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!