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The Five Most Neglected Areas of Your Boat

The spring commissioning rush has or is about to start over much of the country. While most of us do a decent job of getting our boats ready for the water, there are at least five areas many of us overlook. Often that failure to check comes back to haunt us later in the season. Here are some of those areas and some solutions to the resulting problems. The Five The inside of a winterized boat, often shrink wrapped or covered with a tarp, can be a fertile breeding ground for mold, mildew and critters of various types. Inadequate ventilation increases humidity levels and helps fuel the spread of that mold or mildew. The hidden and protected environment inside the boat provides a happy home for mice and other small critters. Mold spores are a health hazard anywhere and even worse in a close environment like the inside of a boat. To make matters worse, mold often hides where it isn’t evident. Check under cushions and inside compartments. Thanks largely to hurricanes Katrina and Rita, there is quite a bit of information about mold remediation available on the web. While much of it is focused on mold in homes, the information is also useful in remediating mold in boats. The EPA has the booklets "A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home" and "Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings" available for free downloading on their web site at: http://www.epa.gov/mold/ That site also has a great deal of other information available, including a Mold Resource page. That page has basic information, an introduction to molds, an online mold course and a list of related links. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also has a section of their web site devoted to mold, its effects and remediation. A section of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) can be found at: http://www.cdc.gov/mold/faqs.htm So what’s the big deal about mold? Well, mold spores can trigger asthma attacks or allergic reactions in persons exposed to them, especially the young and the old. Some mold spores produce toxins that are also dangerous. Long term exposure to mold spores can cause health problems in healthy people. Mold has even been known to cause lung infections. In short, it’s not a pleasant thing to live with. Mold remediation involves killing the active mold colonies, disinfecting and cleaning the affected surfaces and preventing reoccurrences of the mold infestation. This of course is after the source of moisture has been eliminated. On a boat, that usually means sealing the leaks and keeping the interior dry. Once that is done, the mold colonies are killed, the surfaces cleaned and then sealed or protected from future mold infestations. Be sure to wear appropriate personal protection while doing this remediation. This means gloves, eye protection and a respirator rated at N-95 or above. One often used solution for killing the mold is common household chlorine bleach, mixed with no more than one cup of bleach to each gallon of water. Surfaces are wiped down or scrubbed with the bleach solution and then rinsed with water and dried. Another solution often used is hydrogen peroxide. This isn’t the common 3% solution found in most drug stores, rather it is anywhere from a 10% to 35% strength solution, depending on the source doing the recommending. Hydrogen peroxide of this strength is harder to find; try beauty supply companies or swimming pool chemical suppliers. A third method is to use one of the numerous proprietary chemicals on the market for mold remediation. Many of these contain chemicals to kill the mold, additives to aid in stain removal and cleaning and other additives to prevent mold regrowth. One I have successfully used is called Mold Avenger. (http://www.dtep.com/moldavenger.htm). Mold Avenger comes as a dry powder in a spray bottle. Just prior to use, water is added to the bottle to dissolve the powder. After mixing, I sprayed the mixture on all the interior surfaces of my boat affected by the mold. After letting it set for an hour or so, I scrubbed the surfaces to clean up the mold residue and stains. Mildew removal is a less toxic, but no less time consuming process. I’ve had good success with several of the mildew removal products carried by most marine stores, All seemed to be effective. 3M and Star Brite are a couple of brands I’ve used. 3M also has a spray-on Scotch Guard Water Repellant with a mildew block. This is good for treating boat canvas and other fabric surfaces aboard. Mice and other rodents like to move aboard in your absence. They can do an incredible amount of damage that is sometimes hard to detect. They chew on wires, causing electrical shorts. Foam cushions, life preservers and insulation make nice insulated nests for them. One area often overlooked on an I/O equipped boat is the rubber boot around the outdrive, where it is attached to the transom. Rodents can chew through this and let water into the boat. Wasps or mud daubers are also a problem. They build mud nests behind panels and in openings, sometimes blocking them. One particularly pesky place for them is in the folds of a furled sail. Depending on the staining qualities of your local mud, rather nasty stains can result. Plumbing System Most boaters do some sort of plumbing check as part of their spring commissioning efforts. Given the fact that much of the plumbing system is below the water line, a more thorough check is warranted. Thru-hulls need to be exercised to ensure they operate smoothly and without needing excessive effort. You should have a wooden safety plug attached to the thru-hull in case one breaks off. The hose clamps should be inspected for signs of corrosion. Many hose clamps, especially cheaper ones, are advertised as stainless steel. Sometimes the worm screw tighteners are really mild steel and will corrode. Use an adjustable mechanics mirror on a handle to look behind the hose at the backs of the clamps. Places not normally inspected. Check the hoses for any signs of cracking or softness. Hoses sometimes have the inner liner separate from the outside and will block the flow through the hose. Inspect the through hulls for any marine growth that could block cooling water flow. Check any vented loops to make sure the vent valve on top works properly. A vented loop with a valve stuck closed is simply a piece of very hard hose. If you have a holding tank vent filter, make sure that no effluent has penetrated the filter and clogged it. Likewise, check the vent line thru-hull for any insect nests that would clog the vent line. Take a look at your water lines. Many folks concentrate their water system cleaning efforts on the tanks, not realizing that the lines themselves can be fouled with growth and sediments. Engine Systems Engine systems also need a thorough check out. Check the hose clamps, as mentioned above, as well as the hoses. Check the lower unit oil when replacing. If it looks like coffee with water in it, you probably have a water leak in the lower unit. Rub some oil between your fingers to check for any metal chips in it, a sure sign of developing problems. If you have an impeller style water pump, remove the impeller and check for cracked or missing vanes. While you have it out, check the impeller housing for any undue wear. Sucking up sand and sediment through the cooling water can erode the pump housing and reduce pumping efficiency. Another often overlooked area is the manifold and exhaust systems. The exterior of those manifolds can look fine while hiding extreme internal corrosion. If your manifold has any pipe plugs sealing off the passage, you might want to pull one or two to check the internal condition of that manifold. Removing the exhaust hose from the riser outlet is another way of checking for internal corrosion. While you are at it, check the condition of the rubber exhaust hoses. A momentary interruption to the flow of water through a manifold can cause damage to those rubber hoses; they are designed to be cooled by the water injected into them. It goes without saying that a tune up and filter change may be warranted before launching. Leaks Leaks can be insidious. Sometimes it is hard to tell a leak from simple condensation. Most boats these days are built with cored decks. An upper and lower fiberglass skin sandwich a core material in the middle. This cored construction makes for a lighter and more rigid deck than one made without. That core can be plywood squares, end-grain balsa or plastic foam. Deck fittings, ports and hatches are installed by cutting openings in this cored structure and mounting the hardware with sealant and screws or bolts. The bad news is that when the sealant fails, as it always will, the water starts leaking into the core. These leaks can rot the wood or break the bonds between the core and the fiberglass. The result is core rot, a spongy deck and a significantly reduced value for your boat. You can check for this by removing a fastener or even a port or hatch. If you can see exposed core, it’s time to start removing the core around the opening or fastening and sealing it with epoxy filler. The fastener can then be replaced, now being screwed though a solid epoxy plug. Remember that by the time a leak starts dripping on your nose while you are in your bunks, it has already started to do its dirty work. Bilges Many of us pull up a cabin sole access panel, check for water in the bilge and then go our way. Later on, in the summer, guests start staying away from the cabin or even the boat due to the funky smell rising from the neglected bilge. Take the time, early in the commissioning process, to thoroughly scrub out the bilges with a good bilge cleaner. On some boats, the ice box or the shower drains into the bilge. This is a sure source of unwanted odors. Install a sump of some sort to capture this water before it ends up in the bilge. If you really want an olfactory experience, spill some milk in the ice box; let it drain into the bilge and ferment. It is good practice to install a drain pan under any engines to capture any fuel leaks or oil spills from changing filters and oil or bleeding the diesel. Place an oil absorber in the pan to contain any errant spills. I’m sure there are other neglected areas on your boat but I’ll leave it up to you to discover them. This list should keep you busy until the yard can get to your boat and drop it in the water. Hopefully, all the major areas will be checked out by then. If not, make sure your boat insurance premium, including the oil pollution clause, is paid up in full. Wouldn’t hurt to have a towing card, either.

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