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Wakeboard Towers and Tubes

Wakeboard towers make it easier for boarders to get more air and do cooler tricks. A tower enables a towrope to be connected to a higher point than a ski pylon that's attached down low to the stern of the boat. But towers are made for skiing and wakeboarding and typically not designed for the much greater forces that can occur while pulling inflatable tubes. If a tube gets stuffed in a wave or wake, it puts tremendous strain on the tower, which could fracture or even break it. BoatUS Marine Insurance has several claims from breaking towers, including one in which a man was seriously injured when a piece of the broken tower hit him in the face.

Most manufacturers specify exactly what the tower can safely tow, and many prohibit towing tubes. Even so, it's best to instruct passengers to keep forward of the tower and out of the potential path of a failed part. The force on the towrope can turn a broken part into a missile. Strong attachment points such as cleats and pylons on the stern should be used for tubes. Wakeboard boat owners should check over the tower carefully a few times per season, looking for cracks, especially at the welds. Any damage should be addressed before the tower is used again.

Keeping Your Cool

One measure of your engine's health is its temperature. When engines run hot, it's a sign that should never be ignored. While sudden changes in temperature that lead to an alarm are most often caused by a blocked sea strainer or damaged impeller, a gradual increase in operating temperature on an inboard or I/O engine is more likely due to buildup of scale in the raw-water cooling system. To transfer engine heat from antifreeze in the fresh-water cooling side of the system, seawater or lake water in the raw-water system passes through heat-exchanger tubes or plates immersed in the antifreeze. Those heat-exchanger tubes and the hoses leading to them can get clogged with deposits from saltwater.

Most engine manufacturers recommend having the heat exchanger cleaned and pressure-tested by a radiator shop every three to five years. If you're operating in warm southern waters, inspecting the heat exchanger on an annual basis and pulling the end fittings off to make sure the tubes are not clogged with silt or debris will help you spot problems early. Finally, flushing the raw-water system annually with a product designed to reduce scale can greatly increase the life of your engine.


This is the time of year when thunderstorm season begins in earnest. If you're out skiing or tubing when the sky darkens, you may well decide to run back to a dock and tie your boat up until the storm passes. But if you leave your boat this way, with the stern to the waves, it may look like this when you get back. It's always preferable to return the boat to its regular trailer or slip before a storm if at all possible. But doing so is not always practical and, if that means getting caught out on the water in strong winds and lightning, it also may not be safe.

So if you need to leave your boat for a few hours or overnight on a dock like this, tie it up bow to the waves. If the boat has a cover, put that on to limit the amount of rainwater that gets into the boat. If it has a bilge pump, check that it is working. If you do all this even when the sky is not threatening, then that sudden thunderstorm will be far less likely to ruin your summer fun.

Navigation Lights

A couple of years ago, a Seaworthy editor was watching a spectacular Fourth of July fireworks show in Washington, D.C. from a hillside overlooking the Potomac River. When the show was over, hundreds of boats that were in the river for the show began to leave. From shore, the boats were seen mostly as red, green, and white lights jockeying for the best route home in the dark, with, not surprisingly, more than a few close calls noted. What was a surprise though, is that the editor counted a half dozen boats with the red and green navigation lights reversed. When things are dicey in the dark, the last thing you want to do is confuse your fellow boaters. Make sure your navigation lights work — and that they are showing the proper colors. Turn them on in the dark, and verify from a distance that they are bright and correct. A previous owner could have reversed them inadvertently when replacing them. Even if the manufacturer put them in wrong, you're still responsible for making sure they are correct.

Manifold Life

Exhaust manifolds are large double-walled metal castings — pipes within pipes — that carry hot exhaust gasses away from the engine block on inboard engines. This arrangement allows hot exhaust gasses in the internal pipe to be surrounded by an external water-filled pipe, called a water-jacket, which remains cool. Without the cooling effect of the water, the exhaust gas would overheat the manifold and risers and burn through the exhaust hose in short order.

If there is a breach in the inner casting and water finds its way into the gas portion, it can seep into the cylinders when the engine is at rest. This condition could either seize the pistons with rust or create a "hydro-lock" condition, which results in the premature death of your engine. Manifolds live in a harsh environment and have a limited lifespan. The way you use your boat will be a factor in their longevity, as will the type of water it's used on. Saltwater boats are going to see a shorter manifold life when compared to their freshwater counterparts.

How long do they last? Most experts suggest that a manifold will have a life expectancy of six to eight years. However, heavy use in saltwater can see this drop to as low as three years. One sign of a potential problem is rust streaks on the outside of the manifold. A mechanic can remove the manifolds and pressure test them. If you have an infrared thermometer, you can use it to see if they overheat under load — a sign of clogging that eventually leads to failure. Have your manifolds inspected once or even twice a year if they are aging; there is usually little warning before they fail. Unfortunately, this kind of loss is usually the result of long-term corrosion, which is not covered by insurance. 

— Published: July 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

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