWC: Lifts can and do fail.

Fuel Fill Hose Disaster

A couple of years ago on a lake in Missouri, the owner of 38-foot powerboat was at a fuel dock filling his tank when the boat exploded, seriously injuring him. The subsequent investigation suggested that the hose that attached to the fuel fill fitting may have come partially off, allowing gasoline to flow directly into the bilge. A spark, possibly from a bilge pump, ignited the fumes, causing the explosion. Both the American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) standards and the U.S. Coast Guard regulations require fuel fill hoses to be double-clamped; the boat's hose had two clamps, but they may not have been properly secured.

Often fuel fill hoses are hard to inspect, let alone replace, but this is one hose that can't be ignored. Keep in mind that clamps can also fail, and the hose itself has a limited life-span ­ 10 years is a good rule of thumb ­ after that they tend to crack over time. Fuel fill hoses with bends that allow fuel to remain in them have an even shorter lifespan. At least every spring, make it a point to inspect your fuel fill hoses and clamps. Give the hoses a firm pull to make sure they are well-clamped to the fitting.

Inspect clamps for corrosion. A helper and a small mirror can make the job easier.

Life Jacket Love

A few years ago, the editors of Seaworthy participated in a BoatUS Foundation test of inflatable life jackets. For the most part, we were impressed by how well they worked, especially the automatic inflation type. When the tests were over, there were quite a few previously inflated inflatable life jackets lying around; once they were properly dried, they needed to be repacked and re-armed. This turned out to be surprisingly easy — easy enough for an owner to inflate on purpose occasionally, so that if/when they are ever needed in an emergency, wearers can be confident they'll work. Manufacturers typically sell re-arming kits that include the CO2 canister and the inflator bobbin and they're not hard to install. Even if you decide never to auto-inflate your life jacket, it's a good idea to manually inflate it (using the included tube to blow in) and make sure it holds air for 24 hours. Refolding the bladder into the cover is not hard, but make sure it's folded correctly; manufacturers typically include re-packing instructions on the inside of the life jacket. You can find more detailed instructions at: www.BoatUS.org/life-jackets/inflatable-life-jacket-care/

Oh, To Be Towed

Hopefully you will have no need to call TowBoatUS or Vessel Assist this summer, but if you do, do you know how your boat should be towed? Different boats have different requirements. Some jet skis, for instance, cannot be towed at more than five miles per hour or water will enter the exhaust and flood the engine. Most boats are equipped with reinforced attachment points (usually cleats) on the bow that must be strong enough to take the load of an anchor line or mooring, and these are what
should be used for an on-the-water tow. While TowBoatUS and Vessel Assist captains are professionals with years of experience towing all different types of boats, each one cannot be familiar with every vessel on the water. As skipper, it's your responsibility to know how your boat needs to be towed, and to communicate anything unusual to the tow boat captain. Your owner's manual should tell you where the reinforced attachment points are on the boat, and outline any unusual requirements for towing. Take a look now, before the season gets underway, then relax and enjoy the summer. Hopefully this is information you won't need to use. >

— Published: April 2015

Seaworthy, the damage-avoidance newsletter, is brought to you by the BoatUS Marine Insurance Program. For an insurance quote, please call 1-800-283-2883 or apply online at BoatUS.com.

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