Friday 23 August 2013

Make your own boat maintenance luck

Leisure boating is such a great adventure for the soul; the freedom of ones own boat, being responsible for its well-being and then drinking in to the full the pleasure it brings.

Literally anyone can participate. However, the knowledge and skills needed to properly maintain a boat are often not part of the owners work life or previous life experiences. Therefore when an aspect of the boat needs attention, the owner may be unaware of the implications of an action, omissions of a process or shortcoming of a provider.

The catch is, a boat is quite a complex vehicle; irregular structures, wide variety of materials, numerous diverse systems and various methods of achieving the same outcome. Often these are maintained under trying working conditions, divided available time and with limited financial means.

We have noted over time, articles appearing about sailors having endured some sort of emergency at sea resulting from gear failure. By observation, we contend that the majority of the dramas should not reasonably have happened at all. Two recurrent themes appear as root causes; a lack of basic sound practices and the failure of processes supplied by service providers.

Let's take a brief look at the two themes; firstly basic practices. There are no visible, collected set of Standard Operating Procedures for the maintenance of a leisure boat. While many books exist to guide the owner, none is the "last word", so a number must be digested to arrive at sound practice. There is no widely recognised and uplifted learning course on boat maintenance and no requirement to be competent outside the wider aspects of safe navigation remits. 

To many, this absence of "stifling" formalities is part of the freedom package; one can largely do ones own thing. Herein lies the trap; how does one "definitely know" that all the boat is correctly configured - especially those items whose failure has an immediate effect on the safety of the boat and it's occupants? 

A recent example appeared in AndrewSimpson's article in Practical Boat Owner No. 563 Summer 2013 page 22, on clevis pin retention. The accompanying photo showed the most basic and cheapest split ring (less effective that one uses on a set of keys) in a poorly installed state both for integrity and prevention of an injury to the crew. This type of retainer is not uncommon on a yacht yet it is well away from sound engineering practice for critical systems such as rigging. If we take a parallel safety of life world example, aviation, clevis pins are common. The Maintenance Manual would have required the fitment of a thin flat washer, then a split pin / cotter pin - which while simple in design, requires the application of good maintenance practice to install.

This centres on a firm pin-to-pin contact seating of the head where the split pin enters the clevis pin and the method of working the split pin legs. Best practice sees the bending of each protruding leg back snugly around the circumference of the clevis pin and cutting the excess length off so the leg end closely nestles up against the split pin head where it enters the clevis pin. This method prevents vibration, rotation and "hides" the sharp ends, so preventing injuries.

Next, professional maintenance services. Again, there are few visible standard operating practices and procedures by which an owner, who has sought help to ensure a best outcome, can evaluate what has been delivered with what was required. In practice, choice of provider is a mix of anecdotal reputation, time in business and judgement of the apparent knowledge and skills of the provider.

A recent article in Yachting Monthly No. 1287 Summer 2013 page 34 is of topical interest. Before setting out on an ocean voyage, two committed sailors knew their yacht's rigging had been "professionally overhauled" over time by three providers and it was checked daily on the voyage. Nearing St. Lucia, a lower shroud failed and soon afterwards the rig was lost. Beyond their rescue and survival, they were delayed for five months.

What really caused all this? Well, as the boat was over thirty years old and as with most leisure boats, it's maintenance history may not have been precise. While the standing rigging had been recently replaced, it is conceivable that many of the key fittings and fasteners may well have been original and so had been subjected to unknown loadings and load cycles leading to metal fatigue.

Here is the trap; in the case of mechanical force-bearing items, it is "what lies beneath" that is critical and no simple visual examination can determine the condition of a key fitting or fastener relative to its design specification when it's life and load history is unknown. The cost of applying non-destructive testing techniques to these critical parts (as in aviation) would likely be more costly than key component replacement. So, to balance the practice and the pocket, 100% replacement of the key items would be a sound choice, restoring the rigging design integrity, minimising the risk of mechanical failure leading to exposure to life-threatening dangers, saving an insurance claim and, in this case above, five months of the owners lives "doing nothing".

In essence, there are many risks in a long voyage, so inexpensively "making ones own luck" has great benefit. How many maintenance providers would recommend this practice as "normal" and how many owners would ask for this manner of service?

Wednesday 7 August 2013

SKYWATCH Xplorer is a weather station in your hand

The SKYWATCH® Xplorer range of high quality palm-sized weather stations are from the Swiss company JDC Electronic, located at the south end of Lake Neuchatel, who have been making weather instruments for over 25 years.
Thoughtfully, the range of four models runs starts from an anemometer and each following model adds more functionality giving you a choice to suit your particular needs at an appropriate price. The basic functions are:
- SKYWATCH® Xplorer 1 - Wind speed
- SKYWATCH® Xplorer 2 - Wind speed, Temperature
- SKYWATCH® Xplorer 3 - Wind speed, Temperature, Compass
- SKYWATCH® Xplorer 4 - Wind speed, Temperature, Compass, Pressure, Altitude plus wind chill factor

For a dinghy sailor the Xplorer 1 would be a good choice; a key measurement at the minimum price. At the other end the Xplorer 4 is ideal for large yacht sailing and racing. However with such a range of features available, at affordable prices, these high quality devices can be used during your other outdoor pursuits such as canoeing, mountain biking, skiing and more.

They are rugged devices and can be carried in an equipment pouch in your sailing jacket without even noticing their presence due to their light weight of 50 grams. To make them useable at all times the displays are backlit with large easy to read characters.

The SKYWATCH® Xplorer range gives Instant Wind-speed Measurement plus up to 9 possible display modes:
- Maximum speed: Xplorer 1, 2, 3, 4;
- Current temperature: Xplorer 2, 3, 4
- Wind chill factor: Xplorer 2, 3, 4;
- Compass in degrees: Xplorer 3, 4;
- Altitude: Xplorer 4;
- Relative pressure (QNH)/absolute pressure: Xplorer 4;
- History of pressure (tendencies): Xplorer 4;
- History of relative pressure (QNH): Xplorer 4;
- History of absolute pressure (QFE): Xplorer 4;

The core common features for the SKYWATCH® Xplorer range are:
- Wind speed units: km/h, m/s, knots, mph, fps;
- Maximum reading: 150 km/h, 42 m/s, 81 knots, 97 mph, 138 fps;
- Back-lit display;
- Stainless steel back;
- Replaceable lithium battery;
- Waterproof;
- Operating temperature: -20 to +70 degrees C / -4 to +158 degrees F;
- Accuracy according to Swiss standards.

Happy "Xplorer"ing!

Monday 20 August 2012

The Best iPhone Apps for Sailors

New and exciting technology continues to make sailing a safer practice and an even more fruitful experience. Although applications will never replace knowledge, skill and gut instinct, here are a few apps that have something to offer.

Navionics Nautical Charts

Among the most popular sailing apps, according to nautical forums and technology-savvy sailors, is the Navionics app, which provides charts and data for sailing. For a measly $10 per region, users can get detailed nautical charts for almost every key yachting region across the globe, with additional information and optional overlay.

Wind Meter

This nifty app costs just 99 cents, and can measure the volume of the wind using the iPhone's built-in microphone. It then converts the reading into a wind speed record, so if your boat's instruments are ever playing up never fear - your backup is here. You can just point your iPhone into the wind and get a reading of average wind speeds within a few seconds.

Compass Eye

One of the first augmented reality sailing apps that not only works, but provides useful information too. The Compass Eye turns an iPhone's camera lens into a compass, with real time data updates that won't change as the boat rocks. Skippers can set multiple bearings and switch between magnetic north and true north as they wish. At only $4.99, it's proving one of the most popular apps for those with nautical interests.

Aye Tides

For $9.99 Aye Tides displays tides and currents for thousands of locations around the world. This stand-alone application doesn't require internet connectivity so a crew can have up-to-date information on tides and tidal streams at their fingertips, even without an internet connection.

Aye Tides App for the iPhone Display Example Tide Graph
Aye Tides App For The iPhone

Sail Master

This simple but effective app is user-friendly and can be extremely useful, providing information which can help to improve sailing and racing performance. The latest version drops the accelerometer in favor of utilizing the gyroscope, in order to provide an inclinometer to display the angle of heel. There's a whole host of useful data like boat speed, heading, latitude and longitude, course plotting and tidal information. For a sailor looking for an all-rounder app this is a must buy, and at only $1.99 there's no reason not to.

Sail Master's Aye Tides App for the iPhone Display Screen Example - Black Red
Sail Master's Aye Tides App for the iPhone

Zac Colbert writes on a number of nautical subjects including sailing technology and outboard motors. One day he'll sail to Fiji from New Zealand, one day.

Friday 20 July 2012

Man Over Board practice for Day Skipper Qualification

One of the elements of a Day Skipper practical course is Man Over Board (MOB) practice. 
A real person is not used for such practice, rather a rope tied to a fender or a bucket!  Day Skippers are shown and get to practice how to get to the object in the water and then work out how to get it back on board imagining that it was the size and weight of a person.
If someone falls overboard the first thing that should happen is someone should shout ‘Man Over Board’ and point at the person in the water.  Someone else should make a May Day call on the VHF Radio.  There are various ways of getting back to someone that has fallen over board.  The quickest and easiest way is to do it under power and there are a couple of methods, both of which are practised on a Day Skipper Course, which can be employed to do this.
Typical Fasnet Race conditions where knowing Man Over Board skills is critical
One option is the helm should be placed hard over, as if heaving too, so that the boat heads up into and though the wind.  This stops the boat very quickly.  The sails should be sheeted in and the engine started.  As the yacht comes around close to the person in the water the MOB lifebelts can be thrown to the person and the throttle can be used with short bursts or ahead and astern to position the boat next to the person in the water ideally bringing them alongside the beam.  Care must be taken to ensure no ropes that could get caught around the propeller are trailing in the water and that the propeller is kept a suitable distance from the person in the water’s legs.

An alternative would be to head downwind of the person, turn the engine on, furl the headsail, sheet the main in tight, and position the yacht so that it can be motored from a downwind position up to the person in the water.  An aspiring Day Skipper will get to practice these manoeuvres a number of times on a course until he or she becomes proficient at it.

If use of the engine is not possible then it becomes a sailing exercise.  The yacht can be stopped dead in the water by putting the helm hard up into the wind.  The sails should be sheeted in tight and the helm left hard over.  The resulting effect is for the boat to go round in small circles quite close to the person in the water.  MOB lifebelts can be deployed.  The yacht should head off on a beam to broad reach for a short distance.  The headsail should be furled (assuming conditions will allow the yacht enough power to windward under main alone.)  A tack should then ensue and the boat placed on a fine reach, or rather pointed at the person in the water which should turn out to be a fine reach.  Day Skippers should by now be quite comfortable of placing a yacht on a fine reach.  The reason for a fine reach is that it is a point of sail that allows you to spill all the wind from the main without it being restricted by the shrouds.  At the same time it allows the yacht room to manoeuvre to windward if need be.  So back pointing at the person in the water.  Someone should ease the main sail right out so that it flaps. The main sheet span can then be grabbed as a whole and used to put power in the sail if required, whilst letting go of it allows the sail to very quickly become depowered.  If the sail cannot be let fully out when pointing at the person in the water the yacht should be steered downwind for a very brief period and then bought back up to point at the person in the water.  This can be repeated until the sail can be eased fully.

As the person is approached all way should be taken off the boat by completely releasing the main sheet span and the yacht rounded up so that the person is picked up on the beam of the leeward side.

You then have to work out how to get say an 11 stone man, clothes waterlogged, possibly unconscious, back on board…

This is a Guest Post by First Class Sailing, a leading UK sail training and boat chartering company with on the South Coast, London and more. First Class Sailing offer, amongst other RYA Courses, Day Skipper Practical courses on which you get plenty of Man Over Board practice.

Saturday 7 July 2012

UK Safety Regulations for Pleasure Vessels; Part 1 of 3

For United Kindom flagged boaties, to understand, for your and yours safety, the applicable Regulations is quite an exercise in itself. As we are all equally affected by these Regulations, this article attempts to give an overview of them, what applies and what doesn't, so you can be confident your boat is properly equipped. In essence, the Regulations are the expression of the 'minimums' to adequately ensure safety of life at sea. 

As a sea-goers, we must never forget that the knowledge that has led to the current Regulations, has been in the majority of cases, very hard-won, based on many tragic historic events - in other words, the Regulations have been arrived at a very high human cost. Therefore, while small pleasure vessels may not have a formal need to comply, we suggest it is in your interest to adopt as much of them as you see fit to give confidence that your boat is adequately equipped for the ''black swan'' event at sea.

For UK-flagged Pleasure Vessels (i.e. not for commercial gain or reward), these Regulations have applicability:

United Kingdom Government prescribed:
1. Merchant Shipping (Life-Saving Appliances for Ships other than ships of Classes III to VI (A)) Regulations 1999;
2. Merchant Shipping (Life-Saving Appliances for Passenger Ships of Classes III to VI(A)) Regulations 1999;
3. Merchant Shipping (Fire Protection: Small Ships) Regulations 1998;
4. 'Information on the Regulations Applicable to Pleasure Vessels' dated 21 December 2007 (Version 12).

NOTE: If any pleasure vessel carries more than 12 passengers (i.e. excluding the operating crew), the vessel classification moves from "Pleasure Vessel" to "Passenger Ship" and the full Regulations Item 1, 2, 3 and 4 above, apply (limited duration exemptions may be given by the MCA).

International Marine Organisation IMO prescribed:
5. International Convention for the 'Safety of Life at Sea'/SOLAS Chapter V.

Beyond the passenger count, the degree of applicability of the Regulations is fundamentally governed by the Pleasure Vessel size; by [load line] length (then weight for very large pleasure vessels):
- Length less than 13.7 metres (45 feet);
- - there are NO STATUTORY requirements as far as "life saving" or "fire fighting" equipment is concerned;
- Length more than 13.7 to 24 metres (45-78 feet);
- -  a vessel is classified as being a ''Class XII vessel'' and must comply with Items 1 and 3 above.
NOTE: This discussion does not address Pleasure Vessels over 24 metres - we have our limits!

To complicate the understanding of the applicability of the Regulations, the Requirements (or the details on how to properly comply with the Regulations) of Item 1 appear in two Marine Shipping Notices MSN issued by the UK Marine and Coastguard Authority MCA (part of the UK Department of Transport DfT):
- MSN 1676 for Items 1 and 2;
- MSN 1677 for Item 1.

To simplify the application of the above-Itemed regulations, the MCA has issued an un-numbered document, Item 4 above, which details the how to comply with the Regulations, plus it gives Exemptions (after discussion with the British Marine Federation and Royal Yachting Association) from:
- Item 1 Regulations 21, 48, 69, 71, 72, 78 and 84;
- Item 2 Regulations 23, 35 and 36;
This document also addresses the application of Item 5 'SOLAS V'.

So, to take advantage of 'Information on the Regulations Applicable to Pleasure Vessels', in Part 2 and 3 to follow, we examine the two equipment types in some detail:
- Life Saving Appliances;
- Fire Protection Equipment.

Boat and ship wheels - symbol, style, innvovation

A ships wheel is probably the most recognisable symbol of boats or ships around the world

It is therefore understandable as to why the European Union chose to use the symbol of a ships wheel to indicate the compliance of boat equipment with the Marine Equipment Directive (also known as M.E.D. 96/98/EC and often called M.E.D/MED)

While aircraft now use joysticks and "fly by wire" technologies to "steer" them, pleasure boats generally still use the a wheel for primary directional control. With boats from over a hundred years old still in operation and new models appearing every year, the boat wheel manufacturers, between them, have worked to supply boat wheels for all generations of boats.

There are three general styles available: traditional spoke wooden wheels, contemporary round-rimmed wheels and a blend of the traditional and contemporary.
Vetus Traditional Style 6 Spoke Boat or Ships Wheel in Mahogany
Vetus Traditional Style 6 Spoke Boat or Ships Wheel in Mahogany
The traditional wooden (usually mahogany) six-spoke boat wheel is still very much sought after. Where the new versions excel in in their underlying strength provided by a steel frame to which the wooden parts are attached. The steel frame of the traditional style boat wheel also provides a strong mount hub to ensure that the wheel and the steering input shaft remain intact even under the worst conditions.

The contemporary style boat wheels, often made of polished stainless steel, are both affordable and very durable - virtually indestructible one could say. A variation of the contemporary style are the powerboat steering wheels made of modern reinforced plastics.

The blended style, combining stainless steel of contemporary boat wheels with the smooth polished spokes borrowed from traditional boat wheels and mahogany rims, really look sophisticated and would grace many a boat - whether a sailboat, yacht, motorboat or powerboat.

One special version of the contemporary boat wheels is the Goiot Steer'n Go™ range for sailboats/yachts. These are a really great idea, as they are designed to be removed and mounted on the safety railing when the boat is moored, giving freedom of access from the cabin to the stern. This is of course really useful for Mediterranean sailing when mooring stern-in is close to the norm.

Saturday 14 April 2012

Inflatable boats are the modern boat tender

We don't know how lucky we are!

Navimo Plastimo Light Inflatable Boat In Use
 There are old-timers who used to climb (literally) mountains to ski down - twice on a good day; in summer (we observe that many skiers are also boaties) they lugged the near-indestructible clinker dinghy down the the beach (marina was a female name only back then) and then row it out to the yacht moored in the bay or river. Then it would be lugged yet again on board by many and various blocks and tackles and lashed, upside-down to the topsides. Maybe we'll just tow by it's painter instead... Whew; what will we do tomorrow?

Of course, sunny winter or spring days would have been enjoyably passed (we weren't so time-obsessed then) rubbing, priming, undercoating and applying endless finish coats of varnish or a nice glossy topcoat.

We may exaggerate to some degree here, yet the ability to buy a tender for little relative cost, in a box, unpack, pump up, launch, jump in and row - or motor away, in minutes was beyond thinking.

Well the past we speak of is largely well past for the majority of water enthusiasts and inflatable boats are available to suit yachties, boaties, fishing people and for those who simply want to play around in boats. While a few of the inflatable tenders available are made just to row, most have an outboard-ready transom installed.

From here on it's all a matter of your defining your needs from construction, type of use, size and colour - from good old grey to bright yellow - even environmental green for fishing or as a work boat.

However, we still sometimes get a bit nostalgic for the clinker dinghy that we learnt to sail in - it was a trusty friend.