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Low-Tech DIY Ideas For The New Economy


By Tom Morkin

As a self-confessed Luddite, at yachtie get-togethers, be they beach barbeques or happy-hour gatherings, I tend to shy away from those groups where words and phrases like Satcom, AIS, interface, broadband, NMEA, uplink, download, and so on are used. From past experience, I’ve learned that joining those conversations has often left me depressed for two basic reasons: 1) I usually don’t understand much of what is being said, and 2) If I do understand what they’re talking about – high-tech goodies that make their sailing lives safer and more comfortable – I can’t afford to buy them.

So being stupid and poor, I gravitate to other low-tech groups that tend to talk about things that make our lives safer and more comfortable but cost one hell of a lot less. In the hope, dear reader, that you may find useful some of these low to very low cost items and ideas that have helped us through the years, stay reading.

Poor Man’s Hookah Rig
Say you need to dive under the boat to scrape the prop, clean the hull, change a zinc, or do a general survey of the outside wet part of your boat. You don’t have scuba gear on board or you do but you don’t want to use a tank, or you don’t have a hookah rig and your free diving skills aren’t what they used to be. This idea may be for you.

This simple rig can be used when you need to scrape the prop, clean the hull, change a zinc or do a general survey of the bottom of your boat.

You’ll need an inflatable dinghy pump, 20 feet of garden hose, mask and snorkel (with a purge valve), and last but not least, someone to work the pump. Connect garden hose to the output (exhaust) side of dinghy pump hose and insert the bitter end of the garden hose into the intake end of the  snorkel. You’re now ready to go. When dinghy pump is pumped, ambient fresh air is forced through the hose into the snorkel. Since there is more air than the diver needs, excess air exits the purge valve along with the diver’s exhausted air.

The deeper the diver goes, the harder the pumper must pump. For tasks under 10 feet deep, the person on the boat deck can easily supply the diver’s needs. The sound of the pumped air can be clearly heard underwater, which will tell the diver when the air has arrived in the snorkel.  No regulator, no tank, no mechanical compressor, no gasoline, no hassle.  Sounds crazy but it works!

Vice Mount
A vice is a very useful thing to have on a boat, but where do you put it where it is out of the way yet easy to get at and ready to use? Answer: through-bolt it to the bottom side of a locker lid. Not only is it out of the way, it’s ready to use and has a stable mounting.

This locker lid, under a galley settee, also serves to store my vice. It’s out of the way but easily accessible.

Buy as much as you can carry on your boat and put it everywhere. Below are just a fraction of the applications for the stuff. Rather than screw holes into your boat to hang pictures or attach fixtures to wall, try this type of Velcro. On Feel Free we also use it to mount our laptop used for navigation to our nav table, attach back rests of settees to walls and bulkheads, and glass holders to walls. We use the cloth type on such things as sail covers, cockpit enclosures, clothing, backpacks, footwear, windlass cover.

The sturdy, plastic Velcro can also be used to attach pictures to walls or bulkheads Our laptop computer (that we use to crank out this blog) is snugly attached to the nav table with the new, rigid plastic Velcro. Our settee in the main cabin is held in place with soft Velcro.

LED Head Lamps
In my next life I want to come back as an LED headlamp salesman. On the good ship Feel Free we have four LED head lamps, one small LED flashlight and three LED cabin lights, and we’ll soon be shopping for more. They produce a bright, highly directional beam of light and use a tiny fraction of the power their incandescent and fluorescent cousins use. Here are some of the ways they are used on.
We’ve made brackets for small lights and screw them into often-used lockers (food locker and spares locker so a light is always at hand when it’s dark).

This pantry flashlight is easily accessible.

The headlamps are invaluable, especially at sea. They illuminate the cockpit and deck all the while allowing you both hands for whatever task is at hand. The old incandescent lights they used to use in headlamps used so much power, heavy batteries were required to provide reasonable term of service. Strapping this heavy contraption to your head was quite uncomfortable, carrying the battery pack on your person, inconvenient. The LED headlamps have a powerful light, are comfortable and have long service life before needing battery replacement.

I’m so hooked on them that when awakened for my night watch, after my glasses, my headlamp is the first thing I put on. Moving around the boat at night taking your light with you, there is less need to turn on and off cabin lights, reducing power consumption and minimizing the likelihood of waking your sleeping mate. Of course, using red LEDs will not affect your night vision.

A friend who suffers from interrupted sleep used to have to get out of her bunk and go elsewhere to read so as not to disturb her sleeping husband by turning on the cabin light. By using an LED headlamp, she can now stay in her bed and read without disturbing him.

Strings of LEDs can be connected to provide soft mood lighting in cockpits for boat interiors, and they come in different colors.

Boat Step
To assist embarking and disembarking from or to docks or dinghies, here’s a simple solution. Obtain a 1-inch-thick piece of plywood, about 18 inches long and 9 inches wide, and attach each end with rope to stanchion bases, then hang alongside the hull. This is a safe and easy way to board the boat. We use karabiners for quick attaching and detaching. The boat step is painted with nonskid paint and a strip of carpet is stapled to the edge that rests against the hull.

This simple boat step is easy to make and very helpful for embarking and disembarking.

Solid Rails Made Possible By Spinnaker And Whisker Poles
We have three poles on board Feel Free. When not in use they are secured to the lifelines. This not only gets them off the deck, it increases security for the crew on the foredeck.

A Second (Hand-Operated) Switch For The Electric Windlass
The hand switch provides mobility to better see what’s going on as the ground tackle is raised. It also serves as a backup switch should the foot switch fail. In our seven years with an electric windlass, we’ve replaced the foot switch three times. It is reassuring to know if the foot switch becomes corroded and fails you can still operate the windlass.

The windlass back up switch provides mobility to better see what is going on as the ground tackle is raised.

Manual Mini Bilge Pump
Although we have two electric bilge pumps that should theoretically pump over 5,000 gallons of water per hour, we are unable to completely empty the bilge with these pumps. To completely rid our very deep bilge of water, we lower a garden hose firmly secured (wire ties work well) to a wooden dowel or stick, to the lower part of the bilge and using a second-hand manual galley pump (about $10), to pump the last of the water into a bucket and voila, we have a dry bilge.
This simple low-tech pump is used every year to pump the very bottom of our fuel tank to check if any water or sludge is on the bottom of the tank. The same procedure can be used with the fresh water tank to detect and reduce unwanted materials in its bottom.

Tom uses a simple pump attached to a section of garden hose and a stick to empty the bottom of the bilge of its contents.

Peanut Butter Jars
Definitely save all peanut butter jars!  They are watertight and can protect all manner of valuable items on those sometimes wet dinghy trips. Our favorite uses are for storage of our digital camera, cell phone, memory stick, glasses, watches, wallets, paper money, and so on. Sure you can buy purpose-built products to keep this stuff dry, but why?
Peanut butter jars are watertight and can protect all manner of valuable items.  

Tough economic times provide the incentive to be a little more creative in doing more with less. Low-cost boat modifications not only result in more money left in the bank account, they also provide one with the satisfaction that comes from doing it yourself.