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All Aboard Boats: The Case for Hands On

Familiarity with your vessel's systems can be key to avoiding disasters.

June 2, 2010
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A dear friend with a very top-end convertible sport-fish recently had underwater lights installed. When the boatyard launched the boat after the work was performed, it would have sunk in its slip had my bud not been a hands-on owner.

The installer, an experienced pro, goofed, as even experienced pros can. He overtorqued a fixture, and it didn’t seal correctly. That was the root cause of the leak — but only the first in a cascading series of bad decisions by the parties involved.

The installer’s second goof was not checking, after launch, the fixtures he had added. Then, the boatyard’s crew — this is a hoity-toity big-dollar boatyard, mind you — didn’t check the bilge for leaks. This is supposed to be SOP. After all, whenever you take a boat from the full support that water provides, things can move. And they often do.

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Next, the yard crew put the boat back in its slip and plugged it into shore power. But it didn’t turn on the breaker for the battery charger. Nor, for most of a day, did anyone think it strange that the bilge pump discharge was pumping constantly from a boat they’d just hauled.

So as the leak, which should have been spotted in the first place, if not noticed subsequently, continued, the pumps drained the batteries instead of running off the charger, which should have been turned on. When my friend showed up after work to check on the work, he found the batteries dead and the bilge filled with salt water almost to the engine mounts. He assessed the situation and flipped the breaker, and the charger provided the power that got his three pumps running.

Pros like this Coast Guardsman make it a point to become familiar with mechanical systems aboard…

Tragedy averted. But only because the boat’s owner took responsibility to see that all was well. Additionally, he was familiar enough with his vessel’s systems to know what was up and take decisive action.

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Now, some may say: “Well, my boat isn’t conveniently located on my way home from work.” I hear you. If that’s the case, get someone to act as your agent (a friend, mechanic, that favored dock boy) and walk through after a haul or repair and report to you. Pay them, tip them, or send them flowers if you have to, and use your cell phone to walk them through your boat the way you would if you were there.

Now, my buddy can well afford to pay for everything, and he never, ever needs to turn a wrench himself. But he’s made a point of becoming familiar with boat maintenance and repair during his 30-year stint as a boater because, in that time, he’s seen what can occur when you operate on trust alone. Mistakes happen. Noticing them, and taking corrective action, is what counts.

That’s why, despite the fact that the cell phone and credit card constitute the majority of boaters’ tools, Boating continues to publish solid maintenance and repair articles, like these:

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boatingmag.com/maintenance/diy-projects/replacing-stern-drive-bellows

boatingmag.com/maintenance/diy-projects/digital-throttles

boatingmag.com/maintenance/diy-projects/smooth-change

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boatingmag.com/installing-transducers-optimum-performance

Want more? Just click the “how to” tab at the top of the page. We want you to be a better boater.

…and always give a look before leaving the dock.
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