Boats and the Gig Economy

The recreational marine industry is a small subset of larger industries.  We are a small part of manufacturing, banking, insurance, and yes the gig economy.  As with most of these industries, the boating industry’s slice of the pie is small, but to those involved it is significant.  Some of us love the progress and convenience that comes along with these new ideas and apps, some are firmly against these new types of business arrangements and many just don’t want it in their marina.

The boat based temporary rental market mirrors land based Airbnb and VRBO markets.  Both continue to pose challenges to governments, frustrate neighbors and provide opportunities and access to many.  As it is on land, some are firmly against renting a boat as a place to sleep while many are reaping the financial rewards of just such usage.  And as it goes on land, there are questions of legality, interpretations of regulations vary depending on which expert you ask, and the relative ease of finding short term rentals online.  The most common interpretation of a legal “boatel” requires the boat to be unable to operate away from the dock, but it takes very little searching to find other opinions.

Short term boat rentals are not just for sleeping and remaining in the slip.  One app,, lets you rent a wide selection of boats for short periods of time, and use them as boats, underway.  This is the closest app that I have found to Uber, Lyft or Turo on the water.  You can even get an insurance policy for the few hours of your rental.

Of course there are “legitimate” short term boat rentals, including Boat and Breakfasts, boat rentals, yacht charters and passenger vessels, available for the less daring or technically sophisticated.  These companies provide instruction, support, varieties of boats and convenience, albeit at a higher price.  All are gateways to enjoying the water onboard and all contribute to the recreational marine economy.

Social media, including Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, is also aboard.  I work with boat brokers who are prolific video posters.  There are tonnes (maritime allusion) of boating blogs.  The information available online regarding “how to” do something on a boat is readily available.  Like land based topics, our challenge is to sort through the BS and find the expert advice.  The sorting often takes longer than replacing the water pump’s impeller, once the right video is found.

Next up, following the theme of technological advancement: self-driving boats.

Sea Story, a Close Call with Fire

This sea story originates from an insurance claim we were involved with and comes with a lesson.

The story beings with the purchase of a five year old 45’ motor vessel equipped with two diesel engines.  The buyer had a marine survey and a mechanical survey at the time of purchase.  She bought the vessel and hired a captain to train her in its operation.

Fifteen minutes into her fourth training session there was a change in the color of the engine exhaust smoke and subsequently they find the cabin thick with smoke.

A fire had started in the engine room.  The fire was extinguished by a fixed, automatic fire extinguisher.

Damaged Sea Water Pump Impeller

Our investigation found the fire was caused by a severely overheated engine exhaust system.  The raw water pump impeller had failed, and was the root cause of the engine and exhaust system overheat event.  The exhaust blew against combustible material and ignited the fire.


The captain stated that he had not been watching the engine instruments, but had heard no audible engine alarm.  The recently completed mechanical survey did not mention a problem with the audible alarm system, but further investigation revealed the mechanic had found the problem, but that finding did not make the report.  The mechanic had provided his handwritten notes to the report writer, but the inoperative engine alarm note was written the report on the back of his field notes and the report writer missed this note.

Burnt Exhaust Hose
Burnt Exhaust Hose

The overheating scenario is not uncommon.  It takes about fifteen minutes for a boat engine to severely overheat, in a normal usage situation.  Had the audible alarm alerted the captain or the owner to the engine overheating condition, the engine would have been turned off prior to catastrophic failure and prior to the fire.  Engines overheat all the time with very little consequential damage.

This story had a semi-happy ending.  Nobody was hurt, we got a job, the insurance company paid a total loss and another boat was purchased.  The boat broker sold two boats in a short period of time and was extremely happy.  We assume the boat owner went on to pursue her dream of boating and lived happily ever after.

Fire Damage

The lesson; audible engine alarms are critically important.  Automatic fire extinguishing systems save lives.  Boat fires are bad for you, bad for insurance companies but good for boat brokers and good for our business  :>)









Parade of Lights (and lack thereof)


Last night I found motivation for a new article.  I enjoyed the spectacular southern California sunset on my way to watch the San Diego Parade of lights on a motor vessel.  I always enjoy the view of the San Diego skyline as the sun goes down and the lights come up.  The view from the Shelter Island and Harbor Island areas always makes me grateful for where I live.

The parade of lights is an interesting event, allowing boaters to show creativity and holiday spirit.  The subject for this year’s parade was “Arrrgh! A Pirate’s Christmas”.  There will be a second parade December 17, 2017 starting at 5:00 p.m. at Shelter Island and ending at the Ferry Landing on Coronado around 7:00 p.m.

The bay was full of spectator boats and we took a lap around the bay after the last participant in the parade of lights passed us.  That’s when the motivation for this article came.

I saw dozens of boats with improper navigational lights displayed.  Some were missing a light, some displayed their anchor lights along with their running lights, but several had no lights on whatsoever.

I suppose it’s a matter of numbers, a certain percentage of boaters will fail to illuminate their lights, but the percentage seemed extra ordinarily high last night.

Many commercial vessels are now using LED lights which are illuminated whenever the vessel is operating, day or night.  The electrical draw is negligible compared to the certainty of displaying the proper lights and additional safety.  Remember lights need to be displayed in times of limited visibility, sun down, fog, or smoke.

I thought about driving a car without lights.  The environment reminds you because you cannot see the road.  Other cars can flash their lights as a reminder.  But navigational lights are not head lights.  And another boat blinking at you is unlikely to cause you to think about your own lights.  I certainly have been guilty of forgetting to turn on my lights.

So I wrote this short reminder to you and to me.  When I see another boat with their lights on, I will check my lights, make sure they are properly functional and the proper lights are illuminated.

Remember if your operating your vessel and you see any lights, on the shore, on a buoy or on other boats, check and make sure your lights are functional and illuminated. See the lights, check the lights.


California Boater Card

On January 1, 2018 a law requiring California boaters to have a valid California Vessel Operator Card (CVOC) takes effect.  Initially only boaters 20 years old and younger will need the card.  Each year the age limit is graduated by five years and every boater will need a card by January 1, 2025.

There are eight categories of exempted boaters, including operators of rental vessels, operators from other states and other countries, boaters who hold a Coast Guard operator’s license or boaters who hold a commercial fishing license.

Currently, California Harbors and Navigation Code Section 658.5, states that nobody under 16 years of age may operate a boat with a motor of more than 15 horsepower, except for a sailboat that does not exceed 30 feet in length or a dinghy used directly between a moored boat and the shore (or between two moored boats). The law allows children 12-15 years of age to operate boats with a motor of more than 15 horsepower or sailboats over 30 feet if supervised on board by an adult at least 18 years of age.

There are several companies offering online education for the CVOC.  The law mandates that the education must be approved by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA (not NAMBLA:>)) and by the California Department of Boating and Waterways.

If an approved course was taken after January 2015 you can use copy of that course certificate and submit it online at  Temporary cards will be issued immediately (for both courses previously taken and newly taken course) and actual cards will be issued starting mid-January, 2018.

The online courses cost approximately $25 – $30, with some sites offering group discounts.

The first infraction of the law is subject to a fine of not more than $100.00.

I have always supported volunteers who educate boaters, such as the Coast Guard Auxiliary and Power Squadrons.  I believe the individuals who voluntarily attend these classes are more likely to succeed in becoming safe boaters, because they want to become safe boaters.  The mandatory boating education courses appear to be much like the safe driving courses that are a mandated option when one receives a speeding ticket.  It is doubtful that one stops speeding after taking such a course, though we often slow down as we gain wisdom through experience and age.

There are statistics that say states with mandatory education have fewer boating accidents and fatalities, and the low percentage of those involved in the accidents and fatalities that have a boater’s card also support the concept of boater’s education.  This process seems to be a minor imposition on boaters, likely very easy for experienced boaters and hopefully a worth benefit to new boaters and the boating community.

Sea Sickness – Controlling the body

When the eyes perceive a different movement than the inner ear experiences the result can be sea sickness for a boater.  While this is the common belief, the actual cause of sea sickness is not agreed upon by the medical community.  Approximately 30% of the population is relatively immune to sea sickness while another 30% gets very little relief from common medications.

The research supports my personal experiences with sea sickness.  While I have been sea sick, and understand the feeling, it is rare for me but three of our family of five are prone to it.   Research suggests anxiety about sea sickness contributes to its frequency and rest and hydration help prevent it.

Eating lightly, including snacks such as ginger snaps and pretzels is preferred to not eating or to eating greasy or acidic foods.  Wind across your face and staring at the horizon are proven to reduce discomfort and avoid others who are sick.  Driving the vessel (and driving the car) is also helpful.  Your senses tend to agree when you are in control of the boat and watching the seas.  The back of smaller boats and amidships near the water line in ships generally has less movement.  Staring at the horizon on deck is preferred to confusing your senses down below.  An easy rule to remember is back of the boat and front of the plane.

If one of the crew is sick, exercise caution if they are heaving over the side of the boat.  Sea sickness is bad but a person overboard, particularly in heavy weather, is worse.

There are both homeopathic and “western medical” means for prevention and acute treatment of motion sickness.  Homeopathic treatments generally have little to no side effects.  Research indicates that some treatments are extremely effective on some people, thus trying various treatments is suggested.  Unfortunately there are so many variables and unknowns in motion sickness, your personal research may take a long period of time and accurate record keeping to be effective.

A common homeopathic treatment is acupressure or electro acupuncture on the T6 pressure point.  This is the pressure point approximately two fingers up the forearm from the wrist.   There are a multitude of wristbands and bracelets which apply pressure to this pressure point.  There are electric wrist bands with variable intensity settings and both of these methods are effective on some.

There is an extensive amount of medication available for sea sickness.  Primarily anticholinergics and antihistamines are used.  Scopolamine is usually applied as a patch behind the ear and it works as both prevention and treatment for sea sickness.  Antihistamines such as Dramamine and Bonine are most effective as preventative medicines and need to be ingested one to two hours prior to departure.  The common side effects include drowsiness and dry mouth.

A non FDA approved medicine Cinnarizine (brand name Sturgeon) is mentioned in several studies and may be the most effective antihistamine with fewest side effects.

NASA and the U.S. Navy use conditioning and de-sensitization to reduce motion sickness in astronauts and pilots.  So get out there, boat more often, and stop worrying about getting sick.


Here are a two of many helpful sites:

Sea Sickness – Controlling the Sea

Most readers of this article have experienced sea sickness themselves and with families and guests. In my professional life, sea sickness is the most commonly quoted reason for not participating in boating activities. As an avid boater and boating professional I try to do all I can to minimize human discomfort, increase enjoyment of boating and overall boating activity.
This article will focus of various ways the boat can be used to control the seas. Picking the right day to boat or the right weather window is one of the critical decisions. Sometimes we cannot control when our planned Catalina vacation is but when possible understanding wave height, direction and period, and how that will affect our intended voyage, and our alternative destinations will be appreciated by your crew. Maybe going to Ensenada and returning in better conditions is preferred to beating to Catalina.
Sailboats can use sails to dampen the roll of the vessel and powerboats can use trim tabs as the most basic control. Speed also has a factor in controlling roll, yaw and pitch.
Fixed stabilizing fins can help control a boats movement underway and deployable devices such as flopper stoppers and Para vanes can be used with almost any type of vessel. Flopper stoppers are butterfly type devices which are hung over a boat at anchor and dampen the roll while Para vanes are deployed while underway for the same reason.
Active fin stabilizers, usually controlled by hydraulic components are more effective, and of course more expensive. These systems use a gyro device to manipulate the position of the fins to reduce roll while underway and depending on the size of the vessel more than one pair of active fin stabilizers can be installed.
A more recent version of active fin stabilizers can also help maintain roll stability while moving slowly or not at all. These stabilizers are extremely powerful and flap quickly to maintain stability. They also require a tremendous amount of power and are known to push a vessel forward.
A very effective stabilizing option is gyro stabilization. A large piece (or pieces) of spinning steel stabilizes the vessel using the same concept as a Segway. The amount of roll stabilization possible with gyro stabilization is truly remarkable. These devices take 30 minutes or so to spin up to speed but a properly matched gyro stabilizer is so affective at reducing roll stabilization that one really must experience it to understand the difference. There is of course a financial cost to the various components which for the more advanced devices includes not only the device cost but engineering and installation costs. Many modern vessels over 50’ in length are being designed to accept gyro stabilizers and manufactures are offering them as an option.

Cecil Lang Story

I first met Mr. Cecil Lange in La Paz, Mexico while surveying a Cape George sailboat he built in Port Townsend, Washington.  The Cape George boats he built were very traditional, stout and full of wood.  It was both a pleasure to meet the builder and helpful to have such a knowledgeable person to answer questions.


A few years later I was handling an insurance claim involving a C & C sailboat grounded in Bahia Santa Maria, just north of the entrance to Bahia Magdalena (Mag Bay).  Honeymooners had run aground, I never asked what had distracted them.  My initial response to the adjuster was to total the boat, but he said it had gone aground in soft sand, remained upright and had a military guard to prevent looting.  At his request, I was off on another adventure and this time I would be a pseudo “salvage master”.


I flew in to La Paz and got on the cruiser’s net on the VHF to gather local knowledge, several boaters were interested in the operation but few had any useful skills or knowledge, until Cecil responded.  In an hour I picked him up, he had a small bag; I think he brought a couple pair of clean underwear. He jumped in the Jeep and we were off.


He and I searched out and purchased all the suitable line in Mag Bay, luckily found and hired a Chinese/Mexican shrimp boat captain and engaged in a difficult negotiation with the leader of a small fleet of pangas (the common Mexican runabout).  We constructed an elaborate web of lines to help pull the boat “gently” off the beach and devised a way to get the tow line to the shrimp boat, we planned to pull at the next high tide.  We overcame many difficulties typical of salvage operations, difficult access (long panga rides and long hikes over dunes), salvage logistics and extremely limited resources.


Finally we were ready for the pull and Cecil was aboard with a couple locals from the panga crews. I was directing from the beach, like Mutual of Omaha’s Marlin Perkins would watch for trouble while Jim wrestled the wild anaconda, except the age thing was reversed (Cecil being my senior by some 30 years).


After some initial success and pulling the C & C into the surf line, the web failed.  In short order Cecil tied the towing line around the mast and the tow resumed.  When the boat made it out past the surf line I was temporarily at ease and was amazed by Cecil (at the time in his 70’s) riding the bucking sailboat joyfully through the surfline.


A panga took me out to the C & C only to discover the boat was taking on a significant amount of water, the battery level was low and the engine’s water pump was not pumping water (the impeller was shot).  We decided to change the impeller as darkness fell.  We wanted to conserve the little battery power we had to start the engine, so we used an oil lamp for light to change the impeller while taking turns on the manual bilge pump.  Surveyor’s note – sometimes these seldom used old school boating basic tools are invaluable.  Once we changed the impeller, the engine ran fine, the alternator gave us electricity, the electric bilge pump worked and the shrimp boat towed us in to Mag Bay.
Cecil was an invaluable asset to the salvage and his ride through the breakers is a memory that will hopefully stay with me forever.  He reminded me of Slim Pickens riding the bomb out of the plane in the film Dr. Strangelove (watch here).
The struggles we overcame and success enhance the memory, but the adventurous, Kiwi, boat building marine surveyor Cecil Lange’s involvement was by far the best part.


Marelon vs Bronze

The owner of a 16 year old Tartan 3500 was told by a couple of his know-it-all friends to replace his Marelon through hulls and valves ASAP or the world could end.  He went online and found forums to be inconclusive.  No, really? Everyone on the internet doesn’t agree with each other?  He asked for my opinion of the decades old boaters’ debate, Marelon vs. Bronze.
For this article I evolved into a “real journalist”.  I spoke with Mr. Gerry Douglas, of Catalina Yachts and Mr. Bill Hanna of Forespar, the distributors of Marelon through hulls and valves.
Forespar purchased a bankrupt R.C. Marine (New Zealand) in 1983 after several years of purchasing and distributing R.C. Marine made Marelon. Marelon (pronounced “mar – i – lawn”) is a carbon reinforced plastic, or per their web site “Marelon® is a proprietary formulation of polymar [sic] composite compounds using composite reinforced polymer and additives” and Marelon is:
  • U.L. and A.B.Y.C. approved
  • Forespar “93” series valves and thru-hull fittings meet all design criteria and exceed all mechanical property requirements specified by the International Standards Organization
Mr. Hanna refers to the material as glass reinforced nylon and calls it a true engineering plastic.  Forespar purchases material from DuPont, having tried other suppliers.  They have tried various combinations of material and tweaked their materials over time.  They currently sell through hulls and valves to 325 boat builders worldwide.


Forespar’s website includes ASTM testing results for Marelon ( showing the material is very resistant to corrosion, UV degradation and marring.  It also shows the tensile strength and flexural modulus compared to bronze.
Mr. Gerry Douglas admitted to early skepticism but said Catalina was an early convert to Marelon, having switched from bronze almost 25 years ago.  He has been through several generations of the product, and a few problems, but the Marelon products do not corrode, require no bonding and he is a believer.  Most importantly he reports happy customers.
Like Gerry, I was initially skeptical.  I was use to bronze through hulls and valves.  I preferred seacocks (valves mounted directly to the hull) over ball valves (valves mounted on the stem of the through hull away from the hull) and, with my pen, prohibited the use of gate valves below the waterline (with a few commercial exceptions).  Then I began seeing the Marelon products.
I have seen in many less expensive and cheaper plastic through hulls fail.  Many are susceptible to UV damage, crack around the inside of the mounting flange and fall into the hull, turning a bilge pump into a recirculating pump.  But I have also broken more bronze through hulls and valves than I have Marelon; I twist a lot of through hull valves.  Both types of through hulls and valves require maintenance.  Forespar sells Marelube to prevent valve seizing and both types of valves should be exercised regularly.
The forums are full of stories of failing plastic through hulls and valves and old salts who don’t want to change.  I respect these experiences but have converted to believing in Marelon, primarily for the lack of corrosion.  Corrosion is what I see as the most common cause of through hull failure and the plastic through hulls and valves don’t corrode.  
The strength of the Marelon components is less than bronze.  So use bronze in high traffic or exposed areas, otherwise I choose plastic.
In the interest of coming together and showing that we can all get along, here is a link to using Marelon valves on bronze through hulls.
Mr. Hanna said he has never had a broken plastic fitting returned to them that ended up being one of their products, ever.  They manufacture their products in Orange County, California and have done so since 1983.  The Marlon threads are manufactured to marine industry standards and Mr. Hanna is proud of their customer service and end user support.  He promises that Forespar answers all inquiries.  Mr. Hanna has nothing bad to say about quality bronze through hulls and valves but does warn against the use of “household” bronze and brass components.

Shore Power Cord Problems

The photographs of the shore power cord and damage to the dock and boat were found as I arrived for a condition and valuation inspection for an owner that lived out of state. The inspection was requested by his insurance company, who apparently dodged a bullet.
As boating season winds down, our visits to our boats dwindle. Many of us live remotely from our vessels and over time we grow comfortable in their self preservation. Shore power systems are commonly found defective. Dock box circuit breakers are designed to prevent problems like this, but are notoriously unreliable.
By their nature shore cord connections are subject to weather, movement and wear. All of which increase resistance and thus temperature of the conductors.
Approximately one out of every five boats we inspect has some problem with the shore power system.
The most common problem is heat damage at the shore power cord or vessel connectors. No amount of heat damage to these components should be disregarded. A small amount of visible heat damage is often an indication of much more significant damage which is not visible. Think visible part of iceberg versus what is below the water.
Because of our involvement with damage claims, we investigate many vessel fires and work alongside origin and cause experts. Their conclusions are often that the fire was electrical in nature and initiated near the shore power inlet. While some of these fires have been localized to the vessel itself and even to just the shore power inlet area, some result in entire marinas going up in flames.
A few simple practical pointers.
Make sure all designed components for the connectors are present and functional. Shore power cords should have a means to secure the cord to the inlet and protect the conductors from weather. The shore power cord should have strain relief where necessary. If your cord dangles five feet from the inlet to the dock, strain relief should be used to eliminate the strain between the cord and the inlet.

A shore power cord should not look like these.
Always make and break dead connections. The circuit breaker at the dock should be turned off prior to connecting or disconnecting the shore power cord from the vessel. The circuit breaker should be turned back on only after the shore power cord connection has been made at your boat. This prevents arcing damage which will contribute to problems at the connector.
I am fond of a product called “Smart Plug”. The plug requires no twisting and has features which reduce several of the problems that we encounter regularly, but it is more expensive.
Besides fires, many problems are caused by shore power malfunctions. Regularly checking shore power connections is an excellent way to avoid these problems. Your boating neighbors can help.
Take a moment, like that time in church where you shake the hands of those around you, and meet your neighbors. In addition to challenging strangers you see aboard each others’ vessels, develop a mutual plan for checking shore power cords and exchange contact information, the boat you save could be yours.

Boat electrical systems in winter

Most Southern California boaters, with the exception of a few alpine lake stored boats, don’t have to worry about snow accumulation or the water freezing around the boat. We have our own set of challenges brought upon by lower temperatures, rain and infrequent visits. We addressed shore power cords in our last article, here we address other issues.
As the temperature drops, heaters come out of the lockers. We find portable electric heaters on virtually every boat we inspect. Some heaters are better suited for use aboard a vessel. Some heaters will cut their power if they tip over, some have a wide base and are less likely to tip over, but few are designed to be left unattended aboard a boat. Above is a melted circuit breaker for a built in cabin heater.
Bring aboard only the most suitable type of heater, remember the boat may be used by somebody less familiar with boats than you are. Gas heaters, wood stoves and other improvised heating devices have also been known to cause problems.
The use of heaters and decorative lights increases the amperage in the AC electrical system and this increase can cause problems to develop or become apparent.
During a recent pre-purchase survey of a 50 meter power vessel, one of the crew was surprised to learn that several of the air conditioners also functioned as heaters. The older vessel had a combination of heat pump style units and household type units which only functioned in the cool mode. They were surprised to learn that the heat pump units functioned in both the heat and cool modes. This type of heater is much safer than a portable heater.
Boat fact: reverse cycle / heat pump type air conditioning units’ function is most effectively tested in the heat mode in Southern California. Heat is distinct versus blown air which can feel cool.
Winter is our rainy season, in addition to checking deck drains, hatch drains and the associated hoses and valves, this is a good time to check bilge pumps. If you don’t know how to check the automatic function of your bilge pump, learn. You-tube has everything. Know that your automatic bilge pump will only work as long as its battery is charged.
De-humidifiers are usually much safer than space heaters. Many boat air conditioners have a de-humidifier function as well. While de-humidifiers can prevent mould and mildew, we suggest inspecting the boat after the first rain for any leaks. Your boat will eventually leak, the quicker the leak is found and fixed the better chance you have to reduce resulting damage. Leaks onto electrical components can lead to problems. A common finding is water accumulated in dome lights. It is not uncommon to find water leaking on to or near electrical distribution panels, as they are often outboard near the hull to deck joint and below deck hardware.
Finally, if you are going to keep frozen food aboard, especially seafood or bait, be aware of potential problems from a loss of shore power. Standard galley refrigerators can leak and significant damage has occurred when frozen fish thaw. Consider a deep freezer for your fish or bait, their design will capture this disgusting soup and limit the damage.

Mechanical Insurance Claims

As a marine surveyor assisting insurance companies with claims our primary duties are to determine cause of loss, scope of damage and review repair costs. The type of boat claims most surveyors receive are varied, from submersion damage to lightning strikes to mechanical failures.  No one is an expert in all experts, we all cannot be electrical and mechanical engineers, metallurgists, experts in rules of the road, lamination experts or coatings experts.  We simply need be proficient and know our limits.

The types of engines and drive systems that experience failures are varied and a good example of modern marine surveying. Further, different insurance carriers require different levels of cause or determination.  Some carriers merely need to know if the cause was mechanical (from within the engine) or external, plastic bag, submerged object, bad fuel etc…).
A recent claim for a failed diesel engine began with the discovery of plastic components in a sea strainer.  A tear down of the engine revealed a single cylinder failure, not caused by the plastic.  Interestingly the insured thought the claim may not be covered if it wasn’t caused by the plastic but this mechanical failure was not excluded by the policy. Some insurance companies require much more specific cause or determination. This can be to allow proper cover decisions or to preserve subrogation rights. In another recent claim an inboard diesel engine had been rebuilt and had been rebuilt approximately one month prior to the loss. The warranty was for six months. Our inspection resulted in the determination of a mechanical failure from a component within the engine, however this carrier required a more specific determination.  Again, the mechanical nature of the failure was a key factor.

There is no shame in not being able to more specific in a cause or determination such as this. In this case a forensic engineer was hired to attempt find “the smoking gun”.  In modern insurance claims it is important to remember the basics, develop the history, any recent repairs and the precise event details from the operator.  Be sure to separate opinions developed after the loss from consultations with varies from the facts of the actual events.  Be aware that our failure analysis skills often evolve past those of the trained mechanic, as their job is not the same as ours.  A skilled and ethical mechanic is one of our best tools cross checking opinions with other mechanics is also an option. With modern machines don’t forget the computers. Recording error messages and understanding their significance can be vital.  In a recent failure claim we were provided “compression readings” as proof of the condition of an engine prior to loss.  Further analysis revealed that these “compression” test results were a computer analysis versus an actual pressure gauge inserted in the injector tube.  So obtain the error codes but also understand their significance.

POKEMON Stop – Stop

“Pokemon, STOP!” is the plea from a San Diego marina. A Pokemon stop is where players of this augmented reality game go to collect Pokemon. As a parent of 16, 18 and 20 year olds, I became aware of the game several months ago, but have not played the game. I have observed the capture of a Pokemon in my living room.
I did little research for this article and like boaters scoffing at the depictions of boating in movies and television shows, Pokemon players can poke fun and poke holes at the facts in this article. Who cares, warning to techies, this is not Mr. Robot.
While driving to a boat in Coronado I noticed a gathering of mostly young people in the grassy median on Orange Avenue. My son / apprentice informed me that this was an intersection of Pokemon stops; the gang of players was oblivious to the passing cars.
When I first noted the sign (above) at the marina I thought they were joking and were actually hosting a Pokemon event. How wrong I was. Turns out the players were a major nuisance.
The Pokemon stop that quickly caused overcrowding issues at the marina is apparently the result of an adjacent park. Niantic Inc. designed this game to be played while walking and thus many of the stops (and gyms) are located at public parks. Most agree this is a positive part of Pokemon Go. Young people actually leaving their dark computer dens and getting outside.
However, sometimes all the players see while outside, are the Pokemon. Just before sunset, at a beachside bluff, two young people arrived, quickly caught their Pokemon and departed just before the sun made a magnificent departure. The youngsters had succeeded in getting out of their digital den, but missed a colorful exhibition of nature and a chance at a green flash.
There are stories of Pokemon players walking off cliffs, perhaps a Darwinian thinning of the herd. Players should be conscious of the inconveniences and impositions caused by their play. They should not trespass, block gates and sidewalks or be unaware of other problems they cause as individuals or groups.
And boaters should be happy these young people are outside, walking around and socializing. Perhaps we should take a cue from the Pokemon Go players and leave the house, go to our boats, untie the lines and enjoy the great outdoors. In the words of a famous Southern Californian, “Why can’t we all just get along?” Pokemon Go is a fad which is already fading. The troubles at the marina have abated; the players and boaters are learning to co-exist.

Puerto Salina

Located at kilometer marked 73 (km 73) is the only port between the U.S. Border and Ensenada, Mexico. But don’t plan on using this as a port of refuge unless you are driving a personal water craft.
The marina was built approximately fifteen years ago. Problems with the silting of the channel, intermittent dredging and modification of the jetty were mentioned during a handful of marine surveying jobs we performed there in its early years.
In the last several years I have seen a sandbar across the marina entrance and I stopped and spoke with general manager in July 2016. Mr. Paul Hernandez, the general manager of Marina Puerto Salina, stated that the current shallow water channel problem has existed for four years. He stated that the water depth reaches 3’ on low tide and entry and exit from the marina is still possible at high tide. He stated that the owner of the marina is currently focused on a project in Cabo San Lucas and thus the marina has been neglected and the condominiums remain unfinished.
Researching the marina I noticed an article in The Log from May 2013, discussing the shallow water entrance.
During my visit I spoke with an unknown individual aboard a vessel named “Warlock”. He stated that the vessel has been in the marina for nine years and stuck for the last six. His vessel is a 60’ power boat which like draws 5’.
There are thirty to forty boats in the Marina and we have noticed very little activity. On a July 13, 2016 visit there were a few locals at a convenience store there was no activity on a launch ramp or in the marina except for the gentleman aboard “Warlock” varnishing a cap rail.
On August 28, we did notice a jet ski operating in the marina channel. I have recently been told that there are tax benefits in Mexico realized for unfinished properties. I was told that sometimes properties are left partially unfinished, i.e. rebar exposed from raw cinder blocks, because the tax benefit is eliminated once the property is finished.
While I have no idea if this tax benefit has any bearing on the state of Puerto Salina, it is clear that the condominiums remain unfinished and the harbor entrance is un-dredged and too hazardous to provide a port of refuge or planned stopping point between San Diego and Ensenada.
Other bits of Baja California Norte News: I surveyed a boat at Puerto Salsa, just north of Ensenada in the last few months. As an active marine surveyor in this area since 1993, it is rare that I visit an established boat yard for the first time. This commercial port hauled a 120’ passenger vessel that had its engines and generators replaced during the haul out.

Boat Superstitions (part 1)

The most well known superstition of course is the re-naming of the boat. The origins are apparently Greek (Poseidon), continuing through the Romans (Neptune) and at least peripherally influencing the Norse (Ran, Aegir, Njord, Odin and Hagar). Boaters, fisherman, sailors, etc.… are superstitious folk.
The “bad luck” is brought upon by the God of the Sea who maintains a ledger of all boat names. Thus the first component to disable the bad luck of a new boat name is the de-naming ceremony. This ceremony causes the God to forget the name and of course requires alcohol.
All of these ceremonies require quality champagne or wine. To properly de-name the vessel, first pour a portion of the beverage into the ocean as an offering to the God and then pour some into your mouth(s). The alcohol helps the God forget.
Next gather all items emblazoned with the previous name, burn them and scatter the ashes into the sea. “White out” the “Previous Vessel Names” on your Coast Guard documentation, as you might need it later; otherwise make sure all vestiges of the old name are completely eliminated.
The re-naming ceremony begins with appeasing the Gods with more liquor and a request that they accept the new name. Following this second offering to the Gods, a glass of the quality champagne or wine is enjoyed by the captain and the first mate, in the name of good luck. Don’t bring aboard anything with the new name until the first ceremony is complete, or you’ll have to do a lot more drinking to do.
The last required ceremony is the appeasement of the four winds. This ceremony includes (yep, you saw it coming) pouring four equal amounts of the chosen beverage and tossing them in each of the primary compass directions. The remainder of the beverage is to be consumed by those involved in the ceremonies.
During my training I was taught that nudity was involved in this ceremony, however, I found no such reference in my exhaustive validation research. I did come across a reference to naked women. It is bad luck to have women aboard, because they distract sailors from their duties, but naked women are good luck because they calm the seas. Thus topless figurines of women adorn the bows of so many sailing ships.
The takeaway is that quality champagne or wine help solve boating problems. If you and/or your first mate are recovering from alcoholism, we support you. Please contact us and someone from our office will be happy to perform the ceremonies on your behalf.
p.s. we like women on our boats, with or without clothes

Boat Superstitions (Part 2)

This is the second part of a two part article. The first part dealt with renaming a boat and the necessary ceremony to avoid bad luck. One recovering reader responded, “like most of us I’ve come to accept the glorification of alcohol and drunkenness in society” and “we have found that we can have just as much fun, laughter, and happiness with diet coke and sparkling cider”. Alcoholism is a serious problem. My father had 35+ years sobriety from alcohol. Thus, let it be known the renaming ceremony will be just as effective with non-alcoholic beverages.
Since one objective of the ceremony is to make the God of the Sea forget your boat’s prior name, consider tossing (soon to be legal) marijuana in the water instead (unless you’re addicted to weed).
Now on to the lesser superstitions.
Bringing bananas aboard a vessel has been thought to bring bad luck since the 1700s. There are gross tons of theories as to why. One suggests that bananas spoil quickly and thus ships had to rush to their destinations, eliminating the opportunity for the crew to fish. Spiders, termites and methane gas are among the explanations for this obviously poor choice of sea food, as if we need any logical bases. This is most commonly adhered to now by fisherman.
Sharks following the vessel, whistling onboard and redheads (gingers) are bad luck. The shark is a sure sign of death. Don’t whistle aboard, you may whistle up a storm. Redheads are bad luck as they are just unfortunate to be a statistical minority. If brown hair had been bad luck we would have a history of bald sailors. Albatrosses are thought to be good luck if one is spotted, bad luck if one is killed. A “Jonah” is a person or crew member who brings bad luck. Dolphins swimming alongside are a positive omen, this one I can personally attest to as they always make me happy.
From the pirates comes a full booty of superstitions. Gold hoop earrings bring good fortune, gold provides healing powers and prevents drowning (unless you have too much). Tattoos have many magical powers. A North Star tattoo can help guide you home. Ducks or pigs tattooed on your feet will help you reach land if you fall overboard. Cutting hair or nails or shaving beards brings bad luck, baseball players share this one. Clearly there is crossover between land and sea superstitions.
There are many bad days to set sail, December 31, the first Monday in April, the second Monday in August, Thursdays and most commonly Fridays. I did a job for a commercial customer recently who will not begin a voyage on Friday and his business is doing well.
Red sky at night a sailor’s delight, red sky in the morning sailors take warning. Brief research suggests this has scientific validity and is alluded to in the Bible (Matthew 16:2-3).
Historically sailing was (and is) a dangerous occupation and superstitions helped sailors deal with the unknown. Today we have weather satellites, hair dye, man overboard drills, steel ships and refrigeration. Thank God (of the sea) for steel ships and refrigeration as Dole brings ship loads of bananas to the 10th avenue Marine Terminal in San Diego regularly; imagine the load of bad luck we might otherwise have suffered?

Comparing Boats on different Coasts

I began my career as a marine surveyor working for a Ft. Lauderdale, Florida based marine surveying company in 1990. I was born in San Diego to a U.S. Navy family but “grew up” as an active boater in Florida. I moved back to California in 1993 and have lived in San Diego since.
Returning to California as a marine surveyor I noted the difference in the value of boats from coast to coast. I just returned from a trip to Florida where I surveyed a Cabo 35 for a repeat client. I was there for a family wedding and used the job as a therapeutic break and a write off. The job reminded me of the difference between boats on different coasts.
The Coast Guard’s recreational boating statistics (2014) state California has 728,679 registered boats and Florida has 873,507 registered boats. The California number declined significantly from the prior year and the Florida number increased slightly. I found several interesting websites with statistics, links are at the end of this article.
Putting values on boats in the early 1990s included researching B.U.C., N.A.D.A. and A.B.O.S. value guides. The value guides suggested upward adjustments for boats in California.
I independently noticed that vessel values were higher in California, often significantly more than the cost of transporting the boats. My recent survey follows this higher value pattern.
Boats in Florida are exposed to much harsher atmospheric conditions, more sun, heat and often more usage. The very top of Florida is 31 degrees north latitude and Key West is south of 25 degrees north. San Diego is 32 degrees north, the southernmost point of California.
The weather affects the California boating season (May through September) much more than Florida. The air and water temperatures are much higher, the sun does more damage and boats are used more often in Florida. Florida has an intercoastal waterway, allowing usage of many boats when the sea conditions are unfavorable for boating.
I have always noticed a higher valuation for California boats compared to Florida boats, with the delta in values reduced during recession years. Florida brokers report that inventory of quality boats is low, just like California. Both states were affected by the recession and accompanying lack of boat production six to eight years ago.
The takeaway is that a boat’s value is difficult to determine based on year, make and model alone. As we all know, condition is a significant factor and statistically our local boats have a higher value because they are in better condition than boats in Florida. Unfortunately for my recent client, even a California bred boat can be affected by the Florida sun and he passed on the deal.
While researching for this article I found many interesting statistical websites, including the number of registered boats, boats per capita, value of the marine industry overall per state and casualty statistics. One statistic suggested that Arizona has the most registered boats per capita, due to their state requiring registration of all types of watercraft including those without power. I also found it interesting how many more power boats there are than sailboats, also possibly an anomaly affected by the requirement to register boats with power.

An Interesting trip to CUBA

My wife and I, two bilingual (Spanish) children and a non-Spanish speaking adult couple took a 10-day trip to Cuba in April 2016. I thought boaters would be interested due to their sense of adventure, travel inclination, island lore and some boating trivia and activities.
We arranged our trip ourselves, but encourage the use of Canadian travel agents. We flew out of Tijuana through Mexico City to Havana. In Mexico City we wrote our own official permission slip. The U.S. still allows visits for one of twelve purposes. We traveled under education / people to people, and will keep our itinerary for five years in case the State Department asks for it.
We visited Havana, Varadero and Vinales. The other couple visited Guardalavaca. They flew Cubana Avacion to Holguin, including a flight on a Russian built jet. This is in the area of Guantanamo Bay. Besides a 7-hour delay, their flight was normal.
We stayed mostly in houses or rooms rented through Air BNB (Casa Particulares). We found the Cuban people to be extremely friendly. There has a slight rise in petty theft recently, but we felt very safe. The Cuban’s were willing to speak openly about all subjects, including politics. Chinese we encountered in a previous trip to China were reluctant to speak so openly, though we speak much more Spanish than Mandarin and the language barrier was certainly a factor.
Interestingly no Cuban that we met had ever been off the island. An average to high-end job pays $25 a month. It’s hard to pay for a trip off the island at that pay rate even if one could navigate through the complexities and time consuming paperwork. The average Cuban works to pay for the food.
The food was mostly poor. Prices were fairly standard, but only in the occasional private restaurants (Paladares) could we find good food and to find them you had to dig deeper than just asking the taxi cab driver or taking the advice of a restaurant hawker on the street. Most buildings are in a state of disrepair. And the cars are a mind-boggling time travel experience.
Cuba has three eras of cars, the American era of the 1950’s, the Russian era of the 1970’s and the current era of the Chinese cars and busses. Every imaginable American car from the 1950’s is operating on the streets of Cuba, some with original engines and many with German and Japanese diesel engines.
The beaches were nice as one would expect on a Caribbean Island. We swam in a fresh water fed cave. We boated in an underground river and we experienced spectacular views overlooking cigar tobacco farming valleys. We watched a farmer roll a cigar and we smoked plenty of them.
We took a Hobie Cat on a snorkeling excursion to a coral reef. On that day diving visibility was moderate, the reef was average but fish were plentiful. The guides were throwing bread into the water and laughing at the tourists’ reactions to the boil of fish around them. I couldn’t help myself and joined in, throwing more fish food about the unsuspecting tourists, contributing to the fish mischief. Our guide tickled a lobster out of a hole to bring home.
I visited a marina in Varadero. The marina was new but empty. A handful of private yachts were scattered in the outer portions of the marina and a dozen 100-foot Fountaine Pajot passenger carrying catamarans were in the front row. The government runs most of the tours. The rum, the cigars, the restaurants, hotels and rental cars are all predominately operated by the government and most prices on these commodities are fixed throughout the country.
The yate “Granma” holds a special place in Cuban history. Eighty two rebels embarked on a miserable 1,200 mile journey from Mexico to Cuba aboard the 43’ boat. The rebels included Fidel and Raul Castro, Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos. The Batista government knew they were coming and tried to find and stop the “Granma” but it landed in Cuba, discharged its passengers and gained entrance into the Revolutionary Museum in Havana. A lot more impactful than the local smuggling pangas.
The private economy is beginning to develop but in this regard Cuba is far behind China.
There were only a few street hawkers. They generally were selling black market cigars, rum and promoting restaurants. I encountered nobody selling any drugs or prostitution, as is common in many countries. I was told prostitution is active, but it is illegal and not publicly promoted.
There are two currencies in Cuba, one is the national currency (Moneda Nacional or CUP) and the tourist currency (CUC). Tourists trade their money only for CUC and U.S. dollars are hit with a 10% exchange fee in addition to the normal money change fee of 3%. Bring Mexican Pesos or Canadian Dollars, they only get charged the 3% fee. Money changing is a government service and the rate is the same at the airport, banks or hotels. Use of American credit cards is very limited and also subject to a financial penalty.
The official U. S. Government position for bringing products back from Cuba is a $400 limit with only $100 of cigars or liquor. My buddy is enjoying his $100 box of Cohibas.
I decided that if I was Cuban, I would be a diving guide. I would get to boat, dive and interface with people regularly. I would get a little extra money from tips and eat lobster for dinner.

When Size Matters

“Hatteras’ specifications list the boat length as 50’ 3” and that is what I would like on my survey”. This was a recent request from a client who had just purchased a 2003 Hatteras 50 convertible. “And I would like to be referred to as Sir Kells, bring peace to the world and arouse women when I walk into the room”, I thought, though I responded “well let’s see if I can help”.
“I measured your boat and usually I am close. I measured 53’ 4”. I would be happy to measure it again”. I continued, “Boats are rarely the length that the manufacturer specifies or the broker lists”. Of this I am certain. But why? How are boats measured?
Per the 2009 version of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Simplified Measurement Tonnage Guide (, the overall length is the horizontal distance between the outboard side of the foremost part of the hull and the outboard side of the after most part of the hull. It does not include bow sprits, rudders, outboard motor mount brackets, swim platforms that do not contain buoyant volume and other similar fittings and attachments that are not part of the buoyant hull envelope.
We measure vessels length overall (LOA) and we do include swim platforms and bow sprits. This is the most useful length, as it is the length used by most marinas and yacht clubs. For our purposes we do not include the anchor hanging over the bow or the tender hanging on the transom, these can always be removed. While permanent fixtures such as swim platforms can be removed, it is not simple.
We rarely refer to length on the waterline (LWL) or length on deck (LOD) as these lengths are generally only useful when discussing designs and theoretic hull speed.
The Coast Guard defines overall breadth as “the horizontal distance taken at the widest part of the hull, excluding rub rails. This measurement is rarely disputed. Another important measurement of a boat’s width is the breadth at the waterline, as most boats are much wider at their rub rail (flair) than they are in the water and can thus fit into a slip which is not as wide as the boat.
The Coast Guard defines overall depth as the vertical distance at or near amidships from a line drawn horizontally through the uppermost edge of the skin (excluding the superstructure) to the bottom skin of the hull, excluding the keel. This length is not the vessel’s draft. Thus the depth on your Coast Guard documentation should not be confused with your vessel’s draft. We measure draft as the distance between the waterline of the vessel and the deepest submerged part of the vessel, be it keel, propellers or rudders. This is the minimum depth of water your boat needs to remain happy.
The Coast Guard allows simplified measurement for the calculation of tonnage. A discussion of the meaning of tonnage was addressed in a prior article and can be found on our website ( it is not a measure of weight.
The boat’s length thus can vary, but it only varies based on the specific definition of the length that is sought. It is neither shorter when you are paying for a slip (or marine survey) nor longer after a couple scotches.

Do I trust my broker? Part two

A client who had a bad boat selling experience said, “The only power a boat seller has in the transaction is the right of refusal.” While ultimately true and though California law protects buyers more than sellers, there are ways to prevent many of the problems my client experienced.


He was unfamiliar with the process and made himself and the boat available to a potential buyer many times, got underway three times and then had an 11th hour offer reduction of one third of the agreed purchase price.  The deal fell through and he came to me to discuss various survey findings and the apparent sales practice that he found distasteful.

For those unfamiliar with the boat buying process, it begins with an offer, then a counter, then an agreement with time constraints for marine survey and sea trial and then another time constraint to close the deal. Researching with the several local brokers, the average time from contract inception to survey and sea trial was 14 days and another 7 to 10 days to close.  The contract includes purchase price, refundable deposit amount and other terms.  Marine survey and sea trial are performed for the buyer to gain knowledge of the condition and value of the boat.  After the survey and sea trial many boat deals are re-negotiated.  The seller is not obligated to have repairs done or allow any concession in price, but they often do so if justified by the survey’s findings.

Our client’s problems were twofold; he gave more time and energy than most sellers during the sales process and then faced a significant reduction in the offer price after marine survey and sea trial. The reduction in the offer was based on findings during the survey and sea trial, per the buyer’s broker.  Several of the findings, including blisters on the hull bottom were known to the seller prior to the survey.

To avoid last minute re-negotiations for known conditions, I suggest full disclosure in advance of survey and sea trial. I don’t recommend putting all the boat’s warts on the published listing, but I do suggest disclosing them prior to survey, especially things like blisters.  Older boats come with blemishes and they are cheaper than new boats.  Price the boat fairly, disclose the known deficiencies of significance and many of the psychologically challenging aspects of the sales process will be removed.

Some sellers make it clear that they will not reduce the price after survey, often because they feel the offer is less than the actual value of the boat. Some sellers offer a maximum survey allowance in advance.  These tactics may prevent a low ball last minute offer reduction by an unscrupulous buyer by deterring them at the onset of the deal.

An English article on this tactic calls it “chipping” or “gazundering”. We can’t know if this tactic was consciously deployed in this instance or if the buyer just had a change of opinion of value, but the results for our client were the same, negative.

Find the article at–buyers-reneging-agreed-sale-price-And-plain-wrong.html

Do I trust my broker? Part one

Having been asked this question repeatedly at our booth in the recent San Diego boat show and many times over the years, I decided to publish my answer.



Since we are a marine survey company, a question we often field from prospective boat buyers is “Can I trust my broker’s recommendation for a marine surveyor?”

To use a baseball analogy, this is a “hanging curveball”. I’m at bat with bases loaded and no outs!  Boat broker and marine surveyors are often at odds and I have suffered the blows of many brokers’ verbal bats.

Still my answer is, “If you trust your broker, you should trust their recommendation for marine surveyor, lender, insurance company, boat yard, mechanic, etc…, After all you trust their advice on the boat, right?”

I ask if the potential boat buyer is working with a broker that found the boat for them or if they found the boat and the broker came along, becoming their broker and the broker for the seller. This doesn’t disqualify the broker‘s referrals but the new relationship will not manifest the same trust as one developed over time with someone searching listings for you and taking you out for viewings.

I see no ethical dilemma in brokering both sides of the deal – it is common, and the broker either is or is not ethical. Of course having one broker versus two creates some ethical challenges and raises the possibility of an appearance of a conflict of interest.  It must be tricky to advise the buyer on a proper offering price when the broker already knows the seller’s bottom line.  A dedicated broker could logically be more aggressive in negotiating but the shared broker might have more influence.

If there is any question that the broker’s referral(s) are not in your best interest, don’t dismiss them, but also do your own research. The marine industry is a “small world”, ask marine industry professionals for referrals.  We all know each other’s reputations.  Network with marine surveyors, lenders, insurance agents, boat yard operators, mechanics and maritime attorneys.

Ask for several referrals instead of just one and compare the lists. Ask your boating neighbors and friends.  Search the internet, but be careful to not be influenced by one fanatical supporter or detractor.   “Due diligence” in this case does not take long and is simple.

On the other side of the coin, I just met with a repeat (marine survey) client of mine who had a bad sales experience as a boat seller, and realized many of our clients don’t go through the vessel selling process often.

In Part 2 of this article, I will share my experience on the boat selling transaction side, which I hope will be helpful.