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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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 intothe 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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Buddy Boat - Who's your buddy? The Myths of Boating with Friends

Anchored off Rodriguez Key in Florida, we were waiting for sunrise to make the 10-hour run to Cat Cay, Bahamas, when the radio crackled to life. The voice coming over the VHF politely asked if any seven-to eight-knot boats were interested in a buddy boat crossing of the Gulf Stream that day.This sounded like an innocent request, as many boaters making an ocean voyage, especially for the first time, seek the company of another boat. After all, there's safety in numbers, isn't there? On the surface it appears so, but if we explore scenarios of how boats traveling together assist each other, that feeling of safety may turn out to be an illusion.For as long as ships have been at sea, boaters have felt a moral or legal obligation to help a ship in need. The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Title 46, Section 2304 states, A master or individual in charge of a vessel shall render assistance to any individual found at sea in dangerof being lost, so far as the master or individual in charge can do so without serious danger to the master's or individual's vessel or individuals on board. The penalty for not complying with this law: A master or individual violating this section shall be fined not more than $1,000, imprisoned for not more than two years, or both.The strong history of boaters aiding others comes not out of fear of the law but from human decency and the knowledge that the tables could be turned one day. However, accepting responsibility to assist another vessel at sea should not be taken casually especially when you agree to travel with recent acquaintances but know nothing of their experience or their boat's condition.My wife and I meet the nicest people boating and frequently travel with boater friends. However, we do it purely for the social reasons, not for a perceived sense of safety.Boaters can assist or support each other in three ways when traveling together:Sharing InformationNothing beats local knowledge when traveling to new places aboard your boat. If friends were there before, they can share their routes and knowledge of the area's unique features. Following other boaters who are familiar with an inlet or channel can also provide a safe way along a new course.Comforting CompanyThis is an important and understandable aspect of buddy boating. When making a long passage across open water or an overnight run on a moonless night, you might find comfort in seeing your companion boat's radar echo or AIS symbol on what might otherwise be your radar's dark blank screen. It's reassuring to call your buddy boat on the VHF during a long offshore run.Lending Physical SupportBeing physically able to assist fellow boaters provides many with the feeling of security they seek in buddy boating. But the idea that you can help each other if one boat experiences a problem is potentially the most problematic aspect of buddy boating.The most obvious assistance that comes to boaters' minds is towing the companion boat after a mechanical breakdown. However, most recreational boats are not set up to tow another boat, and specialized knowledge is required to do it correctly and safely. First, consider the risk of two boats getting close enough to each other in open water to pass a line from boat to boat. Second, select the proper line to tow safely. Experts recommend a line 8 to 10 times the length of the boat being towed, which could be 400 to 500 feet long for a medium-size pleasure boat. Most boaters don't carry lines that long aboard their boats.

Having the correct type of line with the proper strength is also unlikely. Three-strand nylon, the most common dock line, is also the most dangerous tow line.

Tow Line | Buddy Boat | Marinalife

It allows too much stretch and can break with explosive results. Last of all, unsuitable attachment points aboard each boat can be a problem. Cleats may not be reinforced sufficiently or located properly to act as tow points. Towing is best left to professionals with the knowledge and hardware to do it correctly.

What if your buddy boat doesn't need to be towed? What if they only need help repairing an item on the boat or a spare part? What if they need first aid or medical care? All of these require transferring a person from boat to boat, which comes with great risk in any large open body of water.The most extreme scenario would be losing a boat and retrieving people from the water or a life raft. Think carefully about how you'd accomplish this before assuming it's easy. Coast Guard rescue vessels are designed with a special area to bring someone into the boat, and its personnel train and rehearse techniques to perform this safely. Of course, we'd all attempt to rescue a stranded boater, but don't assume it's simple and without risk to everyone.Organized ocean crossing rallies that specialize in long-distance travel in the safety of fellow boaters often identify and outfit specific boats to perform towing and rescue functions. Rally organizers typically require vessel inspections to reduce the chances of a breakdown.We certainly don't mean to discourage boaters from traveling with companions. Instead we encourage boaters to have realistic expectations of what they can reasonably and safely offer each other. When traveling with friends, discuss ahead of time what each would do if one boat has trouble along the way. Go fully prepared with spare parts and the knowledge to handle emergencies on your own. Utilize a pre-departure checklist for every buddy boat traveling together to hedge against the chances of a problem occurring. Then enjoy the best part of traveling with fellow boaters the bonds of friendship built through shared experiences and an evening toast to each other on a successful arrival at your destination.

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Smart Boater >Tools to Save the Day

We find many reasons to enjoy boating, but working on the boat usually isn't at the top of the list. Keeping the multitude of systems aboard a boat in good working order brings great satisfaction to many boaters. You may be the type who satisfies that need with a proven list of qualified mechanics. But if you're the type who doesn't mind or even enjoys getting your hands dirty, then nothing is better than a well-stocked tool kit to help complete the job.When a day of fishing is threatened by a leaking water pump or a broken alternator belt prevents you from going home, it's reassuring to know you can save the day by performing a repair to get underway again.Boats come in a variety of sizes and levels of complexity. That's why the tool kit in a 34-foot express cruiser could be very different from one in a 60-foot trawler. Beyond the common wrenches and screwdrivers, here are unique tools that are quite valuable for a special job.

ADJUSTABLE PLIER WRENCH: A bolt or a nut that won't budge can be the ultimate frustration. Handled improperly, you can round off the flats, and then you're in real trouble. When that happens, forget the vice-grip locking pliers, because of this adjustable plier wrench grips the bolt or nut tighter the more force you apply. They are widely adjustable and come in a variety of sizes. Available from Snap-on Tools. (snapon.com/EN)COMPRESSED AIR: Alternative to heating, freezing may loosen a reluctant nut or bolt. If you hold compressed air in a spray canister upside down and allow the propellant to escape the nozzle, you quickly bring something to freezing temperatures. Be careful to keep it away from your skin when using. The compressed air used in the upright position is also helpful for cleaning small debris out of components before reassemblingSPECIALTY DRIVES: The variety of items that need to be fixed on a boat is as wide as you will find collected in any one place, from engines to electronics or appliances. In the past, screws holding all these items together came in primarily two types, slotted or Phillips. Today you encounter a dozen different kinds of screw heads in fasteners, including Allen/ hex socket, Robertson/square recess, Double Square, Torx, Polydrive, Spline, the list goes on and on. Having a variety of drive tips to accommodate all screw types is easy today, as they're sold in pre-assembled kits in exchangeable screwdriver handles or a small socket wrench. (wihatools.com/bitsets)

BUTANE TORCH: Applying heat can go a long way to help the grip wrench above. Enabling items to expand and contract can help break them apart, and a small butane torch is the best way to apply heat in a very precise way. These torches come with a variety of tips, so you can use them to heat shrink-wrap tubing on an electrical connection and solder wires together. MagTorch 780 (magtorch.com)CLAMPTITE TOOL: Spare parts are as important as good tools to get the job done, and spare hose clamps are among the essential items to keep on a boat. However, if you're caught without the right size or you're assisting another boater without spares, the ClampTite tool allows you to make a hose clamp out of any kind of wire, even a coat hanger. (clamptitetools.com)FORMABLE FUNNEL: Pouring fluids can make a mess on a boat, whether it's oil, coolant, hydraulic fluid or just distilled water into a battery. Frequently the opening is behind or under something that prevents you from pouring into it without spilling. A formable funnel is perfect for shaping around obstacles to get liquid into the opening without pouring half of it into your bilge. (formafunnel.com)

MAGNETIZER/DEMAGNETIZER: Holding different types of screws in place when installing or removing them can be a challenge. Magnetizing the screwdriver or drive tip may be the solution, but you may not want it to stay magnetized for every application, especially when working on electronics. This handy item magnetizes and demagnetizes tools quickly and easily. (wihatools.com/magnetizer-and-demagnetizer)BORESCOPE: Frequently what you need to see on a boat is behind or under something else. Smartphone technology has made this simpler with small flexible borescopes that you connect to your phone or tablet via a Wi-Fi connection. These enable you to place a high-quality camera in places previously impossible to reach. (depstech.com)

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Wi-Fi Update: How Boaters and Marinas Can Create a Better Wi-Fi Experience

Oh, how times have changed. If you look closely at older power pedestals at some marinas, you may see a connection point for a telephone and cable television. The TV jack might still be used, but not many boaters today look for a telephone dial tone through a copper wire. Today your phone and television need a strong Wi-Fi signal more than being hardwired.Most of us use Wi-Fi today, but exactly what is Wi-Fi? In 1999, several leading technology companies came together to form the Wi-Fi Alliance, a nonprofit organization with the goal of creating a universally accepted protocol for a global wireless networking system. Their visionary plan has succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams. The very term Wi-Fi is now understood in every language around the world, with billions of Wi-Fi devices in use.The number of devices aboard your boat using Wi-Fi has grown exponentially over the past few years. Smart phones and tablets use Wi-Fi to connect wirelessly to chartplotters and radar. You can know the conditions aboard your boat remotely with sensors monitoring high water and battery voltage, all transmitting their information to your phone or tablet wirelessly. When aboard the boat in a marina, phones, tablets, computers and TVs connect to the outside world through a Wi-Fi network.Which brings us to the question: Is it reasonable to expect from a marina, a fast, dependable Wi-Fi, just like they provide connections to power and water? The answer is yes, but making that a reality requires effort from the marina and the boater.UNDERSTANDING HOW IT WORKSThe first step to better Wi-Fi is knowing a little about how it works. Wi-Fi is the technology standard used to create a wireless local area network or WLAN. It is the protocol for placing radio transceivers in your devices that allows them to share information and data wirelessly between the devices and a network.Your devices look for a Wi-Fi signal from an access point or AP, which is the link between your Wi-Fi enabled devices and a wired network. A small marina may have a single AP on a building pointed toward the piers or a mooring field. A large marina will likely have multiple APs positioned around the marina, so each boat is near one.TAKING CONTROLYour ability to acquire a good Wi-Fi signal is not just dependent on the marina; you control some of that in the type of hardware you are using. If you only use individual devices like your phone, TV or your computer to access the Wi-Fi network, you are limited in the quality of your connection. The small antennas within your devices have limited ability to access signals from distant APs. Add to that the interference of all the boats and marina structures and you might get a good signal.This isn't necessarily the marina's fault. The best way to access a marina Wi-Fi is to install a Wi-Fi antenna at or near the top of your boat. This antenna will have a clearer view of the marina's AP. These antennas are also helpful or even necessary to access a Wi-Fi from an anchorage or mooring field. Your Wi-Fi antenna can then be connected to a router, creating your own mini network within your boat.APs transmit Wi-Fi signals on varying channels. Individual devices such as phones or tablets have no way of knowing those channels or giving you the ability to select them. However, software within a router allows you to find those channels, along with the strength of the signal. Utilizing a router gives you the option of selecting the AP with the best connection and setting your system to that AP's channel. All this increases the quality of your Wi-Fi performance.A fringe benefit of using a dedicated router within your boat is placing an additional firewall between your information and the marina's network. All the devices on your boat, such as TVs and printers, can now communicate with each other on your secure network.MEASURING QUALITYWithout getting too technical, you should understand a few numbers and units of measure for getting the best Wi-Fi performance. When you think of a good quality Wi-Fi connection, you probably think in terms of speed. How fast will a page load? How quickly can you upload or download an attachment in an email?THE MARINA's PARTMany marinas have been slow to realize that having good Wi-Fi is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity just like power and water. To meet this need, some technology companies have become specialists in marina Wi-Fi networks.Installing Wi-Fi in a marina environ- ment is different from a hotel or office building. Hiring a company with proven marina experience is essential to building a successful network. Also, a company that offers technical support for boaters saves the marina staff from taking technical calls outside their expertise.SETTING EXPECTATIONSRead reviews of a marina's Wi-Fi service when making reservations. Ask how recently their system was installed or updated. Ask boaters about their Wi-Fi experience with other marinas. Only if marina owners hear that boaters expect a good quality Wi-Fi and when they realize it affects their business will they take seriously the investment required to offer dependable Wi-Fi service.Fortunately, many have heard and answered with successful networks that enhance the boaters' stay, connect to work, read a good book downloaded to your device, or stream a movie through the TV.Wi-Fi works better when everyone does his part, when the marina offers dependable high-speed service, and boaters know how to access service in the most efficient way. This speed is measured in megabits per second or Mbps.To get fast service over a Wi-Fi, you must first have good quality signal strength, which is measured in dBm. It is represented as a negative number from -0 to -100. That means the closer the value is to zero, the stronger the signal. For example, -40 dBm is a stronger signal strength than -60 dBm. It's key to measuring the speed at which data is flowing and the signal strength of your connection. Free speed test apps downloaded to your smart phone or tablet make it easy to measure download and upload speeds.Armed with this information and the proper tools enable you to make selections in your Wi-Fi connection that you cannot see connecting directly to the network with your devices. You do not need a mega yacht's budget or a degree in computer science to install a Wi-Fi network within your boat. The cost of equipment and ease of installation continue to improve with technological advances.

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Captain's Tips - Boat Repair

Long-distance boaters like to say cruising can be defined as working on the boat in exotic locations. Hopefully, it's more than that, but unexpected breakdowns happen. Even without emergency repairs, if you travel over long distances or time, stopping for regular maintenance during a trip is almost guaranteed. At home, most boaters have favorite service providers, the knowledgeable mechanic who knows their boat or the electronic technician familiar with the boat's wiring. But how do you find trustworthy services when traveling? You can try several steps to getting repairs done successfully when you travel. The first is to compile detailed information for major components on your boat.Today's manuals are easy to keep digitally. Gone are the days of a cabinet full of binders with all the system manuals. They can be downloaded from manufacturers' websites and stored in PDF format on a laptop, tablet or phone. File storage and management apps like GoodReader make them a breeze to categorize, access and read. Kept electronically, they don't depend on an internet connection to read. Backed up to an external drive or cloud service, they are not lost if the device is missing or malfunctions. Some manuals are generic, so it helps to have the specific model and serial number for your equipment and components.PDF format makes it possible to keep manuals for everything on the boat. The engine manuals are obvious, but at a minimum, add manuals on the transmissions, generators, heating and cooling systems, water pumps, marine heads, windlass, all navigation electronics even appliances. PDFs can even include drawings, wiring schematics and plumbing diagrams. We have more than 100 manuals on our iPads and backed up on a cloud server. Every manual for every conceivable item on the boat is included from the toaster to the transmission.


If you're MacGyver, all you need to keep your boat running is a Swiss Army Knife, some wire and duct tape, but lacking that resourcefulness, keep a complete set of spare parts aboard the boat. Like so many things in boating, how a boat is used drives many of the decisions. The list of spares kept aboard is different for a day boater in confined water versus a boater who intends to travel days at sea in the open ocean. But all boaters should have common items on board, including but not limited to belts, filters, fuses, navigation light bulbs and necessary fluids, oils and coolants. Having the part on hand eliminates the time and cost of shipping repair parts. Many manufacturers provide a list of recommended spares, and some sell spare part kits preassembled.


A wealth of information is available in forums and on other online sources of people who may have experienced your same trouble with a system. You don't have to understand how the generator converts mechanical energy to electrical current, but when it's not working, searching the internet with the symptoms of the problem can make you better informed to speak with a mechanic. It also prevents a poorly trained mechanic from misleading you as to a cause or solution.

If you're MacGyver, all you need to keep your boat running is a Swiss Army Knife, some wire and duct tape, but lacking that resourcefulness, keep a complete set of spare parts aboard the boat.


If you are going to travel far or for an extended period, identify authorized service companies in that area for the boat's major components. You can find general engine mechanics or electrical technicians knowledgeable in their trade, but it's better to have a factory-trained person with specific knowledge of your engine or radar brand. If you plan to take the boat to Newport for the summer or Miami for the winter, call ahead to service providers in that area. Speak with service managers and ask about their capabilities. Do they have mobile service, or will you need to bring the boat to them? Making connections ahead of time could expedite your call if you need service.


Look for service centers or boat yards that employ American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) certified technicians or ones affiliated with organizations such as the American Boat Builders & Repairers Association (ABBRA). These groups provide training and standards for their members, adding another level of assurance you're hiring a knowledgeable technician. Wherever possible look for a boatyard or service company with multiple locations. Your favorite company at home may have another location where you will be traveling. Now you're not a stranger calling with a problem; you're an existing customer who should be treated to a higher level of service. Traveling to distant places by boat is an exciting way to enjoy boating; however, breaking down away from home can ruin the adventure. A little research and preparation ahead of the trip can keep the adventure alive.

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Smart Boater - Bilge Pumps

Most boaters agree with the simple but truthful adage: Keep the water out of the boat, keep the boat off the bottom, and everything else can be worked out. Unfortunately, many boaters neglect an essential way of maintaining this conditionproperly working bilge pumps. Bilge pumps are a necessity aboard a boat, yet they often get the least attention. It doesn't help that they can be located in the deepest darkest places.A controlled amount of sea water is allowed through the hull of the average boat for numerous reasons, from cooling engines and equipment to stuffing boxes on propeller shafts and rudder posts. For these reasons, boaters have accepted some water in the bilge. Bilge pumps are installed at the lowest point to clear excess water that accumulates, so it's not uncommon to install cycle clocks to monitor how frequently the bilge pumps come on. If they come on with increased frequency, that would indicate a problem worthy of attention.

Smart Boater | Bilge Pumps | Marinalife

Just the word bilge has a negative connotation, and for good reason. It's often a smelly cocktail of more than just water, including oil, coolant and a variety of living organisms. It's understandable why boaters tend to avoid the bilge areas.

First Things First

Clean and dry the bilge area regularly, and you reap a range of benefits. Hazardous liquids won't get pumped overboard, and you reduce odors from emanating into the rest of the boat. And it helps in finding sources of leaking water or fluids. Don't assume the bilge has to be wet. As construction methods and components have improved, it's not a given anymore that water will be present in the bilge. Dripless seals have largely replaced traditional stuffing boxes, eliminating one of the most common sources of bilge water.If your boat's air-conditioning condensate drains into the bilge, consider capturing it in a sump box and pumping it overboard. Make sure under-engine areas are sealed catch basins preventing engine fluids from being pumped overboard. Line under-engine areas with absorbent pads. This not only helps to contain leaks, it may also help you find a leak by containing the drip directly under source. With a little effort, you can maintain a clean and possibly dry bilge.Keep pathways open. Limber holes are drain holes through the framing or other structural members of a boat. They prevent water from being trapped and allow water to pass through to the lowest point where the pumps are located. On new and old boats alike, debris consisting of screws, wire ties or other construction materials can fall into the low points throughout the boat, possibly blocking the limber holes and preventing water from reaching the pump.Even if the debris doesn't block the opening, it can be washed toward the pump. One of the most frequent points of failure in bilge pumps is ingesting foreign objects.

Double Duty

Over the years, bilge pumps have evolved in the minds of many boat manufacturers and boaters to also serve as emergency pumps for a component failure or breach in the hull's watertight integrity.There are enough holes through the average boat's hull to sink it quickly, but we control these openings with valves to allow the water to pass in a controlled manner. Unfortunately, through-hull fittings and associated connections are neglected as well. Boat flooding due to poorly maintained through-hull components are consistently a leading cause of insurance claims.Even on a new boat, don't assume the manufacturer has sized the bilge pump to handle all the water that could enter an area. A surprisingly large amount of water will enter through the smallest of holes. Aided by pressure, a half-inch hole at only 1 foot below the waterline allows about five gallons of water per minute into the hull. Increase that to a 1-inch hole at 4 feet below the waterline, and you can expect seawater to enter at an astonishing rate of nearly 40 gallons per minute. Regrettably, many bilge pumps are undersized to perform as emergency pumps. A prudent boater installs or carries a portable high-volume de-watering pump for emergencies.When adding or replacing a bilge pump, don't forget to factor static head pressure into the equation. A pump's capacity is reduced by a factor related to how high the pump must lift the water above the level of the pump.

Power to the Pump

Bilge pumps on most recreational boats have some type of water sensing switch activating the pump when water reaches a certain level around it. These require equal attention, as failures can also occur in the switch, and no power means no pumping. Switches can be a float style, with water lifting the switch to activate the pump, or they can be water sensing by electrical conductance. Inspect your boat's float style switches to be certain nothing interferes with lifting the mechanism. For switches that use electrical contacts, be sure contacts remain clean and free of corrosion.

Inspection Is Perfection

Smart boaters keep bilges clean. Inspect regularly for the following items.• It's best to maintain a completely dry bilge, but if not, monitor the amounts of water and be sure to know the water's source.• Clean the area to stay free of scum or microbial growth.• Look for corrosion and rust.• Inspect wiring and electrical connections on pumps and switches.• Activate the switch to ensure it turns on the pump automatically.• Be certain lights or alarms at the helm are working and notifying you of a bilge pump on high water.• Exercise seacocks to be certain they can open and close.

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Man Overboard

The call coming over the VHF radio was normal because boats following another in the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) often request permission to pass along narrow stretches. Joyce and Dave were used to being passed after years of traveling the ICW in their slow trawler. However, Joyce was not expecting the boat trailing them that morning to ask if they had a dog on board.

She answered, Yes, we have two. The boat then asked if one possibly fell overboard. Joyce responded no, because their trawler had tall sides that the dogs couldn't jump over. Joyce called out to Piper and Maggie, their two golden retrievers, to make sure, but only Maggie came into the pilot house wagging her tail. The boat then radioed that a golden retriever was swimming toward it. Joyce dashed around looking for Piper, disbelieving he had tumbled overboard, but the pup was nowhere to be found. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. The boat following Joyce and Dave that day pulled Piper from the water and reunited the couple with their pet at a nearby marina.

Boaters frequently hear stories of people or dogs falling overboard, but no one believes it could happen to them. Take the story of John Aldridge, a professional lobsterman with years of nautical experience. It only took the simple act of trying to move a heavy cooler when the handle broke, he lost his balance and suddenly found himself in the water, watching his boat and sleeping partner slowly leave him in the cold dark Atlantic Ocean. Fortunately, the Coast Guard located John the next day after he spent the night floating on his overturned rubber boots and a large lobster buoy.

A primary skill in all boating courses is learning how to handle a man overboard (MOB) situation. We need to know how to turn a boat as quickly as possible to return along the same course line and why it is someone's sole job to keep an eye on the person in the water. Most GPS chart plotters have a MOB feature that allows you to fix a position on the GPS screen at the point where someone goes overboard. That's very useful information, but it makes a dangerous assumption that someone knows a crew mate has fallen overboard. All too often, as in the two examples above, those on the boat are not aware someone had fallen into the water.

Quickly locating and bringing someone back aboard is the surest way to rescue a crew member. Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) and Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) are the gold standard for alerting search and rescue personal of someone in distress.

Transmitting to an international array of satellites, these devices activate a response network of government organizations to initiate a rescue. While highly valuable to many types of boating, these devices do not alert boaters that someone has fallen overboard.


Another category of devices was invented recently to serve this important role. Using radio frequencies, these devices activate on-board equipment that alerts a crew that someone is in the water or is separated from the boat. The devices fall into two categories: those with Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) and others with an electronic tether between a base station and individual monitors.

AIS has grown into a wonderful safety feature. It was originally designed as an accident-avoidance tool for commercial vessels, but electronic equipment manufacturers and recreational boaters quickly adapted it to their use. By transmitting a packet of information with the boat's name and movement over VHF radio frequencies, boaters equipped with AIS transmitters and receivers see exact boat activity around them.

This technology has now been adapted into MOB devices. Personal AIS MOB beacons operate on the AIS system. Small AIS beacons are designed to wear on an inflatable personal flotation device (PFD). When the PFD inflates, the unit opens an antenna and begins transmitting a unique MOB identifier. This signal is received and sounds an alarm on all boats within a three- to five-mile range with an AIS receiver, thereby increasing the number of boats aware a person is in the water and the chance of a speedy rescue.

Some AIS personal beacons also broadcast an alert over the VHF DSC (digital select calling) system. While extremely helpful and dependable, AIS personal beacons only alert and guide vessels to a person in the water if the boat is equipped with an AIS receiver. Those with the DSC feature notify all VHF radios in range of a person in the water. A built-in GPS broadcasts latitude and longitude coordinates with the DSC signal.


Realizing not all boats have or need an AIS, the second category of units that work on the electronic tether principal are suitable for all vessels and can have other valuable functions. Some models use a smart phone or tablet application along with a low-energy reliable Bluetooth link to monitor individual MOB devices. If the devises lose contact with the phone app or if the units become submerged in water, the app sounds an alarm indicating a man overboard. Using the phone's internal GPS and compass, the app directs the boat back to the separation point.

Be sure to note, these units do not use Bluetooth to locate the lost device. This is done solely with a smart phone's GPS and compass. By continuously monitoring individual MOB devices, these systems repeatedly run tests for connectivity. The apps can monitor up to five MOB devices simultaneously, making them suitable for crew, pets or even a dinghy being towed. With the water activated feature, some are even suitable to use as a bilge high- water alarm.


The absolute best way to keep your crew safe is keeping them in the boat from the beginning. Review man overboard and safe practices specific to your boat with family and friends each time you go out. Make sure all boarding gates and lifelines are securely closed or latched. Insist everyone moving around an exterior open deck area of the boat is wearing a life preserver and where necessary secured to the vessel with a lifeline. Make sure swim ladders are easy to deploy, especially by a person in the water.

We do everything possible to prevent fires aboard, but we still carry fire extinguishers. We go to great lengths to keep water out, but our boats still have bilge pumps. Do everything you can to keep passengers in the boat, but please utilize a man overboard device for everyone on board as well.

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Top Tips for a Successful Boat Refit

Many owners out there have either been down this road before or are about to head that way at some stage ... the dreaded boat refit! It is absolutely understandable why there might be some trepidation. The following hypothetical situation will provide you with some perspective and useful tips when refitting your vessel.


Mr. Jones purchased a 50-foot motor yacht. The vessel passed survey well and the owner got the boat for a great price since the vessel required a paint job. He decided a bow thruster might be wise because of the new paint job. So now we begin.


Determine your projects, whether it be new paint or a bow thruster. I recommend doing some basic reading on each of these so you have some understanding of what is involved. Next is the important task of selecting the yard. Below are some important factors to consider:What type of reputation does the yard have? Are they expensive, difficult to deal with and/or true professionals? Try to get feedback about a yard from several people if possible.Meet the prospective project manager and understand the importance of having an honest discussion about your concerns.Does the project manager have the right personnel and equipment for the project(s)? Do they have painters trained to apply the specific paint application you have chosen? Have they done any recent bow thruster installments, and can they provide testimonials for you to review?Is the yard close by so you can make regular visits to monitor progress? I do not suggest being there every day. If you provide the yard with the occasional feedback they need, they will know if they are doing the job right for you.


Mr. Jones has done the preliminary vetting and has a particular yard in mind, A Boat Works. This is where we nail down the project details and refit agreements. Agreements should generally cover:

  • Proposed timeline for the overall refit, detailing the responsibilities of the yard. If deadlines are not met, the timeline could involve daily or weekly penalties, covering the layup charges if applicable or nothing at all. One might consider a clause that allows for the date to be adjusted, provided it is agreed and signed by both parties.
  • A detailed scope of the work and cost. It should clearly detail if the install is a fixed price or an estimate. If it is an estimate, the owner might consider putting a not to exceed amount clause on estimated amounts. This will allow for the owner to be informed if the project is running into complications and not to leave the yard sitting with the cost. Remember, any custom fabrication cannot be returned so be sure everyone is on the same page.
  • Payment of the refit. This could involve payments made at certain milestones during the refit or deposits upfront and the outstanding balance at the end. If you are working on the first option make sure the milestones are clearly defined; this has the benefit of being able to review the billing in smaller chunks and makes expenditure tacking easier. Option two means less checks, but you are left with a yard bill that is two months in the making.
  • Insurance responsibilities should be clearly defined in the event that there was to be any damage or loss to the vessel for any reason during the refit. Check with your insurance provider to ensure adequate coverage for yard work, as an additional umbrella might be required.


Mr. Jones and the yard have now come to terms and the refit is under way. Tracking progress is important so listed are a few recommendations to help the process:

  • Start a binder to organize all the signed agreements, invoices and estimates, etc.
  • Create a folder in your email account to track and store all refit- related digital documents. Always follow up with an email if you happen to have a conversation in the yard or over the phone.
  • See if the project manager can provide you with a weekly progress update covering yard hours and purchases. If convenient, meet weekly to go over the progress.
  • Once projects are under way, take as many photos as you can. They can come in handy, and it is good to print copies and add them to your refit binder.


Refits can be stressful. At the same time, when it goes well it can be particularly rewarding. In 2011, I was in charge of a refit project of a 101-Foot motor yacht. The project went on for months and involved painting the entire vessel and doing six other large structural and mechanical projects. The following points are what most resonated with me on that refit, which was a particularly successful one:

  • Vague agreements do not serve any party at the end of the day. Spend the time on the front end, and find terms that work for all involved.
  • If the work is done right and on time, make sure the yard is paid on time. This is a great way to build a great long-term relationship with the yard, and in my experience they will go the extra mile for you.
  • It is not always easy, but it is vital that both parties understand what the project entails. The yard must be clear in its abilities, scope and costing. The owner/captain must do his best to express what he/she is looking for.
  • Change orders can be expensive so try and avoid those.
  • The ultimate goal is to get that new paint job or bow thruster installed right. It takes a true collaborative process to achieve that goal.

Juan Watson is a 14-year mega yacht veteran. Currently, he owns and operates Pelorus Yacht Consulting, LLC in Annapolis, MD. PYC focuses on educating yachtsmen and owners. www.pelorusyachtconsulting.com

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Dinghy Buyers' Guide

Not since Elvis Presley crooned an ode to his dinghy, "Love My Tender," has the world shown so much affection to our lonesome ship-to-shore transportation. Okay, so maybe I didn't fully understand the lyrics to that song, but our often abused and rarely waxed little boats are a very important part of our cruising lives, so let's pay a little attention to them.

For most coastal cruising in this country, you could happily travel from marina to marina without the need for a dinghy. But if you occasionally enjoy the peace and quiet of an anchorage, or if you plan to cruise to the Bahamas or the Caribbean, you will need dependable transportation to shore, and that can take several forms.


The first lesson: a dinghy should be easy to use. If it requires too much effort to launch and operate, you will be reluctant to anchor out as often as you might like. Ease of use is determined by several factors, such as whether you have to inflate the dinghy, whether you have to mount the engine, or whether you need three people and a crane to lower it into the water. Many of these choices will be determined by the size and configuration of your boat, but regardless of your boat's size or your budget, you can create a setup that works for you.


Let me count the ways. If you do not have the option of a crane-style lifting device, you may be limited in terms of the size and weight of your dinghy, but that does not mean you are relegated to the equivalent of a rubber toy boat. There are efficient davit systems that can be mounted on medium-size swim platforms. These will accommodate a variety of dinghy styles, both rigid and inflatable, and will allow you to keep the engine mounted to the dinghy. There are also hydraulic lift systems to carry a tender off your stern, but your transom has to be capable of carrying the device, and your boat has to be heavy enough to stay balanced with that much weight aft of center. If your boat meets those requirements, the hydraulic lifts are about as easy to use as it gets.

Now let's address towing a dinghy. While I'll admit to having done this in protected waters, I generally do not consider it a safe practice. There are too many documented cases of towing components fouling up props and leaving boaters stranded. If you travel to the islands you will see many cruisers towing dinghies, but please use extreme caution if you choose to do this. Learn where and how to safely attach the dinghy to your boat, and if there is any threat of rough seas retrieve the dinghy immediately and secure it to the mother ship.


Dinghies come in a variety of hull styles and materials, including plank-reinforced fabric bottoms, high-pressure inflatable bottoms, and rigid hulls of fiberglass or aluminum. Generally speaking, the soft-bottom styles are limited in terms of what they can do and endure, even if they have a high-pressure floor with a keel. If you are using your dinghy to regularly transport serious loads of supplies and people, a rigid hull is al- most a must. And if you are cruising in the tropics where you are as likely to be landing on a beach as tying up at a dock, all the more reason you'll need a rigid bottom.

Rigid bottoms can be part of a fully rigid boat, but more frequently they are connected to an inflatable top tube and are called rigid inflatable boats, or RIBs for short. These have become the ubiquitous tender of choice for most cruisers. You get durability and stability from the rigid hull, and buoyancy and lightness from the inflatable top tubes. The hull bottoms are typically fiberglass or, recently, aluminum, which also makes the craft lighter. The inflatable tubes come in a range of materials, including PVC, coated neoprene, and Hypalon. Hypalon is widely considered the best material for the inflatable parts of dinghy. Neoprene is also excellent, but does not have good resistance to UV. Very high quality dinghies are Hypalon-coated neoprene. Besides the material used for the tubes, the size of the tubes is also important. The larger the tube, the more freeboard you get and the dryer your ride will be.

An additional hull feature to consider is whether you want a single or double floor. A double floor provides a flat bottom on which to stand, but it also adds weight. And you'll need to decide if you want enclosed spaces for cargo or fuel, or a steering-wheel console instead of a tiller.


Of course another important question: How big a dinghy should you buy? In part this will be determined by your available carrying space and how you intend to use the dinghy. A typical dinghy is 8 to 16 feet in length. Look for the required capacity plate to find out how many people and how much weight a particular dinghy can hold.

Engine size is the next important consideration. The horse power of your engine will go hand in hand with some of the other factors you've already determined, like the weight capacity of your lifting device and where on your boat you'll be carrying your dinghy. A heavy dinghy and engine carried too high on a vessel can affect the vessel's stability. The dinghy's capacity plate will also list the maximum engine size the dinghy is rated to carry. Some of the larger dinghies may have an optional internal jet drive. Many smaller dinghies are well suited to some of the new, environmentally friendly engines that run on electric or propane. The typical RIB has a V-shape planing hull that requires a certain amount of horse power to get it on a plane with a given load. For instance, a 9 horse power engine will get an 8-foot dinghy on plane carrying two average-size adults, but not four. Most anchorages and mooring fields are located within no-wake zones, so if you are strictly using your dinghy for shore transportation, there is probably no need for it to travel at warp speed. But if your dinghy will double as a recreational vehicle for pulling skiers and water toys, you'll need enough horse power to perform those tasks.


Meaning that dinghies are subject to the same rules and regulations as our primary boats. They require registration, running lights, life jackets, and, if there is an enclosed fuel tank, a fire extinguisher.


Like automobiles, dinghies' lives can be cut short by overexposure to sun and general abuse. Just as sunscreen protects our skin, there are polymers and waxes to protect dinghies from the harsh sun and salt water. A regular application of these coatings will prolong your dinghy's life, as will a good cover. Most modern dinghy engines have hose connections to run fresh water through the internal components -- doing this regularly, and especially before any prolonged lay-up, will extend engine life.

A well-suited dinghy can add freedom and adventure to our cruising lives. The more clearly you can define how you will use your dinghy, the more accurately you will be able to match your choice to your needs.

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