Pretrial: What You Should Know

Pretrial, Keep Easy Things From Ruining the Deal

A “pretrial” is a test run of a vessel that is for sale, before the survey and sea trial with a potential buyer. Many of these ideas should also be useful for the general boating public, before that summer trip (usually to Catalina Island in our area).

I discussed pretrials with several brokers. The larger, higher value boats almost always have them. Smaller, lower value boats often do not, as the money earned from the commission does not justify the extra time. While this makes sense over a large sample space for a high volume brokerage, the individual boat that fails during a sea trial wastes time, costs money and turns potential buyers skeptical.

The batteries on a 2017 Sea Ray were so low that the engine would not start.
A Catalina 30 engine had trouble starting, died repeatedly when being shifted into gear and did not come close to design wide open throttle specification.

A Bayliner 57 had two very common pretrial detectable problems, malfunctions of the autopilot and the HVAC system.

And a Mason 44 sailboat had a roller furling main sail that would not deploy.

All these are recent deficiencies found during the sea trials that could have been discovered during a pretrial. While clearly it is untenable to address all common marine survey findings (distress signal flares, required placards and functional through hull valves as some examples) the larger and more important systems can be relatively easily proven and a decision can be made by the selling team to either repair the problem or disclose the problem to prevent it from killing the deal.

During sea trials we usually request the engines be operated to wide open throttle. If the engines have not been operated in such a manner for an extended period of time, problems are displayed. Turbo charger and shaft seal related problems are common. During a recent sea trial a hose between the turbo charger and the after cooler became disconnected. This occurred while throttling the engines up, on our way to wide open throttle. A mechanic aboard performing a mechanical survey was able to use a spare hose which was part of the vessel’s inventory, replace the damaged hose and continue with a sea trial. The potential buyer had already decided to abort the haul out if the engines could not be properly tested and the deal was saved.

“I’ve never used that” is a poor excuse for a system not functioning. The next owner may want the generator to function.

We regularly encounter a component which is known to be broken, often with a new part aboard, but not installed. We all have pending to do items in our lives and need to prioritize the list. Most of the time my potential buyer clients see this type of decision as a lack of maintenance versus time management challenges.

Make sure the wireless remotes for everything have functional batteries, the davit works, the key for the tender is available and its battery is charged and we encourage testing the windlass (just in case). A stiff steering system is always a high hurdle to jump during the buying process.

When the significant systems function properly the inevitable smaller findings are more easily overcome. Several simple procrastinated repairs often appear as deferred maintenance, and leaves potential buyers wondering about what else was neglected. A simple pretrial takes an hour and the return on investment is usually worthwhile.

When a problem is discovered during the sea trial it often tests the skills and experience of the broker. Some come from a technical background and can easily replace a seawater impeller or a battery. Some rely on their deep network of professionals and willing sellers to facilitate a rapid repair, saving the deal. Some simply refer the problem back to the seller and disengage until the problem is resolved. While the latter has been viable in the last few years, the Covid 19 demand is uncertain and a return to normal best practices may be rewarded.

A Fascinating Tugboat Survey

A Fascinating Tugboat Survey

I became a marine surveyor because I was fascinated with boating. I have remained a marine surveyor for over thirty years because I am fascinated with the trade and the opportunity to learn new things regularly. Below is an excerpt from an interesting email from a client.

This was a prepurchase survey on a recreational tugboat. He began his email that he regretted that he wouldn’t be able to attend the inspection and the opportunity to learn from me, but he had an opportunity to “give her a once over” and he included the following information, some tests of his own – here are the results:

“I’m particularly concerned with the state of the engine, even though just 1254 hours, as it would be difficult/expensive to replace so: (1) Engine oil and transmission oil, microscopic analysis, no overt metal swarf; recent engine oil analysis acceptable. (2) Prompt cold start. While running cold, stethoscopic inspection of injectors showed variance in #3 and #6 injectors (counting from bow), which resolved as engine warmed; no audible problems with valve chain above each cylinder. (3) No air pressure pulses from open oil filler cap, so likely acceptable rings and cylinder lining. (4) Stethoscopic inspection for exhaust manifold leaks appeared negative. (5) Sample taken of coolant. Subsequent lab test of sample showed minimal sodium contamination, indicating no pinhole leaks in heat exchanger. (6) After running for an hour during bay trial, a thermal camera image of the engine showed all cylinders at identical temperatures, and all exhaust manifold legs also at identical temperatures, indicating all cylinders are operating identically.

I took an H20 sample from the non-filtered galley sink supply. Subsequent lab tests indicate it was acceptably clear of bacteria (48-hur incubation), alkalinity, chlorine, nitrates & nitrates, & lead.

I placed uncovered petri dishes with potato starch/agar media in the focsle, the head shower, and behind the entryway stepladder, then after one hour exposure sealed them. Subsequent laboratory incubation for 24 hours disclosed minimal airborne mold.

The electrically flushed toilet smelled and looked fine, until I flushed it once; then it smelled overpoweringly of hydrogen sulfide. If you have any thoughts about this, that would be great.

Kells, I’m looking forward to learning about whatever you find!”

Some (scientist) clients are more detailed than others. Though some of the tests require a laboratory, many are simple and can be done by all. I smile as I recall this email and this brilliant human’s desire to learn from me, I certainly would have learned more had he attended that day!

Today I will inspect another boat, learn something new, smile, and be grateful for the opportunity.

For those that are curious what we found, our recommendations for that survey follow.



  1. Maintain the fire extinguishers per NPFA recommendations. Extinguishers should be inspected and tagged annually and inspected by a qualified technician or replaced every six years.
  2. Provide federally required, approved and current distress signal flares.
  3. Maintain the PFDs per the manufacturers’ recommendations, including the inflatable type PFDs.
  4. Modify so the hull number is legible on the transom per federal regulations.
  5. Display the documentation number per federal regulations.
  6. Eliminate the water leak at or near the propeller shaft tube to hose connection. Clean and dry the bilge in this area to allow detection of any future water leaks or weeps.
  7. Service and prove the diesel heater functional as desired.
  8. Service and prove the Heater Craft electric heater functional as desired (it obtains heat from the engine).
  9. Assure that the propane locker ventilation complies with ABYC and NFPA recommendations. The locker should be drained and vented on the bottom to the atmosphere.
  10. Assure that the inverter is installed in compliance with the manufacturer’s and ABYC’s recommendations. Provide an AC circuit breaker.
  11. Remake battery terminal connections so that the nuts are properly attached to the studs or provide alternate means of attachment.
  12. The 8D battery is “dry”, assure the batteries and charging system are suitable for continued use or address appropriately.
  13. Service and prove the starboard and forward engine room lights functional.
  14. Replace the GFCI outlet in the head as it did not test normally.
  15. Service and prove the inverter properly functional. The inverter did not function properly; it did not provide power and displayed an error message, “searching”.
  16. We encourage installation of a propane alarm, carbon monoxide alarm and smoke alarm.


  1. The horn is weak, address appropriately.
  2. Properly secure the clamps on the hose connection to the wash down pump below the forward berth.
  3. Address the odor from the head and shower, apparently due to stagnant water.
  4. Determine if the fresh / sea water selector switch is functional, locate the components and address any liabilities or deficiencies as appropriate.
  5. The diesel heater’s filter is exposed in the lazarette. Assure the diesel heater installation complies with the manufacture’s and ABCY’s recommendations.
  6. There is a clear tube used as a sight level indicator on the fuel tank. We encourage replacing this tube with a glass tube covered with metal and encourage the valves to remain off when the fuel level is not being sighted.
  7. Properly install the fuse near the diesel heater in the lazarette, it is not well secure. Comply with ABCY recommendations.
  8. Assure that the green “power available” light on the AC distribution panel illuminates properly.
  9. Properly label the switch for the windlass at the helm console.
  10. Service and prove the windshield wipers properly functional.
  11. Service and prove the TV properly functional as desired.
  12. The transmission tag is difficult to read, address as necessary.
  13. We encourage modifications so the rudder stops on the starboard stop, it currently does not touch it.
  14. Address the rattle at the engine control as desired.
  15. Replace the missing zinc anode on the stern thruster.
  16. Determine the significance of the play in both thrusters’ blades and address appropriately.
  17. Address the cosmetic differences as desired. Cosmetic differences include numerous color differences about the transom door, on the port transom gunnel, cracks chips and filled hole on the transom gunnel and transom door, split rub rail on both hull sides, screws in the head liner in the forward cabin, age related damage to the side liner in the forward cabin, crazed hatch over the aft deck to saloon entry way and what appears to be spray paint on the upholstery overhead forward in the forward cabin.
  18. Properly secure the saloon table.
  19. Address the damage and apparent repairs on the hull exterior including on the starboard transom corner and to port amidships as desired.
  20. Repair the bent starboard swim platform support bracket.
  21. Service the cockpit deck hatch latch and prove it properly functional.
  22. Determine why there is ballast to port in the lazarette, in the form of bags. Eliminate any liability and consider securing the ballast if it remains aboard and is determine to be beneficial.
  23. The base of the port inboard stern rail stanchion base is bowed up, address if desired.
  24. Engine room insulation is failing, particularly by the transmission, address appropriately.
  25. We did not test or inspect the following components: outboard engine, all functions of entertainment devices and all functions of navigational electronics (power up and basic functions were tested).

Winterizing Boats in Southern California



My career began in Florida with a Fort Lauderdale marine surveying company and shifted to San Diego a few years later. In these areas winterizing means wearing flannel shirts or other rare cold weather clothing, such as socks. But not much changes with respect to boats.

Our business regularly assists with insurance claims and an abnormally large volume of them currently motivated this article.

In Southern California (and Northern Florida) there are “boating seasons”, cyclic weather patterns, and typical times for rough or calm seasonal sea conditions. We have handled a few freeze damage claims, such as cracked exhaust manifolds or engine blocks. These usually come from boats stored at a high elevation and these boats should be properly “winterized”. If you want advice on hard freeze winterizing procedures, please look elsewhere.

Southern California’s winter challenges are primarily storms, travel, and lack of motivation to go to our boats.

To prepare for these wretched conditions we suggest you don your Ugg boots, go to the boat and check the life support systems.

Check your bilge pumps and automatic switches for functionality. Make sure your batteries and charging system are in good condition and will provide those pumps with the power they need through the dark winter months. Clean scuppers, drains, screens or other methods that rainwater uses to leave your boat.

Consider wireless alerts, they are available now for security, battery monitoring, high water alarms and you still have time to put them on your Christmas list. Hurry!

Do not forget to check your dock lines, chafe gear, fenders and anything else critical to keeping your boat safe during our occasional storms. Check in with your boat buddies, this is a great time for mutual assistance with your dock, marina and yacht club neighbors. Let them know when you will be gone and provide them access to check on the vessel while you’re on your snowboarding trip to the Swiss Alps or on a charter in the BVI. Offer to do the same for them.

Every Spring we get a few claims that occurred over our rainy season. Some smaller boats will have suffered “trailer submersions”. Make sure these boats are stored properly, covered, bow up and the plugs are removed. We get a few heavy mold claims on larger boats. Prevention includes eliminating any water leaks into the vessel and proper and thorough drying and ventilation after any leaks. This means checking on your boat after the storms, there should only be four of them, and we already had one.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Kwanza, New Years, Winter Solstice, Festivus or whatever you celebrate during this holiday season.

Vessel Damage Claim Mystery

Vessel Damage Claim Mystery

Damaged Propeller


A significant part of our business is assisting with damage claims. Normally we are engaged by an insurance claims adjuster, with the task of determining the cause of loss, defining the scope of damage and assessing the cost to repair. Many times we need to solve a mystery or a puzzle to determine the cause of loss. This recent assignment was from an owner.
We thought it might be fun for you to try to solve one.

Background History

The photo above is the propeller at the heart of the puzzle. The owner purchased the vessel ten years ago and had new engines, propeller shafts, and propellers installed within the last two years. Due to performance issues, the propellers were modified after they were installed.

Event Details

The owner was operating this vessel just offshore the harbor entrance when he felt an “impact” and the starboard engine began vibrating. He inspected the starboard shaft on the interior of the vessel and noticed movement/vibration; he had no idea what had happened. He thought he may have “lost a bearing”. He attempted to get a diver to inspect the vessel but was unsuccessful. He filed an insurance claim based on advice from a mechanic and the vessel was hauled and inspected ten days later. I inspected it two weeks later, when it was hauled on its trailer. The significant findings follow pictorially (with some captions to help).

Figure One: Propeller blade’s break surface near hub

Figure Two: Second propeller blade, undamaged 

Figure Three: Third propeller blade, undamaged 

Figure Four: Strut, visibly bent


Have you jumped to any conclusions yet?
The propeller is missing one blade, the blade is broken near the hub and the other two blades exhibit no damage. The propeller and shaft spin freely, with the same amount of resistance as the undamaged propeller shaft of this twin engine vessel.
The insurance company denied the claim and the owner called me for a second opinion. Do you know what happened? What testing could be performed?

The Big Reveal

Don’t continue reading if you have not tried to solve the mystery and don’t want to know the answer yet.
The failure mode of the propeller is unusual and inconsistent with striking a submerged object. A propeller in good condition (in this case less than two years old) should not “lose a blade” due to striking a submerged object. Normally a propeller in motion that strikes a submerged object will contact the object with more than one blade and the edges of the blade(s) will bend or tear. This propeller likely failed due to a crack propagating through the blade or a similar weakness or flaw. The science that could be used in this case would be a metallurgical inspection, perhaps using a scanning electron microscope to determine the mode of failure. Sometimes the science nerds just tell us boat nerds the mode and we have to deduce the real world meaning and cause.
What about the bent strut? This installation includes only the strut for a bearing, a dripless shaft seal, and a hard coupled propeller to a transmission. Remember the propeller shaft spun easily. The strut was installed below a fuel tank before the liner was installed in the vessel and the cockpit covered the fuel tank. It is not an easy task to remove and reinstall the strut.

Here is one more hint.

Figure Five: Inboard aft motor mount, note position of the nut on the stud

Figure Six: Outboard aft motor mount, note position of the nut on the stud 

It is our opinion that the strut was bent prior to the failure of the propeller. The new engine and transmission were installed and aligned to the bent strut and nobody noticed the bent strut.
The aft two motor mount bolts and nuts show the likely uneven alignment, the other engine’s motor mount bolts are adjusted evenly.
It is unclear when, how or why the starboard strut was bent. The vessel is a limited production powerboat and it is possible that the strut was bent during the manufacturing process when it was found to be out of alignment. It is also possible that another event, perhaps a line wrapped around the propeller provided the force to bend the strut, but it is improbable and nearly impossible that striking a submerged object would have broken the propeller and bent the strut.
In addition to the findings above regarding the propeller, an properly aligned propeller shaft, between the transmission and strut, would no longer be aligned if the strut was bent (post alignment) and the shaft would either be bound or extremely difficult to turn. What further testing could be done? If an impact with the propeller had bent the strut, the force would have necessarily been transmitted through the propeller shaft. Pulling the propeller shaft and testing straightness with a dial indicator would show the existence of any bends and a bend at the propeller end of the shaft would prove such a force had been applied.
While neither of the inspections, metallurgical inspection of the propeller’s break surface or dial indication of the propeller shaft have been accomplished, the findings are relatively certain based on logic and experience.

I hope you enjoyed the mystery!

Cabo Passport Incident

In my professional life as a marine surveyor and my personal life, including actively chartering catamarans in foreign countries, I regularly combine boating and travel.  “It’s not how you get into trouble”, I often tell my clients, “it’s how you get out that matters.”  Usually this sentiment applies to sea scenarios, but recently I was able to practice this technique on land.


I flew to the airport in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico on a Monday, for a new boat “warranty” inspection, also in San Jose del Cabo.  My intention was to complete the job that day and spend the night in Cabo San Lucas, enjoying the following day in the warm winter weather, before a late afternoon departure.  Upon arrival to the marina, I took a second job and my schedule changed, but I had already purchased a Cabo San Lucas hotel room for the night.


Maybe it was because I was in the least expensive hotel on the marina, maybe it was because the lights didn’t work in the hotel’s stairway, but for some reason I decided to store my passport in the room safe before leaving for dinner.  This is not a habit, I only do it occasionally and I briefly considered the consequences as I shut the safe door.


I was up early the next morning working on my laptop, not realizing that its clock did not adjust to the time difference.  When I realized that I would be late to the job, I packed quickly and rushed out of the hotel, still hoping to return for a few hours of relaxation.  The jobs took longer than expected and I decided not to make the 30-ish minute drive back to the hotel and instead arrived two hours early for my flight back to San Diego.  I entered the airport relaxed and told the rental car shuttle driver how good it felt to be early and stress free, then I reached into the passport pocket in my brief case.  Something slightly less than total panic but much more than worry quickly displaced the “I got plenty of time feeling”, as I remember the passport was in the safe.  One of my children was having a medical procedure early the next day and I was determined to get home.


Instantly I started considering my options, would my Sentri pass work, could I get my rental car back (and drive like “that guy”), how long would it take to get to my hotel and back?  I knew I had to make decisions quickly as the clock was running.  I told myself to stay calm, “you got this”.

There are two ways from the airport to Cabo San Lucas, a toll road and a free road with much more traffic.  I called the hotel and began the painfully long wait for them to locate the passport.  Mañana time is great for vacation, but does not go well with plane schedules.  I began negotiating with taxi drivers, it is hard to break old habits and I pride myself on this skill, but trying to negotiate in this situation proved futile.  My timing demand overpowered my ability to walk away casually (the show them your back gambit) and wait for the driver with the desire to match my needs.  I hired a taxi at full retail price.


Luckily I was able to charge my almost dead phone in the taxi as we headed towards the hotel on the toll road; I was still on hold with the hotel.  The toll road is mostly a two lane road with occasional passing lanes and has slow trucks, the elderly taxi driver, with good English skills, looked for opportunities to pass, but few came and he expressed his impatience in Spanish.  It became a comedy movie scene.  I tried to get the taxi driver to call the hotel, against his better judgment he tried, we almost wrecked.  One thing about driving and talking on the phone is you get better with practice.  He asked me to call the hotel for him, he had a Samsung phone, and again we almost wrecked while he brought up the dial screen for me.


Those of you who travel to Mexico regularly are familiar with the different phone numbers used for dialing mobile phones versus land lines or from foreign phones.  I travel there often and am aware of the differences, but don’t know them well enough to dial efficiently.  I have to fumble around with a “+1”, “01” or an area code and sometimes, miraculously, after many “that won’t work messages” in Spanish, I connect.  In this taxi I experienced all these problems.  “Keep cool”, I thought.  After twenty minutes I hung up on the hotel on my phone and called them back.  They had found my passport and given it to another taxi driver to head towards the airport.  Then cellular reception failed and briefly I thought I might.


I called the hotel again, while my driver continued toward the hotel, passing the exit to San Jose.  They gave me the passport taxi driver’s phone number, but of course, we were unsuccessful in our initial attempts to reach him from either phone.  Eventually I reached him on my phone but my Spanish was of little help.  I didn’t need “dos cervezas”, “la cuenta” o “el baño”, so I handed my phone to my driver.  I had to stifle myself from micro-managing their conversation, which I barely understood anyway.  We arranged a meeting point at a grocery store, between the two cities, near the exit we had passed a few miles back.  A u-turn on a toll road is possible in Mexico and saved time, a small victory, “I got this”.  We arrived to the meeting point first, the traffic was heavy on the free road, and again some doubt crept into my thoughts.


The passport taxi, blue van number “101”, arrived and I was waiting in the parking lot at the ramp from free the road.  The transfer was made and with some aggressive driving through the roundabout, yeah my driver was “that guy”, we were back on to the toll road in plenty of time to catch the plane.  My ability to check my bag of tools was less certain.  I often travel with tools and knew this might be another time I had to choose between keeping the tools or catching the flight, but this time I had a more urgent desire to fly.  The Mexican TSA could certainly use the hammer but the moisture meter would likely be useless to them.  Would I have to check my scope camera?  I returned to the airport less than 45 minutes before the flight and luckily they were not as rigid as most US airports have been recently. I was allowed to check the bag and was relieved that I had solved this minor self-imposed crisis with moderate stress and less than $200.


Whether it’s a boating challenge, a travel issue or life in general, I find it’s important to stay calm, rapidly assess options, pivot appropriately and believe in a positive outcome.  I had time and access to the airport lounge and chose a Jack and Coke as my reward.  I didn’t have time to drink it or the desire to chug it, so I requested and was pleasantly surprised with the offer of a red Solo to go cup.  The agent inquired as to its content as I passed through the gate and had one final smile when she allowed me to board with “my medicine”.


It’s Not How You Get into Trouble

Mariners love sea stories and writers love inspiration. We experienced two events in the recent past, only days apart, that provided both and they provided reminders and tips for boating safety.
The first occurred in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, during a pre-purchase survey for a relatively young couple, new to this type of boat. Aboard the 40 foot sailing catamaran for most of the day were two experienced brokers, the undersigned (marine surveyor), the two clients and one of the current owners. The event occurred while attempting to pull into the travel lift ways. We docked in the main channel and needed to make a 90 degree turn around the corner of the dock and into the ways. The wind was blowing briskly and pushing the vessel off the dock once it was oriented towards the travel lift. After the obligatory delay, we initiated the movement into travel lift ways, with neither of the brokers aboard. The yard crew attached the port stern line to a cleat on the corner of the dock, providing a “fool proof” way to bring the boat alongside. We simply needed to pivot on the line, super easy right?
The owner was unfamiliar with this maneuver and continued to try to operate the vessel as if it was untethered. He would look over at the stern line attached to the dock cleat and growl, as it prevented the vessel from operating normally. It was as if he had a pesky dog clamped to the bottom of his pant leg and he couldn’t shake it.
These situations are familiar and I simply offer to help if needed. He did not accept help and as he was unable to bring the vessel to the dock his anxiety level rose, quickly. Within a few moments it was decided to let the stern line go but he was rightfully concerned with wrapping the long line around a propeller. I assured him we could bring it aboard without a problem, but he would have to immediately assume control of the vessel and drive it quickly to the dock, as there was little room for error and no room for delay. He authorized the procedure.
The yard crew disconnected the stern line, it was brought aboard and the wind blew. The owner was unable to operate the vessel against the wind and the vessel was moments away from becoming pinned diagonally against the concrete travel lift ways. Thankfully the two buyers had been provided with loose fenders to insert between the vessel and any hard objects, the boat yard crew was experienced and properly positioned and the owner accepted a more assertive (and last moment) suggestion to stop using the engines.
The vessel landed softly against the concrete ways and was manually pulled out of its predicament, the owner was able to collect himself and the vessel was hauled with no further anxiety, and with only one small scrape.
On the return trip to the marina the owner allowed the broker to operate the vessel and the docking was so smooth that the undersigned, busy crawling the port hull, did not realize we were docked.
Lessons learned: know your limits, make plans and communicate them to the crew, be willing to accept help when necessary, learn how to use spring lines to your benefit (there are many tricks) and provide the deck crew with detached fenders (much more appropriate than body parts) in advance of any potential need for them. Know that eventually there will come a time when we all need to turn over the helm, so get your time in while you are still able.
A few days later while returning into Mission Bay, a second event occurred. The vessel was an 85 foot twin engine power vessel capable of speeds over 20 knots. During the haul out we noticed that the rudders were positioned outboard of the propellers, an extremely unusual position. This time a paid professional captain was in control. The waves were significant, approximately 6 to 8 feet and the vessel caught one as we attempted to enter Mission Bay. In a moment the vessel had turned 30 degrees, picked up speed and was headed towards the rock jetty on the port side of the entrance. I surf and was familiar with the take off, but had never surfed on a boat this close to a jetty.
The jetty was approximately 150 yards away when we first caught the wave but there was no doubt that we would need to turn out of the wave or we would hit the rocks. The captain tried to turn, but the vessel did not comply. Neither the captain nor I panicked but shortly after we dropped in on this “juicy left” I suggested that he use the transmissions in addition to the rudders. A mechanic aboard turned to see the jetties approaching quickly, and now only 70 yards away.
The mechanic screamed loudly, “Captain put this vessel into reverse now!”
The captain had already begun the process and was able to shift into reverse and throttle up the engines in time to avoid the collision, but perhaps only by 25 yards.
The captain calmly and professionally explained that screaming was not helpful and that he had chosen not to quickly shift into reverse to prevent killing the engines and losing all ability to maneuver.
One operational test on classed vessels is a “crash stop”, or a sudden change in direction of rotation of the propellers. This test is done to assure the machine systems are able to do handle this procedure without stalling. While this is an unusual and abnormal procedure, this event showed why it might be necessary and why some classification societies prescribe the test. A crash stop would be more common when encountering a mostly submerged object, but the stopping procedure is similar.
Lessons learned: act early to avoid any potential collision. Prevent the necessity of a perfect avoidance procedure by not getting into a close call situation. In this case as soon as it became apparent that we were not going to be able to steer out of the wave, initiating the use of the engines should have begun. Different angles to waves present different challenges. Following seas can present steering problems. Entry into a channel with a following sea can be tricky and unpredictable. Conditional awareness is always important and entering after the last wave of a set is a good way to reduce the potential problems. Handling stress appropriately will eventually be a useful trait to all mariners, calm is good. Making sound decisions in a calm and decisive manner is great. Avoiding a collision is of utmost importance. Screaming, well I’ll let you decide.

Salvage Boat Race

We are often racing during salvage operations, racing the tide, racing weather, and we’re always racing time. We have been active with salvage jobs during Covid and during a recent round of sea stories during a salvage in the Central California coast, I remembered a very interesting salvage boat “race”. As marine surveyors we usually represent insurance companies and insured’s interests during salvage operations. The historical basic concept of salvage is to reward a salvor for risking their health, life, and equipment in order to save someone else’s property, usually a vessel or cargo. In return for the risk, and usually based on the value saved and level of risk, the salvor is granted a reward.

Two decades ago a Catalina 42 left Southern California for Hawaii. Aboard were the owner, a friend of his, both in their sixties and two of their children, both about twenty. Right away the vessel began experiencing problems including water intrusion and somewhere approximately 100 miles off-shore there was a steering failure. Only one of the 20 year old’s was able to steer with the emergency tiller handle. A decision was made to abandon the vessel and all four passengers were retrieved by a Coast Guard helicopter. The EPIRB (acronym for emergency position indicating radio beacon) was activated. As a representative of the insurance carrier for the vessel we hired a salvage / tow boat to retrieve the vessel and initially had good location information from the EPIRB.

Just after we initiated the recovery of the vessel, we were alerted to a second salvage vessel underway in hopes of retrieving the Catalina and collecting the reward.

Initially I was dismayed and contacted the owner of the company who had dispatched the competitor salvage vessel. He responded that this was “only business” and “may the best boat win”. His boat was faster. I asked an authority, providing the EPIRB information if the location could be selectively provided, i.e. withheld from the competitor boat. I was denied. We, the good guys in my opinion, were not the favorites to win the race but with both tow boats racing toward the abandoned and adrift vessel, the EPIRB signal began to wane.

As the two tow boats approached the area in which the vessel was believed to be, its EPIRB became completely useless. We hired a spotter plane to assist our team and developed a communication protocol so they helped only our team. Without premeditation on the part of the land based team, the pilot of the plane, on his own, provided information to the competitor vessel. We later learned the information was inaccurate.

The hero salvage vessel won the race, found the Catalina 42 and returned it to its home port and its owner. Had the competitor vessel found it, they would have been granted a salvage reward for their effort but in this case instead, they got their just reward, a fuel bill.

Catalina Advice

My family and I regularly charter Catamarans in various locations.  The most recent charter was planned for Croatia, but COVID redirected us to Catalina.  While not as exotic of a location for Southern California locals, it remains a lovely destination.  This article touches on the practice of mooring and one particularly humorous mooring event.

As most local boaters know, Catalina utilizes a two point mooring system.  Normal process is to grab the mooring wand from the bow, pull the line from the wand up to the mooring line, secure the mooring line loop to a bow cleat and then run down a separate line (the sand line) astern until the stern mooring line is reached and attached it to a stern cleat.  With only minimal boat handling skills, basic crew instruction, a sprinkle of patience and a dash of good luck, voila the vessel is moored.

Between day sails, trips to the water dock, mooring moves (which happened thrice in Avalon) and stays in both Catalina Harbor and Isthmus Cove, we likely moored twenty times.  We missed twice.  The first attempt began with apparent success, we grabbed the mooring line with the vessel barely moving and virtually no wind or current to deal with.  Unfortunately, the captain (and writer) failed to communicate well with the crew as to how they could provide instructions to fine tune our position when the initial attempt to secure the bow mooring line was unsuccessful.  No biggie, the second attempt was successful.

A much more challenging and eventful attempt occurred when returning from a day sail in the late afternoon.  20+ knot winds were the most significant factor as we approached the mooring from upwind.  We passed the mooring, spun the 42’ Catamaran successfully into the wind and put the port bow at the wand.  The crew was able to grab the wand but failed to secure the mooring line.

As minor adjustments failed to bring the vessel back to its necessary position, “head into the wind” was offered by what appeared to be the captain of the adjacent vessel, moving his hands as if guiding an airplane to a gate.  My initial thought was, “no shit” but I chose to respond with a verbal “thank you” and a head bob, communicating in the howling wind from 20 yards.  He was right, after spinning into the wind and missing, I was trying to walk the boat sideways back into position and the wind made it challenging.

During the next few moments, several other pieces of advice were provided, though none were requested, they were all suitable and clearly came from a knowledgeable captain.  Based on what appeared to be the owners, captain, and crew on their starboard rail, this was a regular and entertaining event for them, think boat launch ramp and “Qualified Captain” (Google it if you haven’t watched).

I had assigned one crew to grab the wand, the largest crew person to grab the mooring line and attach it to the cleat and a third crew to stand by with a loose fender, just in case.

The fender operator, a novice sailor, took the job seriously.  However, in an earnest attempt to place the fender between our vessel and the adjacent vessel, well in advance of any contact, they obstructed the more important work of mooring.  To them the adjacent captain said “You should get out the way, we have fenders if needed”.  Again, he was right and verbalized the idea prior to me.  I confirmed that the fender holder should stand down for the time being.

The mooring line had just been secured on the bow when the captain instructed us to “back down, hard”.  Another brilliant idea I thought and though we were successfully backing down (as hard as our two 30 horsepower engines would allow) the crew was not successful in the stern mooring.  The boat was too small to reach the stern mooring line (42’ boat on a 70’ mooring) and the concept of securing the sand line as tightly as possible had not been explained properly to the crew.  Even with the adjacent captain’s sage advice, our crew was ill prepared by their captain for this unforeseen event.  They struggled mightily but alas could not reach the stern mooring line.

No problem, my first mate and wife of nearly thirty years could handle the helm at this point and I was able to manage the stern mooring attachment.  We were fairly tight on the sand line and happy to have completed a more difficult mooring and one final suggestion was offered, “Call the harbor patrol and have them pull you back to tighten up your mooring.”  Crap, I thought, I had instantly shifted to margarita mode.

All of his unsolicited advice had been good, mostly unheeded, but no bad advice.  Out of an abundance of caution, I hailed the next passing harbor patrolman who took a quick look and advised that we were well moored and should take up any remaining slack in the sand line when the wind subsided.  I smiled inside as I poured the Grand Marnier floater on top of my marg.

An hour or so later, the wind subsided.  I explained to the crew that we were going to reverse hard and take up all possible slack on the sand line, tightening up the mooring as much as possible.  No one was on the deck of the neighboring vessel.  As I begin to reverse and back down, one final bit of advice emanated from an open porthole, “PULL HARD.”  I laughed inside and later joked with the crew, you had one job, pull hard, and apparently you weren’t doing so or you wouldn’t have received such sage advice.  I was extremely proud of my crew, even after I noticed that every bit of the sand line they retrieved had somehow been stored on the stern cleat, in a giant ball of confusion.

A Marine Surveyor’s Voyage Through the Corona Virus

Day 1              December 23, 2020

First day of symptoms, unusually low energy. Work from home.

Day 2              December 24, 2020

Initial symptoms continue, low energy, Christmas shopping.

Day 3              December 25, 2020

Not so merry Christmas. Symptoms increase, mild fever. Contact primary care provider to request Covid test – denied, did not meet testing requirements. In isolation, wife evacuates bedroom.

Day 4              December 26, 2020

Wife and I drive separate cars to Covid test site, take my fifth Covid test.  Contact clients scheduled for 12/28/20. Seller had Covid, buyer is Navy corpsman comfortable with exposure, both request that survey proceeds.

Day 5            December 27, 2020

Symptoms include mild body aches, prior symptoms persist.  Mental certainty that I have some medical condition, no breathing issues causes Covid questions to remain. Physically feel able to work.

Day 6             December 28, 2020

Mild symptoms continue, normal work day and mindset. Perform pre-purchase inspection of 40’ trawler including sea trial from Chula Vista to Shelter Island and back, receive positive diagnosis at the end of job, wife tests negative. Cancelled jobs scheduled that week and mental outlook shifts negatively.

Day 7              December 29, 2020

Work from home, symptoms persist. Heed CDC guidelines for isolation, requiring 10 days from first known symptom and 24 hours with no fever.

Day 8              December 30, 2020

Fever resides, optimism returns, wife tests positive and moves back into bedroom.

Day 9              December 31, 2020

Fever returns, mental state confused, doubt ability to ever survey a boat and write a report again. Skip a scheduled zoom party call, worse wedding anniversary ever.

Day 10            January 1, 2021

Symptoms persist, confirm proper medical care with niece (an active Covid nurse). Eat Hoppin’ John (black-eyed peas and rice dish), family tradition for good luck on New Year’s Day. Checked back that we missed this tradition in Bali on January 1, 2020.

Day 11            January 2, 2021

Awakened with no fever, mental acuity returns, work remotely for 3 hours. Cancelled golf outing scheduled for 1/3/21 and advise clients scheduled for 1/4/21 of current situation, all request job to proceed.

Day 12             January 3, 2021

Remain fever free, only symptom remaining is limited smell and taste, retest for Covid, all cleared for exiting quarantine per CDC guidelines.

Day 13          January 4, 2021

Awaken with clear head, no fever and symptoms abating, minor limited smell and taste, Covid test returns negative.  Survey Seamaster 46 sailboat in Ensenada.  Wife tests positive, low grade fever persists until January 8, 2021.

In an attempt to add interesting detail and color to the daily Covid journal, I’m providing relevant family and business history. My wife and I have three 20-something children and a 30-something nephew (and marine surveyor) living in a split level 5-bedroom home. Our room abuts the main living room, dining room and kitchen on the upper level. The children have bedrooms on the lower level. The living room and dining room include large tri-fold doors which open to a deck.

Our family has been fairly Covid aware and cautious, wearing masks, staying socially distant and in a relatively small “germ pod”. The first few months I wiped down the common areas every morning before anyone else arose.

We have a Sunday night family dinner tradition which usually includes guests. Initially this was suspended but utilizing the indoor / outdoor style of our dining room, the Sunday dinners were resumed during Covid. Often visiting 20-somethings and also the more “exposed” children sat outside, while the more at risk humans would stay inside.

Marine inspection protocols were developed which included mask wearing, distancing as possible, ventilation and common sense.

Our business paused when the first lockdown occurred but quickly rebounded due to an unexpected and unprecedented surge in demand for boats. Business and vacation travel was significantly curtailed, resuming with a family trip in November to visit elderly parents. We all tested negative prior to departure and twice during the travel.

Business travel resumed with a day trip to La Paz, Mexico in early December and 5-day trip to Mazatlán beginning December 16, 2020. Both trips included use of the cross border express a walking bridge to the Tijuana airport. We missed the scheduled flight to Mazatlán after arriving at the Cross Border Express 1.5 hours before the scheduled 5:30 am flight, primarily due to the line to check luggage (tools) combined with a crush of vacation travelers. The missed flight caused many hours in the airport. I was  accompanied by my wife on the trip, we both wore double masks, the flight was full.

The Mazatlán job was a pre-purchase inspection of a 2016 107-foot class built and maintained steel luxury expedition type motor vessel with an asking price of over $10,000,0000. We shared one meal with the crew in the galley and spent two nights socializing with friends in Mazatlán. Alcohol softened my Covid defenses.


On the day I received my positive Covid diagnosis I was surveying a 1977 fiberglass Marine Trader 40 trawler in San Diego with asking price of less than $50,000.


Both survey jobs were normal, Covid protocols were mostly adhered to with the exception of travel.

After having a fever in conjunction with other minor symptoms I began isolation, including only briefly and remotely attending Christmas dinner.

Medically we consulted with a close friend of the family who is a doctor and an active Covid nurse. We stayed hydrated by forcing fluids, took extra vitamin C, D, zinc and one aspirin per day. We regularly checked our temperatures and oxygen levels (with a pulse oximeter). We ate three regular meals even though our appetites were reduced. Some of the meals were s

mall and some of the low energy levels may have been related to limited caloric intakes. We rested extensively, tried to get vertical and move around / take a short walk each day and tried to return to positive mental health, a challenging aspect of the disease on many days.

All four children tested negative twice subsequent to my positive diagnosis and were a god-send in their support during the brief voyage through the corona virus.

I have no intention of providing any advice including medical, travel or behavior. We received many wishes and three delicious and appreciated pots of soup from friends. I received many inquiries as to the experience and its severity and thus was motivated to produce this account.

I also have no illusions that our experience is typical, and am eternally grateful for the relatively mild symptoms, intend to continue exercising caution and remembering the unfortunate families who suffered far more significantly in this crisis.

Refrigeration 101

I apologize to all my customers who I have told that their refrigerators shouldn’t ice over. In a case of repeating mis-information, I was told that early in my career (1990s) and believed it until researching for this article, that modern boat refrigerators should not ice over in normal use.
In reality the common boat DC refrigeration units do ice over in normal service.
I spoke with two San Diego refrigeration experts, Mr. Gary Flemming and Mr. Thomas Gillette. They educated me, finally, that the common AC / DC refrigeration units such as Norcold and Nova Kool will ice over in normal service. The interval between defrosting cycles is usually 1 – 2 months. They suggest defrosting when the ice reaches ¼” thickness.
AC refrigeration units such as Sub Zero or U-line have self-defrosting features. The AC electrical supply supports the heating element required for defrosting.
The most common contributing cause to icing over of refrigeration units is bad gaskets or other sources of warm air such as drain holes in built in refrigeration units. If your refrigerator is icing over faster than your neighbors, perhaps it needs a new gasket.
The proper way to defrost a refrigerator is to open the door and let the heat melt the ice or quicken the process with a hair dryer. Catch the water in a container and/or use a towel. Use of a knife or an ice pick is risky as puncturing refrigeration components is costly or potentially fatal to the refrigeration unit. Dry everything before you put it back in the refrigerator, this will reduce the moisture inside the unit and extend the time period until the next de-icing.
 AC / DC refrigeration units are equipped with a DC compressor, and an electrical converter which converts the AC source to DC for the compressor. These units do not have AC and DC compressors.  They will run on both power sources but will not self defrost.
Iced over refrigeration units lose their ability to cool and become warmer as the ice thickens. So check that refer unit, if it looks like one of these photos defrost it and make sure it is ready for the summer holidays.
We have attached a page from Norcold with some tips.
Happy July 4th!

Top 10 claims from Christian & Company Marine Surveyors

Here I sit at the San Diego boat show, trying to come up with an idea for an article, when low and behold I see the September 2018 BoatU.S. Magazine and their top 10 claims article. I decided to use their list and my experience handling claims and add Southern California comments for your entertainment and perhaps enlightenment.
#10 Wake damage, this includes boats at the docks, boats rafting up and passengers thrown around underway. In Southern California many marinas are in no wake zones, but most of San Diego bay has no speed limit. Proper dock lines and extra fenders are important but knowing what to expect and preparing for it is the way to prevent this damage. There are a couple restaurants and attractions directly on the bay and they get big wakes, many have tried to fend properly, many have failed, consider the risk vs. the reward. Warn passengers about wakes and take them at an angle and speed to reduce their effect on your boat and crew.
#9 Boat theft, primarily is a trailer boat issue and while not as prevalent in So. Cal, it’s worth considering where you hide your key, could you find it if you didn’t already know where it was? How long would it take?  Try to make your boat harder to steal than your neighbor’s boat, on a trailer or in a slip.
#8 Fire and explosion, like theft ranks high because the amount of each claim is relatively high. We have had some bad years in San Diego with marina fires consuming multiple boats, but lately we have been lucky with only the occasional individual boat fire. Electricity is the ignition source for most of the fires we investigate and there is usually a distinct precursor smell. Explosions are usually preceded by the smell of gasoline or propane, be alert, monitor closely and get out quickly
#7 Grounding, we have polar opposite types of grounding. Much of our grounding is on soft mud, usually allowing us to simply back off or perhaps await a higher tide. On the other end we have a few rocks, usually comprising jetties; this type of grounding is much more significant and destructive. Make sure your grounding does not turn into #5; check your bilge after the incident.
#6 Theft of equipment is a new addition to their top ten list and includes outboards, stern drives, electronics and fishing gear. I always wonder how much meth you can get for a radar monitor or an old loran? Make your boat less attractive, lock it up, put a (fake) camera in a conspicuous place and choose a well protected storage location for your trailered boat (with several conspicuous cameras).
#5 Sinking, is slipping in rank, but has made it on all three of their top ten lists. The cause of loss is always the same, too much water on the inside! This claim is as normal for So Cal as anywhere. A good way to prevent this is to keep a dry bilge; it is much easier to detect a leak than to detect a bigger leak or another leak. While bilge pumps’ malfunctions do not sink a boat (see above) bilge pumps and high water alarms can prevent submersion’s. Trailer boats fill with water during rainy season too, make sure the plug is out and the bilge is clean.
#4 Weather/wind, is also normal for our area. We may not get snow and ice, but we get high winds, occasional storms and I remember few Tsunami claims. Weather is usually mild and storms here are usually moderate, but they are normally in the winter and are rarely surprises. Extra dock lines, an extra wrap around the roller furling sails, reduced windage and open scuppers are the ounce of prevention. Be aware which wind direction will cause your boat problems and respond or have a boat buddy make the extra precautions and do a post storm check.
#3 Collision/allision, a collision is between two vessels, an allision is between a vessel and a fixed object (which can be another vessel). With the exception of sailing races where both entrants contractually agree to alternate rules, every boat in a collision shares some responsibility. Know the rules, keep a proper look out and do whatever is necessary to avoid one. When warranted (boat parade or 4th of July) add a look out, reduce speed, choose courtesy and loose that assertiveness big fella.
#2 Hurricanes, well we may have high cost of living, state income tax, earthquakes and fires, but we don’t worry about this one here :<)
#1 Striking submerged object, while these claims rarely result in total losses, if it happens to you make sure you don’t get a #5 (again). Many submerged hazards are charted and are, as are almost all of these claims, avoidable. Do you know about the Hyperion Sewage pipe offshore Playa del Rey or where the submerged jetty is in the San Diego Bay entry channel? There is likely a similar, charted hazard near you and remember maintain a proper lookout.
Boat Humor

Boat Humor




“Ahh-Da-See”                                                                                     “Salty Tango”



“High Hopes”


“Riff Raff”







Halloween Fun                                                                                                                       Shark Bite out of the Hornblower


Camper? Boat? Safety Hazard?
You decide…
Sea (Doo) Tow
Boat Butt
Boatyard Railroad


Boat in a Tent


   While airborne termites do not do as much damage as subterranean termites, they are never-the-less a problem for boaters. Even fiberglass boats use wood in their construction for bulkheads, stingers, interior and core.

I find evidence of termites and / or termite damage on roughly 5% of the vessels I survey and recently received an email asking for termite confirmation (via a photo) and for a termite company referral.
Termite “kick out” is brown and black particles that are similar in appearance to saw dust. The “kick out” accumulates directly below the termites’ holes. Airborne termite wings are another indication of termites aboard the vessel.
While airborne termites eat slowly, and the damage they cause is often not of structural significance, they are often significant at the time of sale. They arouse fear due to the uncertainty surrounding them.
How much damage was done? How do I get rid of them? How much will it cost?
There are numerous methods for treating termites. Orange Oil treatment, localized chemical extermination, microwave and whole boat fumigation. Products can be purchased for the do-it-yourselfer and there are numerous professional exterminators available.
Perhaps the most important lesson is to address them as quickly as possible, limiting the damage and reducing the cost of treatment.
While there is no legal requirement to address termites, as there is in real estate, they have caused problems with sales and are fairly easily detectable. If you see “kick out” or termite wings or bodies, be pro-active. Determine the extent of damage, repair as necessary, exterminate appropriately and remove the remnants to allow detection of any future infestation.
One San Diego exterminator said the average price for taping and sealing a 100’ vessel is $4,500 but prices vary depending on the size and difficulty of sealing off the vessel.
Termite Kick out                                                                                                                Termite Kick Out
                                                                                  Termite holes from below
A Scary Story

A Scary Story

Do you see anything wrong in this picture?

How about now, compare the two propeller shafts


How about now?
This is a broken propeller shaft. It broke ½” aft of the transmission coupler keyway.
The 30 year old boat had a relatively new owner, he had reversed out of his slip and had operated at approximately 15 minutes at low speed. The failure happened as he throttled up in forward and felt something unusual on the steering wheel. This was the propeller contacting the rudder.
He then noticed that he had lost power from his port engine, though the engine ran and the transmission shifted normally.
A quick check of the engine room revealed that the port propeller shaft had slid out of the shaft seal, allowing a 2.5” stream of water into the engine room.
Fortunately experienced boaters were aboard along with emergency wooden dowel plugs, one of which fit nicely into the shaft seal hole.
This averted any significant water intrusion event, the vessel was hauled shortly thereafter limiting the damage to the broken shaft and bent propeller.
It defies logic that the propeller shaft was strong enough to assist in reversing the vessel out of its slip, but broke shortly thereafter while operating in forward. Logically one would think, if the shaft was that close to failure, it would have failed in reverse.
The lines across the break surface of the shaft are called beach lines. These are where a crack in the shaft has propagated across the face of the break surface, or through the shaft, until the point of failure.
This particular failure is unusual, as most propeller shaft failures occur at the key which allows connection to the transmission coupler or the propeller.
Boats maintained “in class” are required to pull their propeller shafts every five years. Most recreational vessels only pull propeller shafts if a problem develops. Another problem which is common with stainless steel propeller shafts is anaerobic corrosion below the shaft seals and strut bearings, caused by long periods of disuse and the unfortunate weaknesses of stainless steel.
This recent failure resulted in relatively little damage, due to the operator recognizing the problem quickly, inspecting the engine room and most importantly having proper emergency response equipment aboard.

Emergency wooden dowels and installation tool


As boaters we don’t always get to park at our home, yacht club or marina. Your active boating life will necessitate parking someplace else, and you’ll be thrown in with the mass of Southern California drivers searching for coastal parking. More and more of which is fee based.
After nearly 30 years of marine surveying, driving to a different boat every day, it would be logical that I would become savvy at parking near them. Yeah, no… but I am learning all the time.
Decades ago my car was towed from Humphreys on Shelter Island, about a month after they started to control their parking lot. I didn’t believe the newly posted “will tow” signs. Since then, I made it decades until recently when I received tickets in Long Beach and Oceanside.
In Long Beach, a nine iron away from the Queen Mary, I fed three quarters into the meter. When I noticed no time, I wrote a note for any potential enforcer and put it in my dashboard. I even had a witness. The note was no deterrent and a ticket appeared. My initial request for dismissal and my subsequent appeal both rejected, even with a witness statement and a copy of the note left in the dashboard. The denial said the meter was “working properly”.
The Oceanside ticket resulted from my apparent negligence of placing the parking receipt face down on my dash. My initial request for cancellation, including the credit card receipt for purchasing the parking ticket, was rejected. I just put the appeal in the mail, motivation for this story. Wish me luck.
In addition to moving your car to a space with a functional meter and putting the receipt face up, I have learned other useful parking tidbits.
There are often free areas in the vicinity of paid spots. Near our Shelter Island (San Diego) office there is free unlimited street parking. There are free lots on all three corners of the Shelter Island. There is free parking in Spanish Landing, close to San Diego boat shows and Harbor Island (and the airport). Keep in mind that these lots have limitations, displayed on signs, usually to prevent overnight and long term parking. In your area, keep an eye out for where the workers park, usually we know the best spots.
Professionals/vendors often receive discounts in commercial parking lots, including those for large hotel chains. Many marinas allow vendors to purchase keys, a wise decision if one must return to a marina repeatedly, without a boat there.
Keeping the environment and parking difficulties in mind, consider car pooling and bicycles (yes even those colorful eyesore rental bikes and scooters). And then there are times like 4th of July, Labor Day, Memorial Day and the Parade of Lights. My suggestion for all of these: ride share.
PS. Alav ha-shalom (R.I.P.) Carleton Levitetz, a local boat broker with a humorous personality and unique style

Hour Meters

I feel the importance of engine hours are over emphasized by the majority of boat buyers.  My opinion doesn’t change the fact that engine hours are considered important by boat buyers.  A boat deal fell apart due to a question about engine hours and was the motivation for this article.


The potential buyer rejected the vessel with his primary concern being the reported verses actual engine hours.  The current owner had replaced the tachometers, equipped with digital hour meters, when one failed.  The hours on the original hour meters were reported at 850, the new hour meters registered 300.


When this condition was discovered we explained our opinion regarding engine hours and hour meters.


The only certain information provided by an engine hour meter are the hours displayed by the hour meter, not necessarily the actual engine hours.  There is no legal requirement for engine hour meters on boats.  They are not odometers on automobiles or Hobbs meters on planes, both of which are regulated.  The only way to know that an hour meter is accurate is to have had a relationship with that meter from the beginning, logging hours and comparing those to the hour meter or otherwise monitoring its accuracy continuously through the life of the vessel.  Computerized engines provide operating hours with greater dependability, but the electronic control modules (computers) can be changed, just like analog hour meters.


We emphasize engine condition verses operating hours.  Many engines with far more operating hours are in much better condition than lesser used engines which have been neglected.


Regardless, the boat buying public cares about engine hours.  As a boat owner, and eventually a boat seller, maintain the hour meters so the operating hours can be accurately recorded and provided to potential buyers.


As to how long engines last, that is a different subject and is addressed in a prior article which can be found at

Self Driving Boats


Autopilots have been around forever, but autonomous vessel operation is currently being developed using technological advancements, and some of the same systems used for self driving cars.  Self driving boats are much easier most of the time; the ocean is big and has less traffic.


I recently drove a car with some autonomous features and while it added a component of safety, like mandating a safe distance between my car and the next car forward, I also noticed how easy it was to rely on that feature and let my guard down.


There are large scale self driving projects underway.  Japan, Norway and Holland have autonomous vessel testing underway.  The recent series of ship vs. ship accidents have been mostly attributed to human errors and many feel the outdated control technology can be improved upon.  There is a company selling sailing drones for ocean research (  These vessels are controlled from remote control rooms and by computer programs (think Olympic drones.)


On several occasions the undersigned has surveyed a multihull sailboat that was converted to a fixed wing sailing drone for the military and later sold to the private sector.  One of our jobs arose from this high powered vessel damaging its dock when the computers were removed for service and a large wind created extreme forces and ripped the dock loose.  Usually the computers would orient the fixed wing sails to prevent such a problem.


In the recreational vessel realm, there are pod drives and conventionally powered vessels with “drive by wire” controls.  For those unfamiliar with pods, both Volvo and Cummins offer drive systems that don’t include a rudder and all controls are electronic, no mechanical linkage and no hydraulics.  The pods are transmissions protruding from the bottom of the boat which spin and thrust independently at the direction of the computer.  The operator simply tells the boat where to go with either a joystick or “faux” conventional controls (steering wheel and levers) and the drive system computer decides what the pods need to do to make the boat go there.

We can all parallel park one of these boats.


This same control concept is in use on other drive systems, including inboard and outboard engines.  The evolution of electronic control systems facilitates automation.  I have spun boats in circles while moving in a straight line down the bay.  There are dynamic positioning systems that can keep the boat in one location without an anchor.  A now common test during seatrials is to push a button and watch the boat’s computer control the propulsion gear to counter the wind and current; the boat remains in one location and orientation.


And our claim files are full of problems with electronic controls, though far less now than in the early days of these systems.  Still, we must keep a look out and be ready to take action to avoid a collision and not let our guard down.





Proper Hailing Ports


There are two ways to prove ownership of a US flagged vessel, Coast Guard documentation and state registration.  All vessels over 5 net tons are eligible for Coast Guard documentation and the form of ownership record or title is an owner’s choice.  Lenders generally insist on vessels being documented so they may be the subject of a Preferred Ship Mortgage.

Registered vessels must display the registration number and a current registration decal on both sides of the bow, while documented vessels must display the name and the hailing port on the transom or on both hull sides.

Naming a vessel can be a difficult decision, often reflecting a family member’s name or referencing the business of the owner in some clever way.  Less thought is put into the hailing port, but the hailing port is a choice.  It does not have to be the place where the boat is stored, where you live nor does it have to have any actual significance or relevance to your life.  What do you think are the parameters for choosing a valid hailing port?

Recently I have seen hailing ports including Huntington Harbor, Mission Bay and Surf City.  To my surprise Huntington Harbor and Mission Bay were both the hailing ports actually on the document.  The owner of the vessel with hailing port Surf City liked Huntington Beach’s “official” nickname, but he was not in compliance with federal regulations as the hailing port on the document did not match the hailing port on the transom.  As a result of these unusual haling ports, we researched the rules for hailing ports.

Throughout my career it had been my understanding that the hailing port had to be an actual city in the United States or a US territory.  Some had told me that a hailing port had to have a post office, but I had never researched the actual rule, and I wondered what made a location a “city”?

My thanks (and a belated Happy Birthday) to Bernadine Trusso of Dona Jenkins Maritime Document Service, Inc.  Bernadine discussed this issue with an officer in the Coast Guard and they confirmed that the website used by documentation personnel is

To determine if a location is a valid hailing port, click the “Query” tab, fill in the “feature name” and the “state” and then hit the “Send Query” tab.  If the feature name comes up as written, such as Point Loma, the location is a valid hailing port.  In the case of Point Loma the class is cape.  In the case of Mission Bay the class is bay and in the case of Leucadia the class is populated place.  The class of the location is irrelevant according to our source, as long as the feature name comes up as you have searched it, without additional words.

The name and the hailing port must be displayed externally on the vessel, either on both sides of the hull or on the transom.  The hailing port must include the place and a state, territory, or possession of the United States.  The state may be abbreviated.

We often find hailing ports without the necessary state, territory or possession included.  We often find names and hailing ports from prior documents, legally requiring modifications to the current documented name and hailing port.  We occasionally find registration numbers on documented boats (a no no), documentation numbers on the exterior of boats (unnecessary) or no identifying numbers, name or hailing port (begging to be boarded by the authorities).

Registered boats may have names and hailing ports, but these boat names are decoration, an expression of individuality, and can be changed at any time as they are not legally significant.  Based on my newly found resources, Huntington Harbor and Mission Bay are in fact valid hailing ports, but not Surf City and now you have the ability to be as creative with your hailing port as with your vessel’s name.

Vessel Engine Neutral Safety Switch

The basic idea of a neutral safety switch is to prevent starting a boat’s engine when its transmission is “in gear”.  This prevents the boat from moving suddenly and unexpectedly when an engine is started and is a good safety feature.  An unexpected sudden movement of a boat can be catastrophic.


Recently a 90’ motor vessel’s engine started in gear and damaged the dock to which it was secured.  Fortunately there were no injuries.  There were several contributing causes, including a new operator unfamiliar with the systems and either no neutral safety switch or one that didn’t work.


I polled a few mechanics and inquired if they test the neutral safety switch function during mechanical surveys.  Most do not.


The mechanics all mentioned that many boats don’t have these devices.  One mechanic/surveyor said that most sailboats don’t have them.  A Detroit Diesel specialist said that Jimmy’s usually don’t have them, but I was on a 118’ Hatteras at the moment that did have them on all three 12V92’s.  Most small boats with outboards, outdrives and gasoline inboards have a neutral safety switch in the engine control handle.  Some transmissions have the switch mounted on the shift lever.  Hydraulic and pneumatic controls (like the one in the 90’ MY) can have them, but many do not.  Most new electronically controlled engines do have them as part of the control system.


What this means to us as boaters is we can not assume our boat has a neutral safety switch and we should know so we can take proper actions to prevent an accident.  There is a way to safely test the neutral safety switch.  The basic idea is to find the switch’s wires, check for continuity in neutral and make sure continuity is broken when the transmission control is not in neutral.  For those interested in a bit more technical specifics see the following from Ricky at Advanced Marine Power:


“Safely checking the switch would entail using a voltmeter/multimeter with the ability to read resistance/ohms.  Place the two leads of the meter on each wire/terminal of the neural safety switch. Set the meter to read ohms; this will check for electrical continuity.  Turn the ignition key on, but do not start the engine.  There should be a resistance value on the meter, signifying that the electrical circuit has continuity. With the key still on, engine not running, shift the transmission into forward. Check the meter. There now should be no resistance value, or “OL”.  This signifies that the electrical circuit does not have continuity, and thus will not allow the engine to start.  Repeat the process by shifting into reverse.”


Then there is the layman’s method, put the transmission control in gear and try to start the engine.  If you are ready for it, you should be able to control throttle and dock lines so that if it does start, you don’t hurt anything.  You can also just bump the starter, versus starting the engine.


Either method will give you crucial information as to the function of your engine starting system and reduce the potential for surprises, boat or dock damage or worse.