Wednesday, March 27
By Andrew Spaulding
Last week 3 technicians and 2 managers (me included) from Crowley’s attended a 4-day training class that, in part, discussed ESD – Electric Shock Drowning. I was as ignorant as anyone about this issue. I had heard of electrocution in marinas, but didn’t figure that I needed to worry about it since it always happens somewhere else. Well, we know how that can go. After class, it occurred to me that we need to raise awareness about this issue here in Chicago so that we don’t have to deal with losing a member of our boating community from very preventable ESD.
Basically, ESD is water-related electrocution. In many cases of death by ESD, the victim is dead from electrocution before they have a chance to drown. Over the last three years, the number of reported cases of ESD has risen dramatically due to increased awareness of the issue. Prior to this increased awareness, the victims were regarded simply as drowning victims. It takes over 3 amps to run a small hair dryer on the low setting (400 watts), but less than 1 amp to electrocute a person in the water.
ESD only happens in fresh water. In salt water, the water is much more conductive which allows the electricity to dissipate rapidly. In fresh water, the water is less conductive which forces the electricity into a narrow path as it travels back to its source. For ESD to occur, two failures need to happen: one in the grounding system and one in the electrical system. Thank goodness this is fairly rare; however, a random check in 3 fresh water marinas in Portland, OR showed that 13% of the boats tested were leaking potentially deadly voltage.
Physical results from entering an area where there is voltage in the water vary from tingling sensations caused by 1-3 milliamps (mA), to heart defibrillation caused by 50-65 mA. Over 100 mA causes death in a few seconds and current over 200 mA is immediate cardiac arrest. There are 1000 mA in an amp and remember that a small hairdryer will used 3 amps or 3000 milliamps! You wouldn’t take a hairdryer near the bathtub while you are in it, but a boat is exactly that. If you are swimming around boats that are plugged into shore power or have generators running and you feel tingling, as best as possible scrunch into a ball and return the way you came to that area of the water. It is critical to remember that often the closest “safe haven” (swim platform or ladder) is the boat that is causing the problem.
What steps do we take to minimize the potential for ESD? On the dockside, we need to make sure the docks are wired to national codes (NFPA and NEC). On the boat, make sure that the wiring is to ABYC standards. On both sides, the wiring needs to maintain proper polarity and the resistance in the wiring should be less than 1 amp. Regular testing and inspection of the wiring is a key factor in preventing ESD. Also, all outlets on the dock and select ones in the boat should have GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) protection. As of 2010, all new boats are required to have ELCI (Equipment Leakage Circuit Interrupter) protection. Ask your qualified marine electrician to look at installing an ELCI on your boat the next time you are in for service. For the ultimate in protection, investigate installing an isolation transformer.
Please let us know if you have any questions about ESD or other marine related electrical issues. If you are going to take a multi-meter and do some testing on your own, be safe and use a clamp-type ammeter. Remember that to be accurate all electrical testing needs a good ground.
Monday, March 18
By Andrew Spaulding
Seacocks are those bronze or plastic things in the bilge that keep the water out while making handy foot-holds. What they really do is start and stop the flow of water through a thru-hull fitting. In some cases the seacock and thru-hull are separate pieces threaded together, and in others the seacock and thru-hull are manufactured as one piece. The first thing we need to discuss is that they should NEVER be used at foot-holds. Stepping on them, while often very convenient, can cause them to weaken and crack or break off entirely which, as you can imagine, causes a bit of a problem.
Thru-hulls are one of the more neglected pieces of equipment on the boat given their location and purpose. There isn’t often a reason during the standard boating day to open or close a seacock, so they get ignored. However, ignoring your seacocks can be very dangerous. If a hose connected to a thru-hull breaks or a strainer basket housing cracks, the only thing stopping the boat from sinking is the seacock. I don’t think that it’s a stretch to call your seacocks emergency equipment. When you need them to work, you NEED them to work.
There are many types of seacocks, but they all basically work the same. The seacock is made up of a valve body, which is what you see, with a cone or ball valve inside the body attached to a handle. The cone or ball has a hole through it and when the hole is oriented in-line with the thru-hull, water flows through the seacock. When the hole is perpendicular to the thru-hull the flow of water is stopped.
The best way to keep your seacocks in good working order is to “exercise” them. Exercising your seacocks is marine industry vernacular for operating them through their full range of motion – all the way closed, all the way open and back to their original position. As the years pass, the seacock’s lubrication begins to wear away causing them to become more difficult to operate. Once this process starts, it is time to re-lubricate your seacocks. For most boat owners this will be sufficient to keep them operating fine for many years. If you ignore your seacocks, they may become so stiff that you cannot exercise them. Once this happens, it is time for a rebuild.
Seacock maintenance is best done out of the water for obvious reasons. It is a good idea to lubricate them annually and exercise them once a month during the boating season. Apply lithium grease to the ball or cone from the outside with the seacock closed. It is also a good idea to apply some to the inside. However, this will require removing the hose that is attached to the seacock. If you decide to remove the hose from the seacock, be careful as this process can crack older hoses. Although, if your hose is in such poor condition that it may crack, you may want to take this opportunity to replace the hose. Once the lithium grease is applied, exercise the seacock until it frees up.
If you can’t get the seacock to move at all, greasing it up won’t help – it is time for a rebuild. The easiest types to rebuild are the cone-type that uses a bronze cone and a bronze valve body. Ball-type seacocks typically can be taken apart and cleaned, but not rebuilt as many of them have plastic sealing rings. I suppose the plastic bits could be replaced, but since ball valves are comparatively inexpensive, most boat owners choose just to replace the valve. There are also plastic seacocks that are not serviceable and must be replaced once they aren’t working. If you have non-serviceable or ball-type seacocks make sure that you follow a strict exercise and lubrication policy, since your option is replacement, not rebuilding.
During the winterizing process, it is important to pay attention to your seacocks. Some seacocks trap water when they are moved from the closed position to the open position in the water. If this type of valve is not exercised on land after the boat is hauled, freezing temperatures can rupture the valve.
Once upon-a-time there were many manufacture of the bronze cone-type seacock that we would consider the “traditional” seacock. Spartan Marine Hardware located in Maine is the only company left in the United States that makes them. You can view their catalog by clicking here. Once there, click on the “Seacock Maintenance” link on the left hand side of the page. This will take you to a page that describes in detail how to maintain a cone-type seacock.
Wednesday, March 13
By Andrew Spaulding and Jon Paige
We wanted to follow up on some of our popular newsletters from last spring and shed more light on a few of them. Last April, we published an article named “When Should I Replace My Standing Rigging?” which you can read in our blog archives at The Crowley Advisor by clicking here.
As that article mentions, regularly inspecting your rigging can be the key to finding a standing riggings problem before they lead to a failure, which almost always ends in disaster. We wanted to give you a few hints on how to conduct a DIY rigging inspection, when to call in a professional, and the best way to save your budget when it is time to replace the rigging.
The first step is to get the mast down since you cannot conduct a proper standing rigging inspection aloft. Sure, you can check what you can see on the standing rigging and the running rigging, but without de-tensioning the rigging and some disassembly there isn’t any way to inspect all the components of the standing rigging. In my opinion, this can lead to a false belief that the rigging is okay, when in fact, it may have serious damage.
The mast and rigging should be visually inspected at least once a year and a thorough inspection carried out by a professional rigger every 3 or 4 years. When inspecting the rigging the obvious things to look out for are broken strands (pic 1), cracked swages (pic 2) and any fittings that are producing a lot of rust staining. Rod rigging requires a different approach to inspection as the rod heads are hidden inside the terminals. We’ll cover this in a future article.
The rigging inspection form that we use at Crowley’s has over 30 check points on it covering the mast, boom, vang and standing rigging. To see the full check list, click here to go to our blog. Basically, it follows a mast from the top to the bottom. We inspect every mast opening, sheave, attachment point, fastener and light. We do the same thing on the wire; inspecting every piece from top to bottom with special attention to the attachment points and turnbuckles. This includes the chainplates which are often forgotten in a rigging inspection since many people consider them part of the boat. It is important to inspect every inch of the wire since a broken strand can be anywhere along the stay.
If you find a problem or issue that you don’t feel comfortable with, it is time to call in a professional rigger. When you find something that requires replacement, remember that the entire standing rigging does not necessarily have to be replaced all at once. Cables can be replaced in pairs and this can often be done with the mast up. For example, after 15 years the forestay and backstay can be replaced, the upper shrouds the year after, and so on. If a crack or broken strand is found on a particular stay, it is good practice to replace its opposite number at the same time.
Wednesday, March 6
A panoramic picture of Building D at Crowley's Yacht Yard during winter storage. Taken by rigger Tim Hill from the top of the indoor mast racks.
By Andrew Spaulding
I know this subject can be a little dry, but none-the-less it is important to make sure that you are displaying the correct lights at night and that you know how to read navigation lights. Many times “reading” the navigation lights of another vessel is the only way we have to identify what is out there on the water when we are boating at night. Navigation lights, read properly, will tell you which direction the vessel is heading and what kind of vessel is displaying them. Boating out of Chicago means we have all sorts of maritime traffic at night – power boats, sail boats under power and sail and the ubiquitous “Laker” ship traffic, not to mention tugs towing or pushing. All the traffic out there is headed different directions at different speeds showing different lights. Identifying them early is the key to keeping yourself out of harms way.
There are lots of resources that will tell you what navigation lights you should display for your boat. Some of these are listed below at the end of the article. Navigation light requirements come from the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972 commonly referred to as COLREGS. Besides navigation lights, COLREGS cover such subjects as traffic separation schemes, rules-of-the-road, look outs, and sound signals. The complete set of rules can be found by clicking here.
First we need to start with the definitions of the different navigation lights so that we are all on the same page: Masthead light – white light on fore and aft centerline that has an arc of 225° that shows from ahead to 22.5° aft of the beam on both sides. NOTE: There is no requirement that a masthead light be at the top of the mast on a sailboat. Typically it is only at the top of a light/instrument mast on powerboats. Side light – green on the starboard side, red on the port side with an arc of 112.5° from right ahead to aft of the beam on the respective side. Stern light – white light with an arc of 135° that shows from right aft to 67.5° on each side. All around light – white, red, green or yellow light with an arc of 360°.
The specific degrees of arc are designed so that the navigation lights form complete circles. For example, a red side light, green side light and a stern light complete a 360° arc which is a full circle. Or, a masthead light and a stern light also form a 360° arc. It is the combinations of different colors in different arcs that allow us to discern whether a vessel is coming at us, crossing us, or going away from us.
How can these combinations of lights tell us where a boat is going? Well, it can take some practice and you have to know your navigation lights for different vessels, but I will get you started. Let us assume that you are underway at night and looking forward. If you see a green light (starboard side light) to port, you are looking at the starboard bow of another vessel. So the other vessel is heading towards you, across your path. Seeing green and red would mean the boat is headed directly for you. If you continue to look at this light and it turns to white (stern light), the other vessel has crossed your path and you are now seeing the stern light. When you see a white light (masthead light) above the green light, it is a vessel under power...if not it is under sail, or at least we hope. If you see two masthead lights separated fore and aft (the aft one will be higher) you are looking at a power vessel over 164 feet in length. If the two masthead lights are in a vertical line, you are seeing a tug with a tow behind…three vertical means that the tow is longer than 200 meters. If you see a yellow light above a white light be very cautious, you are looking at a tug with a tow from behind!
Knowing what the navigation lights are telling you about another vessel will start with you knowing what the combinations are for different vessels. It is a lot to learn and most people don’t just sit down, read the rules and remember them. My advice to get started is to remember the light combinations of the vessels that you are likely to come across at night, particularly the ones that might do you the most harm. I grew up boating in Long Island Sound where there are tons of tugs towing barges, but not too many ships, so I learned tug light combinations pretty quickly! Late one night on a delivery, dead in the water with no propulsion, knowing the lights saved our skin, but I’ll save that story for another time.
For a complete set of USCG navigation rules click here. The light section starts with Rule 20.
For a helpful site with graphics of different light combinations, click here.
For a website with lights and shapes flash cards, click here.