Ship Shape Part I How-to tips for boat owners

Ship Shape I

If you own a boat, here are some priceless tips that may save you time and  aggravation
and maybe even your life !
How-to fixes for all boat owner

Our boat had been at anchor for about an hour as we boated redfish one after the other. Our success soon came to a disappointing halt, when an oncoming vessel made several attempts to anchor within a few feet of us. The skipper hurled his anchor out with the finesse of an Olympic discus thrower, accompanied by flaring anger at each unsuccessful attempt to become stationary.

After dredging up the bottom and scaring off the fish, he sped off leaving a large wake that jostled the surrounding boats whose crews yelled obscenities to the fleeing offender.

Why could he not anchor? A simple piece of chain of about three feet in length had not been attached between the anchor shackle and the rope. A seemingly simple obscurity as this can cause much inconvenience not only to the recipients aboard but to others as well. While most of us are aware of the advantages of having the most obvious things like a spare “kicker motor” or Coast Guard regulated safety equipment, there are still a number of things that are often overlooked until the situation gets criticalthen, it may be too late.

Consider the anchor. We all have one on our boat. But, do we make it a good practice to carry enough anchor rope to secure the vessel even under unusual wind conditions. Generally, for an anchor to perform properly one should figure about three foot of rope or more for every one foot of water you plan on anchoring in and use an anchor rated no less than that specified for the length of your boat.

It won’t hurt in some cases to pick one rated oversize if you are subjected to extensive anchoring in open water, such as overnight, etc.

Putting three feet or more of three-eights chain at the shackle end of the anchor aids in weighting the rope down so as to cause the anchor shank to lie horizontally to the bottom, thereby forcing the flukes to penetrate more readily.

Carrying a spare anchor setup is a MUST for more than one reason. If you have ever lost an anchor due to it being snagged or left untied, you already know what that can do for a fishing trip; not to mention your wallet. Your safety may also be jeopardized if you are adrift without a spare.

anchor_smallTo prevent the loss of an anchor setup due to it being improperly tied, use a large floater (cork) such as those employed on crab traps or trawl nets. This can be accomplished by tying a piece of at least 80 lb. mono through the hole of the cork with a large snap swivel attached for connecting to the anchor rope end. This will hold the rope visibly afloat provided it is not in water deeper than its rope length.

Depending on the areas where you fish, sea bottoms may present certain problems when anchoring. Thus choose the correct anchor type for the bottoms that you encounter: sand or mud bottoms, rock or shell bottoms, etc. If not, you may be donating to the benefit of underwater reefs.

Losing your anchor setup to the bottom can be costly. What’s worse is when someone fails to tie it to the boat properly. It’s safe to say that most anchors are probably lost due to being snagged rather than being improperly tied.

However, in my years of fishing I have thus far only lost but one anchorthe one that wasn’t properly tied to the boat. I am not saying that snags don’t present themselves periodically, but I can usually free it. This can be contributed to using a slip-ring type anchor, which aids in dislodging stubbornly embedded anchors.

This type anchor has a release ring that is designed to slide along a slot in the anchor shank, enabling the flukes to be extracted from the opposite direction when snagged. This is the perfect anchor for Louisiana waters and has indeed been the answer to preventing lost anchors all along the coast.

It has been my experience, though, that this anchor for some reason is not as readily available as other types, which may be why most do not use it. Or, it may be that using other types keep the suppliers in business.

Another problem boat owners experience, after switching fuel tanks, is prolonged cranking to restart the engine. Disturbing thoughts race through your head while adrift toward rock jetties or other obstaclesas you anxiously wait for the fuel pump to prime the engine from the auxiliary tank.

Oftentimes, owners of boats with dual tanks and a manual switching valve and/or manual primer-ball can find themselves in a serious dilemma when running out of fuel and having to switch to the auxiliary fuel tank. But, this can easily be remedied with the use of an electric fuel pump, all of which is controlled at the dash with the mere flip of a switch. It doesn’t matter what type of engine you’re running; this system can easily be installed either by yourself or a professional. The electric fuel pump can be used ahead of the already existing manual fuel pump(s) and may be controlled with an on/off switch at the dash panel.

On all engines using mechanical fuel pumps, including diesels, the existing pump will be unhindered even if the electric fuel pump is deactivated. This means that if the electric pump is turned off, the existing pump will pull fuel through the electric pump without any restriction. Therefore, you can use the electric pump only for priming or as a backup-pump if the existing pump ever fails. Running the electric pump at all times will not cause any problems, but may not be necessary in some cases. On outboard motors that use a suction diaphragm pump, it may not be possible for it to pull fuel through the electric pump. So in this case, use the electric pump as the primary pump wiring it to the boat’s ignition switch at the ignition terminal. An on/off toggle switch is unnecessary.

The additional fuel pump should not alter the fuel mileage or performance. It is of importance, however, to find the driest area for mounting the electric pump and one that allows the pump to be no higher than the fuel tank, if possible.

A good quality silent type fuel pump can be purchased at most automotive parts stores or marine supply companies. The pump and wire connections should be spray coated with a heavy duty rust inhibitorfuel_pump_small for corrosion protection after completion.

A marine or automotive electric switching valve can be installed in the place of the manual fuel tank switching valve. This valve also can be controlled with the use of an on/off switch, usually supplied with the valve kit. Also, coat all connections and the valve as mentioned, regardless if you use a marine or automotive type and always mount electrically operated components in a dry area not subjected to water spray.

Make sure with both switches (valve and pump) and the feed wires (hot wires) are fused and are connected at the running terminal source of the ignition switch so that they are deactivated when the ignition switch is turned off. Doing this will prevent battery drainage. Do not use ignition coil positive wire at the coil for source of current and do not leave the ignition key in the “on” mode (point type ignition) with the engine not running as this may bum ignition contacts (points) in the distributor.

After completion, run engine and check for any fuel leaks and proper operation of pump and switching valve before going on a trip.

When properly installed this system should re-prime carburetor(s) after emptying either fuel tank within a few seconds of cranking, thus expediting restart and saving wear and tear on starting components– and your nerves.

Have you ever noticed that engine and/or lower unit failure usually likes to surface when you have reached the furthest point from the launch site? I don’t mean breakdowns that are easily repaired on the water, either.

Case in point: about 20 years ago we had just made the long haul down Southwest Pass from Venice, Louisiana, with the smoothest of performance from my outboard. Right at the mouth of the pass my engine abruptly locked-up upon deceleration. I mean the flywheel could not be turned a fraction of an inch, even with a pull bar.

boat_prop_smallWhat was the culprit? Monofilament linediscarded overboard by a careless individual–  in lodged between the prop shaft and seal. This caused the gear oil to escape through the prop shaft seal after which saltwater entered, wreaking havoc on the the internal gears and bearings of the lower unit. It was destroyed and rendered non-rebuildable. The new one cost $1,600.00.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? How much wiser we become with age and experience! I now regularly check my prop shaft and have prevented monofilament prop seal damage on more than a few occasions. In fact, I am willing to bet that half of the boat owners reading this will find upon their inspection the same problem. If you catch it in time, the seals may only have to be replaced.

You can appreciate that it is not always fanaticism when you see boats that utilize dual bilge pumps with automatic float switches that are automatically activated in case one fails. If you have a bilge pump and do not have an automatic float switch on it, you are at a very bad disadvantage. It may well be likened to having a toilet without a flushing handle.

Having an automatic bilge pump allows water to be pumped out without having to remember to turn the switch on every time. Leaving your boat at the dock unattended without this device is welcoming a sunken ship–  no matter what size vessel.

Hopefully, the above tips will take some of the “error” out of the “trial-and-error” when it comes to problems boaters often encounter.

Picture Captions:

Anchor, Chain, Rope & Floater: The simple solution for sure-grip anchoring the first time.
Electric Fuel Pump, Switching Valve & Wiring: Switching to your auxiliary fuel tank doesn’t have to be a harrowing experience.
Prop Shaft Vulnerability: Monofilament line discarded overboard can be a costly mistake if it winds up in your prop shaft seal.
Note: Jerry LaBella is an A.S.E. certified master technician with over 37 years experience in all areas of diesel, fuel injection, turbo chargers automotive and marine systems.