Maintenance Warnings And Safety Alerts

From BoatUS Marine Insurance

Check Your Chainplates

The picture at right doesn't look too alarming — unless you know what you're looking for. The picture below is the same chainplate taken from inside the boat, where you can't easily see. Water leaked through the deck and eventually began corroding the stainless steel because the area stayed damp. (Stainless steel will corrode where there's no oxygen present.)

Back to the picture at right: The arrow points to crevice corrosion and a crack in the chainplate, which has weakened the fitting enough that it has to be replaced. If left as is, it could easily fail in a blow and bring down the rig. What's most worrisome is that the boat is only 10 years old. Most of its life was spent in Florida, where corrosion is often overactive due to the warm air and saltwater temperatures.

The next time you do a routine rigging inspection (for a complete how-to, see, "Inspecting Sailboat Rigging") take a few minutes to check your chainplates carefully. If you spot something suspect, call in a professional and have it addressed before your next sail.

Wild Wires Potential Fires

Ever wonder why the American Boat & Yacht Council recommends that wires be supported every 18 inches? The photo below is a great example: Sagging battery cables caught on a spinning propshaft, yanking several feet of them out from wherever they were hanging, wrapping them into a tangled clump. It's easy to imagine the broken ends of the big cables — probably energized by a healthy dose of 12 volts — shorting against something and sparking or even igniting a fire. But that's not all. When these wires were ripped free, they broke a fuel line, spewing diesel all over the engine compartment.

Battery cables caught on spinning propshaft

Consider the consequences of the same scenario if the spewed fuel had been gasoline. The only clue the skipper had that something was amiss was a loss of engine power. Next time you're in your engine room, look around for loose wires that could catch on something while the boat is underway. Secure sagging wires — especially big ones — so there's no way they can get into mischief.

Heaters and Winterizing

In parts of the country that don't usually get cold, plugging in a heater in the engine room seems a lot easier than lugging gallons of antifreeze to the boat and filling the engine(s) with it. In fact, using a heater can destroy your engine. When these places do get cold, it's often accompanied by an ice storm that takes out the power. No power to the heater equals unprotected engine, which equals permanent damage and a new engine.

A destroyed engine is actually much better than what else can happen when you use a heater for winterizing. An overloaded electrical system, a damaged extension cord, or a faulty heater can all cause your boat to catch fire and burn. Your boat neighbors are not likely to be happy to learn that your "shortcut" destroyed their boat, too. Take the time to winterize your boat properly this winter. For more information see "The Boater's Guide To Winterizing".

Does This Make My Transom Look Big?

Most of us put on a few pounds as we age, and boats are no different. Gear piles up, spare-parts bins grow, and a new four-stroke outboard weighs a lot more than the old two-stroke. Even the hull can absorb water over the years. Eventually, all of this additional weight might make it harder for a boat to get on plane, which wastes fuel and can be hard on the engines. But excess weight is a problem at the dock, too. Over the years, this boat's hull (see below) settled deeper into the water until the cockpit scuppers disappeared underwater.


Rather than investigate why the boat was sitting low in the water, the owner took the easy way out by grabbing a can of bottom paint and raising the waterline. The result was predictable. During a heavy thunderstorm, rainwater accumulated, pushing the stern farther down until seawater gurgled up through the drains, sinking the boat. See "When It Rains, Boats Sink" to learn about rainwater sinkings and their causes.

Flapper Fail

Here's another reason why too much weight can be a problem. The flappers shown below have a bad reputation among repairers and surveyors because, if they're needed due to a low waterline, they're only going to work if they can seal the thru-hull (which they don't even do very well when they're in good shape). Better to lighten the boat and get the scuppers higher.

This boat has already questionable flappers made worse by running a fish-finder wire out of it, preventing the flappers from having a chance at stopping an inflow of water. Moderate wave action at the stern backfilled the cockpit, and the boat sank.

Don't Forget Diesel Hoses

Over the years, we've devoted a great many paragraphs to maintaining gasoline hoses, but not very much on diesel hoses. While a leaking diesel hose won't cause a catastrophic explosion, it can still do considerable damage.

When the tank was topped off for winter storage on a 30-foot sailboat, some diesel found its way into the bilge via this leaking hose (below). The spill wasn't noticed until spring when the boat's owner slid open the hatch and was bowled over by the smell of diesel fuel. The cabin, he said, smelled like a refinery. Aside from having to scrub the entire cabin, he had to replace every cushion on the boat.

Diesel hose with crack

Leaking diesel fuel can also cause other problems. Diesel from a 14-year-old hose leaked onto a sailboat's motor mounts, softening them so much that they had to be replaced. Diesel that has leaked could also be pumped out as bilge, causing serious environmental damage and expenses. Inspect your diesel and fill lines regularly, and replace any that are cracked, bulging, or weeping. Any hose more than 10 years old should be considered for replacement.

Minnesota To Require CO Detectors

Minnesota is the first state to pass a law requiring, by May 1, 2017, hardwired, marine-certified carbon-monoxide detectors on any gas-powered boat with an enclosed accommodation area (sleeping areas, galleys with sinks, and toilet compartments).

Boats 19 feet and longer that only have an enclosed occupancy space (smaller areas into which a person might enter) won't be required to have detectors but will need Minnesota Department of Natural Resources warning stickers in the aft reboarding area, galley, and steering station. Stickers will be sent to owners along with registration documents. New boats sold in the state after May 1, 2017, will have to be already equipped.

While installing a CO detector isn't difficult, if you're not confident in wiring 12-volt electronics, hire a pro. 

— Published: October/November 2016

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