Boating Safety and Single Point Failures

Make sure your boat isn't one problem away from catastrophe.

It's the time of year when we take the covers off our boats and start that annual spring clean-up and maintenance routine to get ready for a summer of fun on the water. With that in mind, let me just share with you all one of my biggest fears about boating. It's called the single point failure. Now some of you with engineering backgrounds probably know exactly what I'm talking about here.

A single point failure is something where if only one thing goes wrong something really bad can happen. It brings me way back in time to a point where my uncle talked me into going flying with him in a single engine airplane. After we got up to about 1000 feet in the air I asked him what happened when the engine quit...

He assured me that was very unlikely and that even if it did, he'd do his best to glide the plane back to earth. Honestly, I wasn't totally reassured. Well, let's just say I spend as little time as possible in single engine airplanes. Can't say that about boats, though, and some of my friends probably think I'm crazy when I talk about going 30 or 40 miles offshore in a single engine boat. I do it all the time, but understand that I really pay super close attention to anything on the boat that could cause a catastrophic single point failure. So, consider the photo here:

One bolt. If it breaks or falls out, the steering is gone!

I took this shot on a tour boat my wife and I were riding on in the Everglades. The boat wasn't too fast, maybe 10 or 12 knots, but we were moving through a rather narrow channel that had all manner of creepy insects and gators just waiting for someone to fall in the water so they could do their thing. The bolt is clearly loose and is not secure with a locking nut. As our driver was working the helm, I could see the bolt working in the hole on the steering arm of the outboard engine this rusty little mess is connected to. If the bolt falls out or breaks we will have a single point failure that will cause the complete and rather instantaneous loss of steering on our boatload of happy, innocent tourists. I didn't say anything to anybody until we got back to the dock safely and then I mentioned it to the captain. He probably thought I was some kind of nut and ignored me.

Its OK, but rest assured I think about things on boats that if just one thing occurs, something really serious could happen. You need to start thinking that way too. Spring is the time to go over your boat with a fine eye for detail looking for things like this. Send in your single point fears and we'll share them with our readers. We need photos too so don't forget to include those as well.

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