Trouble With Trailers

Photo of trailer towing a boat

I replaced the brakes on the back axle of my trailer last year. Now, the front axle needs brakes. The boat shop said they can remove the brakes from the front axle. If I only have brakes on one axle, does it matter whether they're front or rear?

John Adey: Traditionally I've seen them both ways. Some state regulations say "at least one axle is equipped with brakes." The one common thread is that there should be brakes on both axles if the trailer is equipped that way. First I'd check your state requirements and make a phone call to ensure you're going to be in compliance. Depending on the weight and amount of towing you do, you may be making a decision that will cause you more problems in the long run, leading to excessive vehicle wear, poor handling, and so on. My recommendation is a set of functional brakes on both axles.

Anchor Away!

Four times on the Chesapeake Bay, after I anchored, I've had someone come in late and drop a hook inside the range of my swing. I once had a group anchor close by and drop a stern anchor so they didn't swing with other boats, and we almost hit them. What is up on the Chesapeake?

Tom Neale: It's not just the Chesapeake. This is a problem in many areas. You should see what happens in the Bahamas, where there's coral reef, hard sandbars, and no TowBoatUS! I suppose many people on the water these days don't know much about seamanship and, perhaps, courtesy. One should never anchor inside the scope of the swing of a boat that's already there, and one should never assume that all boats swing the same way at the same time because they don't. Also, anchoring bow and stern is usually a poor practice even if you're the only boat in the harbor because you can't swing to the wind and current, so you're more likely to drag. Add to this a raft-up anchored bow and stern, and it's exponentially worse.

I've found that the best thing to do is to go over in the dinghy and have a friendly "Hey, how y'doing? Isn't it a great evening? Oh, by the way, I'm a bit worried ..." type of conversation, and tell them your concerns. Usually this works, but not always. Standing on deck and yelling usually doesn't work because the other people interpret the high voice needed to be heard as hostility. (Not that you're feeling very kindly toward them at the moment.) If nothing works, we just move, although sometimes it's too late in the evening to do this and/or there's no room. You shouldn't have to move, but it's better than worrying all night long about the consequences of others' poor decisions.

Are you ready for a demanding love affair?

The boat I'm interested in is a well-maintained older Grand Banks used in fresh water, but the guys on the dock tell me to stay away from a wood boat. I want to use it in warm Southern saltwater and they say that worms will make short work of the hull. Is wood a definite no? Or is there preventive maintenance that can protect against worms?

Don Casey: The guys have a point. Wooden boats do way better in a cold climate, but there are plenty of wood boats in Southern waters. The analogy that appeals to me is the difference between wooden and composite tennis rackets. Both are fine in use, but if you fail to take exacting care of the wooden one when not in use, it commits suicide. The composite one just waits. Hulls are like that. Wood boats are wonderful to sail aboard, quiet and substantial-feeling, but extremely vulnerable to neglect. The question you need to answer is, how much time or money are you willing to commit to maintenance, and how conscientious are you? If you're the kind of person who sometimes lets things slide, or if your life is so complicated that time is sometimes just unavailable, then you probably should stay away from a wood boat. Wood boats are never a bargain. Wood-boat ownership has to be a passionate love affair. As for worms: Painting the bottom carefully every year is typically adequate to prevent or at least severely limit worm attacks. A more durable defense is fiberglass sheathing or coating the bottom with a coal-tar epoxy.

Generating Trouble

We use a Honda 2000 generator at anchor for our 120AC source and battery charging. However, I seem to "eat" shaft zincs more when the Honda is supplying the electricity than when in a marina or underway. Have you heard of any special tricks to using a portable generator on a boat?

Tom Neale: It's best to not use a portable generator on a boat. I hate to say that because I used to use one many years ago and it was helpful. But on learning more, I stopped using it long ago. A boat has unique issues as to wiring and electricity — different from land issues — and these portables are intended for land use. Without going into loads of detail, a portable generator could be the cause of your excessive zinc consumption and many other problems. For example, a generator not designed and set up for boats could introduce current into your boat's bonding system, resulting in zincs rapidly deteriorating. Also, there's the very serious issue of exhaust poisoning. The potential for CO poisoning with these units alone is enough to not use them.

How Dry I Am

In the October issue of your magazine, there's an article about keeping your bilge dry. The writer states that when your shaft isn't turning, you should have no dripping from the packing. I was taught that with a stainless shaft, you need to have fresh (fully oxygenated) water around the shaft to prevent crevice corrosion or pitting as the oxygen provides the oxide film that protects the stainless. Is this correct or can I go tighten up the packing nut and dry out my bilge?

John Adey: The amount of oxygen needed to keep stainless free of corrosion can't be obtained by a dripping packing gland. Depending on the type of stainless you have, you may never have a problem. Higher-quality stainless shafts like Aquamet 22 are highly corrosion resistant and won't have a problem in a stagnant shaft tube, whereas Aquamet 17 is much more susceptible to crevice corrosion (pitting). The pitting I've seen comes from the lower-grade stainless with very long shaft tubes (4-6 feet). So, tighten the nut, it's not doing much good, and keep the bilge dry!

Much Ado

I purchased a 2002 Sea Ray Sundancer last spring and the surveyor noted a few small blisters on the rear port and starboard chines. The blisters are dime size or smaller, about eight per side. He suggested they be repaired when the boat is pulled in the fall, which I plan to do. I stopped at a boatyard this week to discuss the issue. The yard suggested I should have the entire bottom sandblasted when I pull it for winter storage, allow the bottom to dry for several months, add two coats of barrier coat after repairing the blisters, then repaint with bottom paint. Cost? More than $4,000. They claim that if I just do an area repair, more blisters are likely to develop elsewhere on the hull. This struck me as overkill for a confined problem that the surveyor made no special issue out of. What's your opinion?

Don Casey: Follow the advice of your surveyor. Blisters are a common problem. How serious they might become can depend on the chemical composition of the laminate, the scheduling of the original lay-up, the skill of the laminator, even the atmospheric conditions at that time, and on where and how you use the boat. In any case, this is a condition that typically advances slowly, particularly on a boat that is dry-stored part of the year. So make the repair, then examine the hull every year when you take it out of the water, and decide how to proceed if you find new blisters. A few blisters are a cosmetic problem, not the first signs of the death of your hull. Fix them and forget them. For the record, I hold the opinion that sandblasting a fiberglass hull is nearly always more damaging in the long run than the condition it's supposed to be correcting. If you ever do barrier coat this hull, you'll need to do research to have a proper job done, not what your yard is proposing.

Gelcoat Isn't Forever

I have a 1987 Cobalt, and the gelcoat is showing its age a great deal. I compound and wax it at the beginning of the season, but it only seems to last a few weeks before it begins to fade again. Can you recommend a good compound and wax and any other technique to help me with this problem? I can't afford a new boat or to have this one repainted.

Tom Neale: Eventually, gelcoat on boats gets badly worn and the more you compound and wax it, the worse it gets. Compounding removes fine layers of gelcoat, which at first isn't noticeable. Our 53-foot motorsailer was built in 1975 and we painted it. Our center console was built in 1985 and right now we're putting up with the old gelcoat, but we'll probably paint it soon. Eventually, that's the only thing you can do that really works. Many people paint the boat themselves, using methods such as rolling and tipping. This saves a lot of money, but it may not look brand new without a professional doing it. However, it'll look better than the old gelcoat. If you go to helpful websites such as Interlux (, you'll find useful info on paints and techniques. It's important to take care of this because eventually an inadequate gelcoat could allow water to migrate into the laminate and other areas. 

— Published: February/March 2013

How to Fix a Busted Hose

Turns out that there exists a magic tape that cures many boat ills, and here comes Tom to tell us all about it.

I used to carry aboard around 75 pounds of spare hoses of many different types, materials, and lengths. Two years ago, I discovered Rescue Tape, and took most of those spares off our boat. It's a silicone tape that creates a permanent airtight, watertight seal in seconds; doesn't get gummy like electrical or duct tape; has a long shelf life; is versatile; resists fuels, oils, acids, solvents, saltwater, road salt, and UV; is self-fusing; has 950-psi tensile strength; insulates 8,000 volts per layer; withstands 500 degrees F of heat; and remains flexible to -85 degrees F (-65 degrees C). You can put it on over wet or oily surfaces.

I've used it for many applications, including a busted water hose section that supplies dockside water to our boat when we're in a marina. The hose split in a marina with around 70 to 80 pounds of pressure (way too much). I patched it more than two years ago. Since then the hose has remained outside, suffered abuse, had almost daily exposure to UV, suffered 60-plus pounds of pressure for long periods, and hasn't failed. I've used the tape in applications involving hot water to repair pipes, to whip line ends, and to mark lines. You can put it on over a wet pipe or hose; it doesn't require dryness or sticking like other tape, just the pressure of a tight wrap during application.

This type of tape takes skill to apply. Read
the instructions and practice before using it in an emergency. You must stretch it tightly over itself as you wrap it, so it melds into itself. There's no sticky surface; it fuses to itself almost at the touch. You're stretching it tightly, so a little goes much farther than you initially expect. The more layers you use, the more stress it'll take, and the more durable the repair.



Meet the Experts

Photo of Don Casey

Don Casey
One of the most consulted experts on boat care and upgrades for 30 years. He and his wife cruise their 30-footer part of the year in the eastern Caribbean. His books include Don Casey's Complete Illustrated Sailboat Maintenance Manual, and the recently updated This Old Boat, the bible for do-it-yourself boaters.

Photo of John Adey

John Adey
The president of the American Boat & Yacht Council, John has been in the industry since 1990, with experience from a yacht brokerage and boatyard to owning a marine supply store. He and his family sail their classic 1976 Irwin ketch, a boat he completely restored.

Photo of Tom Neale

Tom Neale
He's cruised long distance with his family for most of his adult life. He can take apart and fix almost every system aboard, has written two books, filmed a two-set DVD on East Coast cruising, written for top marine magazines, and has won nine first-place awards from Boating Writers International and many awards for his technical writing.

Photo of Bob Adriance

Bob Adriance
The editor of Seaworthy, the damage avoidance newsletter of BoatUS Marine Insurance, Bob has written hundreds of articles on safety, loss prevention and causes of boating accidents. His 2006 book, Seaworthy, Essential Lessons of Things Gone Wrong, is based on 20 years of real claims files. He's owned Folkboats to J-Boats and currently sails a 36-foot sloop.

Photo of Beth Leonard

Beth Leonard
BoatUS Magazine's new technical editor, Beth Leonard, grew up powerboating, waterskiing, and fishing on Lake Ontario. Since 1992, she and her husband have completed two circumnavigations on two sailboats, doing all maintenance themselves. They also installed the systems on their 47-foot aluminum sloop. Beth has written The Voyager's Handbook, the how-to bible for offshore sailors, and hundreds of technical articles.


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