This is the beginning of a set of articles addressing our involvement with specific vessels which exhibited problems we find to be common, or at least repetitive, in vessels that we have inspected. We have had feedback from readers that they enjoy this type of article and we encourage sending in examples of problems you have had with your boat so that we might write an article to help other boaters, entertain readers or both. We prefer problems that take a little more experience or brain power to solve, and are likely to be experienced by others.
The degree or angle to which a vessel leans or tilts to one side, on the roll axis, at equilibrium, i.e. with no external forces acting upon it. The term typically refers to a lean caused by flooding or improperly loaded or shifted cargo, as opposed to heeling, which is a consequence of external forces. A vessel with such a lean is said to be listing. Compare loll.
From the Glossary of Nautical Terms in Wikipedia
We received a call from the husband of a couple which purchased a 2011 Regal 38 express nineteen months prior. The wise and observant wife recently noticed that the vessel was listing, port side down.
We find vessels listing during our routine prepurchase inspections regularly, and would estimate that 5% of the vessels have a visually apparent list. Sometimes the list is noticed while we are aboard the vessel, many times it is confirmed by the waterline either along the transom or when compared side to side. By this we mean the distance between the visible waterline on the antifouling paint and the top of the antifouling paint, the side which is listing has a smaller gap.
We began telephone triage by discussing the most common cause, the weight distribution caused by tanks. We asked the client if the vessel had a list at the time of purchase, he said no. The vessel did have a generator supplied by the port fuel tank. If the generator consumption was significant and the port fuel supply was decreased, the vessel would have a starboard list. Further, the client had filled the fuel tanks and had determined that both took a significant amount of fuel with the starboard side only taking slightly more. This suggested the tank vents (and tanks) were normally functional. We would later determine that the water tank was on centerline and the holding tank was likely more to port, though tank was not visible (not unusual in many boats). As the vessel was hauled at the time, we decided to meet aboard and look for the cause.
Upon our arrival the transom had been painted, but there were visible waterlines in the four paint gaps between the bottom paint and the outdrives clearly showing the highest waterline to port outdrive with lower waterlines as we moved towards the starboard side. We percussion tested the bottom of the vessel as the owner thought that a pocket of water may have somehow accumulated in the laminate or within the vessel. We heard nothing that indicated a significant difference from side to side. Moisture meter? We find moisture meters useful, but difficult to interpret analytically. You cannot adjust the depth that a moisture meter is reading and it is highly unlikely to find moisture trapped inside a vessel. It is possible to find a wet core and some meters (mine) are advertised as being able to read through surface moisture, but the meter was not helpful in this instance.
We decided to inspect the vessel for an imbalance in weight due to visible components. It should be noted that most vessel designs initially utilize a computer and the manufacturer intentionally balances the weight.
Though the designs are computer balanced, the builds are not as reliably balanced. We have found many “pockets” of internal ballast, some encased in fiberglass, some mostly hidden and some rather obvious piles of lead ingots, in an attempt to level the vessel after it was built. Contacting the builder or researching on owners groups’ websites is a useful option to determine if somebody else has solved this problem or gathered data towards that end.
On this vessel we found a “pocket” under the dinette bench seat to starboard in the salon, which very well may be ballast. A pocket of ballast on the starboard side would not explain a port side list, but it might be an attempt at correcting it. This pocket was encased in fiberglass and percussion tested “hard”, but no destructive inspection was performed, so the content is unknown. We suggested that the client contact the builder with respect to this specific question or open it if he was curious enough.
Our inspection revealed many differences which may have resulted in higher weight on the port side. The vessel had a hard wood floor with more area in the galley and the head to port, the galley and the head to port are also potential sources of weight which may not have been counter balanced by items to starboard. In the engine room we found the electrical end of the generator, more batteries, a steering control unit and a waste vacu-flush system to port, which would seem to weigh more than a fixed fire extinguisher and a blower to starboard.
We found very few areas on the interior of the vessel where a pocket of water could accumulate and cause this list. We consider the weight of water (freshwater is 8.34 lbs. per gallon and saltwater is 8.57 lb. per gallon) and the client had not noticed any sign of water intrusion or accumulation, no continued running of bilge pumps, no odor, etc.
The clients sent us these two photos, taken at the time of purchase.
In this photo, notice the green discoloration at the chine on the starboard side of the transom (arrow), and lack of green to port. The green discoloration is where the antifouling paint has been exposed to air and suggests that the vessel has a port side list.
This photo is a different angle of the transom and clearly shows the waterline between the outdrives, with a larger gap between the waterline and the antifouling paint inboard of the starboard outdrive as compared to port.
We found an extensive amount of personal effects aboard the vessel. The couple acknowledged that they had loaded the vessel heavily, with various components for their family, and most of these items had been stored to port.
Our conclusion is that the vessel had a port side list when it was built, the manufacturer may have attempted to correct it and the additional list was caused by personal effects being stored aboard. The list clearly existed at the time of purchase (though it was not noticed) and appears to have increased as the vessel was loaded over the nineteen months of ownership.
There are many ways to resolve a list. Once you determine if it is an issue with the operation of the vessel, i.e. it lists underway and the trim tabs won’t adjust it efficiently or it is just an irritation. (note; if the trim tabs are used to adjust a list, they have less functionality for trimming) If the decision is made that the vessel needs to be balanced, one can alter the level of fluids in the tanks, in this case fill the starboard fuel tank more than the port side and deal with that inconvenience. Heavy components can be moved from one side to another such as batteries and other mechanical components. Ballast can be added to the high side, but fuel efficiency will be decreased, storage may be reduced and its difficult to know if the resolution of the problem is preferred to the problem itself, i.e. is the juice with the squeeze.
The list is not caused by the lines on the port side being tied to tightly to the dock; this is an explanation we have heard many times.