Mailboat Letters

Published: April 2014


More Moorings

Photo of rusted mooring chains
Photo: Dave Wiggin

I experienced a phenomenon with regard to mooring chains that you are perhaps not aware of. This occurred when moored at the St. Croix Yacht Club in Teague Bay on the Island of St. Croix, USVI. During periods of relative calm, when the chain was essentially hanging vertical, the slight rocking motion of the boat would cycle the chain up and down against the bottom, where the Virgin Islands sand would actually wear away the chain. Over a period of time, the chain right where it contacted the bottom would lose more than 50 percent of its diameter.



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While sailing a charter sailboat near St. Martin, we went to Tintamarre Island off of the northeast coast and picked up a mooring in the early morning of our arrival. While snorkeling in the crystal clear water, I went to check out our mooring. As I followed the mooring line down, I found a section of the rope that was more than 50 perecent worn through. In a heavy storm, depending upon the type of boat and windage, this could have truly tested the strength of the remaining rope. This experience caused me to think twice about the security of moorings. If you discover a worn line and you are expecting heavy weather, you might want to consider relocating to another mooring.



Editor: As several of our readers wrote in to say, prudent mariners never trust an unknown mooring. Better to rely on your own ground tackle in a well-protected cove than a mooring whose construction and care you do not know. That said, there is a practical problem in some areas where anchoring is simply not allowed or the anchorage has been clogged with buoys. Diving and checking on the mooring is, wherever possible, a good precaution, as is staying on unfamiliar moorings only in calm, settled weather.

More Horrors

While the author is correct about the right way to secure anchor swivels, experienced bluewater mariners studiously avoid swivels because their load capacity is well below that of the anchor chain's working load. That's true even for [most] stainless steel anchor swivels; in addition, the Allen screws used for the anchor attachment come undone too easily.



Signaling Clarifications

When describing the cons of the PLB, you say that they have "half the battery life" of an EPIRB. Is this half the "shelf life" of the batteries of an EPIRB (5 years for an EPIRB, so 2-1/2 years for a PLB)? Or is it half the signaling time of an EPIRB, which I think is about 48+ hours? I have an EPIRB, and I am told I cannot renew the battery again because the unit is older than 10 years, so I'm in the market for something new and was seriously considering the PLB. I don't mind buying batteries every three years, but I'm not sure I want a rescue device that only signals for about 24 hours.



Editor: EPIRBs are required to operate for a minimum of 48 hours, while PLBs are only required to operate for a minimum of 24 hours. But generally speaking, yes, an EPIRB will broadcast quite a bit longer than a PLB. Battery shelf life varies, with the EPIRB traditionally lasting a bit longer than PLBs (6 versus 5 years). However, with advances in battery technology, some manufacturers claim significantly longer life (up to 11 years on some newer units). Any unit you might decide to purchase should include information on battery life and broadcast time in the specifications.

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Just wanted to flag an important error in the HF radio blurb in the story "Emergency Signaling Options". The author states, "... A license is required to operate a ham radio. No license is required to operate an SSB, but .... ." Not true.

Yes, an amateur radio license is required to transmit on the ham bands. However, two licenses are required to transmit on a marine HF/SSB radio: (1) a commercial operator's permit ... at least the Restricted Radio-telephone Operator Permit and (2) a station license for the boat, covering the SSB radio and other transmitting equipment. These are required even if the boat stays in domestic waters. They are issued by the FCC upon application and payment of the fees; no examination is required.


Editor: Thanks for the correction. We should have said, "No exam is required to operate an SSB."

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I'd like to address an error of omission in "Emergency Signaling Options." When discussing the cons of using an EPIRB, the author states that they cannot be taken from vessel to vessel. He goes on to state that they must be registered to a specific vessel and so one unit can't be legitimately used for multiple boats. What he doesn't say is that, while it is true that an EPIRB can't be registered to more than one craft simultaneously, you can change the registration at any time simply by updating it online. It is, therefore, permissible to change the registration from vessel to vessel. Also, the vessel doesn't necessarily have to be a boat; we register ours to our boat during the summer and to our aircraft when we fly to the Bahamas in the winter months.



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Great article on emergency response equipment. I have a VHF/DSC radio onboard my little 18-foot center-console boat. I don't venture out of sight of land, but have been caught in fog. I instruct anyone new onboard how to operate the radio to send a distress signal. My job as "the Captain" is the safety of everyone aboard. It took a little effort on my part to obtain and input the MMSI number and to wire the GPS into the VHF radio, but I feel much safer and so do my fishing guests.



Ethanol Free

Photo of No Ethanol sign

You mentioned in the April 2013 Mailboat that finding ethanol-free gasoline can be a matter of luck. That may be true, but your luck will be better if you are near an airport that services gasoline-powered aircraft. All avgas is alcohol-free. I have happily used Shell's Avgas for years. It is essentially their "V-100" automotive fuel without the alcohol.



Editor: Avgas can be a good choice for many boaters, though there are two issues. First, avgas contains lead and cannot be used with many newer inboard and I/O engines that use catalytic converters to reduce pollution. It's likely that in a few years even outboards will employ catalytic converters. Second, avgas costs 50-100 percent more than marina gas (at the Baltimore airport it's $9.00 a gallon!). An alternative is to look for ethanol-free gasoline at local gas stations. A website — — lists stations that sell it by state. Seaworthy would be interested to find out if the site is current, so if you use it, let us know.

In Defense Of Paper

I am a BoatUS member since 2004, and also a U.S. Coast Guard-licensed Master Mariner. Please advise your readers that despite the fact that NOAA will no longer be printing charts, the USCG still requires paper chart navigation on all [commercial] vessels being operated by licensed officers. This is in part due to the potential failure of electronic navigation tools from a variety of causes, and partly to have a written record of a vessel's movements in case of an investigation.

As the push to license the recreational boater (something I abhor both as a pleasure boater and a professional mariner) increases, it behooves all of us who take to the water for enjoyment to maintain the highest standards of conduct in our boating. Paper charts are necessary, and their use will only increase our pleasure and safety on the water.



Hitched Again ... Again

It should be noted that the writer of the letter in the January issue correcting the term "hitch" would not want to remove his receiver as the ball mount is much more easily removed. The glossary of trailer terms defines the part in this way: "BALL MOUNT: The part of a trailer hitch that slides into a receiver and fastens with a pin and clip to allow the attachment of a ball for towing a trailer."


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