Lessons Learned – by Pat Carson
Boating In The Off Season
Winter is here, the boating season is over and it is time to put the yacht away until next spring. If you live in other areas of the United States, that statement might be true. However, on the West Coast nothing could be further from reality. In the San Francisco Bay, the Delta and many coastal ports, we are fortunate that boating is a year-round activity. In fact, I know some yachtspeople that prefer the winter boating season when the high heat of the Delta has given way to cooler mornings, comfortable days and crisp evenings. Arguably, the best boating weather in San Francisco is in late fall and winter when the afternoon winds have abated and the fog has left the dock for somewhere else. Coastal voyages can be a different story, but boating between the storms can be quite spectacular.
Try departing late morning for lunch at one of the few San Francisco dockside restaurants. Even during the coronavirus crisis, many of the waterfront facilities in San Francisco were open for business. The best part is that the short stay dock at San Francisco Pier 1-1/2 is empty, so docking is easy. In just a short walk from the dock, you are on the Embarcadero at the foot of the city.
If you have been saving some boat projects for the off-season, November is a good time to take your boat to the yard for repairs and upgrades. The yards are generally not abundantly busy this time of year, but unfortunately since Nov 2020, we have been faced with unforeseen issues. With part availability still unpredictable, the time out of the water right now can still be longer than anticipated.
Some of the more stunning sunsets and sunrises happen during the colder winter months. Over the years I have collected many sunrise and sunset photos from Mexico to Alaska, and none are more stunning than the winter shots.
For every sunset there will be a sunrise just a few hours later. If you are lucky enough to be out at sunrise, this is another great time to capture images. Generally, the seas are calmer and there are fewer other yachtspeople on the water, making for a lazy cruise as the sun peaks over the horizon. Sipping that first hot cup of coffee is even more enjoyable at sunrise. If you don’t want to be on your own boat at sunrise, try taking the Real McCoy II ferry from Rio Vista to Ryer Island.
Or better yet, how about making a voyage across the Bay at sunrise. In 2020 there was not a lot of the usual morning ferry traffic, and on the days without morning winds I often found the Bay flat calm.
Fishing is one of those activities that we can do and still maintain that one fathom distance rule.
Late afternoon and evening are good times to test your skill at fishing in the Delta. There were plenty of launch ramps with few to no other boats or trailers all around the Bay in Jan 2021.
Many of the boat yard projects are getting wrapped up by February, and there are still plenty of boating opportunities while the waterways are still pretty clear. However, it might be wise to not pick a day when the north winds are blowing 20 plus.
By March, offshore deliveries will be in full swing moving boats up and down the coast from Mexico to Canada. With cross border travel restrictions having been lifted into Canada, traveling into those cooler climates is once again an option. Even though early mornings in Mexico can be a little chilly, when traveling in Canada you will certainly want to keep interior compartments warm and comfortable when underway or at rest.
Portable Heaters On Boats
This is the time of year that we may be using additional heat sources to keep warm on those chilly evenings. Claim data from one insurance company indicates that the leading cause of winter vessel fires is from unattended portable electric space heaters that have stressed the vessel’s AC electrical system. Placement of the unit is also important, especially in smaller spaces. As a general guideline, the heat portions should be no closer than 36 inches from flammable materials, not be placed on combustible surfaces such as carpets and not have flammable liquids in the space the heater is being used.
Portable heaters come in many different types and sizes. Alcohol, solid fuel, propane, electric, diesel, forced air and forced water are the more common types. Each of these different types has its own benefits and issues. The American Boat Yacht Council (ABYC) considers space heaters unattended appliances which means they must meet certain special requirements for marine use.
As a general rule, electric heaters are considered safer than the fuel burning type. Whether you have propane, alcohol, diesel, kerosene or a solid fuel heater, all of these give off carbon monoxide and deplete the oxygen in the area. Liquid fueled space heaters put out an abundance of heat, but must be used only with adequate ventilation, and then only occasionally due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Never take these heaters into confined spaces because the result can be deadly. It is also important to remember that propane is heavier than air and does not dissipate rapidly. If you smell propane, promptly ventilate the area and do not turn on any spark producing devices such as electrical appliances or switches.
Electric space heaters should not be used around moist or damp areas as contact with water could result in an electrical shock to the user. A portable electric heater suitable for use on your boat is built specifically for marine use. It has a casing made of stainless steel or aluminum, and will last longer in the moist and humid conditions found around a boat. Marine heaters often have additional safety features designed with boats in mind. Some models are designed with stay-cool housings to reduce the risk of fire from nearby combustible materials. Others have tip-over protection that will shut off the heater should a wake or other sudden motion knock it over. Look for portable heaters that have a thermostat control, multispeed fan and stable base. Plug your portable heater directly into an outlet that can handle the wattage, ensure that the plug fits tightly and make sure that it has a three-prong safety plug. Never plug it into an extension cord, power strip or into the same outlet as other heavy-duty appliances.
Consider how you plan to use the portable space heater; supplemental heat in colder spaces, emergency heat or your primary source of heat on board. Safety features that shut off the unit should include overheating, low oxygen levels, tip-over and touch. Portable heaters are not a good choice for preventing freeze damage in the engine room. Instead, you should use an engine room heater designed for this purpose.
Not up for winter cruising and not planning to use the boat until spring? Whether your boat is stored on a hydro hoist in the marina, in a dry stack facility or on a trailer in your driveway, it will need to be winterized. Although we do not get many days where the temperature dips into the 20’s, we do get a few. According to one insurance company’s statistics, of all the 50 states, California has the most winterizing boat claims. In a temperate state like California, freezes do not occur often so we do not take winterizing preparations seriously. However, freezes do happen in our area and boats stored surrounded by air are much more vulnerable to freeze damage than boats surrounded by water. In the Midwest, they start pulling boats from the marina around Labor Day, winterizing, shrink-wrapping and storing them on shore.
Preparing your trailer boat for winter can be a do-it-yourself project. In less than a day you can take the worry out of winter storage. However, there is more to winterizing a boat than simply draining water from the engine and adding stabilizer to the fuel. The exterior needs to be prepared as does the interior, and do not forget the fresh water and sanitation systems.
There are several good sources of information on how to winterize your vessel. One that seems to cover quite a bit of the basics is from BoatUS. The pamphlet is available as a download if you follow the link to: http://www.boatus.com/winter/
We have a checklist that we use to winterize boats in the Bay and Delta, and it is available for download as well. You can use this as a guideline on the items that should be addressed. The link is: www.bayachting.com/winterizing
If you do not have a trailer boat and your yacht stays in the water year-round, there are several winterizing chores that will protect it. That engine oil that has been circulating through your engine all year has most likely accumulated acids and deposits. Unless you regularly start and run the engines up to operating temperature, that old oil will cause premature wear to the internal parts of the engine. Changing the oil now is better than waiting until spring. Fresh water systems can and do freeze, possibly causing pipes and tanks to crack. A good nontoxic fresh water antifreeze added to the system will prevent that from happening. There are several different products available at the local chandlery, but be sure to follow the manufacturer’s guideline for the correct concentration and flushing procedure. In addition, do not forget the hot water tank. Most of us keep our hot water tank powered off when not on the boat, which means the water in there can freeze unless emptied or treated. The sanitation system also has fresh water that should be drained and an antifreeze/lubricant should be added. Consult the manufacturer for their recommended winterizing product. Some of these chores can be avoided by installing a properly sized engine room heater.
While you are taking care of possible freeze problems, now is a good time to check the other systems. Since you are going to be away from the boat for extended periods, check to be sure that bilge pump automatic sensors are working properly, inspect the thru-hull valves for evidence of water leaks and galvanic corrosion and make sure the valves operate easily. Consider leaving them in the closed position. Check the dock lines for wear and add an additional one or two. I like to have a line on every cleat. To keep the mold and mildew at bay, put a dehumidifier in the interior spaces. Be certain your shore power cord is securely attached at both ends and tighten down the watertight seal ring. Check the battery water and charger for proper operation. Finally, make sure the harbormaster has your current contact information.
With minimal planning and a little more caution, winter boating is safe and enjoyable. Ok, I know based on the astronomical definition winter begins at the winter solstice on Dec 21, 2021 and ends at the spring equinox on March 20, 2022. Shorter days and cooler evenings make that glass of port and fine cigar that much more enjoyable after a day of cruising or just sitting in the berth watching it rain.
Until next month, please keep those letters coming. If you have a good story to tell, send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org. I love a good story.