Boater Alerts And Warnings

From BoatUS Marine Insurance
Photos by Mark Corke

Icy Chills

Cracked cockpit hatch

Freezing temperatures can happen in any part of the country, and although diligent owners may winterize water systems, engines, and other parts that suffer when the mercury dips, they are often unaware that the boat's structure may also suffer.

The owner of this sailboat put off repairing what was initially a small crack in the sliding cockpit hatch. He left the boat uncovered during the winter. Water seeped in, then froze. When water freezes, it expands by up to 10 percent. This forced apart the laminates, making the crack larger, which in turn allowed more water in.

It's apparent that the hatch had gone through many of these freeze/thaw cycles, eventually requiring significant and costly repair. Thankfully the damage was isolated to a nonstructural part of the boat. It's a far worse problem when water finds its way into a cored deck or, worse still, a cored hull, where it can affect the integrity of the boat.

While BoatUS offers optional freeze coverage for engines and machinery, long-term damage due to gradual deterioration is generally not covered. Therefore, it's a good idea to attend to those small repairs early before they become significant problems.

Winter Prep

Engine crack

We've seen this a bunch of times before. The owner of this boat neglected to drain the water from the engine when it was laid up for the winter. Instead, he relied on an electric heater (never a good idea) in the engine space to prevent the boat from freeze damage. An ice storm knocked out the power to his electric heater, and a cracked engine and expensive and time-consuming repairs were the result. Heaters can cause a fire and aren't a substitute for winterizing.

The Name's Bond

Bonding connection to keel

During the prepurchase inspection on this sailboat, the surveyor commented that the bonding connection to the cast-iron keel was missing and should be replaced. The owner decided that he would save a few dollars and do the work himself rather than contract the work to the yard where the boat was stored.

While well-intentioned, the owner's work falls short on several levels. It's good that the cable is of a significant cross-sectional area, but it's the wrong color. Green is the only acceptable color, and using any other color that you can get your hands on at the time won't do. In this installation, the owner chose to use black wire, the same color as the hot wire used in AC circuits aboard. Although it may never happen, there is always the chance that the black wire could mistakenly be connected into the AC circuits, and the keel would then have 120 volts AC going through it! Not only could this destroy the underwater metals quickly, anyone swimming near the boat could be seriously injured or even killed.

Another thing that's wrong here is the absence of adhesive-lined heat-shrink to seal the gap and prevent corrosion between the cable insulation and the crimped-on lug.

Wash And Brush-Up

Carbon brush worn away

On inspection of this boat, the surveyor says he was initially drawn to the packing gland on the port engine because it was leaking excessively. It was only on closer inspection that he found a potentially far more serious problem.

Some boats, such as this one, have a spring-type bonding strap that provides a direct electrical connection between the shaft and the attached propeller to the bonding circuit. A carbon brush on the end of the spring strap rubs on the propeller shaft, and this is connected to a green cable, which is connected to the boat's bonding system. This arrangement is used on boats where the design of the transmission is such that grounding through the gear case and the engine block would not provide the necessary continuity. (Bonding circuits, to be effective, should have a resistance of 1 ohm or less.)

It was apparent that the owner had not inspected this area of the boat in many years. The carbon brush had long since worn away, and the underlying stainless steel mounting plate to which it was attached had come into contact with the shaft. The stainless plate, under constant tension from the spring strap, had rubbed on the shaft, which over time reduced the shaft's diameter by as much as one-quarter inch, rendering it severely weakened and in need of immediate replacement.

It's A Gas!

Liquid petroleum gas tank

This boat belonged to a full-time liveaboard who was operating a propane heater connected to a liquid petroleum gas (LPG) tank inside the main saloon during the winter — a huge no-no. When questioned by the surveyor who was there to do an insurance survey, the owner stated that the hose was too short to reach the heater if the cylinder was stored on deck. Despite there being clear labels on the cylinder, the owner chose to ignore the warnings and placed the bottle at the bottom of the main cabin steps, the main egress point on the boat.

American Boat & Yacht Council recommendations and U.S. Coast Guard regulations are strict concerning the proper storage and use of LPG onboard. Propane bottles must never be stored in the accommodation space. Bad things can happen, and a catastrophic explosion could be the result. All bottles should be stored in a dedicated locker that opens only directly to the outside atmosphere, well above the water line, with a vent in the bottom sufficient to spill any escaping gas directly over the side into the atmosphere. For further guidance see ABYC standards A-1 and A-26 and those related thereto. If you have any doubts, seek advice from an ABYC-certified professional.

Lift No More

Corroded swim platform

The owner of this large motor-yacht complained that the lifting swim platform that had been fitted by the yard some years earlier was not working as it should and concluded that it must have been incorrectly installed. When the boat was hauled, the problem became immediately apparent: The stainless steel supporting structure had some zinc anodes fitted when it was initially installed to prevent corrosion. These anodes protected the underwater metal for about a year or so but eventually were eaten up. With no galvanic protection, the stainless eventually started to corrode until the struts supporting the platform were so weakened that they gave way.

The owners complained that the boatyard had installed defective equipment and argued that it should be replaced free of charge. They eventually lost the case after it went to court. The owners had kept the boat in the water for five years, and during that time they had not had the anodes replaced. The net result was a clear case of lack of maintenance leading to a significant equipment failure. 

— Published: October/November 2018


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