Monday, March 7, 2016

Properly Caring for Your Waxed Boat

Now that your boat has a shiny coat of wax, there are some important things you can do to keep it looking great for as long as possible. From my experience, and with proper maintenance, a good coating of wax can be expected to last 4 - 6 months on the topside (deck, cabin, cockpit) and 6+ months on the hull sides, although this may vary based on where your boat resides.

Rinse The Boat After Every Use

When salt spray dries on your boat’s surfaces, the salt crystals remain, and these will eat into your wax coating and can even etch unprotected gelcoat. Rinsing the boat off with fresh water after each time you go boating or sailing will rinse away salt spray before it has a chance to cause problems.

Wash Your Boat At Least Once a Month

Rinsing the boat after each use helps, but a good soap-down and rinse at least once per month will properly and completely remove salt, dirt, pollution, bird droppings, and other contaminants that have settled on the surfaces of the boat. These contaminants, combined with sunlight, can rapidly decay the wax coating if allowed to sit for extended periods. Regular washdowns are good for more than just the gelcoat: They will also help to keep up the non-skid and canvas surfaces, which accumulate dirt and mold growth fast and are very difficult to get clean after long periods of poor maintenance.

Wash glossy surfaces with a good boat soap, water, and a soft deck brush, gently massaging away dirt and grime then rinsing thoroughly. For scuff marks, stains, and touch-ups, keep some light cleaner wax like Collinite #870 or Mequiar’s #50 onboard to spot-clean and leave a coat of wax behind.

Beware: Not All Soaps Are Created Equal

Beware using cleaners that can strip your wax and harm your boat and the environment. Household cleaners and dish soap should never be used, as these will strip your wax off in a single use, and most are not biodegradable. Many car care products can do a decent job, but be careful as some of these products contain chemicals that are hazardous to aquatic life. Remember, everything will be running into the marina each time you wash the boat. Your best bet is to seek out a quality marine-specific boat soap that says “will not strip wax” right on the bottle. All boat soaps should be biodegradable and phosphate-free. As a bonus, look for one that also contains wax or “protective polymers,” as these may help to reinforce your existing wax coating and help both waxed and non-waxed surfaces repel contaminants.

Reapply Wax Every 4 – 6 Months

Your wax coating won’t last forever, and will need to be reapplied periodically to keep your gelcoat protected. The good news is, application of a quality liquid or paste wax can be done by hand and takes far less time than a multi-step compounding / cleaner waxing. Don’t wait until your boat needs a time-, labor-, and money-intensive polishing to restore its shine. Keep up with your wax and enjoy all of the benefits of a waxed boat!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

How to keep your boat’s bottom in top shape

Keeping your boat well-maintained below the waterline starts in the boat yard, with good prep work and a high-quality antifouling paint, properly applied. Once in the water, periodic dive service by a reputable hull cleaner can clean away the marine growth that the antifouling can’t resist, and keeps the paint working properly. A good diver is also invaluable for inspecting the bottom and running gear for problems, replacing zinc anodes when needed, and keeping you up to date on the condition of your boat below the waterline.

There’s no doubt that good paint and a good diver are paramount to a good bottom, but there are also some simple things that you can do to keep your bottom in better shape between dive services and haul-outs. After eight years as a hull diver and thousands of hull cleanings, I have come up with 4 things that time and time again seem to make a marked difference in the amount of growth that a boat accumulates. The marinas in which I have worked generally have clear water, so much of the growth issue we see is algae growth fueled by sunlight. Bottom paints are generally very good at keeping off hard growth like barnacles and mussels, but the algae growth always finds a way to accumulate. These tips pertain specifically to boats kept in clearer water, but some will be useful to everyone.

Go Sailing or Cruising!

The easiest way to keep the bottom of your boat cleaner is to use your boat! Sailing or cruising in your boat gets it going through the water at speed, and even a little speed is sufficient to work off some of the algae slime and discourage other types of growth. While this speed is mandatory to allow certain bottom paints (namely ablatives) to shed growth properly, I have always seen frequent use provide solid improvement to bottoms with hard paints as well. Most marine organisms like to establish on surfaces that don’t move, so taking your boat out and working up some speed can discourage quite a bit of the growth that would otherwise love to colonize your bottom. I have always been able to tell pretty quickly whether a boat gets a lot of use or not, based on the growth I see on the bottom. 

Alternate the way your tie up your boat

Maybe it’s the direction your boat faces, or maybe it’s tied up closer to one side of the slip than the other. Most boats get more sunlight exposure on one side of the bottom versus the other, and that lighter side generally sees more growth. Likewise, if you have your boat cleaned periodically by a diver, that lighter side eventually gets more wear and tear from the cleaning of that extra growth. I have had some clients who always tie their boat the same way, and get lots of light on one side while the other side gets little. After a couple of years, one side of the bottom looks very tired, and accumulates substantial growth between services, while the other side still looks great and wipes clean easily every cleaning. By periodically changing the direction your boat faces, or tying your boat up to the opposite side of the slip, you can switch off which side of the hull is the “lighter” side, and more evenly distribute the sunlight, and therefore the growth and cleaning impact. This way you the bottom paint will age more evenly, and you can eliminate “problem areas” forming that will attract growth faster than the rest of the bottom. 

Gently brush the waterline and rudder if needed 

Because sunlight spurs algae growth like no other force, it’s the areas that get direct sunlight that growth the fastest and most abundant algae. Thankfully though, these are also the areas that you can generally see and have access to from the dock. The areas in question are generally the waterline and the rudder on a sailboat, and the hull sides / waterline and transom on a powerboat. These are the areas that will likely grow the dreaded “beard”, especially during the summer months. Should growth disproportionally accumulate in these areas, a gentle brushing with a soft deck brush should do the trick. While I would recommend against doing this to ablative paint, as even a soft brush can too easily remove paint, hard antifouling should withstand some brushing well with no problems. Even so, be watchful of color (paint) coming off while you scrub, and ease up if this occurs. It’s great to get rid of the beard, but you don’t want to prematurely wear out your paint doing so. While this only takes care of the high-growth areas, it can allow the rest of the bottom that sees slower growth to “catch up” to the high-growth areas before a full cleaning is necessary.

Shade your rudder, trim tabs, and outdrive

This can make a huge difference for small sailboats or power boats that have rudders or trim tabs that attach to the transom of the boat. The problem with these fixtures is that they hang out from the back of the boat with full sun exposure at all times of the day. These areas grow algae like no other, and again, it’s the sunlight that drives this growth. If you can back your boat into the slip or otherwise provide shading for these parts, you can drastically slow down the algae growth. For a powerboat, a swim step can help quite a bit, but further benefit is possible. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

How to Properly Install a Zinc (or Aluminum) Anode

Sacrificial anodes are vital to controlling corrosion below the waterline. Anodes, most commonly made of zinc and thus referred to simply as “zincs”, provide corrosion protection to the metal parts to which they are installed or connected. However, anodes can only provide this vital protection if they are installed correctly. Here is a list of things that I do for each anode installation to ensure proper function throughout the life of the anode. I use the term “zinc” frequently, but these rules apply to any type of sacrificial anode.

This zinc is below 50% and ready to replace. It's partner
already corroded away completely.

Replace zincs when they reach 50% of original size. Most zinc types will begin to lose effectiveness or integrity as they corrode past 50% of their original size, particularly shaft zincs, so it’s a good idea to replace before you lose protection.

Select the proper location and anode size. Some zincs like rudder and trim tab zincs come in different sizes, several of which may fit the same application. If your rudder zinc is corroding very quickly, you may want to go up to the next size. For shaft zincs, you have freedom with where to place the zinc(s). I recommend placing the shaft zincs as close as possible to the prop, especially for props without a dedicated prop zinc. This will afford better protection to the prop, which generally corrodes more easily than the shaft. For especially long shafts, put one zinc toward the prop and one zinc toward the boat, spreading out the protection. Remember to leave space between the shaft zinc and the front and back of the cutlass (strut) bearing, so that water can freely lubricate the bearing. A good rule of thumb is between 1-2 times the shaft diameter in the front, and at least ¼’’ behind the bearing. 

Clean the mounting area. This is extremely important. Scour the mounting area completely clean with a stainless steel scrubber or bronze wool before you install a new zinc. Make sure all of the material from the previous zinc is cleaned off. This will ensure a tight, quality electrical connection between the zinc and the metal part. The electrical connection between the metals is the thing that allows the zinc to provide protection to the metal part, so this not to be overlooked.

Clean the mating surface of the zinc. Unless the anode is brand new, it may have some oxidation or slight corrosion beginning to form on the surface that will mate to the metal part it’s being installed on. Give the zinc itself a quick scrub with the same steel or bronze wool you used on the mounting surface to make sure the zinc is as clean as possible for installation.

Tighten the zinc properly. For a shaft zinc, this also means tapping it with a hammer to make sure it is completely seated on the shaft. Tighten the screw(s) to make sure the anode stays in place, especially on parts like props, shafts, and rudders, which encounter lots of movement, vibration, and water flow. I find that slotted screws work fine for shaft zincs, but Allen (hex) head screws are a must for props and rudder / trim tab zincs. For rudders in particular, it is necessary to be able to tighten the screw down hard, and a hex wrench allows this much better than a screw driver. Without that tightness, rudder zincs tend to work loose and may cause a rattling sound. Prop zincs also need to be very snug, but be careful not to tighten too much. Prop nuts are generally brass and the screws are stainless, so the harder stainless will strip the brass if too much force is used.

            Neat trick: For prop zincs that have a tendency to come loose, try coating the screw in 3M 5200 sealant, then immediately install the zinc. The 5200 works to sort of glue the screw in place and to the zinc itself, while probably absorbing come vibration. I use this trick all the time on boats that had previously lost zincs repeatedly, and have seen a huge reduction in zincs coming loose. Best of all, 5200 cures underwater, so a diver can use this trick too. When it’s time for a new zinc, the 5200 comes apart quite easily when the bolt is unscrewed.

For rudder zincs on larger boats, I will put a second nut on the bolt after I have tightened the bolt down. This acts like a jam nut to prevent the bolt from loosening. I have found this to be helpful in keeping zincs tight even in the face of strong prop wash from large props, which had previously been able to work the zincs loose.

Don't let this be your prop - Check your zincs!
Check your zincs. Don’t trust your anodes to last until the next time you haul your boat out. If you do nothing else to your bottom between haul outs, at least have a diver check your zincs every 3-6 months. The cost to do this is small, and you might just save yourself a prop or set of trim tabs down the line. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

In The Chafe Zone: A primer on chafe protection for boats

Numerous problems affect boats. Sunlight, rain, bird droppings, mold and mildew; a slew of forces are constantly vying to rob your boat of its good condition. But there’s one force that wants to do your boat real harm. It’s a force that affects every boat kept in a slip or tied to a mooring, and it works its influence every minute of every day.

Chafe: The simple rubbing of your dock and mooring lines against other objects, even other lines. It’s happening all the time, whether you know it or not. Why? Boats reside in the water, and water is always moving. As the water moves even slightly, your boat moves independent of the dock or mooring, and this causes your dock and mooring lines to move as well. As they move, they rub against the cleats, chocks, fittings, and other objects that they are in constant contact with. This rubbing, day in and day out, slowly but surely wears into the line and eventually may compromise its strength of sever it altogether.

Lots of people seem to be willing to live with chafed lines, but there are several reasons why this is a bad idea. First, as chafe wears into a line, the line becomes weaker. While it may still be tied up and look intact, in reality it may be too weak to handle the next big storm. You may only realize this after the storm, when you return to your boat to find that the line has broken.  Another reason is cost. Dock and mooring lines aren’t cheap. Allowing them to chafe and wear probably means having to break down and replace them at least every couple of years, and this expense can really add up. Last but not least, chafed, worn lines can become a bit of an eyesore, and detract from the appearance of an otherwise well-kept boat.

Dock and mooring lines have two principal purposes: Keep your boat securely moored and absorb a certain amount of shock as your boat moves. Asking your lines to also handle chafe is just too much. The solution? Chafe protection! Simple, low-cost chafe guards can protect your lines from chafe and wear, allow them to maintain their integrity and strength, and can drastically decrease the frequency of line replacement, saving you money. The idea is simple: Position a chafe guard at each area of the line where wear and chafe occurs- generally at the cleats and chocks, but it can be anywhere the line rubs against another object or surface. This way the chafe guard wears and your line does not.

What Makes a Good Chafe Guard

There are numerous options for chafe protection, from various re-purposed materials to retail products. It’s important to note however that not all products and materials are created equal, and some work better than others. The ideal chafe guard is made of material that is resilient enough to withstand chafe for a long period of time. It’s flexible enough to fit into chocks and around cleats, won’t harm the surface it’s rubbing against (like a rubrail or gelcoat), and will allow water to pass through its surface and reach the line. That last attribute is pretty important, as I will explain below.
Obviously it’s important for a chafe guard to withstand chafe for a long period of time, but what is required to meet this need varies from place to place. Some marinas are more sheltered than others, and thus experience slower chafe. A relatively light material may be sufficient for a boat in one place, while a more heavy-duty material is required for a boat somewhere else.

Flexibility is sometimes overlooked, but it sometimes critical to the effectiveness of the chafe guard. A chafe guard that can flex and conform in an around chocks, cleats, and fittings is likely to stay in place more easily, keeping the protection where it’s needed.

A soft material is a good choice when the line rubs against gelcoat or a polished surface, as it will be less likely to leave marks or wear as it rubs those surfaces. After all, protecting your line is important, but leaving marks on the boat while doing it shouldn’t be necessary.

Finally, allowing water to pass through the chafe guard and reach the line underneath has been suggested to help the line stay cooler during the cycling brought on by severe weather, and may make the difference in keeping the line intact through the storm. A study published in July 1997 by researchers at the MIT(1) showed that nylon and polyester lines generally built up internal heat as they cycled through repeated stretching and contracting, as they would during a major storm event. The study found that this cycling causes friction between the fibers that make up a line, and this can build up so much heat that the line can fail from the inside out. The study also found that water, allowed to reach the line, can provide a certain amount of cooling and lubrication, decreasing internal friction and keeping the line intact.

Choices, Choices

A FireHose XT Chafe Guard made by Goyer Marine, LLC
So what is the best choice for chafe protection? From my experience, strong, woven synthetic textiles seem to provide the best mix of benefits, with very little if any issues. Unlined polyester fire hose jacket, tubular nylon webbing, and several retail chafe protection products provide this sort of construction. Some are thicker and more resilient than others, and some costlier than others. In general, they meet all of the requirements of the ideal chafe guard, and their synthetic nature make them resistant to mold and mildew, and most are highly UV resistant for longevity in the outdoors.

With any chafe protection, it is important to know that not even the best or highest-priced materials will last forever. It’s important to inspect your lines and chafe guards each time your visit your boat. A good method of maintenance is to periodically reposition your chafe guards slightly, to evenly distribute wear over their surface and extend their useful life. And when it comes time to replace the chafe guard, you can rest comfortably knowing that you are replacing an inexpensive chafe guard, rather than the entire expensive line.

A Word About PVC or Vinyl Tubing

Unless it fits very tightly to the line, vinyl tubing can easily
slip out of place
PVC / Vinyl tubing remains a very popular choice for do-it-yourselfers looking for low cost chafe protection. It’s readily available and relatively cheap. It also has a pretty long history of use, and has worked for many people. There are several very important reasons why I don’t recommend PVC / vinyl tubing though, and here they are: First, these materials are very stiff. This makes the tubing hard to fit into chocks and around cleats. This stiffness also requires that the tubing be pretty tight to the line or well-tied in place, otherwise it can tend to resist bending and work its way out of place, especially when used at a chock. Lastly, PVC / vinyl is completely waterproof and will prevent water from reaching the line during severe weather.

In Closing

Chafe affects every boat, everywhere, but the solution is simple and cost-effective. Chafe protection provides your boat the safety and security it deserves, and gains you peace of mind. Low-cost chafe guards, either purchased or improvised, can extend the life of your dock lines and save you considerable money over the long term, all the while providing assurance that your lines will endure and keep your boat secure. Don’t wait until a dock line breaks and leaves your boat bouncing around your slip. Install some chafe guards today and start enjoying the benefits now!



(1) Seo, M. et al. “Wear and Fatigue of Nylon and Polyester Mooring Lines.Textile Research Journal vol. 67 no. 7 (1997): 467-480. Print.