Smart Boater

Smart Boater: Keeping Your Boat Safe & Sound


After spending time on a lot of boats over the past three years as an apprentice surveyor and buyer representative, I’ve seen a fair share of things I couldn’t believe owners do or don’t do for upgrades, additions and preventive maintenance for their boats. You wouldn’t believe the shortcuts or modifications boaters make in the name of saving a few bucks. In most cases, shortcuts don’t work long term, resulting in risky situations or increased costs down the road when a professional must come fix them the right way.

Many boaters want to avoid large expenses and long stays in the boatyard, but eventually when the boat goes up for sale and needs a pre-purchase survey or an insurance survey, all things come to light and could cost the owner a big part of the sale to make repairs correctly.

Fire safety incorrect way - Credit - Scott Miller

Fire Safety

Unfortunately, life-saving safety equipment is often an afterthought until it’s too late. Proper training and gear are easily accessible online with simple checklists and free inspections provided by the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary. So, the next time you go to your boat, take time to evaluate safety gear and its proper functioning.

Regrettably, the time of a pre-purchase survey is when boaters find out their flares are expired, or the battery is long overdue for replacement in their Emergency Position- Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB). Even more boats have expired fixed fire suppression systems and fire extinguishers or recalled Kidde extinguishers that need to be replaced. These systems should be checked for expiration dates and/or proper size and type and should be certified and inspected annually.

On a recent survey, when inspecting the engine room, I found two large Halon bottles that were part of the original fire suppression system. The bottles were large and heavy and almost impossible to get out from behind the engine, so they were decommissioned. Because the cost of an entire new system (Halon is no longer available), the owner decided to forgo the fire suppression system.

While I understand the costs associated with a new system could run between $5,000 and $10,000 dollars, when you consider the risks, it is not a place to cut corners. Adding a small Class ABC fire extinguisher bottle outside the engine room door is not a suitable replacement. When a fixe fire suppression system is activated by temperature or manual release, it is important to have it also shut off engines, generators and exhaust fans to ensure the agent can work and not foul the air intake of the engines.

Electrical System

According to BoatUS data, electrical problems are one of the leading causes of boat fires. Electrical issues can occur from chaffed wires caused by vibration and improperly secured wiring, corrosion or loose connections. Electrical work performed by an owner who lacks expertise or on boats built prior to the current American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) standards puts the boater and the vessel at risk. During a recent pre-purchase survey, we were trying to power up the pumps for the heads and one would not power up. When the pumps were inspected, we found a lot of corrosion, chafed wires and both the positive and negative terminals exposed and not protected against metallic objects that may fall in the bilge. More than one issue could have easily been addressed by the owner, but they were out of sight, out of mind until the head didn’t work.

Corrosion control the right way Credit Scott Miller

The report noted the wires were not secured properly, the terminals (positive) were not protected with any insulation barrier in case of accidental shorting, the wires were also chaffed, and insulation was worn and exposing bare wires. If you discover questionable operation of AC or DC components on your boat, it’s a good idea to get a marine electrician involved to help troubleshoot.

Securing wires properly and installing insulated covers over the terminals will provide protection in cases where wires can chafe or come in contact with something that can short out unprotected terminals.


I recently surveyed two boats of the same vintage just a day apart. Maybe I wouldn’t have noticed that the first boat had an owner with a different philosophy regarding corrosion control than the second boat owner if I hadn’t surveyed them one day apart. As I went through the engine room on the first boat, a 1979 trawler, the owner continually told me how well he maintains his engines. I didn’t agree with him based on the amount of corrosion and leaks all through the engine room.

On the next day, I surveyed another 1979 trawler, and as I was going through the engine room, I asked the owner how he maintained his engines and kept everything so clean. He had built in a weekly schedule to look for leaks and corrosion and makes daily visits to the engine room to ensure everything was operating properly. That made all the difference.

The examples used in this article are not necessarily for boat owners to fix on their own, but a capable owner certainly could. The main point is to call out maintenance items that are ignored and deferred until the boat is up for sale or needs an insurance survey. Smart boaters take care of their investment regularly and not only want a safe and better operating vessel, but also like to get maximum resale when they put the vessel on the market.

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