Boater Alerts And Warnings

From BoatUS Marine Insurance

Battery Fails

Boat battery failPhoto: Mark Corke

There's a ton of stuff going on in this picture — and nearly all of it is bad.

1. The battery charger is bolted horizontally next to the batteries and is sitting in the bilge where even a little bit of water will cause a short circuit or even a fire.

2. Neither of the batteries are retained in position with straps or hold-downs. That red thing (top right) with the two rusty studs on it is a battery hold-down, but it looks like it's been doing hard time in a wet bilge for a while.

3. There are five connections to the battery stud on the lower battery; four is the allowed maximum. It's worth noting that one of these connections is just a bare wire that has been smashed under the nut and washer.

4. Finally, there is a spare brown wire that is not connected to anything lying on top of the battery. Depending on what this is, this is another potential source of a fire if it accidentally contacts the wrong battery post.

Improper Propping

Sailboat propeller incorrectly fittedPhoto: Mark Corke

This sailboat propeller has been incorrectly fitted, and the prop may end up out of center and wobble, causing severe wear on the cutless bearing, not to mention wear on the nerves of skipper from the vibration. The bronze key should not be visible sticking out the back of the prop (arrow). This indicates that the key is the wrong size for either the prop, the shaft, or possibly both. Also, the prop hub has some rounding marks where it's been hit with a hammer, presumably to remove the prop from the shaft. Unless done very carefully by a skilled expert and in conjunction with use of a prop puller, striking a prop can cause it to become out of round, again leading to vibration and damage to the driveline. Normally only a proper puller should be used.

One more thing to mention: The prop should not be farther from the cutless bearing than the diameter of the shaft (this one is too far). Otherwise the shaft could eventually break from the prop's stress.

Back It Up

Cracked backing plate with corroded boltsPhoto: Mark Corke

Anything that penetrates the deck has to be (a) well-sealed and (b) fastened with a sturdy backing plate. This backing plate for a small deck winch is neither. It's cracked so it's no longer strong enough to do its job, and water is leaking through from the deck above, causing corrosion of the bolts. Water is most likely also finding its way into the deck core. If the corroded bolts fail, the winch (and whatever it's holding) can go flying. A rotted core is not easy to repair; prevention is periodic removal and rebedding.

Jack Stands And Winter Support

Winter boat storage on jackstands

The boat shown in the photo with a snug-fitting, well-supported cover had obviously been well-prepared by its owner for winter's ice and snow storms. Unfortunately, its deep draft keel and the exposed location directly on the water made it vulnerable to winter's heavy winds.

When you visit your boat this winter (and you should visit at least once a month), make sure the marina has done its job to prepare your boat by blocking its hull properly. The American Boat & Yacht Council publishes the TY-28 standard for Boat Lifting and Storage and notes that stands should be no more than 10 feet apart. Elements such as hull configuration and structure, windage, weather, and ground conditions, or other exposures may require more stands. TY-28 says that sailboats with stepped masts may require more stands. (NOTE: Don't tie a winter cover to the stands; if the wind catches it, the stands can be pulled out.) Chain (at least 3/16 inch) must be used to tie the stands together. On soft ground, plywood should be used to prevent the stands from sinking. Finally, the keel should be supported with blocks (not cinder blocks and barrels). The larger the boat, the more blocks that are required.

Dangerous Outlets

Electrical outlets

Looking at these two electrical outlets from the back, you may not think there's anything deadly about them. They're both secured, and the wires are firmly fastened. On the front side, they both look like older 120-volt AC style outlets with no ground (a big no-no). The problem is in their use.

Years ago, some companies sold 12V DC appliances that had a plug that looked like a standard 120V AC household plug but that fit into a 12-volt receptacle such as the one you see in the photo. (This was before the 12V DC cigarette lighter receptacle we all have in our cars and boats was ubiquitous.) Lots of older boats still have these receptacles.

If you tried to plug in a 120V AC appliance into the DC receptacle, probably not much would happen, though it may damage the device. On the other hand, if you plugged in one of the old-style 12V DC plugs into an AC shore-power receptacle, you could be electrocuted. Even on modern boats with cigarette lighter-type plugs, safety standards require that AC and DC receptacles not be next to each other.

One more thing: The wires are not correctly color-coded. Anyone who works on this system won't know which wires do what. If your boat has one of these old-style 12V DC receptacles, get rid of it right away. 

— Published: February/March 2018

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