Stay afloat at the dock

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By Cliff Schmidt

Staying afloat requires preventing the failure of water hoses and their fittings, including through-hulls, valves, strainers and hose clamps supplying raw water cooling to boat systems—the leading cause of vessels sinking at the dock. I look at the following areas when surveying a boat; you should check these items at least once or twice a year.

Raw water hoses

At the first sign of wear, cracking or softening, replace these hoses with approved marine grade hard-wall hoses. Raw water hoses have a date code and should be replaced after 10 years; some insurance companies require this.

Rusty hose clamps

Replace them with marine grade clamps, which use 316 stainless steel for the band, screw and screw holder. The majority of clamps have stainless steel bands but mild steel screws and screw holders. When in doubt, use a magnet to check.

Stuffing boxes for propeller and rudder shafts

Old-style stuffing boxes are designed to allow a small drip of water; a drip or two per minute is acceptable, but a drip or two per second means the packing needs attention. Newer bellows or carbon fiber shaft seals should have no water ingress and make a great upgrade for your vessel.

Lower unit bellows

Most lower units have three rubber bellows; some have more or less. Replace them at any sign of wear, cracking or heavy marine growth. Bellows have a life expectancy of five years. If one is worn, replace them all.

Deck drains

Look for unsecured, plugged or broken deck drain fittings. Cockpits with drains that drain overboard via a hose can sink a boat if not serviced. Broken fittings, missing hose clamps and loose hoses can overwhelm a boat dewatering system in heavy rains. Inspect the drains from the deck to the overboard discharge.

Clogged drains are one of the biggest issues, so make sure drains are clear and free flowing. If the drain has a grate, keep it clean and replace broken grates as needed.

Remember to check scuppers. Scuppers have different types of backflow prevention devices, from rubber flaps to ping-pong balls, to keep water out. Keep them clean and serviced. Live wells and bait boxes have the same issues, so monitor them as well.

Impellers and exhaust systems

Replace raw water pump impellers every two years. An overheated engine can cause the exhaust system’s rubber components to burn through and leak not only large amounts of water into a bilge but also carbon monoxide.

Other fittings

Inspect all below-the-waterline fittings at least once or twice a year. This includes transducers, speed wheels and valves. I often see leaks around transducers placed in out-of-the-way locations in bilges. Uncapped through-hull fittings also cause problems. Cap off all unused fittings. Gate valves, like those on outdoor water faucets, aren’t recommended on vessels. The gates can jam, preventing the valve from being opened or closed, which is why ball valves are recommended for through-hull fittings.

Bilge pumps

By definition, bilge pumps remove nuisance water, but they may not save a sinking boat. Large amounts of water can overwhelm most pumps. Bilge pumps burn out and batteries go dead, so test bilge pumps and automatic float switches monthly. I recommend properly wiring bilge pump automatic float switches to a direct power source and not through a switch that could be left in the off position. I strongly recommend installing a high-water bilge alarm in all bilge compartments. A loud, annoying alarm will alert people in the marina or at your own dock, who will hopefully investigate the problem. Remember, people can get placid about alarms, but in a marina, always check them out; you could save a boat. For peace of mind, I installed a text alert alarm system aboard C-Quest for high bilge water, power failure and water intrusion.

Staying on top of below-the-waterline hoses and fittings can save you headaches and the nightmare of a sinking boat.

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