If you’ve read the About the Author Section, then you know that I claim to be a hydrographer, but I’ve recently had a few exchanges that led me to realize that not too many people know what hydrography is; someone was asking about hydrography as it pertains to hydrology (a hydrograph is a graph showing the rate of flow (discharge) versus time past a specific point in a river, or other channel or conduit carrying flow), and I wanted to make it clear that hydrographers are people too. I thought I might take a few blog posts to explain the origins of hydrography and its importance to the safety of navigation on the water.
Hydrography is a field of study involving the determination of water depth and other physical oceanographic properties (tide, currents, waves, etc.), for the purposes of navigation. Essentially, modern hydrographers use sonar (multi-beam and side-scan) to determine water depth and produce nautical charts for navigation.
The earliest hydrographers used sounding poles to measure the water depth (as seen above, there are hieroglyphs from ancient Egypt that depict this practice), and until WWII the primary method for conducting a hydrographic survey was lead line (a lead weight on the end of a length of line to measure water depth) and wire drag (a wire dragged between two vessels at a set depth to clear an area to that depth or snag obstructions for further investigation and least depth determination). In the 1940s echosounders, or single-beam sonars, came into wide use for survey work. Not until fairly recently, 1990s, have full bottom insonfication methods become the standard for a hydrographic survey. Multi-beam and Side Scan Sonar are now the standard methods used to conduct a hydrographic survey. Once data is collected and processed by hydrographers, it is passed on to cartographers who compose the actual charts.
Hydrography predates Oceanography, and that field of study is actually an outgrowth of hydrography. Oceanography as a field is now commonly thought to include Hydrography as a specialized field dealing with physical oceanography information as it pertains to safe navigation.
In the US, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey has been conducting hydrographic survey work and producing nautical charts for US waters since 1807 (The Survey of the Coast was the US’s first scientific agency). Other countries have similar offices that are responsible for producing nautical charts in their territorial waters (United Kingdom Hydrographic Office is one of the oldest; established in 1795). Member hydrographic offices are governed by the International Hydrographic Organization that sets international standards.
The National Society of Professional Surveyors in the US, offers a certification in Hydrography in conjunction with The Hydrographic Society of America (THSOA), which is why I could call myself a certified hydrographer, though that certification has now lapsed.
That’s a short thumb-nail sketch of hydrography as a field of study and in future installments I will go into detail about how it is conducted and what that might mean to the safety of your navigation; hopefully that will be of interest. Until next time, here’s wishing you fair winds and following seas.
It was the summer before my senior year of college and I had convinced my parents to take a July trip to Powell, kind of as a last hurrah before I moved away and began my career. There were about 10 of us, including a couple of my friends from college. We had found an idyllic beaching spot for our 46-ft rental boat; a well-protected little cove off of Halls Bay, just south of where the cut to Bullfrog would have been at higher water levels, with a nice sandy beach, steep hills on three sides, and closed off from the main bay so that there wasn’t a large fetch anywhere to be found. It was hard to imagine a better, more secure beach and after digging in our two anchors, the last thing I was concerned about was getting blown off the beach.
Fast forward a few nights, to a crystal clear, calm night on Powell with no sign of trouble in the air. As normal, we were all camped out on the upper deck of the houseboat watching the stars as we drifted off to sleep. The evening had been perfectly calm, but in minutes our tranquil night turned in to pandemonium as what I would describe as a williwaw swept down off the steep hillside on our port bow. I didn’t have a anemometer, and even if I had I wouldn’t have been looking at it, but I venture a guess at 40-mph winds buffeting the houseboat and quickly shoving the bow off the beach. The bow began quickly drifting down wind to starboard, pulling the starboard anchor line sideways and dislodging that anchor. All this happened before anyone was able to get off the top deck and down to the controls.
Luckily, the port anchor held strong, leaving the houseboat steam downwind from the aft port cleat that was secured to that one anchor. Eventually, we were able to get the engines fired up and, pivoting off that port anchor point, align the houseboat around perpendicular to the beach again to drive it back onto the shore; holding it in place until the wind subsided about 20-minutes later.
It never fails, no matter how securely anchored I think the boat is or how protected the beach, the wind will come up and works its magic…usually at the worst possible time, when everyone is trying to get some sleep. When you’re caught in this situation, reacting correctly can be the difference from a major headache and total catastrophe. Last September there was a significant wind event across the lake that caused huge amounts of damage, included flipping a large houseboat onto its side down on the southern end of the lake.
Safely anchoring the houseboat is extremely important for your safety, the safety of the boat, and your piece of mind during a particularly bad storm. Winds on Lake Powell can exceed 50-mph and you should be prepared to deal with these conditions, which often arise in the middle of the night. By selecting the best available beach, properly preparing your anchors, and being ready to react to high wind conditions, you will be able to ride out the storm.
The flat side of the houseboat acts much like a sail and wind force on the houseboat can be enormous. Heavy winds can dislodge even well set anchors and you must be vigilant in keeping the boat secure and being ready to respond to high winds. The wind force exerted on the houseboat can be calculated with the equation below. The Drag Coefficient for a flat plate is 1.17, the approximate area of the side of the houseboat is 1,000-ft2, and the density of dry air is approximately 0.074887-lbs(mass)/ft3. To complete the calculation, you must divide the result by 32.174 (gravitational acceleration) to convert pounds mass into pounds of force. The table below is provided as a quick reference.
As you can see from the table above, you’re dealing with huge forces here.
Selecting the location of beaching the houseboat is critical and is one of the largest factors in how secure the boat will be during your week. Ideally, you should select a site with the following characteristics, but likely you will have to make some trade-offs.
Prior to leaving the dock with the houseboat, I like to identify one or more areas for out anchor site and then dispatch a scouting boat to go recon those areas and locate a suitable anchoring site. Ideally, this boat will be equipped with VHF radios for communications and a handheld GPS to provide an exact position of the site. Generally, I send a minimum of 4 people in the scout boat so that they can act as your anchor party and prepare the beach prior to the houseboat’s arrival. The scout boat crew will need to evaluate the beach and plan for the anchoring of the houseboat
Once the prefect anchor site is identified the work begins. Hopefully, the anchor party will be able to have the beach ready by the time the houseboat gets there (so I don’t have to do as much work). This includes doing all of the following:
The scout boat crew should have identified any possible obstructions or dangers prior to the houseboats arrival, but you should always post a lookout on the bow of the boat to watch for potential dangers in the water as you approach the anchor site. Houseboat should not be towing any small craft when beaching; send all small craft ahead to the beach and secure them out of the way from anchoring operations. Maneuver into the beach as perpendicularly to the shoreline as possible, driving into the beach at clutch ahead or slower, by taking the engines in and out of gear to keep a bare steerageway.
Once the hull of the houseboat glides up onto the beach, increase your throttle to drive the hull up onto the beach and hold it there until anchoring is complete. With the houseboat now beached and all the preparations completed, anchoring should go smoothly.
On Serenity and houseboats over 50-ft long, a minimum of two anchor points should be used on each side of the houseboat; smaller boats can get by with only one anchor on each side, but more anchoring points never hurt. Regardless of what anchors are used, they should be positioned so that the anchor lines are at approximately 45-deg angle to the boat. Anchor line length should be minimized; in the case of nylon lines, the more line you have the more it will stretch. Other new synthetic fibers, like Vectran or Spectra, have virtually no stretch and will behave similarly to steel cable, which is great, but I’ve found that they don’t hold up in the UV exposure they see in Powell.
Setting Your Anchors
Danforth anchors are the primary means for anchoring on sandy beaches. If properly set, the Danforth anchor will provide an exceptionally sturdy anchoring point. The anchor should be set in at least 2-ft of sand. If the sand is shallower than 2-ft over rock ledge underneath, as a strain is taken on the anchor the flukes will dig down and hit the rock surface. The rock will prevent the anchor from digging further and, as more load is put on the anchor, it will cause the flukes to flatten out and cause the anchor to lose hold on the beach.
The anchor should be placed in wet, well packed sand near the water. Wet sand is much more stable and provides considerably more holding power for the anchor than dry loose sand.
In order to set a Danforth anchor you can either fully burry the anchor, but there is an easier way. You’ll still need to dig a hole, but there is no need to completely bury the anchor; you can set it using power from the houseboat.
Drive anchors are essentially large stakes that are driven into the ground using a sledge hammer. They are not as solid an anchor as a properly installed Danforth Anchor, but if used correctly can be an effective anchoring system. They can be useful in situations where the sand is less than 2-ft deep, but at least 1.5-ft deep.
Drive anchors should always be set in multiples, at least 2-3 in a line with the anchor line. Angle the Drive Anchors at between 20- to 30-deg away from the houseboat and back tie the first drive anchor to the next, and so on. Once all drive anchors have been driven and back tied, you may tighten up the anchor lines and secure.
Large boulders or rock outcroppings can be the most effective anchors; just be sure that they feature you are tying off to is substantial enough to hold the houseboat in a strong wind. In this case, you simply loop a nylon lifting strap around the feature and connect it to itself with a shackle, to which you can then connect the anchor line. Once all anchors lines are attached you may tighten up the anchor lines and secure.
Once you have your anchoring points secured, it’s time to tighten up the anchor lines and secure. There are a few approaches that you can take in taking the slack out of your anchor lines.
Water Level Changes
Depending on the time of year the lake level will either be rising or falling and you must keep track of the stage of the lake level to ensure the houseboat doesn’t become permanently grounded or float free. Be sure to check with the marina prior to getting underway to see what the lake level has been doing; they should be able to give you a pretty good idea of whether the lake is rising or falling and how fast. In May and June the lake can be rising by as much as 1-foot per day. If the lake level is rising, you will need to drive the houseboat onto the beach and tighten up your anchor lines. If the anchors are buried near the water level, which is good practice, you may have to move them up the beach as well.
If the lake level is falling, you will need to back the houseboat off the beach and let out your anchor lines. Failure to back the boat off with a falling lake level could result in sinking the stern of the houseboat if the boat is beached on a sufficiently steep slope, which is good practice. As the lake level drops, the buoyant force of the hull will no longer be supporting the boat, but it will instead be resting on the seafloor. If the angle of the beach is steep enough, such that the boat lying on the bottom would have the stern submerged, then the stern will submerge as there is not enough buoyant force to keep it afloat.
Regardless of what the lake level is doing, you should check your anchor lines every morning and evening to see if they are slack or taught; and then make the necessary adjustments to keep the houseboat properly beached.
So, what happens with the wind comes up? Even with well-set anchors, an extreme wind event can still pose a danger to the security of the houseboat and you must be prepared to deal with a worst case scenario; being blown off the beach. If the wind comes up and you are noticing heavy strain on your anchor lines you should start main engines and maneuver to reduce the load on your lines.
Turn the helm away from wind in order to push the stern into the wind and take strain off the anchor lines. Power forward onto beach and increase throttle until tension on the windward anchor lines begins to slack. Balance the throttles to maintain line tension: if the lee side anchor lines begin to go slack, you apply more power; if the windward side anchor lines begin to go slack, you reduce power. You just have to continue playing this game until the wind dies down.
Until next time, here’s wishing you fair winds and following seas.
As the old C.W. McCall song goes, “I was thumbing through the want ads in the Shelby County Tribune, when a classified advertisement caught my eye. It said take immediate delivery of a ‘57 Chevrolet half ton pick-up truck…”
Well, if you substitute Craig’s List for the tribune and a ’56 Lone Star Cruise Master for a ’57 Chevy, you’ve got a pretty good indication of what happened to me. About a year ago, I came across a Cruise Master while aimlessly searching Craig’s List for trouble. It was in Wichita, KS and included a 115-hp Mercury “tower of power” for the princely sum of $700. I’d never really considered buying a Cruise Master before, but after some consideration I discovered that I had to have one.
Unfortunately for me, after I had come to this conclusion, I gave the seller a call only to find that it had been sold the day before. Never the less, I now had a quest and I was on the search for a Cruise Master to take up some room in my yard, bust my knuckles on, and cuss at. I set up a search warning on eBay and for the next several months did regular searches on my favorite Craig’s List conglomerater, SearchTempest.com.
I found a few possibilities, but they were either too far away or too dearly priced. Eventually my efforts paid off and I found a nice Cruise Master in Oklahoma city. After a little haggling, I was the proud new owner of a 1956 Lone Star Cruise Master with two motor mounts, one for a single engine and one for double engines, and three outboards (two matching 35-hp Johnsons and one 75-hp Evinrude). It was a prime candidate for my next project.
The previous owner had started work on her, but had moved on to other projects and needed to clear up some space. He had already removed the old transom and replaced the aluminum sheeting on the transom. He worked in aircraft maintenance and his work looked exceptional, thought he may have gone a little overboard with the rivets on the join to the new sheet.
The Cruise Master was billed as “the Queen of the Lone Star Fleet” when it was rolled out in 1954 and represented a big departure from their smaller fishing boats. Targeting buyers looking for a large weekend cruiser for relaxing on the water, it was a 21-ft long cabin cruiser that provided a lot of space and amenities.
The Cruise Master remained the flagship of the Lone Star Fleet until they discontinued the model in 1961. An inboard version was offered in 1955 and ’56, but the majority of the Cruise Masters, like mine, were powered with outboards that were hung on brackets that placed them about 2-ft to the rear of the transom. They boasted standard features like built in berths, a head compartment, built in cabinets, hinged cabin windows with screens, and navigation lights. There were also several options available, including the flying bridge windshield and a head that pulls water from the lake and, as was apparently legal in the 1950s, discharges its waste right back into the lake. My new project had both of those options, but the head had been removed at some point (the stand pipes still remain).
I can picture her already in the stately “Newport Green” over “Seagull White” paint scheme with a mahogany interior and teak and holly flooring, cruising out to the San Juan Islands with my wife and son. It will hopefully be the perfect weekend cruiser to do a couple nights in some beautiful location, but it’s a long way from that point and I’ve got a lot of cussing and knuckle busting to do before then.
Work on this project will be slower, since the boat is currently located in my parents back yard in Colorado. Thus far I have only managed to clear everything out and do a quick inventory. The hull appears to be reasonably sound, but someone has liberally coated several seams with silicone, which is going to be a super awesome to get off, and there is one rib in the bow that was cut through to expand storage, which I will need to beef up structurally. The hull was media blasted to bare aluminum and the bottom primed, though I think the primer is suspect and I might end up removing it; the deck and super structure still have a nice layer of flaking paint and I have purchased a sand blaster attachment for my pressure washer that I hope will make quick, easy work of getting everything down to bare aluminum and ready for paint. There are countless other projects to keep me occupied for the next year (or more), but that will all have to wait for later.
Until next time, here’s wishing you fair winds and following seas.
A while back I was asked on Quora, what my craziest boating experience was, and that got me thinking about my many adventures on the water.
We once asked the Chief Mate on our training ship what the coolest thing he saw at sea was; he considered it for a few minutes before replying, “I don’t know…but I will say that is the dumbest thing I have ever been asked.” That is not the usual response and asking an open ended question like that to a sailor is a good way to get your ear talked off; after all, what sailor worth his salt doesn’t have his share of sea stories? I have many that come to mind and find it difficult to pick the craziest (a lot of crazy things happen at sea). Getting kicked off a pier by an Alaska State Ferry and having to pivot the ship in a basin about 30-ft wider than our ship was long springs to mind; sailing into a hurricane force storm in the Gulf of Alaska is probably the closest I’ve come to dying; a close call or two transiting a narrows in Alaska would also probably fit. However, these all involve a 231-ft ship and you asked about boating. I have a good number of stories from my time recreational boating, but doing hydrography in Alaska provided more than ample opportunity to get into crazy situations in small boats (I was not involved in the photo, but that is one of our survey launches and our very unofficial motto was, “we hit the rocks, so you don’t have to”).
Never was there more likelihood of finding yourself in a predicament than when running shoreline verification. Essentially, we would wait until a negative tide window (when the tide was lower than charting datum of Mean Lower Low Water, or MLLW) and go out and run the 4-meter curve to verify the shoreline features (rocks, wrecks, reefs, ledges, etc.) that were acquired by photogrammetry or LIDAR. The coxswain would drive along the 4-m curve watching his fathometer and the hydrographer in charge would carefully verify all the features displayed on the computer screen and on the paper plot; annotating existing features, disproving erroneous features, and adding new features.
I wasn’t aboard this boat, but they were disproving an offshore rock that they didn’t see by running a star pattern search over the position when they inadvertently proved the existence of the rock. The coxswain was probably running the star pattern a little faster than he should have and the boat came to an abrupt stop, ejecting the person that was serving as a bow lookout from the boat onto the rock, which was about 3-ft under the water surface. The coxswain immediately backed off the rock and the members of the boat crew (3 other people) began assessing the boat for damage; no one had noticed that the bow lookout had fallen off the boat until they heard him yelling “Man Overboard!” while standing on the rock. Luckily, no one was hurt, but he was very cold and wet.
As for my personal experiences, I would have to say that it would have been getting high centered on a rock during shoreline verification. I was the Hydrographer in Charge (HIC for short) and I had three others in the boat, which was a 20-ft Monark aluminum hulled open workboat; a Survey technician and a coxswain in training driving under the tutelage of one of our more experienced coxswains. We were running shoreline outside of Sitka, AK and it was getting close to the end of the shoreline window (tide was rising to above MLLW). We had just finished going around Bamdoroshni Island and the coxswain pointed out an exposed rock offshore to the south. I checked the plot and sure enough it was there, previously charted and verified by photogrammetry. I checked it off and was about to say we had enough time to get around the next small island in the group when the coxswain asked me if we should verify that rock. I didn’t think it was really necessary, I was pretty sure it was charted correctly (the rock had a name, Tsaritsa Rock, and was marked with a buoy…people knew about it), but he asked if we could anyway for training purposed with the new coxswain. I didn’t see any harm in it and agreed.
In order to verify a rock, or add a new rock, you need to get a Detached Position (DP) and the best way to do that is to put the bow as close to the feature as possible and then log a position on our survey computer. This was going to be a difficult feature to get a position on since it was fairly exposed to swell, but a pretty normal operation. So the coxswain talked the trainee through the approach and then let him take us in. I was watching the computer screen waiting for the coxswain to give me the signal that he was as close as he was comfortable getting so that I could mark the position. The next thing I knew, I felt a swell lifting us from the stern and surging us forward. It lifted us right up and set us down on top of the rock. The next few moments were crazy as the coxswain scrambled to take over from the trainee, who was panicked and had a look of utter shock on his face. We sat there for a few moments, high and dry on Tsaritsa Rock and I swear we teetered back and forth a bit, until the next swell came in, lifted us up off the rock, the trainee shoved the outboard into reverse, and we slid right back off the rock and into deep water. We all looked at each other like, “did that really just happen?”
It took a few minutes to check and make sure we weren’t taking on water and the engine and the propeller were undamaged. After figuring out everything was fine, we then debated whether we should radio the incident back to the ship or just keep it to ourselves. We really should have probably called the ship, but not wanting to get chewed out, we decided that we would just call it a very thorough rock verification. Tsaritsa Rock is charted as 0-fathoms 3-feet deep and I can attest to that accuracy.
It’s that time of year again; the leaves are changing colors, the days are getting shorter, everything tastes like pumpkin spice, and, at least in my neck of the woods, the boating season has come to a close. That means it’s time to roll up my sleeves (then quickly realize that it’s too cold for short sleeves and roll them back down) and get to work on winterizing the Serenity for her long winter’s rest.
I pushed for a winter lay-up period and, luckily, the other owners on Serenity have agreed that it makes sense to pull the boat off the water for the cold winter months. Our winter lay-up begins in November (as you’re reading this I am probably down in Bullfrog doing exactly what I’ve written here) with relaunching done in March. The chief reasons I wanted this dry-docking are: (1) If the boat is not in use, there is a drastically reduced chance of damage sitting in dry storage as opposed to being on the water, (2) it gives the boat a chance to dry out and hopefully prevent major maintenance issues due to mussel growth, (3) it results in a reduced insurance cost and can offset some of our costs for slip rental, which can be prorated, and (4) it allows for out of water repairs to be completed prior to the beginning of the next season, like replacing impellers and changing the lower unit lube oil. If there is the option, I would almost always opt to store my vessel on the hard over the months that it isn’t being used.
Prior to being put up for the long winter’s nap, there are several things you need to do in order to make sure everything is in good shape when you pull the boat out of mothballs next Spring. I’ve winterized my fair share of boats over the years; the houseboat includes a few extra systems, but shouldn’t take more than a few hours to get ready for storage with a couple knowledgeable people (no word yet on how long it will take me and my dad). I like to winterize as much as possible while we’re in the slip, prior to haul out; pretty much everything except the main engines can be finished up prior to driving over to the ramp to be loaded up.
Throughout the season, things have a tendency to break and the end of the year is always a good time to catch up on all the minor issues that have gotten overlooked. Fixing the loose door latch, replacing burnt out light bulbs, changing a broken light fixture, replacing the tank level sender units, rebuilding a leaking steering pump, replacing broken trim, and fixing a loose connection block on the marine head; I build a punch list over the months and then spend a couple days making sure everything is knocked off that list or, when missing all the required components, they are listed and planned for repair prior to relauch.
I also include items like removing the canvas cover on the upper awning, making sure the deck chairs and tables are secured by tying them to the railings, giving everything a good cleaning, and generally making sure that everything is stowed to prevent anything from blowing away or wandering off. If you spend this time making sure everything is ship shape, it will make next Spring a whole lot easier.
Serenity carries about 400-galons of fuel and the last thing you want to have to deal with is that much stale gas. While there has been varying advice from different authoritative sources over the years, they have come to consensus and now advise storing your fuel tanks full, or at least at the 90% maximum safe fill level. With modern fuels you face several issues that weren’t present prior to the elimination of lead and the introduction of ethanol; most notably is ethanol’s propensity to absorb water and reduced resistance to microbial growth. Water is public enemy number one, and keeping the tank as full as possible reduces surface area of the tank and the volume of air that could allow for condensation. Long story short, it’s best to store your tanks full to prevent condensation and keep the gas dry.
Adding a fuel stabilizer prior to the final fill up on all tanks is also advisable. A fuel stabilizer will add up to 24-months to the shelf life of your fuel. It reduces water absorption, increases lubricity, inhibits microbial growth, and boosts octane. I always try to add the stabilizer prior to the final fill up, so that the additive can be well mixed with the fuel, but realistically, the bumpy trailer ride to storage a few miles away will do a pretty good job of mixing it anyway.
Water is the greatest concern when winterizing in almost all the houseboat systems, so a logical place to start is the potable water system. Power of freezing water is impressive; just look at the cracks, potholes, and heaving in the roads throughout the Northeast to understand its immense destructive force. You want to get all the water off the boat and the potable water system is as good a place to start as any. Freezing water can burst pipes and rupture filter housings. Most of the damage I had to deal with in the plumbing system was caused by freezing. The Water Fixer filtration system had both filter housings burst, requiring replacement, and the stainless steel UV chamber had one end cap pushed off.
Winterizing the water system begins with emptying the water tanks; you can simply use the pressure system pump to run water through the faucets until the tanks are dry, but I prefer to utilize a portable pump to drain the tanks by connecting to the drain spigot on the tanks and run the water overboard. The water heater tank is emptied in a similar manner. You do have the option of opening the drains and letting the tanks dump into the bilge, subsequently pumping the water out with the bilge pump, but I prefer to keep my bilges dry.
Once the tanks are empty, you can focus on blowing out the water lines. The easiest approach I’ve found is to purchase a $5.00 blowout adapter, like the one pictured below. This fitting allows you to attach your air compressor’s chuck to the water inlet to pressurize the system. It’s then just a matter of opening the hot and cold at each of the faucets to allow the water to be blown out of the lines.
It’s important to remember to open the valve to the water tanks to be sure to blow out those lines as well. You also need to open and empty the filter housings, and disconnect the line to the pump and allow it to drain out.
The drain P-traps also need to be blown out, which I do with a wet/dry-vac, but could also be done easily by removing the P-trap and dumping them out. On Serenity, we have no gray water tank, and all the sinks and shower discharge directly overboard, so I don’t have to worry about any odors or sewer gasses. However, if your system does drain into a holding tank, it’s a good idea to refill the P-trap with RV-antifreeze.
The black-water holding tanks need to be pumped out per our normal procedure, which includes back-flushing the tanks until the effluent is relatively clear and then priming the system with toilet chemicals and about 5-gallons of water. The seacocks for the toilets are then secured and I empty the filter housings. Then, leaving the filter housing loose, I run the pump to clear the lines of water, and try to blow the lines out with a wet/dry vac as best as I can. I will run the macerator pump to drain the blow and flushing lines, but usually that won't quite get all the water out of the bowl and I will have to suck it out with a wet/dry vac prior to filling the the bowl and macerator pump with RV antifreeze.
Even your electrical system needs a little attention prior to winter. The only things I really do are to ensure that the water levels on the flooded lead acid batteries (inverter and starting batteries) is at the correct level and then make sure the batteries are isolated so that an errant load doesn’t drain them flat over the winter. You need to use distilled water and a bulb syringe to fill the batteries up to the maximum fill level, which is illustrated below for the Trojan inverter batteries that were originally on the boat.
Many would advise pulling the batteries and storing them inside during those cold months. You might also put them on a trickle charger. I agree with this and take both of these steps on my small boats, but it’s not that simple with the houseboat. Serenity’s 12-batteries weigh a total of over 1100-lbs and would have to be hauled back to Colorado or Washington, since no heated indoor storage is available at the storage yard. For me that’s just not feasible, and I’ve never had any issues with the batteries just following the practice of isolating them to prevent discharge.
Now we’re getting to the nitty-gritty. The generator can easily be winterized while the houseboat is still in the water. Our Westerbeke has a closed cooling system with a heat exchange system that draws cooling water from the lake. The closed system is already filled with antifreeze, so you just have to worry about the raw water intake and wet exhaust. Now, the textbook method for winterizing the generator would be to pull the drain plugs in the exhaust manifold and on the heat exchanger, but I’ve found an easier approach.
I close the seacock for the raw water intake, clean out and empty the sea strainer, and then disconnect the hose leading to the heat exchanger. I place the hose in a 5-gallon bucket filled with a few gallons of RV-antifreeze and then start the generator. It takes less than a minute of running to suck the bucket dry and start expelling the pink fluid over the side through the exhaust, thus displacing all of the water in the system with the biodegradable RV-antifreeze. When it looks like about 10-seconds worth of antifreeze left in the bucket, I have someone else start praying fogging oil into the carburetor, and then kill the generator. Then it’s just a matter of pulling the four spark plugs and fogging each of the cylinders, prior to replacing the plugs.
And finally, the main engines get their winterization only after moving over to the ramp for haul out. They will walk the houseboat onto the trailer and winch it into final position, so once you’re tied up at the dock by the ramp, you should be finished with the engines for the season. I like to get to the dock a little early so that we have time to do some of the winterizing prior to being hauled out. You can do this all after being hauled out, but if you want to run the engine on the hard, you will end up having to rent a run cart, if available, to ensure none of the cooling water ends up on the ground (even though under normal operation that water would be going right back into the lake…you’ll have to take that up with the EPA).
Once we’re at the dock, I will shut off the fuel tanks and let the engines starve of fuel. Prior to them dying, I try to time it about right so that I can spray about 10-seconds of fogging oil into the carburetors on each of the engines; it’s easier if you do them one at a time. Once the engines have starved of fuel, you can fog each of the cylinders, but this can also be done after being hauled out.
After the boat is blocked up, it’s time to finish up the winterization process. Aside from fogging the cylinders, that means draining the block and the exhaust manifold. I pull the plugs on both the manifold and the block and allow the water to drain into the bilge. I then remove the thermostat housing and use a wet/dry-vac to blowout the block and manifold. Once both drain holes are relatively dry, I shut down the wet/dry-vac and replace both plugs. I then pour RV-antifreeze into the thermostat housing port to fill the system.
That would be the bare necessity for winterizing, but if there’s time I also like to replace the lower end lube oil and, while I’m at it, drop the lower end and replace the impellers. The impellers should last more than a year, but with the mussels in Lake Powell, I figure it’s better to be safe than sorry and open up the lower units to make sure everything is clear and put some new impellers in there. If an impeller should fail during the season, the only option is to haul the houseboat out again to work on it, which represents a $1000 obligation, so I figure the $30 for the impeller kits is well worth it.
Even if you’re not dropping the lower unit, it’s good practice to replace the lower end lube oil prior to winter storage. If any water has made its way into the lower end, you don’t want it sitting in there all winter and potentially freezing. The Mercruisers have a reservoir for the lower end lube in the engine compartment, since there’s virtually no way for water to work its way up into those reservoirs, I don’t see a need to drain them and instead clamp off the hoses running down to the lower units. Then it’s just a matter of opening the drain and vent plugs on each of the lower units and allowing them to drain. I have been known to be a little impatient, and I will often use my compressor to blow the oil out from the upper vent hole in order to speed up the process.
Once they’ve run dry, I’m free to drop the lower units and replace my impellers, but I won’t go into detail on that procedure in this post. Instead, assuming you aren’t replacing the impellers, you would just go ahead and refill the outdrives with lube oil, pumping it in from the bottom drain port until it comes out the upper vent port. Then you just have to remember to remove the clamps isolating the reserve reservoirs.
With all this complete, it’s finally time to button everything up and head home. Until next time, here’s wishing you fair winds and following seas.
As I mentioned in the previous post, there are virtually limitless options when it comes to foam. So, what foam should you use for flotation in your boat? It can be perplexing, but hopefully after reading this you’ll have a better idea about adding flotation to your boat.
Should you even use foam at all? I’ve seen quite a few people (though definitely a minority) argue that foam floatation is just a hassle and, if you aren’t required to, you should just skip it. They argue that regardless of the foam you use, it’s going to absorb water, and it’s going to take up space. Floatation foam is designed to keep your boat at the surface with water up to the gunnels, but “they” would argue that the boat would still be a total loss having been submerged (clearly, judging from my boats, we have a different opinion of what constitutes a total loss). Obviously, I think “they” are wrong; not because the boat can be salvaged, but for safety. “They” will say they have a life jacket, so it’s no big deal, but as anyone that has done man overboard drills with a dummy knows, it’s a lot harder to spot a person floating in the water than you might think (even if their head is orange). It’s a lot easier to spot an overturned or partially submerged boat than it is to see a person. Aside from that, a partially submerged boat also provides shelter and a means to get yourself up and out of the water, which makes a substantial difference in survival time. So, the answer for me is, yes you need foam. The federal government agrees with me and per USCG requires all new boats under 20-ft to have integral floatation that will provide at upright and level floatation when fully filled with water.
I’ve seen a few people argue for the use of sealed flotation compartments or just filling compartments with sealed bottles. They point to the fact that these flotation methods won’t get waterlogged like foam can, but the counter argument is that they aren’t as reliable as foam. Granted anything that will displace water in a large enough volume to float your boat will work for flotation. Foam provides a more resilient flotation, whereas a sealed compartment or 4 sealed milk jugs have a greater possibility of failure. Even if you damage a block of foam (break it in half, stab it with a knife, etc.), it will still provide significant buoyancy. Whereas, if you poke a hole into a sealed compartment filled with air, it will lose all its buoyancy, and poking a hole in one of the 4 milk jugs will result in losing a full 1/4 of your buoyancy. That is why I prefer foam, but I am not vehemently opposed to other methods.
Now you just need to figure out what type and how much foam you need. Should you use polystyrene or polyethylene or liquid urethane foam or something else? There’s no shortage of choices and I’m not going to give you a definitive answer on which one is the best; they all have strengths and weaknesses. You need to look at their respective properties and see which one is going to fit your needs the best. The most common foams I’ve seen are the above listed polystyrene, polyethylene, or poured liquid urethane foam. Any of these should work fine, the most important thing is to use a closed-cell foam and ensure you have enough of it to float your boat and gear.
Foam is made up of bubbles; in the case of closed-cell foam, those bubbles haven’t popped and thus won’t absorb moisture. Open-cell foam is like a sponge and will be useless in providing floatation for your boat. Now, to the point that any foam will eventually become waterlogged, that is largely due to improperly storing your boat or poor installation of the floatation foam in the first place. If you allow the foam to sit in water, it will eventually break down and absorb water (water is the universal solvent). In installation, you want to make sure that the foam is placed such that water can drain away from it and doesn’t become trapped (e.g. limber holes). When you store your boat, make sure the water has somewhere to go by pulling the bilge plug and raising the bow so that water will flow down and out the bilge.
Even a closed cell foam has voids between the cells and will absorb some water. As an experiment I took a piece of packaging Styrofoam (polystyrene) and submerged it for a week to see how much water would be absorbed over time. The 3-in by 1.5-in by 0.5-in piece of foam initially weighed about 1.8-grams. I placed it into a tub of water and placed a water bottle on top of it to keep it submerged. The table below shows the time that the foam had been in the water and the weight at the time.
After an initial rapid weight gain, which is a result of water making its way into the rather large voids within the foam, the weight changed more gradually as the water worked its way deeper into the smaller voids. After a week of soaking it had doubled in weight, gaining an additional 1.8-grams of water, which is about half a teaspoon. Removing it from the water and letting it dry for 24-hours returned it to the starting weight of 1.8-grams and a subsequent dunking provided similar results. So, the longer you let it sit in water, the more water will be absorbed and the more difficult it will be to fully dry out.
This is more of a concern in cold climates, with freezing temperatures in the winter. Any trapped water will freeze and rupture the closed-cells of the foam. It then thaws and is absorbed into those now open-cells only to refreeze and do more damage to the foam. As this freeze thaw cycle continues the foam breaks down and will eventually become saturated with water. Keep it dry when you’re not using it (i.e. your boat sank) and it should be fine.
Now, we just have to calculate how much foam you need to float your boat. The first step here is to figure out how much weight you need to float. You can do this three different ways (more really, but these are the most realistic):
Once you have this total weight, it’s a relatively simple matter to calculate the volume of foam you need to float it all. You can use the formulas from the USCG boat builder’s handbook (http://uscgboating.org/regulations/assets/builders-handbook/FLOTATION.pdf) to determine the amount of flotation needed.
Fb is the volume of flotation needed for the boat hull, Kh and Kd are conversion factors for the materials used for hull and superstructure (0.33 for aluminum), Wh is the weight of the hull, Wd is the weight of other structural components, We is the weight of any equipment or gear, and B is the buoyancy of one cubic foot of the foam being used. Most flotation foam has its density represented as the weight of a cubic foot of the foam. Usually, flotation foam is 2-lb foam; so a cubic foot of foam would weigh just 2-lbs and displaces a cubic foot of water, which weighs about 62-lbs. Thus that foam provides 60-lbs of flotation, which is your value for B in these equations. In the Lone Star’s case, I got approximately 1.667-cuft of foam for the boat and associated gear.
Fp is the volume of flotation required for propulsion equipment and G is the weight of the engine, battery, and associated equipment. With an engine and battery weight of nearly 200-lbs on the Lone Star, I got a value of 2.5-cuft.
Fc is the flotation required for the personnel capacity and C is the maximum weight capacity. With a planned capacity of 4 people at 150-lbs each (I wish, but my wife offsets my extra cushioning), I ended up with a value of 2.5-cuft.
Once you have these values you simply add them all together to get the total required flotation requirement (in my case 6.667-cuft). In total, I actually have almost 8-cuft of foam packed in the Lone Star between the bow, the benches, and the transom. The trick really is figuring out where to put it. Now I just hope that I never need it.
Until next time, here’s wishing you fair winds and following seas.
When my uncle’s friend, Paul, showed up at his small private airfield in Eastern Colorado he was interested in a large box of parts on the ground in the hanger. My uncle’s cavalier response was that he had just rebuilt the upper end of the engine on his Cessna 175 and those were the left over parts he didn’t know what to do with. Paul didn’t find that particularly amusing as he was there to do my uncle’s Biannual Flight Review (BFR) and was about to go up in said aircraft. Truthfully, he had just replaced the cylinders and the box was old parts that he was discarding; he is one of the best mechanics I know and helped me and my dad rebuild my first engine (an old in-line 6-cylinder Mercury 115-HP outboard). Never the less, things always come apart a lot easier than they go back together and after finishing up the paint work I was ready to start piecing my boat shaped puzzle back together…hopefully without too many spare parts.
Prior to painting out the interior, I first tackled replacing the flotation foam. The polystyrene floatation that was concealed in the nose and the bench seats was in a sorry state with rodent nests and severe degradation from sitting out in the elements for nearly 50-years. So I cleaned it out and got to the business of replacing it.
There are any number of different types of foam to choose from; polystyrene, polyethylene, polyurethane, polyisocyanurate, and polypropylene, just to name a few. Rather than going into detail on determining the right type or necessary amount to keep your vessel afloat in this post, I think I will ave that for another post. I ended up using a combination of poured polyurethane and some rigid polystyrene.
The foam in the nose was held in with aluminum strips that were riveted in place; I just drilled out the rivets on one side, slid the old foam out, slid the replacement foam in and put in some new pop rivets. I wanted to remove the foam in the back bench and move it closer to the transom; given the weight of the outboard, I thought more flotation at the heaviest part of the boat would be a good idea. Also, I was hoping to use the back bench for storage. I was able to get a little over 1-cuft of foam glued under the transom well with polyurethane glue. I would have liked more, but I just couldn’t figure out a good arrangement to get more foam at the transom without major modification. I guess if it ever sinks, it's going to float down by the stern.
On the front bench, I decided to go with a poured liquid urethane foam. My first attempt didn’t turn out so well; I failed to read the product literature completely. The foam I have used in the past has a shelf life of 1-year prior to being opened, but the brand I purchased for this project, FGCI, only has a shelf life of 6-months and apparently they mean it. I purchased the foam about 8-months before trying to pour the bench full, since Amazon had a sale and I figured that I would use it before the end of the summer. Anyway, I poured a gallon, which should yield 4-cuft, enough to fill the front bench with a little overflow, but only got about 1-cuft of dense "foam." Luckily, I had lined the bench with plastic sheeting (disposable table cloth) to contain it and that made removal of the failed pour a snap (just pulled it out and put it in the trash).
After reordering the liquid urethane foam, I made a second more successful attempt. I first laid some wood sticks in the bottom through the limber holes in the bench to keep them clear and allow water to flow to the back. I then laid in my plastic sheeting and poured the foam in two stages. The reason for breaking the pours up into two stages was firstly, to ensure I didn’t have a major overflow, and secondly, to prevent it from heating up too much. The expansion of the urethane foam is exothermic and, if you’re not careful and pour too large a quantity the excess heat will degrade the foam and yield a more dense foam that expected. When I was working at the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory on the TOA buoys we always poured in multiple stages. The buoys were just giant fiberglass donuts (the original mold was based off of an over inflated truck inner-tube) that were then filled with poured urethane foam. Initially they were doing this in one pour, but found that they were getting a lot of heat (so much that they worried about fire) and far denser foam than expected.
With such a small pour as this, it’s unlikely that there would have been a problem, but better safe than sorry. Even with the precautions, I may have gotten a little over zealous with the second pour, but nothing a serrated knife couldn't fix.
Once the floatation was in and I got the interior painted, I was able to show off my skills, or lack thereof, in carpentry. I debated adding wood to this aluminum boat; I'm not a huge fan of the maintenance that goes with bright work, but it seemed appropriate for this boat. The wood adds a lot of beauty to the boat and I don't think the dash board and bench tops will be too much of a maintenance headache; if they are, I can always remove and replace them with HDPE (high density polyethylene, commonly called Starboard) in the future.
In order to make the dashboard, I created a tape template of the dash by laying up several layers of masking tape onto the dash and then just peeling it off. I then used my template to cut the 1/8-in thick mahogany plywood to size and transfer the necessary holes for switches, steering wheel, and mounting hardware. I planned to through bolt it in four spots for final mounting.
I fabricated the seat bench tops, to which I attached standard marine folding seats, out of mahogany (both solid and ¾-in plywood). Fabrication was fairly straightforward, just measure once and cut three or four time…wait, that’s not the saying. That might have explained some of my snafus. In any case, I cut all my lumber to size and then faced the decision on how best to glue and screw them together. I was torn between doing it the easy way and having visible fasteners (i.e. screw heads) holding the bench tops together or going the extra mile and putting them together with hidden fasteners. It would be easy to clamp them and glue and screw them in place, but then the screws would be visible. Alternately, I could pull them out and fasten them together from underneath so that you can't see the screws, but keeping the geometry correct out of the boat so that they go back in without an issue would be a lot trickier. In the end I went with the easy way, but I bought brass screws and called them a nautical detail.
On the plywood sections, which were the whole bench-top in front and the opening lid on the back bench, I needed to cover up the end grains of the plywood. I purchased some iron on mahogany veneer and went to work wrapping all the edges. It was pretty easy, just cut to length, iron in place, and then trim off the excess with the trim tool that I purchased along with the veneer.
Once the fabrication was done, it was time to move on to staining and varnishing. I used all Minwax products, since they are readily available from the local big box store. I seem to be fond of saying this, but I am not an expert and that is especially true of painting and finishing. Most of what I know I learned from the internet and reading the literature with the products I bought, though I do have some experience in this area that I can contribute.
Staining is relatively simple. I went with Minwax Mahogany stain to give the mahogany a richer color. The staining process went something like this.
Once I had everything stained, I had to wait the prescribed dry time before moving on to varnish. In this case, the prescribed time wasn’t long enough since it was an unseasonably cold day and extremely rainy (I know, who would have expected that in the Northwest). I had to wait about double the dry time until the stain was dry, which can be tested by wiping the surface with a clean cloth and getting little to no color transfer. Once that was done, I got to move on to varnishing.
Varnishing the seat tops and dash were a very slow process with all the rain and cold; as mentioned above, recommended dry times aren't so accurate when it's this cold and wet. I doubled them and still ran into soft varnish when I went to sand the first time. I used Minwax Helmsman Spar Varnish and the can recommends three coats with 4-hour dry time in between, but I went overboard and went with 5-6 coats total with a full 24-hours in between coats. My varnishing process went something like this:
I did manage to pick up a few cool tricks and tips along the way. Firstly, after mixing your varnish (never shake) it's a good idea to pass it through a filter to make sure there aren't any particulates in the mixture that will show up as flaws once you've laid down the coat; paint strainers are fairly cheap and readily available. Secondly, in order to prevent varnish from sitting in the rim of your can and sealing the lid on, you can punch a few holes in the bottom of the rim to allow the varnish to drain back into the bucket (I can't believe it took me this long in life to learn that). Third, as I mentioned above, it's better to apply your varnish with a foam roller in order to get a more even coat, which you can then tip with a good quality badger hair brush to get to lay down smooth. Forth, this is for all the skinflints out there like me, in order to reused your foam roller from coat to coat you can wrap it in a plastic bag getting all the air out you can and sealing it as well as possible.
Keeping your varnished bright work looking good is not a once and done kind of thing; you will have to maintain it every year, which is why I was slightly dubious about putting it on this otherwise low maintenance boat. At the beginning of every season, starting with this one, I will have to apply another coat of varnish. That will mean removing the wood, rubbing it down with a fine grit sandpaper, and rolling and tipping it. If you don’t keep on top of this and the finish starts to go, it’s already too late and the only solution is to strip it down to bare wood and start from scratch…we’ll see how long I can keep that up.
Once the varnishing was done, it was time to really start assembling the boat, which is where I really start to have fun as I see the finished project start to take shape. I made sure that all my hardware was stainless steel (except for the “decorative” brass screws I used to build the benchtops). The fold down seats were through bolted to the bench tops and then the bench tops were screwed down to mount on the bench supports.
The dashboard was mounted with four screws; two dedicated mounting screws on the outside and the two mounting screws for the name plate. Regrettably, the dash nameplate was sun bleached to bare aluminum when I got it, but a contact over at the Lone Star Yahoo Group was nice enough to provide me with an image of his dash plate that was in slightly better condition. I’m looking to get the lettering reproduced as a decal, but haven’t yet found someone that can do it. I installed the switches and a 12-V power outlet, but that will be covered in another post. I then moved on to the steering wheel.
I would have liked to have used the original steering wheel and planned to restore it, but it was too far gone. I purchased a new chrome steering wheel and mounted it to the old steering shaft for the pulley steering system. I also managed to salvage the Lone Star center cover and attach it to the new wheel. I replaced the cable and re-rove it to get my steering system set up. If you’re not familiar with a cable and pulley steering system, I think it’s best described in one of my famous paint diagrams.
Turning the wheel to the right will rotate the drum of cable, which releases cable on the starboard side and tightens the cable on the port side. That moves the front connection point of the engine to the left, thus pushing your stern to the left and turning you to the right. I just had to mount the engine and install the control box with new control cables to have a fully operational boat.
The chrome pieces were all in reasonably good condition and, aside from reworking some of the electronics, I just had to remember where they all went. My wife bought me a new old stock Taylormade acrylic windshield that fit just about perfectly. And with the addition of a few vinyl decals and the registration number, I had something that could pass for a boat.
I wouldn’t call this a true restoration, but it is fairly period correct and met my desires for a cool runabout that would turn a few heads for a very reasonable amount of money. While it’s close to "finished," I've learned that as long as I have a boat, I will always have a project or two that still needs doing.
Until next time, here’s wishing you fair winds and following seas.
Everyone is always asking me what books I would recommend they have on hand for the perfect nautical reference library…well, that’s not strictly true. No one has ever actually asked me that question, but I think they should. So I’m going to go ahead and answer it. It’s my blog and I’ll do what I want!
Obviously you aren’t going to stick a stack of books in a storage compartment on your bass boat (though that would be pretty cool), but on a houseboat or other large vessel you have the space to keep some useful references aboard. I installed a bookshelf in the main salon on Serenity with this reference library in mind. If you don’t have a houseboat of your own, you can always build your reference library at home; I have both. Even the saltiest among us needs a little refresher once and a while, but what references are the most helpful when you’re out on your houseboat?
Since top ten lists seem to be so popular and I want to be popular too, below you will find my top ten recommendations for inclusion in your houseboat’s Reference Library.
Seriously, there are tons of other books and references that could be useful, but I think the above six are the real foundation of a good maritime reference library. I’d be curious to know what your suggestions are for inclusion in a maritime reference library (not really, but it seems polite to ask); so go ahead and post your recommendations in the comment section. Maybe we can get this up to a top ten list yet.
Oh, oh, oh, I know…it’s a seminal six list…nope still not as good as a top ten, maybe it’s the “t’s” that make them so cool… Oh well. Until next time, here’s wishing you fair winds and following seas.
I know a lot of you are probably reading the headline to this post and thinking…Watt? (Insert rim-shot here) I know, electricity puns aren’t very Current, but they really get me Amped up. Okay, I’ll stop, since my wife insists that my puns Hertz her.
If you haven’t guessed by now, this post is going to involve electricity and more specifically the rewiring of my Lone Star Malibu. As compared to a car’s electrical system, I find that wiring a boat is really quite simple…at least a small boat like this Lone Star, a houseboat is in a whole different category (see my previous Shocking Post). Though the same principles still apply, no matter how big the job.
Electrical wiring should be taken seriously, and in the world of boats, as with electrical wiring in your home, there are rules that should be followed. The American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) writes the standards for the wiring in boats; manufacturers follow these guidelines rigorously, but owners can tend to flagrantly disregard them. I referenced the wire sizing guidelines in my previous post linked above, and the same still holds true for this post (make sure your wire is appropriately sized for the amperage draw and the length of the run). I won’t go into chapter and verse of the ABYC standards, but if you are tackling a wiring project, they are worth consulting to make sure you are using the correct materials and following convention.
I will mention that there is a wire color code that should be followed for vessel wiring set by the ABYC. However, not all boats will follow this wiring color scheme, some manufactures used different wiring schemes as late as the 1990s and you can never be sure what a previous owner might have done. If you are rewiring your boat, it would behoove you to bring it up to the current standard.
I used black for my ground and not yellow, which is quickly being phased in by manufacturers after the 1996 update by ABYC so that there was no confusion between the DC system ground and the AC system hot wires. I went with black since I had it on hand and don’t have to worry about an AC system on the Lone Star (the houseboat got the same treatment since that was the color scheme already in place).
The first thing I had to do was make sure I had all my components in working order. I rewired the bow light and converted it to an LED bulb. That was fairly easy, I just pulled it apart and replaced the bulb socket with a new one that I purchased on eBay and purchased the corresponding LED bulb. I likewise refurbished a vintage stern light that I purchased on eBay with an LED bulb and a new mounting base to fit the narrow mounting surface I was left with because of the fins at the stern.
I also had to rebuild the horn, which was a slightly more involved process. I first tried to get the old horn working, but to no avail. Powering it should turn on and off a magnet very quickly to vibrate a metal diaphragm to produce sound that was amplified by the horn body. No amount of cleaning would get the mechanism working again and I was forced to look at other options. I ended up buying one of the cheap horns from Harbor Freight and pulling out the innards (diaphragm, actuator, etc.) to use in the old horn body. It wasn’t a perfect fit, so I got a 1/8-in thick piece of PVC and cut out an adapter to mount the new diaphragm on and then mount that onto the old horn body. I was thrilled when I applied power and it sounded like a horn once more.
The only other components that I had were the new 12-V power outlet that I installed on the dash and the outboard motor, which came wired with its own harness. I’d just have to connect the outboards power cables to the battery and run the supplied wiring harness to the key and choke switch up front. Now on to wiring.
Normally, I’m an advocate for using a switch panel with integrated breakers, like the one pictured below. I prefer breakers to fuses, since you don’t have to worry about carrying replacement fuses, and the panel places the fuse conveniently by the switch. That can eliminate a lot of headaches with figuring out which fuse goes with which switch goes with which accessory.
In the case of the Lone Star I wanted to have an original look and couldn’t picture a modern switch plate anywhere on the boat. As a result, I had to opt for a fuse block to run all my electronics. I suppose if I had really wanted to keep the fuses or breakers with the switches, I could have drilled corresponding holes next to the switches and installed a fuse holder or standalone breaker. I wanted a cleaner look though, so this fuse block was the best solution.
As I said, the wiring for the Lone Star was pretty simple, with just 4 components to supply. You’ll notice that I got a 6-circuit fuse block even though I’m only using 3 of them; leaving room for future expansion is always a wise decision. I don’t think I will be adding anything to this boat, but you never know. I might decide I want a radio, a fish finder, a VHF, a chart plotter, etc. There's no end to the things you can spend money on adding to your boat (a hole in the water you throw cash into), so you'll never regret leaving room for later expansion.
Now, on to the wiring. I made up the below wiring diagram with the actual wire colors I used (black for ground, red for supply, gray for navigation lights, and orange for the horn and 12-V outlet), but I thought that color coding each component made it a little easier to read (bow light = purple, stern light = green, horn = blue, 12-V outlet = orange, 12-V positive supply line = red, and grounds = black ).
I bought myself an Optima BlueTop battery, which is an AGM (Absorbed Glass Mat) battery that is designed as a starting and deep cycle battery. It is sealed and maintenance free; it’s rated for 750 cold cranking amps (number of amps the battery can deliver at 0°F for 30 seconds while maintaining a voltage of at least 7.2 volts) and had a capacity of 55-Ah (you can draw 1-amp for 55-hours, or 55-amps for 1-hour, or something in between).
I just had to give that battery a nice home. I got a battery box and mounted the strap down to a couple of ribs with the battery box sitting in between those ribs. I also mounted a battery trickle charger to that box, so that all I would have to do to give it a charge before heading out to the lake is plug it in. I also mounted a 30-amp breaker to the outside of the box and ran a 10-ga supply line through that and up to my fuse block along with a 10-ga negative line to the integral negative bus bar.
From the fuse block, I ran 12-ga wire for each of the components. The 12-V outlet was wired directly from the fuse block, fused at 20-amps. The horn was wired through a momentary push button and fused for 7.5-amps. The navigation lights were fused at 5-amps and run through a three position plunger style switch, which has one output terminal energized in the first on position and both output terminals energized in the second on position. That allows you to energize just the stern light to act as an anchor light, or energize both stern and bow lights for your standard running lights.
I should mention, if you’re wiring navigation lights with a rocker switch (like the switch panel I prefer above), you will need a double-pole double-throw (DPDT) switch. Run power to the input terminal of both poles, on one pole you can connect the two output terminal and run a supply line to the stern light, and on the other pole you connect only one of the output terminals to the bow lights. In my exceptional paint diagram below, terminals 3 and 4 are the input terminals, terminal 1 supplies power to the bow navigation light(s) in one of the switches on positions, and terminals 2 and 6 are jumpered and supply power to the stern light in both on positions.
That just left the engine system, which I didn’t really have to play with too much since the wiring is internal to the outboard and the starter switch and choke were already wired into the harness. I just had to run the wires from the starter switch and choke back to the engine and plug into the harness. If you do have to work on the wiring for your engine, a shop manual with a good wiring diagram is worth its weight in gold. As I noted above, an engine this old does not follow the ABYC wiring standards and having a playbook makes things a lot simpler than having to chase wires to figure out what they do.
I’m thinking I may do a separate post on the outboard and marine engines in general, but for our purposes here I will detail the starter switch and choke wiring (note this will be different for newer engines). As you can hopefully see in the photo below, my starter switch and choke switch are wired as per the diagram above. The green wire supplied voltage from the engine/battery (power in); the starter switch then has four other terminals. These should be marked M, S, A, and M. I know that’s two Ms, what the heck is going on here? The S is for the starter solenoid and is a white wire on our set-up; this is powered when the key is turned to the start position (to engage the starter). The A is for accessory and is powered when the key is in the on position; if we had accessories (like a radio) that we wanted to power when the engine was on they would be run on this terminal, but in this case we only jumper from this terminal to the choke switch (red wire) which then runs back to the engine to engage the choke (red wire with white stripe). The M terminals are your kill switch; when the key is in the off position, these two terminals should be connected, which will kill your engine (black ground wire and black wire with white stripe for the kill switch). With that all connected the only thing left to do was see if the engine would fire up…but that will have to wait for another blog post.
Until next time, here’s wishing you fair winds and following seas.
At the zoo there was a monkey island surrounded by what was essentially a moat. The island had a lighthouse on it and in the moat along the shore of the island there was a concrete sculpture of a wrecked boat, broken in half. As early as three years old, I remember thinking about how cool it would be if I could somehow put it back together and have my own kid sized boat. I guess I’ve been dreaming of having my own boat for as long as I can remember; I always saw old broken down wrecks (be it a rotted out old wooden runabout or the rusted remains of an old shrimping boat on the Florida coast) as an opportunity to rebuild them to their former glory…I hadn’t yet learned how to calculate return on investment.
I did just that with my deck boat in high school, but after I spent some time on the water I started to dream bigger; I wanted a yacht (a 58-ft Hatteras Long Range Cruiser, in case anyone wants to get me an early Christmas present), but I could never make buying such a large vessel make financial sense. It didn’t keep me from dreaming about rebuilding my perfect boat and all the features that I would want on it. Fast forward to early 2015 when I found myself the proud new owner of Serenity and I finally had my opportunity to build the perfect boat. Granted, some features you’d want on a transatlantic yacht don’t make as much sense on a houseboat on Lake Powell (Radar, Autopilot, EPIRBS, SSB radios, AIS, ECS, Gyro-compass, etc.), but plenty do and I had other features based on my houseboating experiences on Lake Powell that I wanted to incorporate as well. I’m going to highlight all the “bells and whistles” that I added to the boat that I think separate her from other houseboats.
Flooring. What, floor coverings don’t sound like a feature you’d daydream about? I think that the right floor coverings are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also offer longevity and improved livability on the houseboat. As such, I took a lot of time making sure that I chose the right ones.
I’ve already sung the praises of the Lonseal teak and holly flooring in my previous post on the interior, but I’ve got to bring it up again. This vinyl flooring that emulates a teak and holly sole ticks all the boxes for me; it looks good, it’s durable, and it doesn’t require maintenance. You can easily point out that material and installation costs exceed that of carpet, but given the fact that this should have a much greater life (hopefully never needing replaced) and isn’t going to get stained or trap the sand and dirt, I think the extra cost is justified. It is a commercial grade sheet vinyl, which is a waterproof barrier, has a long wear life, and is UV stable to prevent fading. The only thing you should ever have to do to keep this floor looking great is sweep and mop, which will be of great benefit in keeping the sand that will inevitably be tracked aboard in check.
I did opt for carpet in the staterooms due to both the lower cost and the installation difficulties with the stairs. I like the feel of carpet in a bedroom, and, while I prefer hardwoods or tile throughout a house, I usually go with carpet in bedrooms as well. In order to get the best life out of the carpet, I purchased a short pile Stainmaster carpet that I hope will hold up for many years.
On the exterior decks I went with a marine carpeting, but decided on a darker tan color instead of the traditional dark gray that you see on most boats. The reason for the dark tan was twofold, I figured it would be cooler on the feet and I thought that the sand that was tracked aboard would blend in with the brown tone better than a gray. Getting a quote for installation of $6000 for the front and back deck nudged me in the direction of installing the exterior carpeting myself. After a solid week worth of work, I understand why they charge so much for installation. Never the less, it came out well and I added features like the tan plastic stair caps to improve wear and longevity of the carpet (seems that the first place to wear out on carpet is always the nose of the stair treads).
Safety Equipment. Every houseboat has the basic, required safety items; fire extinguishers, Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs), throw-able flotation, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, etc. Of course, Serenity has a full complement of all those items, but, as someone that has gone to sea and had safety drilled into me, I went above and beyond when it came to safety equipment. I was always fond of the USCG motto of Semper Paratus, meaning always ready; it was much better than the NOAA Corps motto, which as near as I could tell was Semper Confusa (in basic training I was told that NOAA was an acronym for No Organization At All and my career seemed to reinforce that). I hope never to be caught wanting when it comes to vital equipment that might save a life; just like the boy scouts, always be prepared.
The number one fear of most mariners is fire. Fire aboard a vessel is truly terrifying, especially a ship sailing in the frigid waters of Alaska; there is no fire department to call, you and your fellow crewmates are the only ones that can battle the blaze, and if you fail the only escape is the unforgiving ocean. I’ve gone through basic and advanced firefighting training twice; even with turnout gear and an SCBA (Self-Contained breathing Apparatus), getting near a raging fire was no fun. So, while I equipped the boat with 5 fire extinguishers, I was looking for better alternatives to battle a blaze.
The engine compartment was already protected by a fixed HALON system, which should knock down a fire in that space in short order. It is a HALON 1301 Flooding System that is automatically actuated when temperatures in the Engine Compartment reach 175-deg F. HALON is a firefighting agent that attacks the fire by inhibiting the chemical reaction itself. It is very safe for human exposure and it is extremely effective at quickly knocking down a fire while leaving no residue. Unfortunately, it is a CFC and was linked to ozone layer depletion; as a result, production was ceased in 1994, but there are sufficient reserves to last well into the future for applications where HALON is necessary. I'm very happy to have it protecting Serenity's engine compartment.
At the suggestion of my firefighter brother, I installed an automatic fire suppression system over the range called the “StoveTop FireStop,” which is a fixed Sodium Bicarbonate Dumping System. This system is automatically actuated when flames reach the device and ignite a fuse. The fuse triggers canisters of Sodium Bicarbonate, which are dumped onto the range to extinguish the fire by smothering; when sodium bicarbonate is heated it releases carbon dioxide gas, which deprives the fire of oxygen.
My brother also pointed me in the direction of a new sort of extinguisher, the Elide Fire Ball. The Serenity is now equipped with 2 Elide Fire Balls, which act as fixed automatic fire suppression systems in the main salon above the electrical panel and in the aft stateroom. These Fire Balls can also be taken down and thrown into a space to combat a fire without having to make entry or attack the fire directly. They are a hollow polystyrene ball containing monoammonium phosphate dry chemical surrounding a small explosive charge. Flames will ignite a fuse, which will set off the explosive charge and distribute the firefighting agent evenly throughout the space.
Medical emergencies, like fire, pose a unique hazard in a location as remote as Lake Powell. Minor and major medical problems can arise at any time and having someone on board with at least basic first aid and CPR knowledge could be the difference between life and death. I went through over a month of training (most of which I have forgotten; I don’t think anyone wants me giving them stitches or administering an IV) to receive my MPIC (Medical Person In Charge) certification and I wanted to be sure that I had all the required emergency medical equipment available if I would ever need it. The Serenity is equipped with a very extensive Medical Kit that will provide equipment for even advanced responders; from a Cervical Collar to stethoscope to SAM splints to Aspirin. I had to restrain myself from buying a back board and AED, but at some point I had to admit that the expenditure exceeded the likelihood of ever using the equipment. Either way, someone that is trained in emergency medicine should find everything they need for basic EMT level care in the utility closet.
All the emergency equipment in the world isn’t worth a tinker’s dam if you don’t know how to use it and haven’t thought about how to react in an emergency. On board ships we had binders of Standard Operating Procedures and Emergency Procedures that we had to learn inside and out to get qualified as bridge watch standers. Similarly, I have taken great care in creating SOPs and Emergency Procedures for the Serenity. They detail the equipment aboard and how to use it with clear and concise explanations. This sort of information is invaluable and, likely to the consternation of some of the new owners, it is required reading prior to being authorized use of the boat. As part of our rules, the owner also has to conduct a safety briefing prior to departing the slip, to make sure that everyone aboard knows the key safety elements aboard the boat. Safety is everyone’s responsibility.
Navigation Equipment. I’m a self-admitted navigation nerd, having spent countless hours on the bridge of a ship navigating through the inside passage to and back from Alaska, and I had to reign myself in so that I didn’t overdo the navigation equipment on Serenity. Realistically, there is very little navigation wise that you need on Lake Powell other than local knowledge, but there are a few things that can definitely make your life easier.
I of course purchased a suite of charts for the Serenity, including the Fish-n-Map charts of the north and south lake, the Stan Jones map that I framed on the wall for quick reference, and Navionics Western Lake electronic chart package, which includes a very detailed electronic chart of Lake Powell. The electronic charts display well on the new Lowrance Elite 7 chart plotter and echosounder (that’s the hydrographer’s way of saying depth finder), which also gives you a wealth of information about water depth and temperature. I mounted the chart plotter at the upper helm, since that is where I would be driving once in open water, where the chart plotter would be most useful. While I would never want to navigate the lake at night (it’s specifically prohibited by our insurance), this would give me far more confidence in doing so.
Navigating in open water is relatively easy, but maneuvering in tight quarters can be a nerve rattling experience. As such, I focused on adding anything that could make the process a little easier. I had to replace the rudder angle indicators, which are extremely helpful in close quarters. It’s a nightmare trying to maneuver that houseboat in tight spaces when you have to guess at where your engines are pointed.
After pulling into the slip for the first time, I realized that the view behind the houseboat from the lower helm was limited, to say the least. Having someone on the back deck as a lookout works, but I thought it would be much easier if you could see for yourself. I installed a rear view camera to give the driver a clear view of what is behind the boat. We’ll also be installing rear view mirrors on both sides soon to increase visibility further.
Luxuries. Now, if I had my way I’d have a much simpler houseboat, maybe an aluminum pontoon boat about 50-ft or less in length with a swamp cooler and camper appliances; something that would be inexpensive to operate and be a little bare bones. When I think about going to Lake Powell I don’t think about creature comforts, but I’m married now and apparently if I want my wife to come with me to the lake, I need a few luxuries. I also figured that some memorable features would make shares easier to sell. I went higher end on most things, like soft close doors and drawers on the cabinets and stainless steel appliances, but also added a few cool extras.
As I’ve said, the work on a boat is never finished, but this post pretty much wraps up the ongoing series on the refit of the Serenity. I’m sure I will have many projects on the Serenity to write about in the future (winterizing the boat, the installation of the water slide, replacing the canvas, etc.), so stay tuned.
Until next time, here’s wishing you fair winds and following seas.
Brent Pounds has over a decade of experience in the maritime industry and has been involved in recreations boating since he was a child. See the About section for more detailed information.