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Published: January 2011

Don't Rely On Your Bilge Pump To Protect Your Boat

In spring, summer, and fall, you shouldn't rely on your bilge pump to protect the boat from chronic leaks. In winter, you can't rely on a bilge pump; it's probably frozen into a block of ice. The only way to assure your boat's continued good health is by visiting it periodically or, better yet, have your boat hauled and fix the chronic leaks.

Ice in the bilge is also why batteries are vulnerable in the winter. The normal accumulation of bilge water freezes and expands, which shoves the float switch up slightly, enough to kick on the bilge pump. The float switch is locked into the ice and the pump stays on until the battery is drained.

Thinking About Moving Your Boat Over Land?

A member in New Jersey contracted with a transport company to bring his boat back from Florida. While en route, the top of the boat was damaged (Claim #1010106) when the truck pulled under the portico at a Best Western hotel. The trucking company acknowledged their responsibility for the accident but never paid for the damage. There have been several other BoatUS members who have reported similar encounters with trucking companies that refused to pay for damage that was clearly their fault. (BoatUS paid for the damage less the deductible and is pursuing the trucking company. If successful, the member's deductible will be refunded.)

Photo of a boat on a large flatbed truck

All of the boat owners had hired trucking companies at, an auction-style website. While the site may be convenient, it does not validate the various companies' claims about experience, insurance coverage, and licensure. That is up to you, the consumer.

Several suggestions to members contemplating hiring a professional to move boats overland: Before doing business with any interstate transportation service provider (TSP), ask for a copy of the company's operating authority documentation issued by the U.S. Dept. of Transportation or comparable state and local documents for intrastate carriers. This assures you that the drivers have commercial driver's licenses, which include testing requirements for drugs and alcohol. Ask also for proof of liability and cargo insurance. The latter may not be sufficient to cover the value of your boat; you may need a rider to cover the difference between the cargo insurance coverage and the actual cash value of your boat. Any reluctance by a trucker to provide this information is reason enough to look elsewhere. To learn more about how to hire a trucking company, contact BoatUS Consumer Protection:

Corrosion In Oil Coolers And Heat Exchangers

When replacing anodes, most people know that metal parts submerged in seawater need protection from galvanic corrosion. Less obvious are the metal parts within the boat that are also exposed to seawater. The latter includes engines oil coolers and heat exchangers (note that not all engines have these). Heat exchangers that cool the coolant in engines and oil coolers that cool the oil in engines and transmissions work the same way: The hot oil or coolant circulates through a canister filled with a separate bundle of copper tubes that circulate cool raw-water from outside the boat; the raw water then carries off the heat conducted through the copper tubes, thereby cooling the oil or coolant. The internal copper tubes can be inspected and cleaned on some units by unscrewing the end caps, exposing the copper tubes. The copper tubes can be inspected and cleaned by removing the end caps of some canisters, such as in the photo shown here.

Photo of a copper tube being inspected and cleaned by removing the end caps

While copper conducts heat very well, it is also highly susceptible to galvanic corrosion and must be protected with an anode; otherwise, corrosion can eat a hole in the copper tube and allow the oil or coolant to escape into the raw-water jacket and out the boat. The results can be an overheated engine or transmission with possible internal damage. (This sort of damage, the result of normal wear and tear, is not covered by insurance.) In other cases, brass nuts have corroded away, allowing water to flood inside the boat. Most (not all) heat exchangers and oil coolers are provided with a pencil anode that screws into the raw-water jacket (looks like a brass plug). An anode that is more than 50-percent wasted should be replaced.

Backward Battery Goofs

Many owners of smaller boats remove the battery from their boat over the winter. The battery can then be left on a trickle charger in the garage, where it will not run the risk of draining completely, which can damage it, especially if it freezes. In spite of the weight of a battery, it's not hard to remove and install, but there is one very important thing to remember: Always install the red lead on the positive terminal and the black one on the negative. Reversing the leads can instantly damage sensitive electronics or cause much more damage as in Claim #1002976: The owner installed his battery backwards with no apparent signs of problems — until the shore power and battery charger was plugged in. Within five minutes, smoke was pouring out the engine vents. The boat was a total loss.

Photo of boat battery installed backwards

Leaks, Part I — "Sinking" Ashore

Storing boats ashore is safer than leaving a boat in the water, but a boat ashore can still be vulnerable to "sinking." This 27-foot boat was being stored ashore in New York this past winter, which was a particularly wet one in the Mid Atlantic and Northeast. When spring arrived, the owner finally went to the boat and discovered leaves had accumulated in the cockpit drains, causing the pile of melting snow to flow into the cabin. The leaves also clogged the boat's drain plug and water had risen in the cabin to the engine (Claim #1002319).

Photo of accumulating in a boat cockpit drain

This winter, make it a point to visit your boat frequently. Aside from clogged cockpit drains, check for pooling water, sagging covers, and shifted jack stands (don't try moving them yourself). If possible, go aboard and open up hatches and ports to let air circulate for a while.

Leaks, Part II — Deck Damage

Aside from blocked scuppers, precipitation can also find its way below via leaks at ports and deck fittings. More often than not, however, the leaking water finds its way into the deck's core, which is typically balsa, plywood, or foam. Once that happens, delamination is almost inevitable and the structure will lose much of its strength. The area around the fitting will sound soft if tapped with a small hammer and it may even feel spongy underfoot. Repairs can involve cutting out sections of deck, installing new core, and the glassing it back over. It's a job that's well beyond the abilities of the average handyman.

Photo of globbing sealant to reseal a stanchion base

Preventing delamination, however, is a handyman's job: Re-bed the deck hardware every few years. You'll have to pull up the fitting, clean out all of the old caulk, and then lay down new caulk. It's messy, but doable. Going one step further insures that even if there is a leak, it won't ruin the core: Drill out the holes in the deck by about an extra 1/8-inch and fill them with epoxy (use modeling clay underneath to keep the epoxy from running out). After the epoxy sets, re-drill the hole for the fasteners and seal — the core will now be waterproofed. Another tip: First, tighten the fasteners until they are barely snug and let the caulk set. Then tighten all the way — this way, the sealant won't merely get pushed out.

The picture (Claim #1003481) illustrates how not to reseal a stanchion base. Globbing sealant around a fitting may stop a leak briefly, but water is guaranteed to return.End of story marker

Boats, Trailers and Theft

According to the BoatUS Marine insurance claim files, boats on trailers are prime targets for thieves; all it takes is a scant few seconds to hook a trailer up to a truck and the boat will be bouncing down the road headed for the state line.

Boats stored at a marina or in a driveway with the tongue facing the open road are easy pickings, especially in winter when days are short and no one is around. The safest place to store a trailer boat is in your backyard or garage. But wherever the boat is stored, removing the trailer's wheels and storing them inside significantly reduces the chances of theft and also prolongs the life of the tires. If the boat has to be stored in the driveway, the tongue should be locked and facing away from the road.

Remember, a thief doesn't have to take the entire boat to make out like a bandit, literally. Outdrives are a frequent target and if a boat is going to be stored outside, it should be backed up with the outdrive against a wall and locked securely.