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The Modular Approach?

Presumably, you have to replace an on-board pump, motor, or electrical component now and then. And just as presumably, said device (as well as the wires, fittings, or other paraphernalia associated with it) are salted away in a relatively tough-to-get-at spot.

Let’s face it, gentle boaters. Even today, with boatbuilding technology sniffing the heights of heretofore undreamt-of sophistication, manufacturers often seem to forget that stuff eventually needs replacement, an oversight that leads to installations that are exceptionally inconvenient if not darn near impossible to get at.

But here’s a work-around of sorts. Instead of doing a complex, piecemeal, hours-long replacement (with each of several parts going in, one at a time), while half of your torso is squeezed into a galley cabinet or stateroom hanging locker and the other half is suspended by your heels from a distant handrail, take a cheery detour into what we’ll call “the modular approach.”

The modular approach? It’s an easy concept to grasp and can be applied in varying degrees to lots of projects. To give it a go, you simply do at least some of the work that’s necessary to affect a component replacement at your home instead of on board your boat, where there may be considerably less elbow room, perhaps fewer tools, and maybe even poorer lighting. That’s the basic idea anyway.

Here’s an example, albeit a fairly complex one. Let’s say you need to replace the water pump that feeds one of your air-conditioning units, a job that requires you to address a related sea strainer, a couple of hoses, and some hose clamps as well as the pump itself. Instead of dealing with each item separately in its location onboard, start by removing the sea strainer, hoses, and clamps temporarily along with the pump and bringing the whole works home, after temporarily plugging the associated seacock of course and making sure you know what size hoses are needed if replacement’s called for in that area too.

The next step constitutes the crux of the matter. At your leisure, in your shop or garage, after you’ve done a little design work on some scratch paper perhaps and purchased and modified a nice piece of marine ply or King StarBoard, put together a “freshwater-pump module” that includes a new pump, a refurbished sea strainer (maybe with brand-new “in” and “out” fittings and gaskets), new hoses, and new hose clamps, all schematically organized and mounted on the piece of ply or StarBoard with the appropriate hardware. Then drill four or six countersunk holes in the ply or StarBoard so you can secure it to a bulkhead or wall.

The final step is the clincher. Once the module is complete, you simply install where necessary onboard your boat in one fell swoop with a few screws and then hook up a few hose connections. Sure, you’ll probably still have to squeeze half of your torso into a cabinet or locker, to secure things and do the hookup, but the suffering required—and the time the suffering must be endured—will be considerably diminished. And the quality of the job will likely be much improved.


Hose Clamp Smarts

Here’s a wild little suggestion for you. Think about designating a few hours during the upcoming weekend to tightening and otherwise addressing all or most of the hose clamps you have on board your boat. Sound like a make-work project? A silly thing to do? A waste of time?

Well, we say, “Not!”

Depending on a given clamp’s location, engine/transmission/propshaft vibration can slowly but surely (or sometimes not so slowly but just as surely) loosen it. Indeed, at this very moment, clamps mounted on your engine or engines are almost certainly loose if you do much cruising at all—and heck, they may be subtly leaking fuel, coolant, or oil into the bilge. Moreover, the undersides of clamps mounted on most or at least many of your on-board hoses have a tendency to gather condensate on the underside and corrode—and there’s really no way to get a handle on this unless you either employ a mirror or simply go ahead and loosen the clamp, rotate it so you can see it, and then either replace it or tighten it back up if you find it’s in good shape.

Now for two more related suggestions. If you’re like most boat owners, you have a variety of clamps on board. Some are of higher quality, some lower, some require a 3/8-inch nut driver for tightening/loosening, some require other nut driver sizes. So hey, instead of harboring such confusion, why not introduce a bit of uniformity so that, in the future, you can remember exactly what size nut driver you need to tighten all the clamps on board? And then, use said driver to do the job without having to back-track to your tool box every five minutes.

And oh, the second suggestion? If you need to change or replace a clamp this weekend, why not go with high quality as opposed to low? Going high will help you eventually achieve a state of affairs where fewer and fewer hose-clamp checkups are called for.


Sharks Bite?

Boats of a certain vintage are often equipped with original freshwater systems composed of so-called Qest fittings and tubing made of polybutylene. To say that this stuff is prone to failure (cracks and leaks, that is) is something of an understatement. And trying to repair a broken coupling or stretch of poly is often difficult and usually results in subsequent heartache—the stretch continues to leak, albeit just in a different spot.

The fix is simple, though, albeit a tad expensive. Replace that outdated poly system—or as much of it as you can access—with PEX tubing and SharkBite fittings. For our money, the PEX/SharkBite combo is the easiest to use, most state-of-the-art solution for the onboard plumber today.

The tubing is color-coded (red for hot and blue for cold) and the push-to-connect fittings do away with all the complexities associated with other methods. Indeed, the only extras you’ll need to buy, whether for a big job or a small one, are a special tube cutter ($10 to $15) to cut tubing to the appropriate length and a deburring tool/depth gauge ($10 or so) to smooth out after-cut roughness and mark precisely how far a length of tubing must be pushed into a fitting to properly seat.

Of course, if you can’t replace your whole poly system, remove as much as you can and then simply add PEX and SharkBites from the place or places where you terminated the old system. SharkBites are compatible with poly. In fact, most good hardware stores sell fittings that are specifically designed (and labeled) for poly-to-PEX conversion. And while SharkBites are pricey (a simple, ½-inch coupling costs between $7 and $8), PEX itself ($10 for a 10-foot section of ½-inch tubing) is dirt cheap.

Two things to watch out for. Don’t try to save money by skipping the purchase of a pipe cutter and going with some other device you happen to have on hand (like a pocket knife or a pair of sidecutters)—the ends of the tubing must be cut square and the best way to achieve this squareness is with a high-quality tool you’ve purchased for the purpose. And second, make sure you use the depth gauge on every cut—not doing so may eventually leave you wondering if you’ve pushed a length of tubing as far into a given fitting as it needs to go. Tubing that is not properly seated in its fitting will most likely leak.


A Modest Money-Saver

High-density polyethylene “marine lumber” is pretty popular these days. People turn it into furniture, cabinetry, backing plates, drink holders—you name it. But marine lumber has one drawback—the stuff’s VERY expensive per square foot, particularly when you get into the more robust thicknesses. Here’s a suggestion that may help you save yourself some money, however.

Let’s say you need to come up with a few backing plates for some deck fittings you’re re-bedding. You  stop by your local chandlery and discover that the marine lumber on sale there costs just a bit more than you’re comfortable paying. What to do?

Pay a visit to your local Walmart or supermarket and head for the aisle where polyethylene cutting boards are sold. Sure, the surface of one side of any given board may not be as smooth as the surface of the other side. But then, who cares, particularly when the material is strong, several thicknesses are offered, and the cost is only a percentage of what the chandlery is charging.

Moreover, you’ll find you can drill, saw, and countersink a poly cutting board just as easily as you can drill, saw, and countersink so-called marine lumber. Indeed, one boater of our acquaintance tells us he divvied up a couple of cheap cutting boards from Walmart more than a decade ago and they’re still going strong as backing plates on his boat’s trailer.


Dealing With The Impossible

Removing old rubber, rubberized, or plastic hoses from old metal fittings is often a major-league chore. In fact, in large part because of corrosion buildup between the fitting and the material from which the hose is made, removal often does not even seem like an option. Instead, you decide to either break out a hacksaw or a Sawzall (if the hose contains a metal coil to maintain its continued shape) or (if the hose is composed of simple plastic or some other rubberized material) a sharp knife, and have at it.

But there’s one big problem with the have-at-it approach. If the hose in question is not long enough to accommodate a slight reduction in length and still do its job, you’re looking at replacing the whole darn thing. And this can be both painful (you may have to break out the hacksaw, Sawzall, or knife again to deal with the bottom end of the hose) and/or flat-out wasteful should the hose have several years of serviceability left in it.

So, how do you remove a hose that is seemingly welded to the steel flange of a fuel tank, say, or the business-end of a brass barbed fitting of indeterminate age? How do you break it loose when all conventional tools and techniques have failed?

Heat—most likely applied via a heat gun—is your first big ally. Bear in mind, though, that heat guns and gasoline fumes comprise a lethal combo—don’t get a heat gun anywhere near fuel hoses, tanks, or fittings that have been used to convey gasoline, even in the far-distant past. But hey, a heat gun may loosen a diesel-fuel-related hose or hoses associated with freshwater or sanitary lines with nary a problem. Indeed, it may do so quite speedily.

Your second ally? Stop by just about any mainstream automotive store these days and you’ll find on display something called a “Radiator Hose Removal Tool,” sort of a cross between a pirate’s hook and a screw driver. You simply insert the narrow blade of the tool between the hose itself and the fitting it encircles and then pull or haul it down forcefully via the handle. Once the portion of the hose you’ve used the tool on has broken loose, you move on to an adjoining section and break it loose as well. Work your way around the hose, section by section, until complete. To get the process to work even better and faster, try warming up the critical portion of the hose beforehand with the heat gun.


When All Else Fails

Occasionally, when you’re trying to remove a screw, you simply can’t get the darn thing to turn, whether it has a slotted head or a Phillips. At such times, here’s a technique that may save the day. It tends to work best when two people are involved so find yourself a helper, the heftier the better. And you’ll need a special kind of screwdriver, meaning one with a squarish handle that you can get a good, transverse purchase on with a Crescent-type wrench.

Start by spraying the problem screw head with your favorite penetrating solvent, whether it be PT Blaster, Kano Aerokroil, Liquid Wrench, or whatever. Then have your helper apply the screwdriver to the screw and bear down on it with all his (or her) might. Then finally, apply your wrench (after making sure it is pre-adjusted for a nice, tight fit) sideways to the axis of your screwdriver’s handle, somewhere well below the hand or hands of your helper.

Don’t rush things. When you pull on the handle of your wrench, do so firmly, slowly, and steadily until you feel the screw break loose. Nine times out of ten this nifty little technique will free up a fastener that is seemingly otherwise frozen.

And by the way, if you can’t come up with a helper, the technique also works fairly well solo. Simply bear down with one hand (and put your shoulder into your efforts if possible) and rotate the handle of the wrench in the appropriate direction with the other.


The Wonders Of Packing Tape

For years, we’ve used Saran Wrap as a quick-release film for projects involving epoxy, polyesters, and other chemical compounds and adhesives. In general, Saran Wrap is applied to a surface and then held in place with tape, usually of the varnishing variety, and then the epoxy or polyester is squished smoothly against it. 

The problem with this approach? Saran Wrap, while great for producing flat, smooth repairs, is rather difficult to deal with during the application phase—it sticks to itself, folds when you don’t want it to, and is very tough to apply to some surfaces. The darn stuff can drive a guy nuts!

Packing tape, we suggest, is much more manageable and just as effective. For example, let’s say you want to fill a small hole in a cored-fiberglass surface. Instead of attempting to immobilize a right-sized piece of Saran Wrap underneath the hole with wide swathes of varnishing tape—an endeavor that is likely to prove frustratingly difficult and perhaps require several wasted pieces of Saran Wrap—we recommend simply sticking a couple of wide pieces of packing tape over the underside of the hole, a way more straightforward, less complicated approach.

Then, after you’ve filled in the hole with epoxy or polyester putty, and the material has cured, you’ll find that removing the packing tape (you just pull it off…zip!) is considerably easier than struggling to remove the varnishing tape/Saran Wrap combo. 

But what about the adhesive on the back of the tape, you ask? Well, to be honest, it may make removal slightly more difficult versus Saran Wrap and occasionally small pieces of tape and/or adhesive may stick when you attempt to remove larger pieces. But considering how much easier packing tape is to apply to begin with, a few adhesive issues at project’s end constitute a very small price to pay, especially when the underside surfaces you’re typically dealing with are out of sight most of the time.


A Little Tape’ll Do ya!

Got a few old drinkholder holes in your steering console that need patching? Or a spot where an antiquated plotter used to be that needs filling in? To put the finishing touches on the job, there are several epoxy fillers out there on the market and most of them work pretty well. And you can also mix up your very own as well, of course, using epoxy resin, hardener, and one of any number of high or low-density materials (like microfibers, microballoons, or colloidal silica, for example) that fit the application.

But how do you actually complete the repair? How do you make the filler blend seamlessly with the surfaces around it, so it disappears under the paint or gelcoat you intend to lay down later on?

Here’s a trick a boat yard guy told us about recently. It will likely save you a little time and heartache and will undoubtedly produce a great-looking job. Moreover, it requires just about zero effort.

Let’s say you’ve filled in a circular hole that is approximately 3 inches in diameter somewhere in a slab of cored fiberglass on board your boat. And let’s say you’ve used a plywood disc and some thickened epoxy (or some fiberglass fabric and resin) to essentially plug the hole and now you’re getting ready to carefully smooth and finish the surface of your repair with a relatively thin layer of epoxy filler.

Stop! For just a sec.

Before you apply the filler using a resin spreader, plastic putty knife, or whatever tool you prefer, form a square, rectangle, or some other angular shape around the hole using wide swathes of varnishing tape. Make sure the tape is at least two or three inches from the circumference or exterior edges of the hole. If you can’t achieve this, approximate as closely as possible.

The idea here is pretty simple. As you spread the filler within the confines of the tape, you create a layer of filler over the hole and the surrounding area that is equivalent to the thickness of the tape. Once the filler has cured and is ready for sanding (and the tape has been removed), the layer is going to be thin enough so it’s easily removed using a sanding block but thick enough so that it allows you to very accurately blend the repair into the surfaces that surround it. This virtually guarantees that you won’t scour out a depression over the hole during the sanding process, a development that will require another time-consuming pass with the filler.


Can Your Refrigerator Help?

Okay, so you’re probably pretty familiar with the virtues of heat guns, especially when it comes to jobs like wiring up components with heat-shrink connectors, removing flakey old varnish, and, last but not least, interfacing lengths of sanitary hose (especially the stiff, thick high-end-stuff) with barbed fittings on MSDs, vented loops, and three-way Y-valves.  But here’s something you perhaps have never thought of.

If heat is helpful on some projects, what about cold? Or more to the point, is there something to be gained by pressing the freezer in your on-board refrigerator into service under certain (shall we say, dicey) conditions, at least now and again?

Consider the following scenario. Let’s say you’re having a heck of a time getting a long piece of ornery sanitary hose onto a sanitary-type component’s barbed fitting. You’ve tried heating the hose, smearing the inside of it with everything from saliva to Vaseline, and smoothing the fitting to slightly reduce its size with emery paper.

Nada? Yup, nothing works!

But hey, try this one last thing—toss the problematic component into the freezer overnight. While the heat gun is going to expand the hose in the morning, the component’s frosty overnight hiatus may simultaneously shrink its outside diameter, perhaps just enough to facilitate a happy interface that was not really possible before.


No Runs, No Drips, No Errors

When working with virtually any sort of paint, whether it’s applied via spray gun, roller, or brush, an especially troublesome problem often arises—an easy-to-see-even-from-a-distance drip or sag annoyingly appears well before the paint has entirely cured or dried. There are a host of reasons for this kind of thing, of course, but little reason to point them out at this juncture. Suffice to say, the run-drip-sag issue can manifest on just about any painter’s watch.

But here’s a fix of sorts, or at least a partial fix. If you notice the run or sag well before the paint has had a chance to set up, immediately tear a long (somewhere between 10 and 15 inchers should do it) strip from a roll of wide (2 inches should do it) varnishing tape and overlap and stick the ends together so that you produce a relatively large, flat, circular loop. Then, using the fingers of just one hand, gently, gently, gently lay the loop against the run, drip, or sag with just enough pressure to absorb (but not smear) the semi-dry paint. When you pull the loop away, the glitch (or at least the part of the glitch that was in contact with the tape) should have totally disappeared.

Don’t expect to master this little trick right off the bat, by the way. A certain level of finesse is required. Once you get good at it, however, the darn thing can save a first-class paint job from devolving into a second-tier affair.


DIY Tip On Hoses

One thing most boats have is plenty of hoses of one kind or another. You know, like, water hoses, bilge-pump hoses, sanitary hoses, fuel hoses, drain hoses, raw-water hoses…etc., etc., etc. And because you have so many hoses on board your boat it’s very likely that, at some point, you’re going to need to replace some, many, or most of them.

Often, replacement is easy. You just remove the old hose and use it to measure and cut a new one. But now and again, situations arise where this simple route gets a tad torturous.

Consider the following scenario. Your sanitary lines are old and smelly so you want to replace them with new, impermeable so-called “No Smell” hoses. A great idea? Absolutely, except for one problem. Using old, smelly sanitary hoses to measure and cut new ones is a seriously repugnant job (to put it mildly), particularly if low-lying material remains trapped in the old hoses.

So how do you proceed? For starters, once they’re broken loose, simply cap or plug the open ends of the old hoses securely (so there’s no spillage) and then yank them out and dispose of them without further ado. But bear in mind—if you’re unlucky enough to have to cut the old hoses at a host of junctures in order to get them free, always cut at the high spots, add the plugs immediately, and tape them in place (duct tape works pretty well) so no spillage occurs during the pulling process.

The next step is where the coolness factor comes in. Once you get the old hoses out of your boat and properly disposed of, get yourself a long, smaller-diameter hose—flexible PEX freshwater hose works great and so does garden-type washdown hose—and feed it through the route your sanitary hose needs to follow. This task should be pretty easy due to the smaller-diameter thing. Then, once you’ve run the PEX or washdown hose through the route, simply mark it appropriately with a Sharpie (add a couple of inches just to be safe), pull it back out, and use it to cut and measure your new sanitary hose.

Does all this sound like extra work? Maybe. But once you get the technique down to a science, it can save you much heartache and do away with a great deal of ghastly messiness that (trust us) you do not want or need to deal with.


Wrist Protectors?

If you’re a boater who does a good bit of his own mechanical work, whether it entails changing the oil in your boat’s engine or engines or installing a brand new inverter on a virtually unreachable swathe of bulkhead, you most likely have experienced what we call ‘wrist rash.” Explaining what the term means may help you identify.

Let’s say you are attempting to apply a ratchet-type socket wrench with an extender to a bolt that is quite inaccessible and, to be successful, you much reach over and beyond some unrelated paraphernalia that has sharp edges. You know, the sharp edges that often attend hose clamps without plastic guards or the insides of lockers where the fiberglass structure is perhaps not as highly finished as it might otherwise be.

What happens? You scrape or nick the wrist you’re using to turn the wrench, often quite painfully. Then if you’re like most of the rest of us, you make a colorful comment about what’s just occurred and briefly wonder why it’s always your wrists that get banged up—quite frankly we don’t know, by the way. Then you usually forget about the whole thing, resume what you were doing, soon experience yet another scrape or nick, forget about that one too…the gloomy little process can go on for hours, even longer, to such an extent that at the end of any given day you, or rather your wrist or wrists, feel like the walking wounded.

What’s the fix? Simply buy yourself a pair of thick, wool, small-diameter tube socks and cut them to a length that will nicely cover your wrists. Then, before you install that next buss bar or attempt to change the zinc in that almost totally inaccessible heat exchanger, simply slip on your new “Wrist Protectors,” at least for the worst part of the job. You may be glad you did.


Elbow Grease? Or Not!

Let’s say you just replaced the windows on board your boat with a brand-new set of custom-crafted, raw-aluminum beauties. They look spectacular, right? And what’s more, the calcified remnants of years of hard-water washdowns are gone—the glass in your new windows is as clear as mountain spring water. But what about the exposed aluminum around the glass, particularly on the outside of your boat? Corrosion’s going to be a problem, right?

Well, that depends. Actually, most good grades of aluminum tend to form a layer of aluminum oxide when exposed to the atmosphere. And this material acts as a barrier to corrosive attacks from pollution, dirt, dust, and other atmosphere-borne nasties. Moreover, if you scratch or otherwise damage the layer, it simply comes back in virtually all cases and goes right on protecting the aluminum underneath.

Here’s the fly in the ointment, however. Aluminum oxide tends to thicken and darken with age, although its resistance to corrosion does not diminish. So a cosmetic dilemma arises, at least for some boaters—if you’re cool with weathered-looking raw-aluminum window frames of the sort you see on commercial vessels, plain ol’ boat soap and water should keep your new windows healthy. But if, on the other hand, you need a crisp, shiny, yachty appearance, then get ready—we see elbow grease in your future, and plenty of it.

Certainly, most of the two-part treatments for raw aluminum on the market from companies like Woody Wax (www.woody-wax.com) will give raw aluminum a spiffy appearance. No doubt about it. But is spiffy that important to you? And do you really want to work that hard?


Super Bonding Power

In addition to her fiberglass laminates, it’s surprising how many different kinds of plastics you’ll find on board your boat. There’s a good chance, for example, that your rubrail is made of PVC or Polyvinyl Chloride. Some of your engine-room components (like pump housings, sea strainers, freshwater fittings, and even some hoses) are likely made of polypropylene or some kind of composite. And your water tanks? Well, if they’re plastic, there’s a chance said plastic is cross-linked poly.

Of course, occasionally stuff breaks. This is a fact that holds true both ashore and upon the high seas. And when, in the future, you experience some sort of failure in a plastic component in your engine room or elsewhere, the temptation undoubtedly will exist to address the problem, if only temporarily, with marine silicone, 3M 5200 (or less dramatically, 3M 4200), or some other glue, goop, or glop that’s on the market (and perhaps in your toolbox), marine-related or not.

Resist the temptation! And instead, add a little Plexus MA310 methacrylate adhesive (about 50 ml should do it) to your DIY repertoire, a product that addresses difficult-to-bond plastic components with a vengeance. Hard-charging PVC spray rails and rubrails? No problem. Modified-polyester equipment-housing composites? No problem. Nylon? No problem (believe it or not). And get this—we hear from DIYers who seem to know what they are talking about that the darn stuff will even bond supposedly un-bondable King Starboard both to itself and to gelcoat. Although we haven’t actually tested the feasibility of this ourselves, we’re on the case, by the way.

Just remember. There are a variety of Plexus products out there. So do a little research before you go shopping and make sure you pick the right version for the plastics on board that are most likely to flub up and need either a temporary or permanent fix. Jamestown Distributors (www.jamestowndistributors.com) sells Plexus adhesives, as do many other marine supply houses.


Hose Clamp Checkup

We all know one thing for certain. Whatever kind of hose clamp you use, whether it be the worm-gear type, the T-bolt type, or some other variety, the point of failure is often going to be darn near invisible, especially when you consider the influence that Mr. Murphy and his famous law typically wield over the marine scene. More to the point, let’s say you’ve got a couple of packing-box hoses on your boat’s propulsion system that are sealed at each end with hose clamps, even well-made, supposedly all-stainless-steel hose clamps.

Where, most likely, are these babies going to rust or rot out? Not on the upper half, which is easy to see—we can almost guarantee. Rather, the rusting and rotting is going to occur on the underside of the clamp, where moisture tends to gather thanks to gravity. And yeah, the underside in most circumstances is going to be virtually impossible to get a visual on.

But check this out. There is a way to keep tabs on the health of a part of a hose clamp that is substantially hidden. Simply employ a dental mirror (or some other small mirror) that can be positioned in such a way as to show what cannot otherwise be seen. In some low-light situations, a small flashlight can even be employed to improve on the seeing.

But what about a circumstance where the use of a mirror is not possible, for one reason or another? Try feeling the hidden part of the clamp with a relatively clean finger. If rust stains materialize after this procedure, it’s time for a replacement.


Roll On Roll Off

Let’s say you need to do a little fiberglass work. And the job you envision entails the business end of a power grinder, a couple of sanding blocks, a pair of goggles, and a long succession of face masks. Most likely, at the start of the project, you will also envision the way you are going to feel at the end of the day, with various parts of your anatomy covered with millions of minute shards of fibrous fiberglass and lots of fiberglass dust.

There’s only one word that does justice to this shardsy, dusty feeling—itchy! Indeed, there’s little doubt that being covered with the residue from a day spent doing fiberglass repairs is one of the itchiest states a guy can get himself into. And what heaps even more misery upon the situation is the fact that there’s really no way to get the stuff off.

We all know showering won’t do it, whether with hot or cold water. Toweling thoroughly won’t do it either, and neither will plain ol’ scraping. The only thing that seems to really do the trick is time—simply allowing the passage of time to wear the darn stuff away. An itchy solution if ever there was one.

But wait! Here’s a cool idea we bumped into recently. Before you even go near your fiberglass repair job, pay a visit to your local hardware store, big-box mercantile, or supermarket and pick up a couple of roller-type lint removers. Then, after a hard day behind your grinder or sander, go over your legs, arms, neck, and shoulders with a big, trusty lint roller, making sure to promptly remove each layer as it becomes clogged. Then, and only then, take a nice hot shower, unencumbered by fiberglass shards and dust. Try it. We think you’ll like it.


A Cool, Multifaceted Tool

Maybe you’re going to think this tip is overly basic but, even if that be the case, we think the tip’s helpfulness will more than make up for its total, utter, why-didn’t-I-think-of-this simplicity. So here goes: Probably the kindest, most comfort-inducing, most performance-improving thing you can add to just about any DIY job onboard a boat is a milk crate.

A milk crate? You know, the heavy-duty plastic contraption you have oodles of lying around, or stacked up, in your garage or shed at home. Or that you see for sale at most big, hardware-type chain stores.

Whataya do with a milk crate? On a boat? Well, for one thing, while en route to your next onboard DIY jobsite, you can carry your tools and supplies in it. But then, once you’ve arrived on the scene, the real purpose of the milk crate will announce itself, almost automatically.

If you flip the darn thing over—i.e, turn it upside down—you’ll find it makes an excellent seat, with the perfect elevation for doing all kinds of onboard chores, from varnishing caprails and mixing paint to greasing a windlass and splicing lines. Just remember—the point of using a milk crate as a seat during a DIY project (or part of one) is not comfort alone.

Job performance is even more important. Once seated and at rest on an upturned milk crate, you’ll find that the overall quality of your work (whether it be painting, splicing, varnishing, bedding a cleat, or whatever) will improve significantly. Thanks to an increased level of relaxation, it will take on a measured precision you were not able to produce while working on your knees or from some other uncomfortable position. Hey, you can even use your milk crate to give you a little extra, stand-up elevation for those hard-to-reach jobs.


Bad Isolation Mounts? DIY Tips

Feeling more vibration onboard than you used to? And wondering if you’ve got a propeller issue? Well, unless you’ve hit something recently, or run the old girl aground, there’s at least a fair chance you have at least one isolation mount that’s passed the point of no return. How do you know for sure? It’s tough to say, actually, although there are a few significant indicators. Again, excessive vibration is a biggie. And then, black, powdery dust on or around an engine bearer—you know, like the dust produced by a worn-out drive belt—is also indicative of trouble. And finally, lots of play in an isolator when you lift its corner of an engine slightly via a steel bar or some other prying device can also point to elastomeric material that’s beyond its prime.

A replacement job’s not as wicked as you may think, though. But before you begin, bear in mind that most engines have four mounts (although some smaller engines used to be marketed with three) and there’s little point in replacing just one or two. Way better to address all four, thereby helping to guarantee equal amounts of flexibility and wear in the future.

Something else to bear in mind—take a pass on an A-frame or some other kind of overhead device to lift the entire engine for isolator replacement. The overhead strategy often makes things more difficult, complex, and even dangerous. Instead, find yourself a small hydraulic jack, of which there are many types and configurations on the market. Check the Web—you should be able to find a model that’ll fit your circumstances.

And one more thing—remember to hit the old mounts with some sort of penetrating solvent (one of the best is Kano Kroil, available at www.kanolabs.com) a week or so before you actually kick off your engine-mount replacement project. This will facilitate removal of the lock-down nuts and other paraphernalia when you finally begin. 

The actual work is relatively simple—but take your time, even a small engine is bone-crushingly heavy. For starters, before you put a wrench on any of the old mounts, use a digital caliper to measure the distance from the surface of each engine bearer to the underside of each of the engine’s hangers or mounting arms. Use a Sharpie to mark where each measurement was made and write down the measurements in a notebook. The point, here, is to closely approximate the heights of the old mounts when you install the new ones. Now disconnect and slightly separate the flanges that connect the engine’s marine gear to its propshaft (a slotted-type screwdriver works best) and temporarily remove all other constricting parts, cables, or wires.

The next step—lift lone corner of the engine at a time with the jack, replacing each old isolation mount with a new one as you go along. And choose mounts that are either sold or recommended by your engine’s manufacturer. Yanmar, for example, sells Yanmar-only mounts that are specific to right and left sides of its engines, a move that adds flexibility to the mounts that must resist shaft and prop torque the most. Skip buying Yanmar mounts and you may miss this important, longevity-producing feature.

Of course, the final step is a new engine alignment. And unless you’ve worked your way through this little chore before (or you’ve got the patience of Job and more time on your hands than you know what to do with), hire a professional to do it. What it’ll cost you in dollars will be well worth what you’ll save in terms of mental anguish and total frustration.


Rusty Wrenches? Fizzzzz!

Okay. So you’ve left a bunch of perfectly good, chrome-plated box-end wrenches at the bottom of an onboard toolbox, some saltwater has gotten in somehow, and now your darn tools are crusted over with rust. One by one, you pull ‘em out, studiously examine the brown, even blackish discolorations, and ask yourself, “Wonder if I should just dispose of these babies—they’re still usable, yeah, but they look horrible. Most guys’d be embarrassed to own up to ‘em in private, let alone in public.”

Disposal? Embarrassment? As luck would have it, there’s a third alternative that’s available to you, and a very positive one at that. Coca Cola—yup, the beverage that first bubbled up in a pharmacy in Atlanta, George in 1886 and is now familiar to just about everybody in the world—will remove rust from just about any chrome-plated tool, as long as you give the sweet, fizzy brown liquid a real chance to work.

Here’s what to do. Get yourself a stout, appropriately sized plastic container and immerse all of your rusted wrenches (or other rusted chrome-plated tools you have on hand) in a bath of Diet Coke. Go with the diet product here because sugar has no restorative effect and tends to add extra stickiness to a project that can sometimes get a bit messy. Make sure the Coke covers all areas of rust and then place the container in a location where it will be out of the way and where moderate temperatures prevail.

Now twiddle your thumbs. Most likely, the restoration of your wrenches to their original appearance will take a few days at least, and perhaps several. When convenient, pull a wrench or two from the bath and do a quick scan. If all the rust is gone, fine—spray the tool with WD40, wipe it off with a rag, and stow it away, dry. If rust remains, pop the wrench back into the bath and keep twiddling. There’s no question that Coke works on rusted chrome like gangbusters but, of course, other carbonated Cola products with phosphoric acid in them will do the trick as well. But maybe with not quite as much gusto.


Quick Tip on Hose Replacement

The hoses on your boat are big-time important, especially considering what they typically carry. Yeah, springing a leak in a freshwater hose may prove simply inconvenient, but springing a leak in a sanitary hose, a fuel hose, or a raw-water hose? Now that’s a horse of a different color, and probably a rather dark, gloomy color at that.

Let’s say, for example, that it’s Saturday morning and you’re replacing a self-contained or combo-type air-conditioning unit onboard. After you’ve disconnected and hauled the old chunk of machinery out and you’re on the verge of installing a brand-new, technically improved version, a very important question is liable to come to mind: Hmmmmm, before I slide the newbie into place and start fastening ‘er down, I wonder if I should replace all those raw-water intake and other associated hoses that were attached to the old unit? They seem to be perfectly fine.

Bear this truth in mind during such tempting interludes—old, iffy hoses tend to look pretty darn good, especially while you weigh the pros and cons of spending money and time on replacing them. More to the point, the exterior of an aging raw-water intake hose for an air-conditioning unit can seem to be in excellent shape, despite the fact that some or all of its interior layers or laminations are teetering on the brink of collapse. And should a problematic layer or layers succumb to the inevitable after you’ve installed a new unit (thereby closing off the hose, either partially or totally), the result is going to be, in a word, BAD! In fact, it will basically amount to operating the new unit without enough intake water, or perhaps without any intake water at all, a tragic, costly scenario in either case.

There’s a better way, of course. When replacing just about any hose-fed ancillary onboard, simply bite the bullet—replace the related hoses and make sure the new stuff is of equal or better quality. This strategy will save you money in the long run, and ensure that you’ve not wasted an entire Saturday on a project that someday hands you a gloomy surprise. And hey, replacing those old hoses is probably going to nix the migration of silt and marine growth into your brand new combo unit, too. And, as we all know, keeping barnacles and slime from sneaking into a freshly minted condenser coil is always a good thing.


How To Drill Stainless Steel

Now and again, if you do at least some of the maintenance work your boat requires, you’re going to come up against a seemingly difficult or even impossible task—drilling a relatively large hole in a piece of super-hard stainless steel. What’s the big deal about stainless, especially when it’s of the super-hard variety?

Well, if you try to drill a hole through the stuff using the same sort of smash-and-drive technique you use to drill holes through softer materials (like wood, plastic, rubber, plain carbon steel, aluminum, etc.), you will almost certainly burn up the tip of your drill bit and thus ruin the darn thing. And such a ruination, of course, can be expensive, particularly if your toolbox sports a bunch of expensive bits.

So here’s what to do instead. First of all, forget about using a pricey bit or bits from Japan or Germany. Go with plain ol’ black oxide bits from your local chain-type hardware store—they’re cheaper and more disposable. Then, after filling a plastic cup with cool water and placing it nearby (more about this in a moment), punch a small pilot hole in the stainless, using a bit that is one-third or maybe one-fourth the diameter of the hole you ultimately need to cut. 

There’s a trick to drilling this pilot hole, however. Go slow. Real slow! In fact, if you’re working with a cordless, variable speed drill (one of the most popular tools on the market these days), keep the rotational speed of the bit down to where it just causes the point and cutting edges to remove metal shavings. No more. And don’t put extreme pressure on the cordless either and, if you see or smell any signs of heat, dip the bit into the aforementioned cup of cool water. Do this as many times as you have to. The idea here is to keep your cutting surfaces cool and sharp, not let them overheat and get dull because you’ve been pushing too hard.

Once the pilot hole’s finished, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to pop the larger bit (the one that’s sized to produce the hole you actually require) into your cordless and go for it. Just remember—drill the big hole using the same slo-mo, water-cooled method you used to drill the small one.  


To Heck With OBS

Undoubtedly, you’ve gone aboard older boats (and maybe some which were not so old) that exhaled a distinctive fragrance most folks call “Old Boat Smell.” This fragrance, if it can be labeled as such, is not exactly disgusting but, then again, it isn’t always come-hithery either. While fuel tanks and engines with miniscule leaks, problematic sanitary systems, moldering lockers, and other issues typically play a causative role in OBS, the main culprit is often a grubby bilge that contains oil, oil residue, dried crud, wet crud, moist crud, saloon sweepings, a variety of nuts, bolts, and other artifacts that have inadvertently fallen into darkness, and plenty of other stuff it’s not worth wringing our hands over here.

What to do?

There are numerous bilge cleaners on the market, including products from Starbrite, West Marine, and Boatlife. The reason to go with a mainstream-manufactured bilge cleaner from one of these outfits is that the product is going to be biodegradable, as opposed to being some sort of regular soap which may leave an unhealthy residue in your bilge after cleaning and which may also do harm to the environment when pumped overboard.

So, for starters, let’s say you’ve purchased a jug of good bilge cleaner. Next? Crank up the cleaning process by shutting down your onboard bilge pumping system (usually accomplished by the mere flip of a switch or switches) and pouring bilge cleaner into the dirtiest areas of your bilge. Use enough of the stuff, too—the amount, of course, depends on the size of the area you’re dealing with. Then bring the business end of a garden-type hose aboard, tie it down or otherwise immobilize it in a likely part of the bilge (most often somewhere in the engine room), and turn on the dockside faucet. Avoid using a nozzle, by the way—even if dialed back, nozzles tend to spray freshwater on engines and other sensitive areas and this is often bad, bad, bad.

What eventually ensues is predictable—your bilge fills up like a soup bowl full of nasty or semi-nasty soup. Once that happens, shut off the faucet and agitate (washing-machine-style) the water/cleaner mixture with a mop, brush, or some other device that makes sense for the shapes of the areas you’re working with. Then kick back and simply let the agitated mix percolate for a few hours, say, four or five. Don’t leave your boat unattended during this period, though. Remember—the bilge pump or pumps have been temporarily disabled.

The final step of this extravaganza entails using either a gong brush or long-handled deck brush (or both) to thoroughly scrub every part of the bilge you can reasonably get to. Rubber boots may come in handy for this gruesome chore, and/or rubber gloves. And intensity is key. Put some serious energy into that brush handle or that brace of brush handles, but hey, not so much that you damage equipment or splash water all over it. After you re-energize your bilge pumping system and clear the bilge area, use the hose to lightly rinse everything you’ve cleaned to get all residue out. Then rinse again for good measure. What the heck!

A lot of work? Yes, but your nose will know the difference! And so will everybody else’s.


Keep the Traction, Improve the Look

Teak decks are lovely—they impart to virtually any vessel the qualities of romance and, at least in terms of deck shoe traction, practicality. But as teak decks age a variety of issues begin surfacing, one of the biggies being the slow but sure elevation of the caulking material (typically Thiokol in older vessels) above the planking on either side of it. Eventually, said caulking material can protrude as much as one-quarter of an inch above the deck’s planking, a development that is neither aesthetically pleasing nor safe, given its tendency to produce so much traction that stumbling can result.

There are several causes for this issue but the primary one is the gradual wearing down of the planking (but not the Thiokol) due to cleaning activities (and the solvents, brushes, and other implements of destruction that cleaning often entails) as well as just plain ol’ foot traffic.

The fix?

Well, ultimately, there’s deck replacement, of course. But that is increasingly expensive these days, due to the rising costs of teak and craftsmanship. So here’s a nifty stopgap measure that will most likely improve aesthetics and add several years of life—it’s called “peeling the deck.”

The technique is straightforward. You start by either sharpening a chisel (widths from three-quarters of an inch to one-and-a-half inches will do nicely) or buying a new one—sharpness is critical-critical-critical for getting good results. Then you simply cut into a strip of caulking material that’s proud of its seam by pushing the tool forward at an angle, making sure that the bevel side is down and the bevel surface is lying flat upon the surfaces of the planks on either side of the seam. With just a little effort, the caulking will come off in long, narrow strips, which you can toss into a garbage bag for proper disposal later. Be careful not to put too much downward pressure on the chisel while pushing ahead, by the way. Doing so can shave teak off your planks.

What you come up with after you’re done may surprise you, especially if you’re been living with unsightly raised caulking for some while. We’re not saying your deck will look like new but hey, it will look a lot newer than it used to.

When All Else Fails

So here’s a pickle us guys at the AIM Marine Group found ourselves in a couple of years ago. We needed to remove a metal hatch on a vessel’s fuel tanks to ascertain whether the tank had fuel in it and, if so, how much. We needed to do this because we were preparing to embark upon a lengthy boat delivery and determining how much fuel we had onboard was critical, despite the fact that the fuel sender in the tank was not working.

So where did the pickle come in? The machine screws that held the hatch in place were seemingly frozen in place—several crewmembers had tried removing them by vengefully bearing down with a Phillips-type screwdriver to no avail. And given the lateness of the hour (it was about 3 A.M. and we needed to hit the trail at first light), as well as all the other stuff that needed to be dealt with prior to departure, there simply was neither the time nor the opportunity to go hunting up a can of penetrating oil.

So here’s what we did instead. While using the palms of both hands, his shoulder, and as much oomph as he could personally muster, one guy bore down upon one of the screw heads with a relatively large screwdriver with a square shank. And another guy, with slightly less oomph and tad more finesse, applied an adjustable wrench to the shank of the screwdriver and cranked it slowly but surely in a counterclockwise direction.

The result? The recalcitrant machine screw broke loose with a pop and allowed itself to be removed. And, with Lady Luck continuing to smile down upon us, the rest of the screws sweetly followed suite. A situation that was potentially threatening was resolved in a matter of minutes.

Obviously, other problematic situations with seemingly frozen fasteners might be resolved with a similar approach. Just remember—the real power of the technique lies in the participation of two people, one using brute strength to address the fastener with the screwdriver, the other using strength as well as intuition to swing the wrench. The tank was bone-dry, by the way. Which was very valuable information.


Sweet Teak Decks

No doubt, you’ve seen at least one poor soul during your life time, stooped slightly over the foredeck of his boat, wielding a hard-bristle deck brush with a vengeance, trying to make the teak deck under his be-booted feet look all tan, fresh, and teaky. Maybe you’ve even seen such shenanigans recently.

Such an approach to teak-deck maintenance, of course, is one of the surest ways known to man of slowly but surely destroying just about any teak deck in the world, unless you’re talking the decks on the queen of England’s old yacht Brittania, which are about as thick as a family-sized bag of fish and chips and therefore virtually indestructible. Indeed, even if you studiously stick with working said brush across the grain of the planks (as opposed to brushing with the grain), you’ll likely remove at least some of the soft fibers that make up the surface, a kind of attrition that is irrevocably damaging. And should you add to the process a bunch of harsh chemicals of the sort that inhabit most commercial teak cleaners, the damage will almost certainly be infinitely worse.

So relax, and do this instead! First, get comfortable with the color grey—teak decks that are treated in such a way as to stay tan and teaky-looking are doomed to a short life. A deck that retains a mildly weathered, light grey appearance, however, is likely to enjoy a well-deserved longevity and bespeaks an owner who genuinely knows what the heck he’s doing.

Second, if possible, sluice your decks off with salt water periodically—salt water in this case is a preservative and also puts the kibosh to bacteria and the green slime that tends to build up around hardware landings and other spots that get difficult and grungy as days go by.

And three, every month or so, add some ECO 100 teak-cleaning powder (from Teakdecking Systems, reachable at www.teakdecking.com) to a bucket of water in accordance with the proportions printed on the container and gently, gently, gently swish the resulting mixture over the planks with a Dooblebug (a mop-like product with a rectangular pad made by 3M and available at most marine stores and chandleries) and let it percolate for 10 to 15 minutes before you rinse it away. 

Use the softest (white) Doodlebug pad for your work, by the way, and yes, it will lighten your decks slightly but not for long. Moreover, according to Teakdecking Systems, ECO 100 is guaranteed not to remove soft fibers from your teak decks. And hey, the stuff is “environmentally friendly,” with no acids, caustic sodas, or phosphates.  So the rinse should entail no environmental consequences.


Binocular Etiquette

Just recently, it’s come to our attention that there’s a dearth of knowledge out there concerning the nautical etiquette wrapped tightly around the act of using someone else’s binoculars.  So forthwith, a word to the wise.  The practice is verboten, as they say in Heine Land. Which means forbidden, not allowed, vetoed, nixed, or kaput. You know—like, don’t even THINK about going there.

Oh sure, if you stomp aboard a vessel owned and operated by a neophyte boater, who has no understanding of or appreciation for the many unspoken traditions of the sea, you’ll probably get away with casually picking up that set of binocs laying atop the chart flat and blithely twisting and turning on either the diopter focus, or the center focus, or both. Nobody’s gonna say a word.

But let’s say that, on the other hand, you step aboard a salty, trawlerish craft owned by an ex-Navy guy with “Mother” tattooed on one bicep,  “Death Before Dishonor” tattooed on the other, and a world view that manifests not a whiff of decorum or gentility. And let’s also say you blithely (and quite innocently perhaps) try this sort of stunt with the guy’s big, pricey Steiners or his big and equally pricey Fujinons.

With nary a doubt, the reaction is going to be dramatic and, if friends and relations are onboard as well, embarrassing in the extreme. At the very least, a verbal reprimand is likely, or a total red-faced tongue-lashing that features some exceptionally suggestive profanity. At worst, the binocs may be unceremoniously snatched from your grasp, a humiliating happening that will then be followed up by days and days of browbeating (at least on a long trip or voyage), spliced between lengthy stints of silent scorn. 

Why all the drama over a simple piece of nautical paraphernalia? The eyepieces on the business end of a good pair of binoculars are seriously adjustable—each can be dialed into the eyesight-related characteristics of the owner/user, although the exercise takes a bit of time. 

And time, of course, is occasionally a big deal, at least when it comes to navigation. Should a skipper reach for his binoculars to clarify a dicey traffic situation on a howling black night, or to identify a tow crossing ahead on a blindingly sunny Sunday afternoon, or to straighten out some other sort of semi-threatening scenario that requires long-range visibility, only to find that they’re seriously out of whack…then a dangerous situation has immediately arisen, whether said skipper is conning a tugboat or a cruising motoryacht.

So here’s the deal. Ask to use those binoculars on the steering console if you must, but don’t count on a positive response from a knowledgeable navigator. And, even if you get the go-ahead, don’t presume to adjust either the diopter or the center focus to suit your own eyes. Not even a little bit. Better to simply buy your own binocs and carry them with you. And only touch somebody else’s if, for some bizarre reason, you’re given carte blanche.


A Trusted Friend—the Cheater Pipe

Let’s say that, for some reason, you are replacing your old windlass with a brand-new one. And, right off the bat, you note that the old model is secured with four, through-deck bolts, backed up with four, thoroughly rusted sets of fender washers, lockwashers, and nuts. And yeah, as you wade into the project, breaking three of these sets loose is a job but it’s doable. With an assist from lots of slimy penetrating oil, a wait-time of approximately one whole day, and the application of a couple of oversized, box-end wrenches, you manage to pull it off.

But then, there’s that fourth, freakin’ nut—it positively refuses to surrender. So after you’ve spent almost the whole dang weekend trying to either break it loose or cut it off, and bruised your knuckles on an assortment of tools and methods that have failed miserably (including a hacksaw, a variety of cold chisels, and a so-called nut-splitter), you ultimately scratch your head in desperation and cast an accusatory look at the heavens. “There’s a brand-new windlass sitting in that box over there,” you cry out, “but how the heck am I going to install it?”

The answer comes in the shape of a guy—every marina has at least one of ‘em—who happens to be walking down the dock at the precise time you are contemplating forsaking boating for golf. “Having some trouble,” he asks while easing along a tippy fingerpier so he can facilitate a therapeutic conversation with you. You calm down after a while. And finally, he tosses into the discourse an exceptionally simple but wholly invaluable tool that you’ve never heard of before—a “cheater pipe.”

Cheater pipes (sometimes called “breaker bars”) have been keeping the U.S. Merchant fleet (or what’s left of it) as well as the U.S. Navy going for years. The technology, as stated above, is so uncomplicated it’s amazing. To employ it, you simply procure, cut, or otherwise customize an old piece of pipe—galvanized works particularly well—that is, lets say (for a comparatively small job like removing an old, recreational-boat windlass), three feet long and possesses an inside diameter that allows you to slide it over the handle of a ratchet-type wrench, a pipe wrench, an adjustable wrench (although for tough jobs adjustable wrenches are bad about rounding off the flats on nuts), or some other kind of bolt-twisting device you happen to have on hand.

The point, of course, is to add leverage to your chore, lots of it. But just remember—once you’ve tacked on a couple of feet to the wrench you are pulling on or pushing against, be careful. Apply pressure steadily, but slowly, slowly, slowly.

Leaning heavily and peremptorily on the business end of what has effectively become a wrench with a five-foot handle can be dangerous, both to you and your project. Moreover, ten chances to one, just a little pressure at the end of your new cheater pipe will break that exasperatingly recalcitrant nut free.

And one more thing. Don’t throw your newly created tool away. The little jewel will stow easily in your engine room or lazarette. And it’s surprising how often a cheater pipe can come in right handy onboard a boat.


Going Dripless, the Old-School Way

There are several dripless shaft logs on the market, each offering a variation on modern shaft-log technology. Going dripless, of course, makes sense because it keeps your boat’s bilge dry and most likely cleaner and less smelly than otherwise.

Some older boats, however, still sport old-school stuffing boxes that need to be periodically packed or re-packed with material that is squeezed by a compression ring but only partially seals seawater out. Even if properly adjusted, such stuffing boxes hardly guarantee a dry bilge—they are actually designed to leak steadily when your boat is underway (primarily so that heat is dissipated and the propeller shaft remains lubricated), and leak only a little (or, with luck, not at all) when dockside.

But hey, there is a product on the marine scene today that let’s you enjoy the benefits of modern, dripless shaft-log technology, even if your boat is fitted with an old-school stuffing box. It’s called GFO Marine Shaft Packing, got its start on industrial-grade water pumps, and relies on braided fibers from W.L.  Gore & Associates, the folks behind Gore-Tex.

Of course, there are flax-based shaft packing materials out there that will work in your average old-fashioned stuffing box, most of them for quite a while. But GFO’s the only one we know of that minimizes and often obviates the movement of water from outside the boat into the bilge. And what’s more, because the GFO is so slippery and tough once installed, it requires virtually no seawater for cooling or lubrication and, because it is four times more thermally conductive than old-fashioned flax-based packing, it nixes the risk of burning, scoring, or otherwise damaging your propeller shaft.

The darn stuff also lasts a long, long, long time. Indeed, our experience with the product prompts us to claim that you can, in keeping with GFO’s advertising slogan, “pack it and forget it.”

GFO, incidentally, is currently used by the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard, as well as by a variety of commercial boats, and is approved by the American Bureau of Shipping, according the GFO website.  Go to www.gfopacking.com for dealers and distributors. A typical kit (1-inch shafts are ordinarily packed with ¼-inch material but a variety of widths is available) should cost about $19.


Murphy The Great!

The change may have taken place at a glacial pace and therefore may be unnoticeable to you. But eventually, your stunning boat interior—or rather, the wood that sustains and augments said interior—begins to look dingy due to the slow, sure buildup of dirt, grime, and even perhaps a little salt. Check it out next time you step into your saloon. Run your fingers across a stretch of panel, or down the stile of a louvered door. Does the surface feel smooth? Or is there some stickiness, a noticeable drag?

If the latter possibility is the case, then you are probably going to be quite surprised if you take the time on, say, a rainy, chilly, or overly warm weekend, to wash your interior woodwork with soap and water.

But don’t use just any ol’ ordinary soap, or what you take to be ordinary soap. The best product we’ve found for cleaning and maintaining wooden panels, cabinets, parquet flooring, and other wooden components onboard, is one that’s been around seemingly forever: Murphy Oil Soap. For most jobs, you typically add a quarter cup of the stuff to a gallon of water and then, with a sponge or soft cloth, just sorta git ‘er done.

The great thing about Murphy Oil Soap is that it’s very effective but gentle. The latter quality stems from the fact that the product contains no acids, harsh chemicals, or abrasives, as so many other cleaners and soaps on the market do. Indeed it contains no oil either, oddly enough, but rather just a cleaning agent that is essentially a mild, vegetable-based soap.

Another bonus is, if used as directed, Murphy Oil Soap leaves no residue once your wood-washing work’s done. You can buy it in several forms and sizes and it can be purchased at most supermarkets and some hardware stores.


To Heck With Mutiny

One of the most useful and most used devices onboard your boat is her freshwater pump. Indeed, if you factor in time spent dockside, the darn thing piles up just about as many operational hours as your engine or engines. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point.

At any rate, if you’ve ever had a freshwater pump give up the ghost for some reason during a reasonably long cruise, you know one thing for sure—life onboard changes radically once the source of cool, clean, freshwater dries up. Cooking peters out quickly, along with showers, dishwashing, hand washing, and just about every other normal human activity that engenders happiness. Heck, even the act of downing a glass of water can turn into a fond memory.

Of course, crewmembers usually turn testy as a result, argumentative. Mutinous remarks are made, sometimes by family members. Unpleasant aspects of the captain’s biography may find their way into the public venue, thanks to a burgeoning malice. In point of fact, things can get so out of hand in the end that matrimonial vows are ultimately called into question!

So here’s what we suggest. Unless your boat is equipped with two freshwater pumps—one being a spare, a rather uncommon scenario these days unfortunately—how about purchasing a second pump (identical to the first, if possible) and tossing it into a locker or some other handy spot, along with the quick-connect fittings that normally accompany modern, off-the-shelf freshwater pumps.

After all, you can buy a good, run-dry-capable unit today for between $100 and $150. And with the quick connects and port adapters that are normally included, you should be able to swap a malfunctioning pump out for a new one in a matter of minutes. Typically, all you need do is shut off the water tank(s) temporarily, pop two old hose-type fittings off, remove a couple of electrical wires, pop two new fittings into place, and then finally re-attach a few screws and electrical wires.

Is buying an extra pump for a few bucks (and simply leaving it boxed up after you’ve determined that all the necessary components are inside the box) lots better than ruining a vacation which is probably going to cost you thousands of dollars? Considering the cost-to-benefit ratio involved here, absolutely!

Drilling Holes in Stainless Steel

Some people will tell you that drilling crisp, accurate holes in the harder grades of stainless steel is pretty darn problematic if not impossible. They’ll tell you that you need to have extra-sharp, extra-hard, extra-expensive drill bits. And even then, they’ll say there are no guarantees. Which is quite discouraging, truth to tell, particularly if you know what it’s like to crank up a weekend project on a nice Saturday morning only to find that’s you’ve already broken a very pricey and very necessary chunk of equipment, a development that means yet another time-consuming, wallet-hammering trip to the chandlery or hardware store.

All of which is a pile of baloney, of course. Drilling holes even in exceptionally hard stainless is fairly easy, even if you have comparatively simple, low-tech tools. The key is keeping the production of friction-generated heat to a minimum, either with cooling pastes and liquids or—believe it or not—plain ol’ water.

Here’s how. Start by using a center punch and a hammer or mallet to mark the spot where you need to cut the hole—let’s say, for argument’s sake, you are shooting for a ½-incher. Then use a bit that’s considerably smaller than the hole you want to ultimately cut—a 1/8-inch or a 5/32-inch bit would constitute a pretty good bet in this case—and start cutting with your drill at approximately half speed, with medium pressure. The point here is to apply enough revs and pressure to prevent binding but not so much that you produce temperatures that nix the bit’s temper or hardness. 

Here’s the trick, however. Once your bit’s made an entry and a few cuttings have been swept aside, dip the bit in a cup of water to cool it off and continue doing so every ten to 15 seconds until you’ve finished the hole. Water’s the coolest coolant in this kind of situation because it’s easier to work with and clean up than cutting oil or paste. Moreover, you’re most likely going to be using a middle-of-the-road, black-oxide-coated bit on a task like this, not a rarefied, high-speed tool that’s seriously pricey, so repeatedly dousing the thing in water’s no big deal. 

Once you’ve completed your pilot hole, simply switch to the ½-inch bit and keep on keepin’ on, while dipping the bit periodically as before, until you’ve cut the hole you wanted to cut in the first place.


Great Fitting—Possible Improvement

Think back. Imagine the last time you retrieved your anchor. Did it somehow do a back flip on its way to or over the anchor roller? Forcing you to lower the darn thing a bit and try again? And then, O horror of horrors, go through the same routine yet again?

The fix, of course, is an anchor swivel, a device that smoothifies the process of bringing your anchor aboard and also allows it to twist or rotate (in the horizontal plane) while suspended between water and pulpit, thereby producing an efficient, one-shot, flukes-backward anchor stowage scenario. To heck with all that flukes-forward goofiness.

But here’s the rub. Some folks will tell you—and most likely many of them are right—that an anchor swivel constitutes the weak point in any anchoring system, particularly when high winds and seas in an anchorage hit the swivel sideways with snatching loads. Indeed, it’s fairly easy to find photos of fork-type swivels that have been literally torn apart by such loads under what were most likely extreme conditions.

Two comparatively easy solutions come to mind, though. First, you might consider oversizing your swivel for your particular application, with due respect to maintaining an easy movement of chain, anchor stock, and other attendant parts over the anchor roller during retrieval.

And/or second, you might also install an anchor shackle at the top of your anchor’s stock, thus mimicking the ring (or “Jew’s Harp”) that surmounts the shank of a military- or commercial-type anchor. With your swivel secured to the shackle instead of the stock itself, strain from the side will simply align the swivel with the direction of pull (not the orientation of the stock), thereby obviating off-center loads that may prove catastrophic. Whether or not to incorporate both measures into your anchoring regime is up to you.


Water-Tank Hygiene

There’s no way of getting around it—potable water onboard cools its heels for much of the time. So, given bacteria’s exuberant nature, there’s no question that that potable-water tank of yours, down in the engine room, needs to be addressed in some shape or form at this time of year, whether it happens to be made of plastic or some sort of metal.

For starters, drain off most of the water in the tank, pop the inspection port—most potable tanks have them—and run your finger around inside. If there’s slime and/or a bad smell, figure on draining the remaining water and thoroughly cleaning the interior of the tank. From the standpoint of hygiene, this is necessary even if you only drink bottled water onboard.

Cleaning can be handled in a couple of ways. The first entails swabbing as much of the inside of the tank as possible with a soapy sponge, flushing the grubby contents, and then, after refilling the tank with clean water and a small amount of dishwashing detergent—overdoing it can extend the rinse cycle into eternity—agitating the mixture with a long-handled brush, a propeller-type paint stirring device secured in the chuck of a powerful cordless drill, or some other mechanical means. 

The second method’s more fun. It entails swabbing and flushing as before but then refilling the tank only about halfway and going for a little boat ride in conditions sporty enough to thoroughly clean the inside of the tank, washing-machine style. The longer the boat ride—the cleaner the tank!

In any case, after you’ve returned your water tank or tanks to like-new condition, you may want to add a “Whole House” filter system from Home Depot or Lowe’s downstream of the pump that pressurizes the entire freshwater system. If you decide to do this, one of the best options pairs an activated-charcoal-based unit with another that removes particulate matter. A slightly less complex option simply adds a filter to the faucet you designate for drinking and dishwashing alone. 

Just remember. Most experts advise taking a pass on drinking any kind of water (filtered or not) after it’s languished in a boat’s tanks for weeks on end. Of course, using a fresh-water system every day, during a liveaboard stint that constantly renews what’s in the tanks, engenders quite another story, especially if filters are involved.


Last-Ditch Emergency Anchoring Procedure

Let’s say that, for some unforeseen reason, you’ve lost your main propulsion engine or engines, sea conditions are not good, and your boat is on what sailors refer to as “a lee shore.” The latter term, of course, refers to an admittedly dark scenario where a vessel is either traveling or adrift along a coast, with a healthy wind or current (or both) pushing her dangerously toward the beach.

Here’s an old seafaring ploy that’s worth trying, although it’s certainly a last-ditch, when-all-else-fails move.

Check the soundings inshore of your vessel using your chart or electronic plotter’s cartography and then, in accordance with your findings, lower your anchor to a depth that exceeds the soundings (but fails to bump the bottom below your present location) and lock the rode in place by windlass brake, chain-stopper (or Devil’s Claw), riding pawl, and any other measure you deem appropriate. Whether or not you can approximate the amount of scope that’s typically suggested for heavy weather (10:1, where 10 roughly represents the length of rode let out and 1 represents the depth of the water under the vessel) is an iffy question under the dicey conditions we’ve just described, but do your best to come close.

The final step of this last-ditch, emergency anchoring procedure? Simply wait (and hope) that your boat more or less anchors herself under the influence of prevailing conditions.

Again, such an action should only be taken as a last resort, after you’ve tried everything else that might prevent a dangerous grounding. And there are no guarantees—the method may or may not work and, under some conditions, it may not be advisable to try it at all. However, should your anchor catch and actually hold after you’ve deployed it in this highly unconventional manner, you’ve undoubtedly saved the day. But be prepared for a hairy, on-the-hook jaunt, albeit a much safer one than otherwise.


A Small Thing, But Important

See if this gloomy little scenario is at all familiar. You are attempting to tape off an area onboard your boat so you can paint, varnish, or goop it with finesse. And hey, the tape you’re using is decent stuff, totally appropriate for the application you have in mind. Only trouble is, when you tear off the first strip and let the bitter end go so you can put the roll of tape down temporarily, the bitter end goes flying in the breeze, gets tangled up in itself, sticks together in spots, and renders itself useless. 

So what do you do? You try a second strip, after wadding up the first and tossing it into your handy-dandy, on-the-job trash receptacle. But guess what—the same darn thing happens again. 

“Dang wind,” you grumble, wadding up more tape and going for yet another strip. At which point, we say, “Stop! There’s a better way.”

To flat-out obviate the aforementioned heartache, all you have to do is add one small but very important step to your taping procedure. First of all, note that immediately after you’ve torn off a strip of tape, you have one end in one hand and the other end in the other. This is good—your strip’s totally under control, even if the wind is blowing.

Problems arise, however, when you let go of the strip with one hand so you can use said hand to deal with the roll of tape—let’s say you need to lay it down on a rail until you’re ready to use it again, or slip it into a pocket, or whatever. But once you cast the bitter end of the strip loose, of course, it tangles, sticks to itself, and, in a variety of other ways, self-destructs, at least if the wind is blowing.

So what to do?

Next time you’re doing a little taping, instead of just letting go of that first strip’s bitter end, temporarily stick it to some convenient spot near your working surface or even on your blue jeans, shirt, or some other article of clothing you happen to be wearing. This will produce instantaneous, double-ended control, even though you have one hand free to deal with the roll of tape. Once you’ve put the roll of tape wherever you temporarily need to put it, you can then simply use that free hand to pull the bitter end of the strip off the nearby spot, whether near your working surface or on your jeans or shirt, and hold onto it (thereby maintaining double-ended control), so you can apply the strip straightforwardly, with one hand on one end and one hand on the other.

We think you’ll find this technique works like gangbusters and, once you get used to it, demands only a second or two of extra time. Our experience guarantees it, as a matter of fact, even on gusty days.


Little Problem—Big Consequences

What’s wild is how fast it can happen. Only a week ago, when you last visited the engine room of your boat, everything seemed cool. All the through-hulls looked to be in shipshape condition, with bonding cables crisply attached, seacock levers working smoothly, and bronze mounting flanges glowing duskily in the shadows.  But now, after a mere seven days have come and gone, you venture back aboard, enter the ER, and things have changed.

More to the point, there’s a blue-green coating on one of the through-hulls that looked so fine recently. And, if the Fates have really been cruel to you during your time away, there’s some whitish, or brownish fuzz showing as well. The stuff gives off an ominous, scary vibe.

What’s the problem?

There’s a very good chance the culprit is stray-current corrosion, a form of trouble wherein stray electricity travels through a metal component (a through-hull, for example) that is in contact with water and exits while traveling to ground (on a slip’s bottom, for example), thereby slowly but surely destroying said component. The process of destruction is usually a fairly slow one, if you’re lucky, and the electricity may come from any number of sources, both inside and outside the vessel, although chafed wires on bilge pumps and related issues are often the instigators, as are shore power cords and poorly maintained neighboring vessels.

How do you tell if you’ve got a stray-current issue? As opposed to some other galvanic glitch?

On a boat with a properly bonded electrical system, the process is relatively easy. You begin by disconnecting the bonding wire from the seemingly affected through-hull (typically the wire will be green and secured with a bolt at the base of the mounting flange) and then you temporarily splice the leads of a multimeter between the bonding wire’s metal end and the metal of the through-hull itself.  Once you’ve made sure both leads are making a secure contact, you simply read the meter after dialing up the amperage function.

Any current that is traveling either into or out of the through-hull will manifest on the meter’s screen, although it’s only the latter condition (current traveling out of the through-hull) that causes stray-current corrosion and the resultant decomposition.  And while most any metal boat component that is in contact with water will produce small amperage readings on a multimeter when tested in this manner, only readings that approach or exceed a milliamp are indicative of a problem and call out for further investigation.


Fuel Fixes, Old And New

The following scenario may be familiar to you. While your throttle position hasn’t changed a lick, the pitch of the engine is slowly dropping and is continuing to do so as time ticks away. What’s the most likely cause? Water in your fuel? Dirty filter elements? Or some other sort of obstructive gunk that’s keeping your go-go juice from getting to where it needs to go?

Whatever the trouble, the basic fix is essentially the same. To nix chances of air-locking your engine, you immediately shut ‘er down, as they say. Then, after you’ve dropped the hook, stationed a lookout, or whatever else you need to do from the standpoint of safety, you dash down to the ER (speed is of the essence here because some complicating factor is usually at play, like an inexperienced lookout or some sort of traffic problem), discombobulate the offending fuel-water separator, remove the old filter element, clean the darn the canister out if necessary, install a new element, and recombobulate. All of which takes lots of time, of course.

But why go with this basic, potentially problematic fix? Why not go with a newer one, a form of workboat technology that is becoming increasingly popular on recreational vessels these days—duplex (i.e., dual) fuel-water separators? Instead of having to shut down that struggling engine and go to anchor or drift perhaps uncomfortably or even dangerously while you go through the aforementioned procedure, all you’ll need to do if you’ve got duplex fuel-water separators is quickly throw a lever in the ER to put a second, totally-clean filter on line. Then, after you’ve found yourself a nice calm spot to do some work in the ER, whether it be at anchor in a protected cove or back at the dock, you can address the old filter elements, new elements, dirty canisters, and other odds and sods belowdecks at your leisure.

The big point with duplex equipment is timesavings or, to be more precise, time-management. With an old-fashioned simplex unit that gets clogged, you have no choice but to stop the boat, or at least shut down an engine (if your boat’s got more than one main), and spend the better part of an hour or more in the ER addressing the issue. With a duplex system (or triplex for belt-and-suspenders boat owners), you have the option of making a quick switch and then waiting for a safer and/or more convenient time to handle the problem. Heck, some automatic duplex fuel-water separators these days even make the switch for you!


You Gotta Be Kiddin’…a Pillow?

Sooner or later, if you do a lot of your own work on your boat, especially when said work takes place in the engine room, you are going to find yourself laying on a metal deck, on your side, while you tighten a nut with a wrench, say, or replace some wires on a sensor with a screw driver. And while you are accomplishing such chores, you are going to make a couple of grim discoveries, like, for instance, how hard and uncomfortable metal decking material actually is and how absolutely painful it is to keep your head suspended above the deck and level with the tools and components you are dealing with. Yeah sure, you can try lowering your head to rest on the deck but, trust us, that is going to be very uncomfortable as well (it’s sort of like sleeping without a pillow) and tends to negatively affect vision and depth perception. And hey, if the work you have to do requires a good bit of time in the on-your-side mode, we know from sad experience that the neck-related pain and discomfort is going to become darn near unbearable.

What to do?

Our decidedly low-tech suggestion may sound goofy, at least at first, but we’ve employed it on numerous engine-room jobs (and even a few on-deck jobs) and not only does it make the work entailed go smoother, it also enhances the quality of the work since the level of comfort provided reduces the tendency to hurry.

Simply go out and buy yourself a big, cheap, thick pillow at a department store (a nautical motif is not necessary, of course, but may make sense to those who are deeply afflicted with boatism), preferably without tassels, fringe, or anything else prone to hanging up, inconveniently or even dangerously, in an engine room’s machinery. And the next time you have an onboard task that requires you to lay down on your side on a deck of some description, simply put the pillow under your head, more or less in the same way you’d use a pillow for sleeping at night. It will give you a surprising amount of comfort during your labors, thereby allowing you to relax a bit and do a really solid, precise job. Just resist the temptation to nod off.


To Heck With Duct Tape

Most any boater is aware of the virtues of duct tape—the stuff can be applied to a raft of problems with grand, if often temporary, result. But not so many know that electrical tape, duct tape’s somewhat less peripatetic cousin, is pretty darn useful as well. From what you might call the global perspective, rolls of cheap electrical tape can be purchased in bulk and used almost like gaffers tape—to stow water hoses, to hold parts together while you make a permanent repair, and to seal garbage bags for the long walk from the boat to the bins at the marina. For applications that are a tad more specific, the more expensive stuff—think 3M Scotch Super 33+ or colored 3M Scotch Super 88—can be used to, believe it or not, affect temporary repairs underwater. Moreover, such products, if wrapped around the shaft of a screwdriver, will make the tool safer, less prone to shorting out an electrical circuit onboard. And hey, such products can also be used to color-code wiring, given the handy fact that various high-end electrical tapes come in red, blue, white, green, and other hues. Of course, if it comes right down to it, you can use electrical tape, preferably of the top-quality kind, to complete a variety of electrical projects onboard your boat. That’s what the stuff was originally designed for, we believe.


Roll Boatnut, Roll

Okay, it’s probably true that only a select few of us boatnuts these days are still doing our own fiberglass work, a simple-sounding term that often entails a complex array of tools, like power grinders, sanding blocks, dust masks, Tyvek suits, and various other implements of destruction too numerous and gloomy to mention in total here. So, if you’re not one of us hard-core crazies, you should probably just quit reading at this point. But if you are…

Well, there’s a really good chance you’ve recently come to the end of a fine Saturday—or even a fine Sunday—with at least some portions of your anatomy coated with a layer of fine, spear-like fiberglass fragments that are so itchy you think you are going to lose your mind, or at least what’s left of it.

And, of course, as we all know, taking a shower does virtually no good. The darn stuff simply will not wash off, even if you vigorously apply washcloths, sponges, and other mechanical means of removal. The itchiness, it seems, will continue forever, with not a whiff of respite.

So whataya do?

Next time you finish up on a grinding or sanding project for the day, on the way home from the boatyard, stop off at a drug store or a supermarket and pick up a good grade of lint roller, a big, thick, strapping one. And really, don’t even think about cheaping out here—all lint rollers are decidedly not created equal.

Once you get home, you’ll be amazed at how efficiently a top-notch lint roller will roll, roll, roll away all those micro-shards of fiberglass that have somehow embedded themselves in your skin. Take the shower after using the roller, by the way, not the other way around.


How To Keep Your Head Happy

Not all boaters have freshwater-flushing heads these days. Some continue to use comparatively old-fashioned systems that use saltwater for flushing. However, if you belong to the latter bunch, you don’t have to put up with the odoriferous emanations that typically arise from salt-water encrustations or the related calcium-based scale buildup that can make your head increasingly difficult to operate or even stop it from working altogether.

How?

Simply pour a bottle of white-wine vinegar into the bowl of your MSD every month and flush it through the system very slowly. Or more to the point, whether your head is a manual or an electric model, wait about five minutes between flushes after you’ve poured in the vinegar. This should keep components and hoses free of calcium-based scale.

Already have some buildup in your unit? The best way to deal with the darn stuff is to pour in a mild solution of muriatic acid (hardware stores typically sell it and a 10 percent concentration works best) and, again, pump it slowly through the system. And once you’ve finished, don’t forget to follow up with a thorough flush using fresh water.

And by the way. Most manufacturers of marine heads make lubricating oils that will keep interior parts working smartly. When you do your monthly flush-through with white vinegar, it never hurts to follow up with one of these nifty products.


Now This Stuff Works

There are any number of products on the market that purport to make electrical connections waterproof. Some work fairly well and will continue to do so for lengthy periods, but (and let’s get real here), the ones that are as completely, totally, and truly reliable as, say, gravity or the tendency of brightwork to need pampering on a regular basis, are few and far between. Which is why, we suppose, Scotchfil Electrical Insulation Putty from 3M continues to be so popular for marine electrical applications of all kinds.

Granted, the stuff is almost as sticky as tar, albeit, not quite. And, once applied, it’s pretty darn tough to remove. But on the other hand, Scotchfil more or less renders just about any sort of splice or cable connection on a boat waterproof! Permanently! Whether it’s fresh water that threatens, salt water, swamp water, or just plain old corrosion-causing humidity.

Unlike waterproofing liquids you paint on with a brush and/or sealant-filled heat-shrink-type butt connectors that require a bit of expertise to correctly apply, Scotchfil comes in tape form, although it is indeed a sort of Play-Doh-like putty. It’s especially useful if you need to waterproof a splice in a sizeable wire run or build up a little structure around a significant irregularity in a stretch of cable so you can more smoothly apply conventional electrical tape to a connection. Just wind the stuff on (after removing the interstitial paper) and squish it into the shape you need.

When insulating low-voltage splices (less than 600 volts), by the way, 3M says Scotchfil must be overwrapped with either 3M Supper 33 or 3M Super 88 vinyl electrical tape. Most marine supply stores sell Scotchfil, usually for about $16 a roll. And they typically sell plain vinyl as well.


That Nifty Ol’ Squeeze Play

If you do a bit of work on your boat now and again, it’s likely you’ll eventually encounter a variety of substances generally referred to as bedding compounds. You know, products like Dolfinite, Davis Slick Seam compound, and a whole slew of other adhesives and sealants that grace the shelves of chandleries and marine stores. And when you do indeed find yourself squeezing or troweling some sort of goop onto a stanchion base, or the backside of a window frame, or between an antenna mount and a flybridge cowling, here’s a nifty tip to bear in mind.

Yeah, it’s good to use lots of whatever sort of compound you’ve decided to go with, while protecting the surrounding area (which must be kept pristinely free of any unsightly traces) with a careful, thorough, and temporary application of varnishing tape. But hey, resist the temptation to crank down on the fasteners involved with too much enthusiasm, at least at first.

Consider the following example. Let’s say you’re bedding the flange of a circular-shaped fuel-fill fitting in a deck with Dolfinite, a noble, time-tested product. And let’s say there are three holes in said flange. So, after you’ve taped off the deck area surrounding the footprint of the flange and perhaps the edges of the flange itself, and applied Dofinite to the flange’s underside with a putty knife, a paint-stirring stick, or some other tool, simply push down on the darn thing, lightly seating it in the hole it’s destined to live in.

Lightly is the operative word here. Dolfinite is going to squish out, of course, as you insert the three screws and tighten them down as evenly as possible. Make sure the compound squishes out all the way around the flange, by the way—you don’t want to leave an unprotected seam where water can slip through. But once you’ve gotten down to something like a clearance of 1/8 of an inch between the flange and the deck via the screws, stop! Let the Dolfinite cure.

Why stop short? Seemingly?

The point to using any bedding compound is to make the stuff act as a gasket of sorts, almost like rubber. If you tighten the screws of the flange down too much, the Dolfinite will be squeezed out of the way to such an extent that the gasket effect will be diminished or even essentially destroyed. Tighten slightly, if you want to, only after the compound has cured and set up.

And oh, one last thing. It’s often easiest to wipe away any excess goop and pull the protective tape shortly after you’ve begun waiting for your bedding compound to cure—waiting much longer will often prove troublesome, especially where bedding compounds that are especially sticky, resilient or rubber-like are concerned.


DIY For Safety

Most any long-time boating enthusiast will turn adamant on you when asked about safety lanyards—you know, the short, cord-like gizmo that keeps your anchor from deploying when you really, really, really don’t want it to. “You gotta have one,” he’ll typically say, with a I’ll-not-take-no-for-answer look in his eye. Certainly you can buy a safety lanyard from any number of sources these days and rest easy concerning the job it’ll do. But hey, you can also make up one of your own in merest minutes, using a suitable length of three-strand nylon line and a common piece of marine hardware called a “swivel-eye snap hook.” How?

Simply splice an eye into one end of the three-strand line large enough to loosely fit over the rope drum of your windlass (or some other part of the windlass that can serve as an ersatz bollard) and then splice another eye (a considerably smaller one) into the other end of the line as well, bearing in mind that this second splice needs to pass through the swivel.

That’s it!

The next time you’re giving the deck of your boat its last-minute inspection, prior to leaving the dock for a little cruise, all you have to do is make sure the large eye of your DIY safety lanyard is secured on the windlass and the hook is snapped into one of the links on the anchor chain. And by the way, there’s no need for your lanyard to be more than reasonably tight.  No violin-string twangs need apply here.  The work of securing an anchor, actually tightening it into its housing, belongs to another anchoring component you typically see on relatively large vessels—an anchor tensioner.


Instead, Go Easy

Because boats basically reside in water, the subjects of caulking and its cousin: bedding compound often come up in conversations concerning boat repair and maintenance. Whether you’re fixing or replacing a hatch, an anchor windlass, a window frame, or whatever, it’s very likely that, before you finish the job, at least one of many water-thwarting products (with a familiar appellation or brand name like Dolfinite, 3M, Sikaflex, BoatLife, etc.) is going to be involved.

Which is all well and good, of course. But when using virtually any of these caulking and/or bedding substances, it’s important to remember one very general rule that’s often broken by the average DIY guy: Don’t over-tighten or prematurely tighten the various surfaces involved!

Let’s say, for example, that you are replacing a deck fitting of some sort and you’ve reached a point where you’re ready to apply a layer of bedding compound between the fitting and the deck. Go ahead—do it. But once you’ve applied the compound and made sure the fasteners involved are properly positioned, tighten them only enough to squish the compound down to a reasonable thickness. Should you put some real torque to the screws or bolts you’re using? Yes indeedy, but don’t twist them so darn far that you wind up squeezing out way too much of the waterproof stuff you’re trying to squeeze in.

Instead, go easy. Once the caulking or bedding material has set up and/or cured, then add some twist to your fasteners if you want. It’ll boost the stuff’s gasket effect.

A Picture’s Worth 1,000 Cuss Words

Let’s say you’re laying on your back under the steering console of your boat interfacing a brand-new DSC VHF radio with a plotter of some description, or let’s say you’re replacing an old, worn-out bilge pump in the grungy recesses of your engine room with a totally new pump, complete with its own brand new float switch.

Complicated?

Well, as long as you manage to remember how the mess of wires you’ve just discombobulated are supposed to go back together, probably not. But then, what if a little befuddlement sets in toward the end of the whole exercise and, for some wretched reason, you really can’t recall whether the green and the brown wires go together, or is it the green and red, or (and this is often the point at which you mutter multiple exclamations that are not printable here, in a family-type publication), the green and the purple!

There’s a way you can avoid all the misery that forgetfulness can engender, especially during projects that require tearing a device apart and then, ultimately, reassembling it in such a way as to actually guarantee that it actually continues to serve the purpose for which it was originally intended.

The way?

We’re betting you own a smartphone with a camera—most folks do these days. And we’re also betting that whatever kind of job you’re about to undertake onboard your boat, there’s going to be just a little time spent on proper preparation. You know, on stuff like assembling the necessary tools, commandeering a sufficiently skilled helpmate, and ensuring there’s a whiff of appropriately nautical music wafting about in the background.

So here’s what you do. During the aforementioned prep time, before you even touch wrench to nut or wire cutter to wire, snap a few pictures of the centerpiece of your upcoming endeavors, making sure you document its entirety (wires, screws, plugs, etc.) from at least a couple of angles. It’s surprising (and not a little gratifying) to discover how thoroughly a quick glance at a smartphone’s screen can refresh a faltering memory. And what’s more, a little impromptu photo archive of this sort will nix having to tediously attach numbered or coded bits of tape to a variety of wires and/or parts, so they can be matched up correctly somewhere down the dreary line.


Life Extension

Let’s face it. Sometimes, while working on a project, you come up against a brick wall. Or perhaps it’s better to say fiberglass wall here, given that we’re is a recreational marine magazine. You need to turn that bolt, or immobilize that nut, or somehow snake that fender washer out of that dicey, dark, difficult, virtually-impossible-to-get-to spot, and you simply cannot reach it with your hand or any tool that presently resides in your toolbox.

Fear not! Here’s an option that, in a very real sense, comes down to us as an evolutionary gift from our cagey ancient ancestor, the caveman. You know, the guy who invented the really basic tools, stuff like the lever, the knife, the hammer, and the spear.

Let’s say you simply can’t get a wrench onto that darn nut. What you can do as a work-around, at least in many cases, is extend the reach of said wrench by simply affixing a paint-stirring stick to the handle of the wrench using enough varnishing tape to make a very thorough and tight job of it.

We know—very low tech, eh? And we also know—you can buy specialty wrenches with extra long handles.

But consider this. Often, even specialized wrenches are bulky by comparison with the common paint-stirring stick (with a relatively small wrench attached) that’s passed out at hardware stores, often for free. And what’s more, specialized wrenches are expensive as well as pre-formed into particular shapes. If you temporarily construct your own long-handled wrench as described, your new tool is not going to cost you much (if anything at all) and you’ll be able to customize its shape to fit whatever sort of usage you have in mind.

Two caveats are worth mentioning, though. First, it’s best to go with varnishing tape for joining the wrench and the stick. Varnishing tape is easy to remove and works just about as well as duct tape, which tends to leave an unholy glue residue on the wrench handle after you remove it. Second, it’s also best to go with the paint-stirring stick exclusively. Other extenders also work, of course, but the paint-stirring stick is especially slender, strong, and easy to manipulate.


Belt And Suspenders

Okay, we know. You’ve got a top-notch anchoring system onboard your boat. And when you’re underway, you’ve got all sorts of beefy, hard-core chunks of technology that’ll keep an anchor from deploying at—to put it mildly—an inopportune moment. But listen to this short but very dismal tale told to us by a person of long acquaintance who was delivering a boat to a South Florida boat show a couple of years ago.

Of course, it was your typical boat-show deal—scheduling issues bearing down, boss wondering why the heck the boat hadn’t arrived yet, bad weather to contend with. Anyhow, perhaps because the brake on this big sportfisherman’s windlass had not been properly set, or perhaps because the riding pawl had not been properly engaged, or perhaps because there was no chain stopper or so-called “Devil’s Claw” to wholly immobilize the system, the anchor and chain simply let go as the boat bottomed out with a thud in a particularly deep trough.

What happened next was catastrophic. The all-chain bottom tackle continued to roar overboard as the boat proceeded forward at well over 20 knots, and the unholy, fast-traveling mess soon arrived at the transom where it violently entangled itself in the running gear. The upshot? Props, struts, shafts, you name it, were badly damaged and an expensive, embarrassing, and exceptionally inconvenient rescue had to be effected.

Of course, a cool little device might have prevented this horrendous accident—a safety lanyard. If you don’t already have a commercial version onboard, you can make one up by simply putting an eye splice in one end of a short piece of three-strand nylon line and a hook (with a positive lock) on the other.  Cheap and easy? Yeah, but even the cheapest and easiest of safety lanyards, if appropriately sized and deployed, will keep a stowed anchor where it needs to be (or nearly so) if all else fails. Just slip the eye splice over the drum of the windlass (or some other solidly secured piece of hardware like a cleat or a Sampson post), pull the lanyard forward and tight (or fairly tight) and then snap the hook into the chain at the most convenient link. Belt and suspenders? Yes, indeedy.

Tricky Solvent Recycling

Disposing of used solvents these days, even comparatively benign products like paint thinner, often requires a bit of effort and some time. Not that an extra trip to the recycling center on Saturday is a huge endeavor, but then again—if you could cut down on the number of such trips, there’s a good chance you’d have more Saturdays that are wholly devoted to having fun onboard. Here’s how to reduce the hassle of dealing with used paint thinner, at least slightly.

The next time you’ve finished cleaning a brush or two in thinner, instead of sealing the stuff up inside some sort of container for transport to a recycling facility, simply pour it back into the container from which it came.

Blasphemy?

Not necessarily. Many paint jobs onboard and around boats specify the color white, or some variance thereof. When you pour used, white-tinged thinner back into the container from which it originated, the solids will typically settle our, at least eventually, leaving virtually clear material above the sediment. The settling process, of course, takes a while although a couple of days will usually do it.

Be careful, though. Next time you need a little clean paint thinner, be especially judicious about pouring it from the original container. The idea is to remove the clear liquid without roiling the sediment on the bottom.

How often can you employ this bit of legerdemain? Four or five times, at least, and sometimes more.  Just remember—the procedure doesn’t work worth a darn when radically different colors of paint are involved, like white and black or white and red. But it does work very nicely onboard older vessels that are fitted out with lots of wood slathered with lots of white epoxy trim. And hey, by cutting down on your paint thinner usage, you’ll also save a little money.


When It’s Gotta Be Right!

Now and again, you may have to cut a rather large, circular hole in your boat. The need to do such a thing often arises when installing transducers in a boat’s bottom, when roughing out the corners of a much larger rectangular-shaped hole that must be cut or, last but not least, when installing gauges and/or electronics at a helm station. Especially in the latter case it’s very important that the job be done right, i.e., the finished project should be cosmetically appealing, with no chipped gelcoat or ragged spots.

Of course, the best tool for the job is a hole saw, but are certain types better than others? And are there a few usage tricks that can produce the best possible results?

Well, for starters, for cutting a large round hole in fiberglass laminates, whether cored or not, probably the best bet is a metal-cutting or bi-metal-cutting hole saw with comparatively small, sharp teeth. The point here is to remove material from the ever-deepening circle-shaped kerf in a very slow and controlled way. To that end, it’s also a good idea to reduce the speed of the drill you’re using to turn the hole saw.  Easy does it.

And remember. Just prior to initiating your cut, take the time to approximate the circular area that will be removed and cover its perimeter with some good quality masking tape, making sure there’s plenty of overlap. The coating of tape will tend to reduce vibration in the gelcoat during the drilling process and therefore ensure that no chips or splinters get broken loose.

One last thing. If you need an aesthetically pleasing finish on both sides of the surface you are cutting, stop cutting after you’re about halfway through. Then go to the other side of the material your working with, insert the drill bit in the hole you’ve already drilled, and continue cutting with the hole saw, only this time in the fresh surface you’ve not yet addressed.  Doubling up like this will produce a nicely finished appearance on both sides of the surface you’re cutting, whichever way you look at it.


Follow The Yellow Brick Rode

In preparing to depart an anchorage, there are two methods for retrieving an anchor. The wrong way is to merely flip a toggle, step on a foot switch, or push a button on a handheld remote and let your windlass grind and bind as it struggles to pull your boat’s entire displacement to a spot directly over where your anchor’s dug in. This approach tends to put excessive strain on a variety of mechanical components inside the windlass—the manufacturer did not intend said components to be used either to pull your boat for any distance or, once you’re hovering over your anchor’s dug-in location, to break it out of the bottom. Excessive strain will ultimately cause a windlass to wear out prematurely. And what’s more, it may even cause an electrical breaker to pop in some far-distant place onboard and shut down your retrieval operation at a particularly inopportune, perhaps even dangerous, moment.

There is a better, second way, of course. Based upon simple, prearranged hand signals, you simply use your engine or engines to follow the rode laying on the bottom with your boat, thus radically reducing the weight the windlass must pull at any given time. Once you’ve retrieved most all the rode and your boat is positioned more or less above the anchor, you should then use her engine or engines to go ahead very slightly (only a couple of seconds of low-level thrust is usually required) in order to break out the anchor if it won’t come up easily. A proper breakout, by the way, is typically signaled by a snatching or hopping-type impulse or movement in the anchor chain.

And yeah, there’s no doubt about it. Following a long stretch of anchor rode lying on the bottom with your boat is often a little like following the yellow brick road through the Land of Oz—there are all sorts of sometimes-surprising twists and turns. However, although using your windlass’s electric motor to pull your boat along such a circuitous path is certainly bad news for onboard machinery, there’s nothing wrong with allowing tension on your anchor rode as you pick it up to gently guide your bow in the direction your mate’s hand signals indicate. As long as you don’t overdo this technique, it’ll work quite nicely and cut throttle and clutch usage to an efficient minimum.


Only Takes A Second Or Two...

Do you change your own oil? It’s a good idea for various reasons, not least of them being the seeming direct relationship between quality time spent in an engine room and quality time spent on the water. But even if you change your own oil and have been changing your own oil for years, we still have one suggestion that may prove helpful—next time you proceed into the place where the engines are kept, with buckets, rags, funnels, and other oily paraphernalia at the ready, pop a Sharpie into your shirt pocket, too. The reason? Once you’ve concluded pouring fresh, syrupy oil down all the filler holes in sight, a job that is usually accompanied by the replacement of all the fuel and oil filters in sight as well, haul out the Sharpie and write the date of the oil/filter change (and the number of engine hours at the time of the change) on one of the new filter canisters, preferably one that is so darn prominent that you are virtually constrained to see it every time you do your routine fluid checks before cranking up. The point here is a simple one. There’s virtually no way you can put off or forget about future oil changes, not with the date of the last one staring you in the face until it’s thoroughly burned into your personal memory banks. Think about it. The practice only takes a second or two and promotes big-time convenience in the long run, saving you, as it does, from having to track down oil-change-related data in the appropriate pages of a inaccurately-stowed logbook or on a far-off computer screen. You may well know the date—and maybe even the engine hours—of the last oil change right off the top of your head!


Get A Better Night’s Rest

All-chain anchor rode is popular with some boat people, especially those with larger yachts. But if you’ve ever spent a night onboard a vessel with a plain, all-chain setup, you know precisely how uncomfortable (and noisy) such arrangements can be once the wind picks up. A snubber is the fix, of course, and there are many varieties, each calling for a different line size and hook type. The best of the lot seems to consist of a Y-shaped bridle with eye-splices on the upper ends of the configuration and either a grab hook (which is quite reliable under constant tension) or an anchor hook with a retaining pin (which is totally reliable, tension or no, but tougher to deal with during an emergency on a dark and stormy night) at the configuration’s bottom end. More specifically, in order to soften the jerking and snatching that typifies an all-chain scenario, the bridle needs to be quite lengthy (at least 10’ from top to bottom) and made up of two pieces of three-strand nylon (one about three times longer than the other), a material that is both stretchy and shock-absorbent. The longer piece of three-strand should have an eye-splice in the top end large enough to easily slip over one of your bower cleats and an eye-splice as well in the bottom end (with a stainless-steel thimble that will accommodate a stainless-steel shackle) so you can attach the hook. The shorter piece of three-strand is side-spliced into the longer piece from the side (thereby producing the aforementioned Y-shape) so an eye splice at its top end will easily slip over your other bower cleat. The virtues of this simple but darn-near-fool-proof snubber include the reduction of wear-and-tear on your windlass and other deck hardware as well as the softening of the boat’s movements during sporty weather in anchorages. Less wear-and-tear on mechanicals means fewer maintenance issues long-term and less wear-and-tear on personnel means happier cruising (and a better night’s rest) for all concerned, especially on extended voyages.


Some Nice Little Impeller Tricks

There are any number of reasons why an impeller in an engine or pump you have onboard may go bad, among them improper operating conditions, a poor operating environment, excessive wear, or even simple old age. Given the relative ease with which most impellers can be inspected, it’s a good idea to periodically examine your entire contingent, particularly should the stream of fluid that’s being pumped (usually raw water) by one of them is showing a markedly decreased flow.

At any rate, removing an old, beaten-up impeller is quite easy, of course. Typically, you merely use a screwdriver or pocketknife to pry the darn thing out. Inserting a new impeller, however, is often considerably more difficult. The cavity into which the impeller must be inserted is asymmetrical, after all, and it’s often tough to get all the rubber fins or vanes crammed in simultaneously.

Here are a couple of things that may help. First, lubricate the fins as well as the cavity with some sort of low-temperature grease—this will facilitate insertion and also keep the fins or vanes from overheating while they rotate, at least momentarily, without the cooling effect of the water or other liquid that the impeller is supposed to pump. Manufacturers often supply small tubes of such grease with their impeller replacement kits, by the way. Second, prior to an attempt at insertion, circumscribe the fins with a tie- or cable-wrap, placing it at a point that is at least, say, one-quarter of an inch from the side of the impeller that will go into the cavity first. Tighten the tie-wrap until the circumference of the impeller is slightly smaller than the cavity’s smallest diameter. And three, slide the impeller well into the cavity (and on to the shaft that resides at its center), making sure that any possible fin ‘set’ accommodates the shaft’s direction of rotation. If the set seems to oppose the direction of rotation, simply flip the impeller over, reposition the cable-wrap, and continue as before.

The final step is easy. Once you’ve got the impeller partially inserted, maintain pressure on the impeller while removing the tie-wrap with shears, side-cutters, or some other appropriate tool, shove the impeller home, slap on a new gasket, and secure the housing cover. That’s it!


Keeping Things Cool (And Clean)

The majority of marine air-conditioners don’t require a whole lot maintenance, but there are a few little things you can do to keep the unit (or units) on your boat blowing cool, clean air, even if you’ve got an otherwise healthy system. It’s no secret that sludge, crud, and other forms of accumulation may occasionally accumulate in the drain pan under a given air-conditioning unit. The darn stuff tends to turn odiferous, at least in the long term, and can also clog up the pan’s drain, resulting in an overflow that can run the gamut from inconvenient to catastrophic. How do you easily and efficiently prevent such a thing from happening? Simply fall by your nearest hardware store or outlet and purchase some tablets—they are usually stowed under the heading: Condensate Pan Treatment—specifically formulated to keep your drain pan or pans clean and working properly. There are many variations on the theme from many manufacturers, but Nu-Calgon (www.nucalgon.com) sells a reputable product marketed under the name: GELTabs. By all reports, one tablet will keep a 5-ton air-conditioning unit clean and odor-free for up to 3 months. A container of GELTabs (with 6 tablets inside) will cost you about $35. Don’t forget to read the accompanying directions, especially if you go with a different product.


Early Warning System

Here’s something to think about while manning your helm on a long dark seemingly endless night. What happens if you suck an obfuscating plastic bag or some other chunk of debris into the intake that supplies a given engine with cooling water? The answers are numerous, of course, but let’s focus on just one. The temperature of said engine’s exhaust will rise much faster than the temperature of the engine itself. And while it’s undeniably dangerous (and potentially catastrophic) to operate an engine on little or no cooling water, there’s at least one bit of good news that adheres to this little factoid and here it is. Let’s say, for the sake of brief explication, that you could measure the temperature inside an engine’s exhaust elbow, hose, muffler, or some other exhaust-related component. Could you not then interface this capability with an alarm (either visual, auditory, or perhaps both) at the helm of the boat and thereby virtually nix the chances of burning up an exceedingly expensive diesel or gasoline powerplant by failing to diagnose a raw-water cooling problem in a timely manner? Heck yes, you say! And indeed some boatbuilders these days are already doing precisely this, one way or another. But just in case you’re not one of the lucky few with an exhaust alarm system onboard, there are several after-market systems that can be easily added to your boat’s array of auxiliary equipment and which will produce pretty much the same result as factory issue. Installations tend to be fairly straightforward. Typically, you merely plug a sensor into a given engine’s exhaust hose or elbow, do the same with a monitor of some description at the steering station, deal with a few electrics, and off you go. Vetus makes a product of this type, by the way. It’s called an EGT Alarm. Sensor and monitor are sold separately.


A Faster Way To Roll

There are many little chores onboard a boat where varnishing tape, whether blue, green, or of whatever color, is gonna come in handy. Maybe you’re replacing a hatch and need to apply a bead of caulk that is crisp, straight, and shipshape looking. Or maybe you’re re-varnishing some water-damaged interior bright work and you need the new coating no stop precisely at a strip of molding or along the edge of a window frame. Or maybe you’re interested in painting a main engine or a genset without spraying over various wires, hoses, and electrical connectors. In any of these cases, and many more, the following technique will help you temporarily apply the necessary layers of tape with way more ease and efficiency than you can produce by tearing off a strip of the stuff, suspending it in the air for a moment with one hand while you try to catch the bitter end with the other (a genuine challenge if the wind happens to be blowing), and then applying it with at least a modicum of precision. Here’s a quick rundown of said technique. Start by pulling enough tape off the roll to roughly accommodate the length you need. Use your left hand if you happen to be right-handed or your right hand if you happen to be a southpaw. Then (sticking with the right-handed approach here) simply use your left hand to stick the bitter end of the tape to some article of clothing you happen to be wearing, say, your blue jeans or your shirt, while keeping some tension on the tape with your right hand. The point here is to control both ends of the tape—no loose end to get tangled and troublesome. The final step is pretty straightforward. Use your left hand to tear off the tape at the appropriate spot on the roll, shift the recently-torn-off end to your right hand and your left hand back to the end that remains stuck to your clothing. Et Voila! You now control both ends of the tape and, more to the point, you’ve maintained control of the stuff throughout the whole tearing-off process, thereby preventing your piece of tape from sticking to itself or getting otherwise snarled up. Once you get the hang of this nifty little regime, you may be surprised at how quickly and accurately you can apply varnishing tape during your next little onboard project.


How To Love Your Windlass

It’s pretty obvious what you should do above deck to keep your windlass running smoothly. At least once a year, preferably during spring layup, go ahead and discombobulate the mechanicals and apply waterproof marine grease to the appropriate parts in accordance with your owner’s manual. And what’s more, you should check the oil in the gearbox of the device and add more per instructions if necessary.

But hey, what should you do below deck, where your windlass electrics dwell?

The answer’s simpler than you’d think. After you’ve cleaned everything off—meaning all the cobwebs, dirt, and detritus—either with rags or, better yet, a ShopVac, spray the motor terminals, footswitch terminals, and terminals on the reversing solenoids with a good, aerosol-type rust inhibitor like CRC-3097 Long Life or CRC 6-66. Alternatively, you might also go with a product like WD40—it’s a bit easier to find around the house perhaps. And as long as you’re riding the rust-inhibiting trail, why not give your battery and isolator terminals the same loving treatment?

And one last word of advice. Before you drop the hatch on that seldom-visited anchor locker of yours, you might check the electric motor hugging the overhead—it kindly does all the work, after all. Look for water leaks and intrusions in way of the motor’s cooling ports especially and deal with problems immediately. Motor problems, sad to say, are the primary reason anchor windlasses fail when they are desperately needed.


Onboard Dentistry?

The next time you find yourself spending some quality time in your engine room we suggest you do one especially important thing before leaving—check the stainless-steel clamps on the hoses that serve your exhaust, raw-water-cooling, and other mechanical systems onboard your boat. Here’s the deal, though. A plain ol’ visual inspection is in many cases going to be insufficient. While a high-quality hose clamp can look like it’s in tip-top shape from every angle that allows for direct observation, the darn thing can be darn near rusted through in some spot that, for one reason or another, is virtually impossible to see or casually inspect. The problem is especially common near low points and back sides of clamps where moisture in engine-heated air condenses and drips or drools downwards due to the pull of gravity. How do you keep tabs on this sort of thing?

Would you believe a dental-type mirror? You know, the lollipop-shaped gizmo with the long handle and the little round reflective device on the end? You should be able to buy a plastic one for a few dollars at your local drug store or, more useful and reliable in the long run, why not spend between $30 and $40 and get yourself a good-quality stainless-steel version in a protective case that’ll fit nicely into your onboard toolbox?

In either case, you’re going to use the device in much the same way your dentist does. Simply pass the mirror behind any suspect portion of a given hose clamp, angling it so that you can easily see what you could not see before.  Then, if there’s any justice in the world, you should be able to easily identify rust and/or crumbling metal and replace the clamp well before some sort of dangerous or pesky leak arises.

A dentist’s mirror can serve other onboard uses as well, by the way. Sometimes when working with electrical connections, motors, wiring, and various auxiliaries here and there, you’ll find that a bit of necessary information (a model number for a part that needs replacing, for example) is difficult or even impossible to see. Whataya do? Pull out your little dentist’s mirror, shove it into that obscure spot, maybe bring a flashlight to bear, and hey, you’re home free!


A Simple, Collision-Avoidance Trick

Anyone who’s operated a powerboat at night, or any sort of boat at night for that matter, knows how amazingly complex ship, boat, ferry, and other marine traffic can get. And the complexities seem to multiply whenever you’re near major shipping lanes, especially those that lead into major port cities.  Sometimes, for example, you can encounter two vessels crossing ahead, one showing a red running light and the other showing a green. How do you determine whether a collision situation is stacking up between you and either or both of these vessels?

Here’s a little radar-related trick that will help out immensely, especially on those evenings when peace of mind seems to be in short supply. Just remember. Timeliness is important. The trick works best when initiated as soon as a target or targets manifest on your radar screen. Waiting until the last minute may prove disastrous:

Begin by placing an EBL (Electronic Bearing Line) atop one of the two targets on your radar screen. Then run a VRM (Variable Range Marker) out to intersect the target and the EBL. Many radars today have at least two EBLs and two VRMS so, in most cases, you’ll be able to follow the same, EBL/VRM procedure vis-a-vis the other target.

Now here’s the reason for the aforementioned timeliness. The next step entails waiting, often for many long minutes, to see how the targets move in relation to your set points. Should a target remain on or near its EBL and begin closing the distance to you, a collision is going to occur unless either you or the other vessel alters course substantially. Make a call on your VHF and work things out in accordance with the nautical rules of the road. Should a target remain on its EBL but slowly increase its distance off, a collision is not in the offing—the vessel is simply proceeding harmlessly away from you. And finally, should a target pull ahead of its EBL, it is destined to pass ahead of you, and should it lag behind its EBL, it is destined to cross abaft your stern.

You don’t necessarily need radar to get this trick to work for you, by the way. Often you can establish a range of sorts at or near your helm station that will give you a general idea of what’s going on with a particular target. Certainly the technique is a rough and ready one and does not accurately predict CPA (Closest Point of Approach). But on the other hand, as you become more familiar with using your radar’s EBLs and VRMs (or impromptu ranges in your wheelhouse) in the ways described, you’ll develop an intuitive grasp of distances off that may prove helpful and perhaps even fairly accurate.


Vegemite Stainless-Steel Rehab (April Fools!)

Yes, we’re all very familiar with metal-polishing products from venerable manufacturers like Flitz and Nevr-Dull. Such products can make short work of unsightly problems like rust stains, mild corrosion, and salty residue. But if your stainless-steel rails, stanchions, and bases have become ultra-problematic over the years, there’s one extraordinary food product that just may help—Vegemite. Yes, that’s right!!!!! Vegemite! You know, the despicable-tasting sludge that the folks down in Australia put on their toast. Simply warm a big dollop of the brown, grainy goop to room temperature—Vegemite will decidedly not work its magic on stainless steel if it’s cold or even cool—and smear it on a soft cotton cloth. Then apply the trusty Veg to that reluctant rust stain or recalcitrant chunk of salty residue that has been giving you fits. Let it sit for about 20 minutes. And then finally, polish the problem area with a vengeance, and another clean cotton cloth. Any leftover Vegemite can be eaten, of course, although we don’t even come close to recommending it. And remember, using Vegemite to rehab your stainless-steel rails, stanchions, and bases only works on April 1.


Brand New Air Horn? No, Not Really.

Chances are, if you have a trumpet-type air horn on your boat, the little jewel is already weathered considerably, perhaps even pitted, and at least well beyond lustrous. While there are products out there on the market (like Nevr-Dull and Flitz Metal, Plastic, & Fiberglass Polish) that will nicely address issues that are not too terribly advanced, there’s no magic solution, potion, ointment, or liquid we know of that will return a seriously deteriorated horn to its former glory. For such a sorry situation, the only recourse is an auto shop that deals in the restoration of antique cars.

But before you become overly enthused about your very own antique restoration, call up the shop you eventually chose to make sure it can handle your particular project—some air-horn trumpets are too thin-walled or worn and weathered to make a rehab possible. Then, of course, if you get the go-ahead from the shop, remove your horn from your boat, disassemble it to the extent that all interior components (primarily the diaphragm and all other diaphragm-related parts) have been removed and stored in a plastic bag for safe-keeping, and take it to the guys as the auto shop. Make sure to tell them that you want only the exterior surfaces of the horn re-chromed, not the interior surfaces—the last thing you want is parts that ultimately no longer fit together tightly because of thickened surfaces.

Probably, the job will take a week or so. What the folks at the shop will most likely do is first remove the old chrome via an acid bath and then use a copper-nickel-electroplating process to add a fresh layer of chrome to your old horn. What you will do is enjoy a seemingly brand-new horn, after you’ve reassembled it (with all the interior components inside) and returned it to your boat. It’s likely that the new chrome-plated finish will last for years.


Squeaky Clean Hatches And Portlights

If you’re a fiend about keeping your boat clean, a subtle problem (at least at first) may arise. Over time, the occasional failure to apply a chamois, towel, or whatever other drying agent you should use after washdowns can cause the slow buildup of mineral deposits (most typically found in hard, untreated dockside washdown water) on glass portlights, windscreens, windows, and hatches. If allowed to go on for long periods of time, this buildup will simply get worse and worse, never better, and may eventually make windows, ports, and other glass components not only unsightly (from both inside and outside your boat) but difficult to see through clearly, whether during the day or after dark. The best way to prevent this sort of thing is to nip mineral deposits in the bud, of course. Once you’ve completed a washdown, go over your onboard glass with a glass cleaner and paper towels or at least an ordinary towel or, better yet, a microfiber cloth. However, if the deposits have already become an issue on your boat, try wiping the affected glass with vinegar mixed with lemon juice, let the solution ‘work’ for five or ten minutes, and then remove the stuff with normal window-cleaning techniques. Mild acids like vinegar and lemon juice will remove mild mineral-deposit spotting. If your problem is more entrenched, try a stronger acid product like Lime-A-Way (available in most supermarkets) or one of the automotive or marine products on the market that address hard-water staining, making sure to wear rubber gloves (and eye protection in some cases) throughout and use lots of rinse water afterwards  to obviate damage to gel coat. Finally, if deposits have actually etched all or some of your glass you are probably going to have to resort to a power buffer and a polishing compound from a manufacturer like Flitz (Flitz Polish) or Shurhold (Buff Magic). Bear in mind that some boatyards and marine detailers offer window-cleaning services that include (but are not limited to) the progressive steps already mentioned.


Not All Hose Clamps Are Created Equal

If you’re like the rest of us boat crazies, you’ve probably got a bunch of hose clamps installed in various spots onboard your pride and joy. Indeed, you’ll find the humble little devices doing duty on virtually every system you’ve got, be it related to exhaust, water, fuel, air-conditioning, or whatever. And what’s more, it’s close to a sure bet that not all of the little devils are of equal quality or in equal condition. A broken hose clamp, of course, can prove problematic or even downright disastrous, depending upon which system is affected. Leaks in raw-water, fuel, and exhaust hoses can be especially dangerous. So how do you make sure your hose clamps are okay or, better yet, in tip-top condition? First, go well beyond an occasional visual inspection and manually tug on each and every clamp every couple of months—now and then, a given clamp may look perfectly fine but a tug will reveal that it’s rusted through (or almost rusted through) in an area that is not easy or even impossible to see.  Better your chances of finding damaged goods by tossing a small flashlight and/or inspection mirror into your detective kit. Second, when a clamp appears to be seriously corroded, replace it with a premium model from a manufacturer like ABA or Ideal—unperforated band surfaces, rounded band edges, and precisely crafted threads make some clamps much better and safer than others. Moreover, while many clamps are advertised as type-316 stainless steel, not all actually are. A magnet may not always help you determine which is which—it’s better to simply buy top-quality clamps, usually meaning comparatively expensive ones. And finally, once you’ve got your new clamp in place, tighten it to the max using either a screw driver or a nut driver—you may very well overdo things, thereby damaging your hose, if you use a ratchet and apply too much pressure.


Belt And Suspenders

Often electrical connections for windlasses and other on-deck machinery are located immediately under a deck or molding. And while such out-of-way places are usually quite protected from the elements, they are nevertheless not always totally isolated from the vicissitudes of the salty marine environment. There are numerous ways of ensuring that electrical connections remain watertight and trouble-free while they endure moist air, salt spray, and wind-driven rain, of course, but most likely the best one of ‘em all is to cover each connection with not one but two pieces of adhesive-lined heat-shrink tubing which you’ll typically find on sale at Graybar, Wesco, or most any other good electrical supply store. Doubling up this way is pretty simple, actually.  You begin by sliding two separate pieces of appropriate adhesive-lined heat-shrink tubing (one slightly larger than the other) onto one of the wires that are to be joined. Next, you use the appropriate butt connector to connect the two wires and then you slide the first piece of tubing into place so that it covers the butt connector. Now you apply a heat gun to the tubing, stopping just as the adhesive begins to bubble slightly at the ends. Note that you can employ a flame from a lighter or torch to deal with heat-shrink tubing but a heat gun works best by far. Now finally, once your new heat-shrink/butt connection has cooled a bit, slide the other, slightly larger piece of adhesive-lined heat-shrink tubing over the smaller one and apply the heat gun one more time. This belt-and-suspenders approach will keep the electrical connections on your windlass, bow thruster, etc. wholly waterproof, even immersion-proof, for years.


Write-On Identification

Ever become slightly confused while rewiring or replacing a piece of equipment like, for instance, a bilge pump, an air-conditioning unit, a battery charger, or a dashboard instrument? Take heart. The folks at Ancor have come up with a way to permanently label wires, thereby obviating mid-project confusion: Write-On Identification Heat Shrink Tubing. Each individual tube is fitted into a phalanx of tubes with tractor-feed panels on the side. So you can either label each tube with a ballpoint pen (the tubes are flattened to facilitate writing) or feed the phalanx through a printer and ultimately produce a neater job. In either case, heating and shrinking a tube renders the writing on its side permanent. Ancor warns not to use the Write-On Identification Heat Shrink Tubing on adhesive-lined terminals, by the way. A package of ten costs a mere $14.99 at West Marine (www.westmarine.com).


Spic And Span Sea Strainer

To maintain the proper raw-water intake onboard, you certainly need to remove your sea strainer baskets and clean them fairly often, particularly if you keep your boat in comparatively warm, saline (or at least brakish) water. And while basket cleaning is a solid thing to do from the standpoint of maintenance, there’s another chore that sometimes needs doing—muck removal. Depending on what sort of water is routinely entering your boat, a mixture of dirt, grass, and other materials can form a layer of muck at the bottom of each of your strainers that can reduce water flow, especially when one of those strainers happens to b plumbed into an air-conditioning system that runs continuously or near continuously. What should you do if you discover a slug of muck at the bottom of one or all of your strainers? Remove the cover of each and every affected strainer as well as the basket inside and, once you’ve cleaned both of these, aim a standard water hose (with the flow nozzled down to a workable level) into the bottom of the strainer, slowly increasing the flow rate to a point where it is breaking the muck loose and washing it up and out of the strainer. A certain level of abandon is required for the process to work, by the way. Realize, when you start, that things are going to get wet in your engine room and your bilges are going to need cleaning after you’ve finished cleaning your strainers. And one more point. You might try tossing a copper pot scrubber (inexpensive Chore Boy copper scouring pads from Spic & Span work nicely for this and are available at most grocery stores) into your strainer basket before you tighten the cover. Marine organisms tend to abhor copper, of course. Old salts used to advise putting pennies into sea strainers for the same reason but the ploy is not as useful as it used to be since many pennies these days are apparently made primarily of zinc, with only a thin copper coating.


Keep Your Fuel Safe

Let’s say, for one reason or another, you keep your boat in a secluded, out-of-the-way place or an out-of-the-way marina where the evenings tend to be long, mysterious, and unguarded. And let’s say you occasionally worry about some cheeky soul falling by with a syphon and an ample container, for the express purpose of stealing some or all of your fuel, whether it be diesel or gasoline. Stop worrying why don’t ya! For some time now, there’s been a product on the market that virtually nixes a thief’s chances of stealing fuel from your boat—the Vetus FuelSafe fuel security device. Available online from Vetus (www.vetusmarine.com) for a mere $27, or from Jamestown Distributors (www.jamestowndistributors.com) and some other marine establishments for just a bit more, the little plastic gizmo comes in a plastic tube that facilitates a fairly deep insertion into your fuel fill hose. Once the tube is withdrawn, the “petals” of the flower-like gizmo expand, thereby lodging an obstruction in the fuel fill that will allow fuel to pass easily in but prevents it from being sucked out. If $27 seems a little steep for a small, flower-like piece of plastic, consider how much more you might stand to lose if, say, 20 or 30 gallons of hard-earned go-go juice gets hijacked at today’s fuel prices.


Ranging Your Anchor Chain

When a commercial vessel goes into a shipyard for a long-scheduled bout of maintenance, one of the chores that’s often addressed is the so-called ranging of said vessel’s anchor chain, a tedious, grimy process that is also pretty important. After all, losing an anchor—whether great or small— due to a bad detachable link or a worn-out swivel or shackle can be VERY expensive. Recreational boaters have smaller chains, windlasses, and other components to deal with, of course, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t range the chain on your own boat every few years. Why? For starters, powering your anchor (or anchors) down onto a dock, then flaking out the attendant chain alongside, and finally blowing dirt and debris away with a freshwater hose may uncover a multitude of sins. Some of the links in your chain—or indeed all of them—may show significant rust, thereby dictating either new chain or paying to have the old one re-galvanized. Moreover, whatever you are using to mark your chain (whether it be paint, rags, or cable ties signifying depth via either color or number) may be showing significant wear and need replacing. And, last but not least, there may be marine animals or plants adhering to your chain that are generating a stinky onboard aroma. Once you’ve ranged your chain, cleaned it, and allowed it to dry in the sun, you may want to lightly brush the rusty spots with a product like Ospho (www.ospho.com), an old-fashioned but tried-and-true metal treatment that converts iron oxide (rust) to iron phosphate, a hard, black, corrosion-resistant material. Be careful not to spill the stuff in the water or on yourself, by the way, since it contains phosphoric acid.  Now, with the rust issue dealt with, go ahead and refurbish your marking system (new, neon-colored cable ties tend to be easier to see in the dark), check your bitter-end connection (we recommend using an appropriate length of nylon rode to secure your chain’s bitter end to the pad eye in your anchor locker—just in case you have to haul out a knife and cut your anchor loose in a hurry some dark, stormy night with an upwind vessel dragging down upon your position), and clean out your anchor locker with soap, water, a brush, and a stout heart.


Fix Leaking Hatches The Right Way

Let’s say you’ve got water coming in around a hatch. Chances are the hatch itself is okay. Well-built hatches (for example, the Offshore Hatch from Maxwell) are typically made of hardy, anodized, extruded aluminum with a very thick, robust acrylic material doing duty as the lense. They tend to live long, waterproof lives. But the caulking material that seals the horizontally oriented flange of the frame to the underlying fiberglass—well now, that’s a whale with a different tail. Even the best caulking material eventually breaks down, usually in a cumulative way. But how do you replace said caulking material? Of course, the stopgap method entails merely running a bead of marine silicone around the edge of the flange where the underlying fiberglass and the aluminum mate—it will not last long and may not even work initially. A much better way is to first remove the stainless-steel screws holding the flange and frame in place and then pull the entire hatch free. Prior to doing this you’ll most likely have to carefully pry the flange up slightly with a putty knife or fine-tipped pry bar. And make sure, by the way, that you don’t damage the trim piece that circumscribes the frames second, vertically oriented flange, the one that fits down inside your boat. The next step is easier.  Remove all the old caulking material from both the fiberglass and the hatch’s frame. Much will come off with mechanical scraping and pulling but some won’t. Address the latter with denatured alcohol, not mineral spirits or acetone—these last two liquids will mess up your gel coat. Finishing the job’s a snap. Merely apply a marine silicone sealant (avoid adhesives—they will prevent subsequent recaulkings when necessary) to the underside of the flange, reposition the flange of the hatch so the holes in the aluminum and fiberglass match up, and then finally secure the screws, after dabbing the tip of each with silicone to prevent water intrusion. One last tip. Tighten (while leveling) the flange of the frame only modestly at first. Then let the adhesive cure. Only after that should you go ahead and firm up the screws. No sense squeezing out all the new caulking material you’ve so painstakingly applied!    


Finding Water Leaks

Tracking down a rainwater leak, especially one that apparently comes from topside, is often a tricky, difficult job. Most boatyard guys will tell you to start by examining the hardware that’s located above or nearly above the spot where the water is showing up. The thinking here is that improper or worn-out bedding compound under the hardware may be the culprit. However, if re-bedding a cleat, handrail, or antenna mount does not address the drip-drip-drip that’s driving you nuts, try this additional measure. On the exterior of your boat, in the general vicinity of where you believe water may be coming in, temporarily cover every suspicious seam, rail landing, cleat base, antenna mount, or whatever with Scotch Safe-Release painter’s tape. Use the wide stuff wherever possible: 2 inches across or even 3 inches should do it. Then, after you’ve taped off a sufficiently large expanse of cabin side, coach roof, or flybridge cowl, adjust a washdown hose to simulate a heavy rain and blast the entire taped area for 20 minutes or so. If you get no leakage inside your boat afterwards, then you’ve found your leak, at least in the strictly technical sense. Now begin removing each swathe of tape, one swathe at a time, while working the areas underneath with the hose. Go from the lower spots to the higher-ups, thereby isolating and keeping dry what’s above while you shower away below, slowly but surely homing in on the source of your trouble. Make sure you devote enough time to deluging each and every taped spot you’ve uncovered (again, we’re talking 20 minutes or so here), and be sure to wait an equally long period of time to see if water has somehow penetrated the interior of your boat after each thorough deluging. Where water enters a mysteriously leaky salon, head, or stateroom often has very little to do with where it actually came from. 


Ever Lose A Tender?

If you’ve ever lost a tender that you were towing—or live in dread of doing such a thing some dark night—here’s a practical way to address the issue. Get yourself a Class B AIS transceiver (a new one is liable to cost well north of $500 so shoot for a used unit if possible), a good short-range VHF/GPS antenna, and an old waterproof case from a manufacturer like Pelican or Plasticase. Then, after drilling a small hole in a convenient spot in the case and feeding the antenna and power cords through the hole, seal the hole with silicone and fit the transceiver into the case and secure it with more silicone or foam. Then finally, register/reprogram the transceiver and obtain a new MMSI number. That’s it! Next time you are planning to tow your tender for a considerable distance, simply make sure your waterproof case is snapped and sealed shut, secure it onboard the tender in a likely spot, and connect the antenna and power plugs to the appropriate fittings. Your tender will now show up on your plotter, say, a hundred or so feet abaft abaft your vessel’s transom—and if your towline does indeed part on some dreaded dark night, or should some other tender-tossing disaster occur, you’ll be able to use a Class B AIS signal to eventually track the wayward little vessel down. Expensive? Maybe, but way cheaper than having to replace a pricey tender!


Stop-Gap Fix…

So let’s say you’ve got a common screw or bolt and the threaded opening it fits is wallowed out to such an extent that the screw or bolt will no longer hold. And let’s say the opening is in a material like wood, fiberglass, or plastic, not metal. Indeed, the following stopgap fix will not address a metal-to-metal issue, at least not for very long. And finally, let’s say that all you need to do is secure the screw or bolt temporarily, until you can get to a chandlery, marine store, or some other shoreside facility where you can buy a slightly larger screw or bolt. Try this! Tightly wrap some electrical tape, duct tape, or Teflon tape (the thickness of the tape depends upon how much the hole has been wallowed out) around the threaded portion of the screw or bolt, being careful to go counterclockwise—the point here is to keep the tape as tightly wrapped as possible as you turn the screw or bolt clockwise to tighten it in the hole. If you wrap the tape clockwise, it will most likely loosen or scrunch up as you tighten. Go slow when you eventually affix that nameboard, light fitment, or whatever, at least temporarily. And don’t overdo it—when you feel the screw tighten and hold, back off. This little trick will most likely work until you can make a proper fix. It may even last a good long time.


Tops In Teak Cleaning…

The most important thing about keeping you teak decks looking new is to abide by the Golden Rule of Teak—do not remove even a smidgen of wood fiber via the cleaning process. Of course, there are numerous products on the market that purport to address the process, and a few others that purport to both abide by the Golden Rule and address the process. But there’s only one product we know of that truly, genuinely, and completely accomplishes the latter—ECO 100 Teak Cleaning Powder from Teak Decking Systems of Sarasota, Florida. Billed as a one-hundred-percent environmentally friendly product, it contains no acid, caustic sodas, or phosphates that damage teak or anything else. And, with a little cross-grain scrubbing with a 3M Doodlebug or soft-bristle deck brush, it removes oil stains, fish blood, and general, run-of-the-mill grunginess quite effectively, while generally brightening appearance. Of course, there are a few guidelines to bear in mind when using ECO 100. First, once you’ve mixed the product with water, apply it to a wet deck only and don’t let the solution dry in the sun prior to rinse-off—ECO 100 is pretty powerful stuff and it needs to remain in solution to guarantee uniform coloration when all is said and done. How do you keep the solution from drying? After brushing an area and moving on to a second, occasionally go back and spray water lightly over the first area to keep it wet. Second, while you indeed need to bear down a bit on your Doodlebug or brush while scrubbing across the grain of your teak planks (never brush with your teak’s grain—it scours away soft fibers and will ultimately reduce the lifespan of your deck), remember to let the chemical makeup of the product do most of the work. Simply apply it (keep it wet), do some scrubbing, and then let it percolate for 10 or 20 minutes. When you rinse off with fresh water you may be amazed at how much dirt goes down the scuppers right along with it.


Junk Drawer II…

Despite what the marinized esthetes say, every boat needs a “Junk Drawer,” a nifty, pull-out, slab-sided reservoir for the tools you most commonly use onboard. You know, stuff like that old (but fondly taken care of) pair of pliers you inherited from your dad, the mini-array of screw drivers (some of the slotted type and some with Phillips heads) with the dirty handles, maybe that small, adjustable wrench that’s got such a nice feel to it, and the magnet on an adjustable-length rod that gets way too much use it seems—that sort of thing. But have you ever noticed there’s a certain priority to the time you spend with each separate device? For example, you may use a couple of the screwdrivers a lot but virtually never use the folding pack of Allen wrenches. Or you may use the 3/8-inch nutdriver almost every weekend but virtually never press the wire cutters into service. Have you ever thought about setting aside a second drawer for the lesser-used items, the ones you want to have handy—but not so handy that they clutter and obscure access to the tools that are truly, absolutely, no-foolin’ critical to your projects? Think about it! Then go ahead and keep your original junk drawer’s front-and-center location, but designate another spot for—hmmmm, let’s call it “Junk Drawer II”—at some remove, thereby encouraging extra-added convenience and reduced clutter at the very same time.


Smartphone To The Rescue…

So let’s say you are installing a new bilge pump, a job that typically entails (at least at the make-or-break point where you have the replacement in hand, ready to boogie) a wicked array of loose ends—you know, red wires, black wires, green wires, white wires, even multi-colored wires in some cases. Or hey, let’s say you are attempting to interface your VHF with your plotter to produce a DSC hookup, a job that again entails a pile of loose ends. Or maybe you are disassembling a rather complicated metal housing on an inverter so you can replace the old, worn-out plastic fan blade at the bottom with a new one. Whatever! Use your smarts, as well as your smartphone. Before you pick up the first tool for virtually any install or replacement operation onboard your boat, take a moment, haul out the ol’ iphone or Android, and snap a quick photo of the original setup. It won’t take more than a couple of seconds—which means great time savings compared to the old, pre-smartphone days when you had to affix tabs of masking tape with numbers to wires and compose a code in a notebook some place so you might possibly somehow someday get everything together again properly. Do this sort of thing with your smartphone and often, although perhaps not always, you’ll be quite surprised and totally gratified to see how helpful your picture may ultimately prove to be. And remember—if you need a serial number or some other bit of information off a wholly inaccessible component in the engine room or wheelhouse, see if your hand and your smartphone will fit where your head and your eyes won’t. Even a poorly lighted shot may save you from having to fool around with a dentist’s mirror, or remove the darn thing altogether.


Grungy Fender Fix…

If you keep your boat in a marina that’s either in a river or at least subject to the periodic intrusion of fresh water, chances are your fenders are, or at some point in the future, will become, a mess. They’ll be coated with a sludgy, sticky, darkish sort of crud, and the buildup will be the worst at the very top and at the very bottom. Products like Seapower’s Inflatable & Fender Cleaner and Preserver work well once the worst of the grunge’s been removed. But what do you do to initially cut the worst of the worst, preparatory to using products that undeniably nix the niceties, such as oxidation, grease and, plain old caked-on dirt? We suggest you fill a pump-up spray bottle with a 50/50 solution of Clorox ProResults Outdoor Bleach (available at most hardware stores) and water, lightly spray your fenders with the solution, and, once the really hardcore crud is totally softened and dissolved (you may need to employ a scrub brush to encourage the dissolution), rinse everything with fresh water. Of course, you’ll want to wait until your fenders are thoroughly dry before proceeding with the Seapower or whatever other cleaning product you choose, and you should wear rubber gloves to protect your skin any time you’re working with Clorox ProResults.  And go with the backyard approach for this particular chore, too—it’s safer, easier, and more manageable when done in a garage, driveway, or some other open, well-ventilated place. And no sense addressing all of your fenders at one time, either. Rotate them. Take one or two home every weekend for a good, solid refurbishment. And if you’ve got a bicycle pump around the house, use it to make sure each fender is not only squeaky clean when you’re done, but as firm as it needs to be to do its job.


Paint Thinner Super Saver…

Whether it’s old engine oil, transmission fluid, paint thinner, or whatever, stuff that’s left over from boat-related projects these days is increasingly difficult to dispose of in an environmentally correct way. Certainly, in days gone by, cleaning paint brushes after using them with many types of paint often meant bathing said brushes in several separate baths of paint thinner, each one purer than the last. While this technique produced super-clean, long-lasting, untainted brushes, it also produced a heck of a lot of paint thinner that needed to be appropriately disposed of. There’s a greener, cheaper way, though, although it’s admittedly much less thorough and precise. It’s simple, really. Upon finishing your paint job, you pour a small (the smaller, the better, by the way) amount of thinner into a tin can or other container, slosh the brush around in the can, wipe the brush clean with paper towels or rags (perhaps repeat the process using another can or container and clean thinner), and then finally, once the brush is reasonably clean, pour all the thinner you’ve used back into the jug from whence it came. Painters with picky natures will be horrified at this last statement, of course. But, if you’re not a real hair-splitter with an elevated pinky, here’s what to expect. The solids in the paint/thinner mixture which you just poured into the jug will settle out in less than a day’s time, leaving a sludge of sorts on the bottom of the jug. Next time you need a little thinner, all you have to do is pour gingerly, being careful not to stir up the sludge. The thinner will be pretty darn clear when it comes out, and the number of usages you get from, say, a gallon jug of thinner will most likely surprise you. 


Impromptu Crash Pump…

Not all boats have a crash pump or pumps in their engine rooms. If yours doesn’t and, due to an unfortunate turn of events, you find you are taking on water with such violence that your bilge pumps are overwhelmed, here’s an old-fashioned fix that has worked on any number of occasions. Either remove or cut the hose that conveys raw-water into an engine, make sure the end of the hose is immersed in the rising water, and use the seacock valve (opening and closing it to keep the end of the hose submerged) to control the water level so you don’t starve the engine for water and overheat it. Obviously, there have to be at least two people onboard the boat to make such an emergency scheme work, one on the bridge piloting the boat to safety (or at least shallow water) and the other in the engine room dealing with the influx of sea water. Cutting the raw-water intake hose, especially on a larger engine, can be difficult as well. The task typically calls for a sharp knife or, in the case of some hoses, a hacksaw or a power grinder with a thin wheel. And if your boat has twin engines and you are truly sinking, you might want to shoot for two crash pumps instead of one.


Dealing with problematic screws…

Having difficulty backing a machine screw out of a tank or piece of onboard machinery, even after you’ve applied PB Blaster of some other penetrating oil? If your screwdriver (whether Phillips, slotted, or some other type makes no difference) pops free when you rotate it, thereby failing to turn the screw, ask another person to bear down hard atop the screwdriver handle with both hands—the trick is to apply as much pressure as possible in the direction of the screw’s in/out travel. Then use an adjustable wrench whose jaws fit tightly around the handle of the screwdriver (well below your helpmate’s superimposed hands, of course) to rotate the screwdriver from the side. Go slowly and make sure both the pressure against the top of the screwdriver handle and the rotational movement from the side with the wrench remain steady throughout the operation.


Storing Paint for Multiple Uses...

Ever open a can of paint you've already used a few times and find a skin atop what remains inside? Instead of having to break the skin with a stirring stick and stir (while mixing chunks of skin into the paint you want to use), why not try this. Next time you finish with a can of paint that's partially full, tap the lid on tight and stow the can upside down, instead of right-side-up. When you subsequently open the darn thing, the skin will be at the bottom of your paint and not on top. Just make sure you don't push down too hard with your stirring stick and inadvertently mix some of the skin into the paint. And make sure that lid is REALLY tight, else there could be a spill.


A Simple Engine Diagnostic:

Most likely you’ve seen the neat sheaves of absorbent pads, often stacked in neat piles on the bottom shelves of chandleries and marine stores, or sometimes arranged in the same general area in big, rolled-up bundles. These little jewels cost about $.99 apiece at West Marine (www.westmarine.com) and are made by the folks at Seafit, as well as 3M. They have the extraordinary ability to shed water while absorbing oil, diesel fuel, and/or gasoline. Which is cool, of course. But what’s the big deal about these pads really? Unfortunately, lots of guys don’t use them and thereby miss out on one of their greatest virtues—if routinely replaced when seriously stained, they serve as a prime indicator of oil leaks from the engine above. Got a nice fiberglass catchment basin under that engine? Layer in a few clean, white, absorbent pads—yeah they’re cheap but they may just save you a pile of money. 


Keep Seacocks Working Freely:

Some seacocks, especially older one, have a 3/8-metal plug in their bases, typically with a NPT thread. A time-saving, maintenance-encouraging move is to remove the plug and replace it with a 3/8-inch zerk fitting, either of the straight type or with a 45-degree bend, depending upon what works best. Next time you notice a bit of stiffness in a seacock’s valve mechanicals, simply shoot a little grease inside via the zerk. Make sure to use grease that’s compatible with the mechanicals, by the way. Some units have rubber inserts that will dissolve in regular grease so you should use silicone-based waterproof grease instead.

Of course, it's a good idea to keep your seacock levers moving smartly, just in case you have to close or open one in a hurry. Some of the older models have a threaded metal plug at the base and in order to pump grease into the device, you have to remove the plug and temporarily replace it with a Zerk fitting that's compatible with your grease gun. But hey, why do this sort of thing again and again? Why not leave the Zerc in permanently? And for that matter, why not remove the plugs on all of your seacocks—if they are of the old-fashioned type—and substitute Zercs. Next time you need to grease one seacock because it's getting little sticky, it's fairly easy (or easier than it used to be) to grease 'em all. 


How Efficient Is Your Air-Conditioning System:

There are a couple of little tricks that will require very little effort but boost your air-conditioning system’s efficiency if it seems to be lagging. First of all, change the filters on the return-side of your unit or units. Just like at home, filters full of dust cause machinery to labor and underperform. And while you’re at it, buy the best quality filters—the ones that filter out not only dust but mold and other spores as well. And second, invest in an air-conditioning comb, preferably with several sets of teeth, one of which will fit the soft-metal (usually aluminum) fins on the air-intake side of your unit.  Air-conditioning combs are typically available online or at an HVAC supply shop for about $20. The point of the comb is to very carefully straighten flattened, soft-metal fins so that your unit can inhale air into its condenser as easily and efficiently as possible.


How To Clear A Bad MFD Screen

Some MFD screens have a protective coating that decomposes with age. Eventually, the remainder of the coating can obscure the electronic imagery underneath. If you’ve come to a point in your relationship with your MFD where the darn thing is virtually unreadable under some conditions, and you’re not willing to send the unit back to the manufacturer so the screen can be cleaned and re-coated (usually at, considerable expense) try this. Apply a mild abrasive product (like Soft Scrub or Ecover Cream Scrub) to a very small part of the screen to see if, with a little scrubbing, it will remove the protective coating or the remains of it. If the product does the trick, finish up by removing the coating from the entire screen. Just remember—go slow, and use a soft micro-fiber cloth.


Don’t forget to inspect your propeller and shafts.

Regularly inspect any areas on the shafts that are immersed in water but have little or no water flow, such as within the stuffing box,under the propeller and prop nuts, and within the shaft log and cutless bearing. These places are particularly prone to crevice corrosion, which could weaken the shaft. Crevice corrosion is promoted by water that lacks oxygen. It helps to run the boat to clear areas of stale water. For example, cutless bearings are normally lubricated by water passing through grooves in the surface. Also, let the stuffing boxes drip a little, even when the boat is idle.

Periodically have your propeller shafts pulled and inspected by professionals. Most propeller shafts flex to some extent while running. The extent of flex depends upon such variables as shaft length and diameter, number and location of supports, size and trueness of the prop, and engine alignment. The less flex the better.

 To perform a simple check of your cutless bearing, grab the shaft in the vicinity of the bearing and try to move it back and forth. If there is play, the bearing isworn and should be replaced. If your cutless bearing wears quickly, this can be a sign of problems causing undue flex.


Coolant-Overflow Maintenance

What's the most neglected component of a boat's cooling system? It's often the plastic coolant-overflow bottle mounted on bulkheads. Remember these also require attention. It's not unusual for a pinhole to develop in the hose that connects the overflow bottle to the engine. This will break the siphon between the two. The bottle has to be full when the engine is hot and then will drain down as the engine cools. The bottle can show everything is fine, but you could be gallons low on coolant. When the engine is cold, pull the cap on the expansion tank and check it there.

Mid Season Air Conditioning Check

To keep your cool when the dog days of late summer come barking, make sure your air conditioner is working as efficiently as possible. Not only should the sea strainer be clean and debris-free, but the impeller on the raw-water pump should be standing proud, with all the vanes present, accounted for, and fully intact. While you’re at it, you might also inspect your air-conditioning system’s condenser coil. If it gets clogged or partly clogged, have it flushed out by a technician or maybe do it yourself. And for boats with chilled-water systems, make sure that the circulating water is flowing freely and all filter changes stipulated in your manual are up to date. And another good idea: Clean (with a vacuum cleaner) or replace the air filters on all your air handlers—dust does not facilitate efficient cooling.


How To Bleed a Diesel.

First, back off the bleed screw on top of the secondary fuel filter—three or four turns is usually enough. Some engines have two secondary filters.

Second, begin working the lever on the fuel lift pump (an engine-mounted component downstream of the primary fuel filter) until bubbles stop forming under the bleed screw and solid fuel comes out. Use rags to keep things neat and then tighten the bleed screw back up. Do the secondary if necessary.

And third, if necessary repeat the bleeding process via the bleed screw on the injector pump (unless it has self-purge capability) and the again (depending on your manufacturers recommendations) on each individual injector.

Procedure varies from engine to engine, so consult your operator’s manual for the exact one.


How-to extend sealant life.

How many times have you had leftover caulking or sealant after a job. Then when you go to use that sealant again, it’s too late. The contents of the open tube have cured. To extend the life of caulk and sealant, keep the opened tubes in the back of your refrigerator, instead of the toollocker. Cooling can extend the useful life of sealant for up to six months.


Choose the Right Anchor.

Make sure you have the right anchor for the area that you cruise the most. There are basically two types of anchors: burying and hooking. Burying anchors are best in sand, clay, and mud bottoms. Hooking anchors or grapnel are best in gravel, rock, or weed-covered bottoms.

If you use an all-chain rode, employ a nylon snubbing line to provide elasticity.


How to Anchor in a Crowded Anchorage.

Do a pass through the harbor looking for the biggest gap, ascertaining that it’s not a gap because of shoaling or the presence of a rock. Beware of sailboats, which may swing differently than your boat. Ask the skippers around the gap—either by VHF or hollering over to them—how much scope they have out on their anchors. That must be your scope, too. Now head toward the stern of the windward (or up-current) boat most centered on the gap. Drop your hook about 60 to 70 feet behind that boat. Set your hook and, if you are at least 60 to 70 feet ahead of the boats behind you, you may be good. Set an anchor alarm using your electronics, and make sure to check your interval if the wind shifts or when the tide turns.


How to Run an Inlet.

  • • A judicious use of power is required to safely run an inlet, and a very careful use of wheel and throttle.
  • • If possible, have a sidekick monitoring a plotter and/or compass while you handle the steering and engine controls. He or she can help you stay in the channel while you have other things on your mind.
  • • The idea is to ride the backs of waves and overtake them only after they break ahead of you.
  • • Running inlets in powerful planing boats is one thing, but doing it in underpowered displacement vessels is quite another. Avoid the latter if possible.
  • • Before entering an inlet, stand off and watch the wave pattern for a while.

How-to know when it's time to replace your hoses.

Look for soft, gooey or spongy surfaces caused by oil contamination on suction and exhaust hose. Bulges and swelling will be apparent. Suction hose should be inspected for signs of collapse.

Heat damage results in hardened and cracked hose covers, while abrasion-damaged hose appears scuffed or gouged, ozone damage will show up as tiny, parallel cracks in the hose cover, with no hardening. On hoses with severe bends, look for the outer portion to be stretched, while the inner bend is kinked.

Over tightened or poor quality clamps will dig into the hose covering over time. Make certain that clamps are installed around the attaching barb.

Long, unsupported runs of hose that typically go to hot water tanks and heat exchangers often wind their way through bulkheads and are out of sight. It is worth the effort to locate and inspect them as well.


How to determine if a flooded cell, AGM, or gel battery is best for your application.

Flooded, or wet, cell batteries provide high cranking amperages and are excellent for starting applications. They generally are low in price and are available in standard sizes and terminal configurations. Flooded cell batteries require periodic maintenance and should remain easily accessible. They lose capacity and become permanently damaged if left discharged, must remain in a upright position, and are susceptible to failure in high vibration applications.

Gel batteries are heavier and more expensive than flooded batteries but are generally spill- and leak- proof. They have good deep-cycle life. A gel battery can be installed as a starting battery, but most engine-driven alternators and regulators are set higher than the maximum charging voltage of 14.1 volts recommended for gel batteries. As a result, the charging system must be adjusted for the battery to be properly recharged without dramatically shortening its life. Temperature compensation must be factored into the charging system, as well. Gel batteries normally are acid starved, and as such typically provide a lower capacity for their size than either flooded cell or AGM batteries.

AGN (absorbed glass mat) batteries have extremely low electrical resistance allowing the batteries to deliver much higher power and efficiency than gel or flooded cell technologies. AGMs are spill-proof, as well as the most vibration/impact-resistant lead acid batteries available. They can operate in any orientation and won’t spill electrolyte if the case is broken. AGM technology typically limits self-discharge to less than 3 percent per month at 77 degrees F. The low self discharge and longer life expectancy (twice that of flooded cell batteries) should pay off in the long haul for boaters with serious battery requirements. 


Help Your MSD Last Longer

If you leave your boat unattended in a hot climate the temperatures inside go off the charts. To preserve the gaskets and other interior components on your MSD add several 8-ounce cups of fresh water to the bowl at the end of each visit.

The reason? The small amount of water that resides in the bowls of most MSDs after that final flush, whether the MSDs be manual, vacuum, or jet, will evaporate in just a few days, either due to sun-driven heat or the effects of permanent or semi-permanent air-conditioning. This “deluge” keeps gaskets and other rubbery components from drying out, a sure way to destroy them prematurely.


Prolong the Life of Your Anchor Windlass.

There are many ways to preserve and extend the health of an anchor windlass. Squishing di-electric grease onto electrical terminals (including those for foot controls) is a good way not only to protect said terminals but also to make sure you have an anchor when you need one. And rinsing away salt water with fresh is also important.

But probably the most critical thing you can do to preserve the well-being of an anchor windlass is to retrieve your anchor in the correct manner after deploying it. You do this by using your boat’s engine(s) to follow the anchor rode on the bottom as you pick it up, usually with the help of a crewmember who is conveying directions via hand signals. Using your puny electric windlass motor to routinely haul a super-hefty boat to her anchor can take years off the motor.


Check your engine’s oil level while it’s cold.

The reason? You’ve undoubtedly been told by some beastly soul over the years that you should check your engine’s oil only after it’s been thoroughly warmed up—such readings, the thinking goes, give a more accurate picture of what goes on during normal operation. This is bad advice, however. The dipsticks in most marine diesels are marked in accordance with a commissioning agent’s input during installation. Not only does the marking take into account the pitch of the engine (typically upwards, of course), it also typically represents a cold engine with all the lubricating oil in the sump.


If you want to make your diesel last, warm it before you place it under load.

The reason? Pistons in a cold engine are slightly out of round or, to put it another way, the sides of a given piston vary slightly from a perfectly circular circumference. Moreover, cold pistons tend to be slightly contracted in terms of size. When you crank your engine, however, all this changes. Each piston—made of aluminum in most cases—assumes an increasingly circular shape and expands with considerable rapidity, at least by comparison with the cast-iron or steel cylinder walls encompassing it. Then, if throttle is poured on, design tolerances are quickly exceeded and aluminum is literally shaved off to fall into the lubricating oil below. The result is not good—the engine loses compression over time, fuel consumption goes up, and you begin to, as the mechanics say, “burn oil.”


Operate your genset once a week

If you don’t operate your generator and put it under load every week or so, bad things can happen. Injectors, for example, can shellac or get gunked up and the fins on the impeller in your raw-water cooling system can take a set, or become permanently deformed. If you don’t have time for a weekly crank-up, hire a mechanic to do the cranking. It’ll save you money in the long run.