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Boat Towing Services

The best advice I ever received about boating was from a salty old captain years ago. He said, "Safe boating is simple: keep the water out of the boat, keep the boat off the bottom, and everything else can be worked out." Truer words were never spoken, but despite their best efforts, boaters fail at one or both on a regular basis.For this reason, we are fortunate to have access to professional towing services, covering most recreational boating waters in this country. Whether boating in the ocean near shore, or in most large inland lakes and rivers, assistance on the water is just a VHF radio or phone call away.

boat towing - captain's tips - marinalife
Courtesy of Dori Arrington

Two national entities Sea Tow and TowBoatU.S., along with a few smaller regional companies make up a network of towing operators ready to help you on the water during a boating mishap. Towing service is not inexpensive, with the cost of a response averaging $1,000. That's why most boaters take advantage of the annual membership programs these companies offer, where the cost of service is covered by their membership plan.

I absolutely recommend membership in one or both national companies. While Sea Tow and TowBoatU.S. have boats in most popular boating destinations, neither covers all areas. Having a membership with both assures you can access help in most locations. In joining, it is important to know what you're getting in return for your membership fee, what the service covers, and maybe more importantly, what it doesn't cover.

Although commonly referred to as such, a membership with a towing service is not insurance. Towing services offer no coverage for loss of your boat or boating equipment, nor do they cover personal injury or any sort of liability. Within the terms of their membership agreement, both national companies provide similar services to their members. While each differs slightly in what they provide, the basics they both offer are towing, fuel, jump starts for dead batteries and delivery of easily accessed basic parts for a mechanical breakdown.

It is important to understand having a membership is not a promise of rescue and is restricted to the services that can be provided by the equipment available in the specific area at the time of need. Each individual towing operator is an independent business, which provide services under an agreement with or as a franchisee of the national company. Their equipment could vary from small single engine center-consoles to medium sized commercial RIBs, or in some areas large offshore vessels.

For offshore assistance, all towing companies have limits on how far they can go to offer assistance, but it varies. In Sea Tow's case, they state: We do not have specific offshore distance limits. How far offshore Sea Tow will go to get you is only limited by the sea conditions, fuel capacity of our boats and our ability to communicate with you. If, for any reason, Sea Tow cannot respond, we will assist in arranging for an alternate provider and provide reimbursement up to $5,000 per incident. In most cases, if we are unable to respond no other commercial assistance provider will be able to either, so we will defer to the U.S. Coast Guard.

If you frequently boat offshore, know how you will communicate with the towing providers. In practicality, the offshore range they are capable of reaching could be up to 30 or 40 nautical miles from the towing company's base. Keep in mind this could be out of mobile phone or VHF radio range. It will do you no good if they can help you, but you can't reach them. Ask if the towing provider in your area can communicate with a satellite texting device like a Garmin inReach or a satellite phone.Occasionally a dispute between towing operators and boaters arises over the thorny issue of whether you simply needed a tow or whether the assistance is considered salvage. Both national towing services attempt to describe the difference in their agreement; however, despite their best efforts, it can still be highly subjective. If it is considered salvage, the terms of the assistance changes dramatically.

Your towing provider will likely ask a lot of questions before dispatching a boat in order to arrive properly prepared to assist. However, they cannot know the exact degree of assistance needed until they actually arrive on the scene and assess the situation. When they arrive to offer help, always ask the towboat captain if this is a tow or salvage operation. The difference in the cost and who pays the bill could be substantial.

Given the potential for subjectivity between towing and salvage, it is imperative that you know the nature of the assistance you're receiving. Salvage is historically and more importantly legally defined as the rescue of a boat from a peril at sea.

Sea Tow | Marinalife
Sea Tow | Marinalife

The definition of peril may take many forms. Typically, a marine peril involves a dangerous situation at sea, wherein a vessel may incur damage if it is left to the forces of wind, waves, weather and tide without prompt assistance. Any number of simple boating mishaps can quickly descend into peril if left unaddressed. What may have been a soft grounding on a sand bar can quickly become a salvage operation, with an ebbing tide and slight shift of the wind.

Marine salvage laws have existed for centuries. They were derived to incentivize salvors to come to the assistance of vessels in distress, thereby saving the loss of property and possibly life. Marine salvage laws date back to a time when most vessels at sea were commercial and have changed little with the growth of recreational boating.

Many boaters believe salvage laws do not apply to them and think salvage only applies to big ships, not their 33-foot express cruiser. Marine salvage laws apply to every vessel upon navigable waters, from a kayak to a 600-foot container ship. They are not limited to only vessels engaged in commerce. This opens all recreational vessels to claims for salvage rewards.

When selecting a towing provider, read and understand the terms you are agreeing to for dispute resolution. Many towing providers will ask the boat owner to sign a contract before towing. In signing these contracts, you may be agreeing to some form of binding arbitration, which is intended to provide for a quick determination of the appropriate amount of the salvage reward. You may also be acknowledging that the services provided will form the basis of a salvage claim, where the salvor could be entitled to a lien upon your boat in the amount of the claim.

Too frequently boaters discover the difference between towing and salvage when presented with a bill for something they believed was covered under a membership plan. Boaters also must be careful when accepting assistance from a passing boater. It is not necessary for a salvor to be a professional towing company. If you accept assistance from a passing boater, they may have the right to claim a salvage reward; legally these are referred to as chance salvors.

Assistance to boaters is offered regularly without any extraordinary needs or costs, but exceptions occur often enough. Read and understand the terms of service offered by your towing provider. The national companies offer excellent service within the terms of their agreements and individual towboat captains do their best to assist boaters for the least cost; however, sometimes assistance truly deserves to be salvage. Always protect yourself by knowing which you are receiving before you connect a towing company's line to your boat.

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Get the Latest Scoop on Boat Monitoring Systems

When we last visited the subject of remote boat monitoring, it was an emerging technology with young innovative companies developing smart phone apps that informed you if your boat's battery died or a bilge pump came on when you were away from the boat. Today, those startups have matured into sophisticated technology companies, offering a range of services to help manage and monitor your boat.

Siren Marine - captain's tips - marinalife
Siren Marine

These companies began their businesses from different starting points. Some technology companies adapted their products to boats. A few were boaters who saw a need based on their boating experience and developed products to address that need. The differences show up in some of their application programs and ease of use for the boat owner.

All the systems generally follow the same concept, using a series of sensors or actuators connected to a hub or base station. The hub then communicates the sensor's information through a Wi-Fi, cellular or satellite network to an app installed on a smart phone or tablet.

When selecting a monitoring system, first consider what method of communication best suits your needs. If your boat stays in a modern marina with a stable Wi-Fi, a system that communicates over a Wi-Fi network may be acceptable. The downside to Wi-Fi-only systems is their need to use a mobile hotspot or other means of connecting to a data network to report a problem when you're away from a marina.

If you travel aboard your boat to remote locations or internationally, a system that communicates over cellular or satellite networks may be more reliable. Be mindful of differences in cellular network equipment: some work great in the United States and Canada but may not work elsewhere in the world. Look for cellular networks that work over a wide area. It's best to know where you will be cruising before selecting.

The costs also vary with the system type, with Wi-Fi being the least expensive, then cellular and satellite typically the most expensive. When selecting a system that uses a cellular network to send notifications, it is also helpful to know which generation technology is used: 3G, 4G or the growing 5G. We are accustomed to 4G networks being the norm for voice communication, but many systems still transmit data using older 3G technology, which in parts of the country is being eliminated from cellular towers. This can affect how well the unit will work in different coverage areas as you travel.

Many of the systems require ongoing fees or subscriptions to stay active. If the system you choose has a subscription, verify if you are entering an annual contract as part of the agreement. If your boat is hauled out during part of the year, it may be better to find a system that allows monthly terms or the option to suspend the service during the haul-out period.

Method of Linking Components

All systems work on a sensor and hub network. Individual sensors monitor specific information such as battery voltage, integrity of shore power connection or bilge pump activity. Systems use either hard-wired or wireless sensors. The wireless systems are easier to install, but also may have some limitations. For example, there is a maximum distance the sensors can be from the hub, in some cases as little as 30 feet. If your boat is very large, it may require more than one hub.

The early wireless systems used either Bluetooth or ultra-high frequency radio waves as the link between the sensors and hub. The connections were generally stable; however, it's not uncommon to have interference from materials or other electronics on board. Today, industry-leading companies use an LTE Category-M communication protocol, which allows high volumes of IoT data to be transmitted at lower rates of power. The latest version of wireless sensors also uses a more reliable advanced sub-gigahertz network.

Matching Hardware to Application

Knowing which components you want to monitor or control may help you decide on one brand over another. Some systems come prepackaged in a kit form with a few specific sensors and a hub unit. For small boats, this may suit your needs perfectly. A prepackaged arrangement may be inadequate for larger or more complex boats.

Sentinel Marine - captain's tips - marinalife
Sentinel Marine |

An a-la-carte capability to tailor the system to your vessel may be a better choice. All systems can monitor battery voltage, but if you have multiple battery systems or engine-start batteries of 12 volts and a 24-volt house bank, you'll need a system that can monitor those independently.

Some systems enable a video feed from onboard cameras; some do not. Not all manufactures' systems allow device control, such as turning on or off the air conditioning or lighting. Consult system capabilities if device control is a feature you intend to use.

Method of Communication

The method of communicating varies among the systems. Some send notifications through an app on your smart device. Some systems send SMS text messages; others use email or a combination of both. A helpful feature on certain systems requires the boat owner to acknowledge the notice or it will send a repeat message or a notice by a different method.

The more advanced systems are also monitored by a central station like a land-based alarm company. If the notice isn't acknowledged, the station operator will attempt to locate the boat owner. A few of the companies offer web-based computer access to your hub if you are away from a cellular connection. Lastly, look for systems that allow more than one person to be contacted.

Theft Deterrence & GPS Tracking

One of the most valuable features of remote monitoring systems is theft deterrence. With this feature, when the system is set, alarms and lights can be programmed to come on when an intruder attempts entry. More advanced systems prevent engines from starting when activated. If the boat were to be moved, the systems provide GPS tracking to locate it.

An added benefit to all these features is a possible reduction in insurance premiums. The GPS tracking feature on some systems can also allow family and friends to follow along on your travels.

Ability to Update

Make sure the system can easily accept firmware or software updates over the Internet and does not require the components to be returned to the manufacturer to install updates.

Remote monitoring technology is advancing rapidly. New features are introduced at boat shows every year, providing more ability to monitor and control boats when life takes you away from your favorite pastime.

Monitoring Technology Manufacturers

Across Ocean Systems

Boat Command


Gost Global

Sentinel Marine

Siren Marine

Yacht Brain

Yacht Protector

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Looking Out for Trouble

About 17 million recreational boats are in use in the United States, according to the latest figures from the National Marine Manufacturers Association. I don't know about you, but it seems like most of those boats are crossing in front of ours on summer weekends. The waterways are busy and are about to get busier with the pandemic-fueled growth in recreational boating since these figures were compiled.

bridge - captain's tips - marinalife
Photo by Dori Arrington

According to the most recent data published by the U. S. Coast Guard in 2019, 4,168 boating accidents were reported, which sadly included 613 deaths and more than 2,000 injuries. These incidents cost a staggering $55 million in damage to property. Two leading causes of these accidents were operator inattention and improper lookout. So, how do we improve our chances of not becoming one of these statistics when going out to enjoy a day on the water?

Knowing that a large percentage of boating accidents are caused by inattention or improper lookout, one of the best ways to improve safety is to increase the number of eyes watching for danger. A boat may only have one captain, but all the eyes on board can help keep the vessel safe.

A friend joined us aboard our boat recently on a busy Saturday outing. After listening to my wife point out all the boats, crab pots and buoys in our path, he leaned over and whispered to me "Does she always do this? That would drive me crazy." I said she sure does, and I don't ever want her to stop. On more than one occasion she has seen a boat approaching that I hadn't noticed, or a small floating buoy I missed. I'll gladly listen to her observations to keep us safe.

Having friends and family join you on the water is one of the most enjoyable aspects of boat ownership; however, I have observed an inverse relationship between the number of people on board and the number of eyes looking out for danger. The more people you have on your boat, the more likely they are to be engaged with each other or the day's activities than they are to assist with anything related to the boat.

Now, you may say this is normal: "I didn't invite my friends to go boating to have them help me run the boat." This may be true, but wouldn't you like someone to notify you of a potential problem?

Whether sail or power, a lot of things could be happening on a boat at one time, especially if you enter a busy inlet or harbor. Dropping sails or coming off plane, monitoring a rising bottom and paying attention to your position in the channel, and needing to call a bridge tender or marina on the VHF radio can take your attention away from intersecting boat traffic or hazards in your path. Having another set of eyes to assist could be the difference between arriving safely or being towed in with the marine police following you.

The tradition of watch keeping aboard a ship has existed as long as floating vessels have gone to sea. It's the act of assigning specific roles and times to personnel on board to keep the vessel safe from collision, fire or any potential hazard that could arise. Most recreational boaters take too relaxed a view of this.

boat - captain's tips - marinalife
Photo by Dori Arrington

The best plan is to have a dedicated mate to act as a lookout; one that is willing to join the party once the boat is safely anchored or tied to the dock. Or conversely, have a mate tend to guests while you focus on driving the boat. I give our guests the same speech each time we go out, "Please forgive me if I don't pay much attention to you while we're underway. The waterway will be busy today, so I'm going to pay attention to the boat. If you see, hear or smell anything on board or around us that doesn't seem right, please don't hesitate to let me know. Now, sit back and enjoy the ride."

Danger doesn't always come in the form of other boats. I remember an occasion when an attentive guest's observation paid off. While sitting in the back of a fishing boat near the engine cowling, the guest heard a whine get louder and louder. Calling attention to it helped the captain catch an alternator bearing that was failing, which could have had serious consequences or even caught fire had it seized completely.

Not all boating requires the same level of attentiveness. Cruising along the coast in the ocean is very different from traveling along the busy Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). With the assistance of autopilot, radar tracking and Automatic Identification System (AIS), it is much easier to keep track of fewer boats around you in the ocean. But a vigilant lookout is important. It is amazing the number of close calls that occur between boats in open water.

In all boating situations, understand the rules of the road and know who has the right of way but don't assume other boaters do. Avoid playing chicken or challenging another boater over right-of-way. If you spot a boat at a distance on an intersecting course, follow rules of being the stand on or give way vessel, up until a point of realizing the other boat is not following the rules. Take early and obvious measures to avoid the other boat. I've maneuvered around boats in the ocean, only to see no one at the other boat's helm as we pass.

On longer runs, captains may have to turn over the helm to a mate for a break. In doing so, make sure you communicate everything you know when handing over the helm. Don't assume the person taking over sees the navigation aids ahead. If in the ICW, remind them what side the reds are on for this stretch of water. Alert them to any other vessels you're tracking. If you made an adjustment to your speed to conduct a safe passing arrangement with another boat, it could be dangerous for them to take over the helm and ask themselves "Why are we going so slowly?" and resume a normal cruising speed.

When most boaters free their lines and head for open water, they do so in a mild state of denial, an innocent but dangerous unwillingness to admit something could go wrong. Staying safe is more than just having the proper safety equipment aboard your boat, it is a state of mind to make the conscious effort to act in a safe manner, keep a look out for trouble and be unwilling to become a boating accident statistic.

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Cure for Get-There-Itis

The day broke with a dark sky full of clouds and a stiff breeze from the north. Steven and Kristy had been anticipating this day for months, the first long vacation aboard their new boat. They had plenty of weekend outings, but this would be a two-week adventure from their home in Jupiter, FL, to a resort marina in the Keys.

Woman in jeans on boat - captain's tips cure - marinalife
Woman in jeans on boat from Pexel by Tatiana Twinslol

The weather did not look good, but the forecast called for clearing skies and the winds to back around to the west by mid-morning. If the forecast was correct, they should have a smooth ride hugging the shoreline down to their first night's stop in Miami.

When Steven and Kristy turned south out of Lake Worth Inlet that morning, they immediately ran into a 2 ½ knot current going north. With northerly winds and a southerly current, Steven and Kristy quickly realized this was not going to be a calm ride. Wind and current opposing each other can easily double the height of wind-caused waves.

The waves were three to five feet with steep faces. Their small boat crashed into the face of each wave with water coming over the bow. The waves were so unmercifully close together, they only had seconds to recover from one before they were hit by another.

Steven felt the boat could take it, but this was going to be a miserable first trip out in their new boat. He had his hands full keeping the boat's bow into the waves and was worried if he turned sideways the boat could roll and capsize. He realized turning around and going back was equally dangerous but continuing promised to be brutal. The next inlet Steven and Kristy could use to escape the conditions would be Fort Lauderdale, but that was more than 40 nautical miles and hours of misery away.

Better Safe than Sorry

Steven kept asking himself, how could he let this happen? He and Kristy prided themselves in being cautious and safety conscious when boating, but their dream of vacationing in the keys on their new boat left them vulnerable to a serious condition. They had developed a severe case of Get-there-itis. Here is the cure.

Get-there-itis is a dangerous state most often identified in airplane pilots, but all too frequently is found in boaters as well. It is the determination to reach a destination, despite conditions or circumstances that should indicate otherwise. Also known as Plan Continuation Bias, the phenomenon was identified in a human factors study of airline accidents at the NASA Ames Research Center in 2004. The study analyzed 19 accidents from 1991 to 2000 that were attributed to airline crew error. Out of those, almost half involved Plan Continuation Bias. However, there is a cure!

Steven and Kristy were so caught up in their vacation plans, they lost the ability to step away and objectively analyze the wind and sea conditions. Fortunately, they made it safely to Miami that day, as the winds eventually shifted to the west and the seas laid down quickly after.

The cure and way to prevent this from occurring on your next outing is to begin with acknowledgment. Admit that you can suffer from get-there-itis, and look for signs that you have become overly invested in a planned trip. Think about others more than yourself. Consider what your passengers may experience, or think about the family members at home, waiting for your safe return. Sometimes a dose of reality will help you reconsider a trip when conditions are less than ideal.

Well before any outing, establish a set of parameters that are non-negotiable. Set a point, beyond which the trip is canceled. If winds exceed a set speed, or if the waves are above a certain height, the journey gets postponed. Maybe it's a time factor. Tide, current and hours of daylight frequently determine when you need to arrive at an inlet or destination. If your departure is delayed for any reason beyond a certain amount, then you put the trip on hold. Arriving at an inlet in the dark or on a swift flood current can be dangerous.

Safety aboard your boat is not simply a lack of accidents. It results from conscious decisions made in the calm of planning. Decisions made when your guests are on board and ice is in the cooler are not made with the same thoughtfulness. Circuit breakers should be put in place that trip when conditions or schedules change. Get-there-itis is a self-inflicted problem that only you can manage and cure. Keeping a realistic mindset about the consequences of your actions will keep you safe and ready to take the next boating adventure.

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Person Overboard Devices to Match your Style of Boating

BOATERS SET OUT every day to enjoy the water, but unfortunately many do so in a mild state of denial. It's an innocent but dangerous unwillingness to admit something could go wrong. They are understandably more focused on the day's adventure. This is certainly the case with being prepared to find and retrieve a person who has fallen off a boat.

Maritime Filming - captain's tips - marinalife
Maritime Filming UK Pixabay

A primary skill in all boating courses is learning how to handle a person overboard (POB) situation. Persons on board need to know how to turn a boat around as quickly as possible to return along the same course line. This skill must extend to others onboard beside the captain, who may be the one who needs a lifeline.

Most GPS chart plotters have a POB feature that allows you to fix a position on the GPS screen at the point where someone goes overboard. That's useful information, but it makes a dangerous assumption that someone noticed a crewmate went overboard. In many cases, those on the boat are not aware someone had tumbled into the water.

ResQLink Personal Locator Beacon - Captain's Tips Person Overboard - Marinalife
ResQLink Personal Locator Beacon from ACR Electronics

Fortunately, the marine safety equipment industry has addressed this problem with POB devices, designed to be worn by those onboard and will sound an alert at the helm that someone needs to be rescued.

The first step in selecting a POB device is to find one that will work best for your type of boating. Are you a couple cruising together? Do you boat as a family during daylight hours only in protected waters? Are children or pets aboard who need to be monitored? Are you fishing miles offshore in the ocean?

A POB situation is a terrifying event that should at all costs be prevented before it occurs. Prevention begins with getting past the denial that it could happen aboard your boat. Begin with pretending there is a 500-foot cliff on the opposite side of the boat's railing and grave danger lies on the other side. Wearing life jackets and a POB device greatly increase the survival rate of someone falling overboard.

The following four different types of person-overboard systems are readily available, and each is suited to different types of boating. Some devices use a combination of these technologies.

Personal Locator Beacons (PLB)

PLB rescue demonstration - Captain's Tips Person Overboard - Marinalife
Crew members pull Mike Tobin, a national news correspondent, into the rescue boat during a search-and-rescue demonstration by Petty Officer 2nd Class Levi Read

PLBs work on the same principle as an emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB). They both transmit signals to search and rescue agencies, enabling them to locate the device. An internal GPS provides a position to rescuers, and the registration number identifies the individual who initiated the rescue. PLBs have become popular marine rescue devices. They are manually activated, which alerts search and rescue agencies. The problem with PLB's is they don't let anyone in the boat know you've fallen overboard, nor do they help that boat find you.

Proximity Alarms (PA)

PAs work by maintaining continual radio contact between an app on a smart phone or tablet and a crew fob worn by a person. If contact is lost, the alarm is triggered, notifying the helmsperson of a POB and marking the boat's position on the app at that time. They are easy to set up, have compact crew fobs and are relatively low cost. The disadvantage to them is the POB icon on the app only shows the boat's position when the alarm was triggered, not the actual location of the person in the water. Strong winds, tides and poor visibility can still make it hard to locate the POB.

Digital Selective Calling (DSC)

These alarms are self-contained personal locator beacons that send an automated POB alert and GPS position via the DSC system in VHF radios. The alert can be heard by all vessels in the area, including the host craft. The message is repeated on Channel 16 by an automated voice recording. By alerting all boats in the vicinity, they don't just rely on the original vessel for rescue. Due to small antennas on the devices, the range of the VHF signal is limited, and they won't automatically mark the POB's position on a chartplotter.

Automated Identification Systems (AIS)

AIS devices transmit a unique POB signal that all vessels in the vicinity can see with an AIS receiver. Several manufacturers integrate DSC and GPS technology into the unit as well. Most units must be manually activated, but once done, they are the only device that will guide vessels to the exact location of the POB. AIS devices alone do not notify search and rescue personnel; however, when they have DSC combined, their transmissions may be received by rescue agencies monitoring VHF radios.

All these devices offer outstanding rescue capabilities. Select the one that best suits your type of boating, but remember the boat most likely and best suited to rescue a POB is the boat the person was on before falling into the water.

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Yacht Management

DID YOU BUY your boat for weekend recreation and find it takes four days of maintenance for every two days of enjoyment? Have you canceled a summer vacation on the boat, because the air conditioning wasn't working? Do you live more than a few hours away from where you keep your boat? Do you love operating your boat, but have a hard time remembering where to check the engine oil?

Man working on computer by Andrea Piacquadio | Captain's Tips yacht management | Marinalife
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

If you answered yes to more than one of these questions, you should consider hiring a yacht management company to help keep up with routine maintenance, so you can focus on enjoying the boat. What? you say. Don't yacht managers just take care of big yachts? I can't afford to pay a management company to look after my boat. That may be, but it's also possible you can't afford not to.

Maybe the term is confusing you, or you don't consider your boat a yacht. Whatever the size of your boat and regardless of what you call it, a vessel management company is likely near you that can not only help you enjoy your boat, but possibly increase the value as well. Well-maintained boats depreciate less than ones poorly maintained.

Contrary to what most boaters think, yacht managers do not just manage large yachts or work for absentee owners. Bill McLean, of Williams' Yacht Management in Annapolis, MD, said in the 20 years he and his partner Tim Boteler have owned their business, the average size boat they take care of is about 45 feet and more than 60% of his clients live near their boat.

Yacht management is also not an all or nothing proposition. A good yacht management company will let you buy their services on an a la carte basis. One boat owner I spoke with said, With a 50-foot boat, there is always something to fix, clean or polish. With a yacht management service, I can do as little or as much as I want. I like to tinker and can fix most things, but I don't want large projects. I let the professionals do all the heavy work, along with cleaning and waxing. We all have busy schedules, and this allows more time to enjoy the boat and gives confidence there is an expert eye watching it.

Not all yacht management companies operate the same way. Some are strictly managers and subcontract all the work to others. They literally manage the work done on your boat instead of you. Other companies directly employ workers to do some of the work, such as detailing, winterizing, and simple maintenance, only bringing in subcontractors for complicated electrical and mechanical work.

In either case, yacht management companies likely know all of the best marine contractors and get better pricing and response time from them. You may call a marine air conditioning technician once every few years, but a successful yacht manager with a full clientele may call them a dozen times a year. The technicians want to keep a good yacht management company happy, as they are a potential source of a lot of business.

Man laying on deck by Alex Block | Captain's Tips yacht management | Marinalife
Photo by Alex Block

When considering a yacht management company, look carefully at how they will bill you. Billing should be completely transparent, and they should only bill you for their time. If they bring in a subcontractor to work on your boat, you should know who that contractor is and see all his invoices. A yacht management company is most benefits you in the role of a manager, not as a middleman marking up the subcontractor's work.

Another way to evaluate the value and cost of using a yacht management company is to look at how the company charges for its service. Is it by the hour or by the foot or size of your boat? Each method has advantages and disadvantages, so discuss with them what works best for each of you.

Yacht managers also bring value by their experience. Problems on a boat often come from a variety of causes. Experienced yacht managers have seen more on the multiple boats they manage than hopefully you will ever experience on your boat. Their expertise can save you time and money by zeroing in on the likely cause of a problem right away.

If you've been boating long, you probably have a good relationship with the boat yard where your vessel is hauled and serviced. Hiring a yacht manager doesn't have to interfere or replace that relationship; in an ideal world it enhances it. A good service yard manager and a good yacht manager do not view each other as competitors, but rather partners in helping you maintain your boat.

Plus, yacht managers often have a better relationship with a yard in the same way they do with technicians. Due to the number of boats a yacht manager can bring to a yard, service managers typically take good care of them. This has the potential to move you up in the schedule or give you a quicker turnaround in your project.

For boaters working full-time jobs, a yacht manager may save you money by meeting technicians on your boat during the week when you might otherwise have to take time off work. They can stay on top of technicians working on your boat, because it is their full-time job, while it's a distraction from yours.

If you keep your boat in an active boating area, you should have multiple yacht management companies from which to choose, so interview them carefully.

  • Ask how they invoice.Most will ask for a credit card number to keep on file, so make sure their policy is to send you a copy of invoices to review before they automatically use your credit card for payment.
  • Ask for references.Avoid any that require an annual contract or an annual fee or retainer. If they employ technicians on their own staff, inquire if they are ABYC (American Boat and Yacht Council) certified.
  • Ask about the retention rate of their technicians.

A high turnover in employees is not a good sign. Many yacht managers have long-term clients. Sean McClash of Tampa Bay Yacht Management said about one third of his customers have kept them on to manage their second and third boats.

If you're still not sure whether a yacht management company increases the value of your boat, let's look at the definition of value as it relates to a boat. The value of a boat is the ratio of what you invest into it, divided by the enjoyment you extract from it. If this is purely a financial equation for you, maybe you shouldn't be boating.

Boating can be an expensive leisure activity, but ask yourself what is the value of the friendships you've made boating or the places you visited aboard the boat? If you boat as a family, what is the value of the gift you've given your children of time spent together on your boat?

Imagine the value of every time you arrive at your boat, you can start the engines, pull the lines and go out to enjoy it. Also, imagine if every time you arrive at your boat, it's clean and everything is in working order. This is the value a yacht manager can bring ... so maybe they're not so expensive after all.

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Seasickness: How not to Feed the Fish

Seasickness is a wicked spirit, always haunting those of us who love the sea. I've seen it make grown men crawl into a fetal position and cry for their mothers to relieve their wretched misery.

Boat and waves By Canva | seasickness | marinalife
Boat and waves By Canva

The insidious condition we know as seasickness is not limited to the motion of the ocean. It can come from any similar type of movement, be it the back seat of a car, airplane turbulence or the Tilt-A-Whirl ride at a summer carnival. Seasickness is the earliest known form of motion sickness, which was well documented by the Greeks and Romans. The word nausea comes from the Greek word naus, an ancient type of sailing ship.

Seasickness results when conflict occurs between what your inner ear senses and your eyes see. Inside your ears are three tiny semicircular fluid-filled canals, part of the vestibular system. When your body experiences motion, liquid inside the canals moves around interacting with tiny hairs lining each canal. These hairs translate the movement of the liquid into nerve messages that are sent to your brain. The brain reads these signals and compensates with counter movement, enabling you to keep your balance when moving.

When you are inside a boat or reading in the backseat of a car, your ears sense the motion, but your eyes don't register movement, because what you see is moving with you. Your brain responds with a series of stress-related symptoms such as profuse sweating, chills, nausea, vertigo and vomiting. But why vomiting? What's up with this business of throwing up when your internal sensors are conflicted with different signals of movement? Would you believe it was once meant to keep you alive?

Thousands of years ago when humans lived in small hunter/gatherer societies, people foraged for part of their diet. Beyond watching what animals ate and avoided, finding safe food was largely trial and error. Many poisonous fruits and berries had a hallucinogenic effect, causing dizziness and disorientation.

It's theorized that when people ate poisonous berries, their bodies attempted to save them by expelling the poison. Even though you may not forage for food anymore, your body has retained that life-saving response. Motion sickness mimics that disoriented feeling of ingesting poison, and vomiting is your body reacting to those ancient memories by trying to expel it.

A curious thing about seasickness is the varying degree to which people are affected, with some more susceptible than others. It is certain that everyone with a working vestibular system is capable of suffering from some type of motion sickness. If you boat long enough, you will fall into one of two categories: those who have been and those who will be seasick.

Underlying the sweating and vomiting phase of seasickness is a little known and potentially more pernicious type of seasickness, called Sopite syndrome. As reported by Dr. James R. Lackner in an article for the National Center for Biotechnology Information, sopite syndrome comes from the Latin word sopire which means to lull or put to sleep. It differs from the more common motion sickness symptoms and may occur before the onset of other symptoms.

Some of the first symptoms of sopite syndrome could be yawning, drowsiness, apathy and decreased ability to concentrate, among others. These symptoms may exist in addition to nausea and may persist. According to Sigurd W. Hystad, in a paper published in Safety and Health at Work, boaters underway for extended periods of time are especially susceptible to sopite syndrome. Hystad claims, Noise within the vessel, vibration caused by the engine and motion caused by harsh weather are all known to be significant stressors that can lead to sopite syndrome.

Prevention over Cure

It's well known that looking at the horizon or out the window causes the feelings to subside. The reason for this relief is that you've eliminated the conflict. Your ears still sense the motion, but by looking at a stationary object in the distance, your eyes now validate what your ears are sensing, and all your systems get green lights.

Unfortunately, boaters don't often seek relief until they already feel the effects, and this may be too late. Once your brain thinks it needs to save you by giving up your breakfast, you may have a hard time talking that back down. It's more effective to stop it from happening in the first place, than to address symptoms once they begin.

Woman with seasickness By Canva | seasickness | marinalife
Woman with seasickness By Canva

Numerous over-the-counter drugs are available that intend to minimize motion sickness symptoms such as dimenhydrinate (Dramamine), meclizine (Bonine), cinnarizine (Stugeron), along with the prescription drug scopolamine, but most have negative side effects. For centuries sailors have used non-pharmaceutical solutions like ginger, which is well known to quiet an upset stomach.

Chewing gum is also beneficial, but curiously, research has shown that it doesn't appear to be the gum that makes the difference; it seems to be just the act of chewing. Acupressure bands strategically placed on the wrist have also proven effective for some people. While all these methods may calm the stomach, they can leave the other symptoms of seasickness untreated. It may also require a combination of these techniques to provide an acceptable amount of comfort.

Research into why certain people are more susceptible than others could hold the most promise in helping boaters enjoy the water without becoming seasick. Studies have shown that within variations of susceptibility lies a willful factor. As reported in the Journal of Applied Psychology: Seasickness as a self-fulfilling prophecy, researchers told an experimental group of naval cadets that they were unlikely to experience seasickness and that, if they did, it was unlikely to affect their performance at sea. At the end of a five-day training exercise at sea, the experimental cadets reported less seasickness and were rated as better performers than the control cadets.

Having the mind occupied with a task also helps to combat seasickness. A boat's helmsman is less prone to motion sickness than a passenger, because the helmsman is controlling the vessel and can predict the motion. Taking over the helm for a while may quiet a queasy stomach.

Whether passenger or captain, a positive mindfulness offers proven results. It is known that women are more prone to suffering from seasickness than men. Beyond any underlying physiological reasons for this, in recreational boating it is also more likely for men to be driving the boat and women to be the passengers. Simply sharing the responsibility of operating the boat could go a long way toward minimizing seasickness for everyone on board. Any activity that keeps the mind occupied with a purposeful and positive attitude offers a big benefit.

Remember it's called sea sickness, but you're not really sick; your brain is just confused. Boaters will tell you that time on the water cures many of life's ailments. Seasickness is no different. The more time you spend on a boat, the better it gets; allowing your mind to adjust to the movement helps your subconscious realize a new normal.

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Monitoring Systems

Modern marine engines have come a long way from the sputtering, oil-dripping beasts they used to be. Electrical systems with smart chargers, inverters and advanced sealed batteries are light years ahead of the leaky blocks of energy that used to start our engines and power our coffee makers. Today is the age of Monitoring Systems.

Despite improvements, items still wear, and parts break down. The challenge for vigilant boaters is to monitor a vessel's systems in a measurable way, so you know something is wrong before getting stuck at the pier on a beautiful weekend morning or calling for a tow when you're broken-down and adrift.

Early detection is the key to keeping small problems from becoming catastrophic aboard a boat. It's one of the reasons engine room checks are an important habit. Performing engine room checks while underway helps find small problems before they grow into larger ones, potentially causing serious damage.

Most problems aboard a boat are the culmination of a series of events. The alarm indicating an engine over heated began with a failing alternator, which caused it to over heat, which caused the alternator bearing to seize, which stopped the alternator from spinning, which caused the serpentine belt to break, which stopped the sea water pump, which ultimately made the engine overheat. Had you known early enough that the alternator was failing, you could have prevented the rest.

The Heat Is On

Your body has a normal temperature, and when you're sick you may run a high fever. Many components on your boat are the same. Knowing items' normal operating temperature will help you monitor performance. Alternators, hydraulic systems, transmissions, battery chargers and

Temperature Monitoring | Monitoring Systems | Marinalife

pumps are a few of the items whose temperatures can be monitored with a small handheld infrared temperature gun, which are inexpensive and readily available. I consider those so important to our boat's operations that I keep an extra in the spares kit.

Regular engine room checks with an infrared temperature gun can uncover many problems before they turn into large ones. It's best to develop a list of items to monitor in the engine room and perform them in the same order every time. You should do the first engine room check within the first 30 minutes to one hour after getting underway. This gives everything in the engine room the opportunity to come up to normal operating temperature and the chance to discover problems before you're miles offshore or while it's still easy to return to your marina.

On long runs, repeat checks on a regular basis through the entire trip. Some engine rooms are easier to access while underway than others. If you don't have a walk-in engine room, one of the advantages of the infrared temperature gun is that you can read the temperature of important items just from lifting a hatch. Always make sure you follow safe engine room practices, such as wearing hearing protection and removing loose clothing or sunglasses when near a running engine.

From the Engine Room to the Helm

The next level of performance is to bring as much of this engine room information as possible to the helm. In doing so, your systems' status does not solely depend on engine room checks. Large yachts and commercial vessels often have sensors permanently attached to critical components. These sensors send information to a display at the helm, programmed with alarm parameters, and give early notification of a problem. Several manufacturers have introduced similar systems for easy and economical installation on small and medium recreational boats.

The big benefit of these centralized monitoring and alarm systems is that you can easily configure them to suit a specific boat. From the temperature of a bearing to the cycle times of bilge pumps, the systems monitor a vessel's critical components and alert you when any piece of monitored equipment is outside its defined running parameters.

The systems allow you to set early warning signals at thresholds relevant to the specific equipment that needs monitoring. This improves alarms' accuracy and avoids nuisance notifications. When an alarm is activated, the unit at the helm will accurately pinpoint exactly what the alarm pertains to, and you can take corrective action immediately, with no wasted downtime trying to identify the problem.

Research the systems available carefully to select a system best suited to your boat. Some only operate on the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) network aboard a boat. More versatile systems are designed to also operate without a NEMA network by having analog and digital inputs allowing direct connections to sensors. These systems allow for installation on older or smaller vessels without a NEMA network but can also be coupled with a NEMA network to enhancethe installation.

Beyond monitoring engine data, many systems allow complete monitoring of all aspects of your boat's operation including navigation lights, fuel levels, battery voltage and DC charging systems. A critical piece easy to monitor with a helm-based system is coolant water flow. Most power vessels would destroy a sea water impeller and possibly even the sea water pump if they sucked up a plastic bag or otherwise blocked an engine coolant thru-hull. A simply installed water flow sensor would immediately sense a loss of water flow, potentially saving the impeller, pump and an over heated engine.

Who hasn't pulled anchor in the morning and run through the day, only to realize later that the anchor light stayed on all day? With multiple fuel tanks on many boats, more sophisticated systems allow you to total all the fuel and provide a single read-out of available reserves. You can program cycle times into many units to notify you if a bilge pump comes on more frequently than normal. Shore power can be monitored for voltage drops, giving a warning before sensitive equipment is damaged.

Helm-based monitoring systems offer an early warning that can prevent an otherwise simple problem from resulting in an expensive repair, downtime and the lost enjoyment of your boat. Voyages are more enjoyable knowing you are prepared to handle small problems when they arise. Protect your investment and the safety of those on board with a complete monitoring protocol for your boat.

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Shore Power Paradox - Captain's Tips

New code requirements are causing marinas around the country to update their electrical service and address the risk to life safety caused from faulty or incorrectly wired boats. As a result, some boaters are experiencing trouble by tripping newly installed, more sensitive shore power breakers.

Understanding Electrical Safety Devices

Most people are familiar with a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) outlet. For many years, we used them in home kitchens and baths or anywhere something plugged into an electrical outlet could come in contact with water. You know them by the small reset button built into an outlet. They are mandated in residential wiring by building codes for personal safety against electrocution.

Shore Power Diagram | Shore Power Paradox | Marinalife

Electricity flows from an outlet to an appliance and back again in a loop along the hot and neutral wires in a power cord. The GFCI monitors the electricity flowing through the loop. If the device fell into a bathtub or got wet, and allowed electricity to flow into the water, the GFCI would detect the loss or current imbalance in the loop and trip a highly sensitive breaker in the outlet. GFCI outlet receptacles detect an imbalance of as little as 4 or 5 milliamps and react quickly in as little as 1/13th of a second. Boats built to American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) standards also have GFCI outlets installed in the boat's heads, galleys and exterior spaces.

The updated code requires marinas to install devices called Ground Fault Protection (GFP) which are like GFCI outlets in your home. The GFP can detect electricity leaking from a circuit the same way a GFCI does and cut off the boat's electricity supply. The code requires ground fault protection not to exceed 100 milliamps of ground fault current leakage. However, most marinas are opting to install even more sensitive Ground Fault for Equipment (GFE) breakers at individual boat slips, which disconnects electricity to the boat at 30 milliamps of ground fault leakage.

Shore Power Electricity

When you link your boat to shore power, it's like connecting an appliance to an outlet: a flow of electricity travels in a loop between your boat and the shore power pedestal along hot and neutral wires in a shore power cord. A third wire in your shore power cord is the ground wire. If anywhere in the boat's wiring, or in an appliance on the boat, the neutral and ground are connected, current will be diverted from the loop, creating a leak of electricity from the circuit and into the boat's bonding or ground system.

Due to a prior lack of standards or variances in how a boat's appliances are wired, this condition could occur in many recreational boats. Electricity flowing through a boat's bonding system through the ground wire results in electrical current possibly flowing into the water around the boat. One of the primary reasons marinas post signs prohibiting swimming in the marina is the potential for electricity in the water and the risk of drowning by electric shock.

ABYC Boat Safety

ELCI Protects Tripped Wires | Shore Power Paradox | Marinalife

At the same time marinas are instituting new safety standards, ABYC is also recommending that boat manufacturers install a similar safety device at the boat's shore power entry point, called an Equipment Leakage Circuit Interrupter (ELCI). The ELCI monitors the electricity flow in a circuit in the same way as the previously mentioned devices. If the device senses an imbalance of more than 30 milliamps, it cuts off the electricity supply to the boat. All new boats should comply with this ABYC recommendation; however, an ELCI can also be installed in an existing boat's shore wiring circuit.

Frustrated Boaters

Boaters connecting to renovated marinas are becoming aware of their boat's wiring issues due to this newly installed, more sensitive equipment. Older boats aren't the only ones with problems; many late model boats have similar wiring issues. Finding the exact problem in the boat can be difficult, which elevates the frustration of boaters and marina staff.

Michael Giannotti, an ABYC-certified electrician and master technician from Hartge Yacht Yard who has investigated these problems, has discovered several likely causes including:

  • Inverters
  • Household appliances, such as washers and dryers
  • Ice makers and refrigerators
  • Generator transfer switches
  • Older or faulty galvanic isolators
  • Air-conditioning control boards
  • Corroded electrical connections
  • Faulty power cord, splitter or smart Y adapters.

Discovering the actual cause makes it especially important to follow the correct steps when connecting a boat to shore power. First, turn off the primary breaker in the shore power connection, then turn off all branch circuit breakers in the boat. Once the shore power cord is connected and locked into place, turn on the shore power connection at the dock pedestal with the boat's main AC breaker still off. If the breaker trips immediately, the problem is likely the shore cord or Y adaptor.

Next, turn on the boat's main AC breaker with all the branch circuits still off. If the shore power pedestal breaker trips, the problem is likely an improperly wired transfer switch or inverter. If the dock pedestal breaker trips after an individual branch circuit breaker is switched on, it is likely a device connected to the breaker or defective control board in an HVAC or refrigerator circuit. This procedure works in diagnosing at least where the problem lies for most boats, assuming they have two pole main breakers for 30 amp/125 volt inlets and three pole main breakers for 50 amp/250 volt inlets.

Whether investigating an electrical problem or installing new electrical equipment, all the work should be performed by an ABYC-certified electrician or with complete knowledge of and following ABYC standards.

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