When Is Towing a Boat, Not "Towing" a Boat?

Today’s recreational boater is as likely to leave the dock with a paid towing insurance policy on hand as they would a VHF radio. The commercial towing industry for recreational boating is big business today and many boaters, in an attempt to defray significant expenses should they need assistance, are looking to companies like Towboat US and Sea Tow to come to the rescue if they need it. But do you really know what is covered, what is not and what your responsibilities will be in these “rescues”? Many of these policies have different levels of coverage and deductibles, just as your auto or home owners insurance might. It is to your benefit to ask questions before you buy these policies, read them carefully and have all of your questions answered long before you might need the service. Not all policies are the same and in the end they can be a savior or they can cost you or your insurance company a substantial sum.

Let’s take a look at a hypothetical situation. You have enjoyed a wonderful day on the water with the family and decide to anchor out overnight and head home in the morning. A great meal and a glass of wine at sunset on the deck is the perfect end to a perfect day. You climb into the bunk and plan for a peaceful nights sleep as the boat gently rocks you into slumberland. Some time in the middle of the night you are bounced out of your berth by waves being generated by a thunderstorm which was not forecast or expected. You bound out on deck to lightning crashing and the rain being driven horizontally. Once your eyes begin to fully function you realize you are no longer in the same spot where you dropped your anchor and the shoreline is fast approaching. Just as you fumble around and find the ignition keys the boat suddenly comes to a stop. Ah, the anchor has reset and you are saved. As quickly as the storm came up, it is gone and as you look around all seems well. You will definitely have a story to tell your friends when you return to work on Monday. You climb back into your berth and sleep soundly the rest of the night.

The next morning you wake to bright blue skies and calm waters but the boat has a strange list to the port side. You climb out on deck and find you are aground from the anchor dragging in the storm and in checking the tide tables find the tide is actually going out and soon you will be stuck even more than you currently are. No worries, you have towing insurance and the towboat number is on your cell phone speed dial. The towboat operator picks up on the second ring and you are feeling very lucky. You explain to him that you are aground and the tide is falling so you need to get the boat to deeper water as soon as possible. He asks if the boat or crew are in any danger and you quickly reply that the only injury is to your pride. He explains that he is about 25 minutes from your location and will be there as soon as possible. Some hour and 15 minutes later the towboat shows up and the tide has been falling steady all of this time. The towboat Captain assesses the situation and makes the determination that this is indeed a “hard grounding” as opposed to a “soft grounding”. Now did you know there was different coverage under you policy for hard, instead of soft groundings? He asks you to sign a consent form to agree that he is now dealing with a hard grounding. You grumble about how long it took for him to get there but you relent and sign the form. The towboat Captain puts a line on your boat and makes an attempt to pull you into deeper water without damaging your boat or running gear. After a first attempt it appears that the tide has fallen too far and simply pulling you off is not going to happen. The towboat Captain scratches his chin for a few minutes, reassesses the situation and determines this is no longer a hard grounding but has now progressed into a salvage operation and the agreement you just signed needs to be amended accordingly. Did you know that the cost for this operation just went from maybe $1,000.00 to maybe $10,000.00 or much more since salvage is based on a percentage of the value of the boat? Of course the Captain will want to see your valid insurance information and will advise you not to worry because your boat insurance will certainly cover the cost. But did you know your boat policy had a $4,000.00 deductible that may or may not have to pay out of pocket? Next the Captain puts a large water pump on your boat and stuffs plugs into your exhaust and water discharge lines above the waterline even though you are high and dry and none of these are in danger of taking on water. But he does this “just in case”. Did you know that you may have paid a premium price for the act of placing the pump on your boat, even if it is never used and this strengthens the case for salvage? By this time the tide has reversed and is now coming in to the point where a bit of maneuvering by the towboat with lines strategically placed, gets you back in deeper water and once again floating free. Story over? Not exactly yet.

Soon after getting back to the dock and lowering you blood pressure you get a call from your insurance company so you can explain this salvage operation to them. They explain to you that the towboat Captains reports states that your boat was taking on water upon his arrival and he has an agreement signed by you to salvage your sinking, grounded vessel, and by the way with your deductible you will have to cover the $4,000.00 difference and they will be happy to pay the rest but you will also need to haul your vessel for a sum of about $400.00 and pay a surveyor about $300.00 to survey for any damages and be sure the boat is seaworthy before they will continue coverage. This is preposterous and could never happen you say. Well, don’t be so sure, although most tow operators are honest, hard working professionals, unfortunately this kind of scenario happens all too often.

So how can you be sure you have the coverage you thought you had and how do you keep from getting yourself into a situation like this? First and foremost read and understand the policy and the differences in coverage based on all situations. Even the time of day can affect coverage. Most tow companies charge more for a night tow, and night starts at dusk. Ask questions, ask questions and ask questions, before you buy the policy. Have ANYTHING you don’t understand clarified and get it in writing; even an email carries some weight. Know the difference between a tow and salvage. Salvage is usually defined as voluntary and successful rescue of a vessel, its cargo or crew from perils at sea. That leaves things open to a pretty broad interpretation. Be very cautious in signing forms or agreements in the heat of the moment. But also understand that even with no forms or agreement a towboat operator may make a claim for salvage. A salvor only needs to demonstrate that his efforts were voluntary, the vessel was in peril and he was successful in his efforts. Look for policies that will cover these major expenses without a deductible. Unless salvage is specifically addressed in your towing policy it may not be covered but may be paid from your boats damage or loss policy so set reasonable deductibles for these policies. Ask before a line is attached to your boat if the incident is going to be a tow or salvage. If possible find out what the towboat charges are going to be. If time and circumstances permit, call your insurance company and ask for assistance and clarification. If you are not in peril and don’t feel right about the situation, call it off and contact another towing company. You may be covered for the expense of another tow company under your standard insurance policy. Commercial towing companies provide an important service to the recreational boater and every day a tow company somewhere saves the day and brings us home safely. It is the boat owner’s responsibility to fully understand what is covered and to assure that the services provided are the services requested and to take whatever steps are required to eliminate any misunderstandings.


Discussions of the differences between soft groundings, hard groundings or salvage come up any time commercial towing is mentioned. These are some of this author's definitions as I understand them, but may or may not be the same definitions various towing companies have. Here are the issues presented in the article.

SOFT GROUNDINGS-----To me this would be a simple situation where the tow boat would arrive on scene, pass a line to the boat in need of assistance and either pull them off and send them on their way, or tow them to a facility for repair. This could be the boater’s marina. This type of assistance would entail a single boat utilizing a single tow line and a short time period to accomplish the task.

HARD GROUNDING-----In this situation you would be looking at a vessel grounded on a rock area or coral, and possibly taking on water as a result of the grounding. It may also require multiple tow boats with multiple lines, or additional services such as divers, pumps, or an extended time period to assist the vessel. This scenario, in my opinion, would be considered a hard grounding.

SALVAGE-----If we look at the “legal” definition of salvage, the main indicator is whether or not the crew or vessel is in peril. And that does not always mean immediate peril. The responder must be doing so voluntarily, and he must succeed in the operation. That leaves the entire definition of salvage open to a pretty broad interpretation. It could be argued that any towing scenario could be a salvage operation. Most towing companies would probably not file a salvage claim under simple towing circumstances since any challenge would involve arbitration, or a court decision, or be too costly and time consuming including the possibility of failure. If the vessel were in danger of sinking, washing up on the shore or rocks, pounding on a reef, or presenting itself as a hazard to navigation and of concern to others, then most certainly it would be considered a salvage operation. If the vessel, or crew, or even the assisting vessel is placed in “peril”, then again, there should be no question as to whether or not it is a salvage operation.

An actual decision handed down from a U.S. District Court stated , “to constitute a maritime peril, it is not necessary that the danger be actual or imminent, it is sufficient if, at the time assistance was rendered, the vessel was stranded so that it was subject to the potential danger of damage or destruction”. In most cases, this interpretation is on the shoulders of the responder, the tower. It gives us something to ponder the next time we make that call for assistance. The time to consider and check your insurance policy and towing contract would be long before you cast off your dock lines.

Transforming the Non-Skid Decks

This article appeared in the July/August issue of Good Old Boat.

Anyone that owns or is considering the purchase of an older boat that is in need of some renovations has wrestled with what to do with worn or faded non-skid surfaces on the decks. There are several options including artificial materials glued to the decks, paints and coatings. Our Mariner 40 ketch, Sea Trek, has just had the 30th anniversary of the laying of her keel. We  lived aboard and cruised her extensively for 17 years and the repairs and renovations were ongoing from the beginning. While she had not been abused, she had not been used and was allowed to simply sit at the dock uncared for. Simple cosmetics like redoing the extensive teak trim was easy although time consuming. Our plans were two fold; first to bring her back to like new condition, and second to make her as safe and comfortable as possible for offshore and coastal cruising.

After a few short term cruises on the Chesapeake Bay, we came to several conclusions. One that stood out was the fact that the non-skid was non-skid no longer. Also, the finish was badly faded and worn, despite the lack of use. So we began our research of just how we might do this without spending serious dollars or hiring a professional. One of our goals was to do any repairs or renovations ourselves to save money, to improve our skills and knowledge, and to know that the boat was done to our liking and expectations. Our first attempt was to try the easiest and most obvious. We decided to paint the surface close to the original non-skid color and not change the surface texture. This first try was done using Awlgrip paint for it toughness and ease of application. We used a flattening agent to take the high gloss out so it would not be so slippery. This looked great but the reality was that underway with rain or seas breaking on the deck, we still had to crawl down the deck to go forward because you had a hard time keeping your footing. So it was time for plan B, and there is always a plan B.

With more research came several expensive and very labor intensive choices. If we went this route, the cruising would have to be delayed and we would have had to plan for a fair amount of our free time to complete the project. Almost by accident, we came across a post on a cruisers web site about a product called Tuff Coat by Ultra Tuff Marine www.tuffcoat.net that could be painted on the deck, came in different colors and was touted as a true non-skid that would not break the bank. The manufacturer claims the product is used in industrial applications and is used by military and commercial shipping alike. It sounded like the answer to our dilemma and more web research brought very positive feedback. And also as important, it fit into the budget. While we waited for the product to arrive we studied the installation requirements and even began preparations.

The first requirement was to thoroughly sand the surface to be covered with a 40- to 60-grit sand paper. Needless to say, this did a number on our painted surface and almost completely smoothed out the texture on the non-skid areas. We had to be very careful not to sand into the adjoining painted surfaces. Did I mention that we had completely Awlgripped the entire boat from the waterline to the masthead? Once the sanding was completed we cleaned all surfaces with soap and water and waited for the product to arrive.

For the square footage of our decks that needed to be covered we calculated three gallons and decided to order four. An epoxy primer recommended by the manufacturer was also needed so we ordered a gallon, plus the special roller applicators needed. The entire process was a bit more time consuming than we anticipated. As with any project like this the preparations are not only important but can take up the most time. The first step was to remove any deck hardware we were able to or felt that it would be more beneficial than leaving. There were some items such as handrails that would mean removal of interior headliners and such that we chose to leave in place. Once the items were removed, the painted areas and whatever was left in place needed to be taped around securely. Rounded corners and odd shapes required a bit more effort, and then a strip of 9” paper was added to the taped strips to prevent splatter. Getting all of this in place took much longer than the actual painting of the coating.

Once all of the taping was finished, we laid on the first coat of primer. This was in two parts that need to be mixed in the correct proportions. Once mixed, it must be used, since it cannot be kept for very long even in a closed container. We were able to mix enough to cover all of the decks on the first pass. A small paint tray and a 4-inch closed foam brush made applying the primer a quick and easy task. The primer is little more that the consistency of milk and only a light coat was needed. There is no need to sand the primed surface prior to the top coat. Once done, a 24 hour wait is required before the coating can be applied.

The final finish needs to be done in two coats. There is a special foam roller that is used for the application to give the surface a uniformed textured look and an ordinary brush to “dab” the topcoat in areas that the roller won’t reach. The coating has suspended particles that require thorough mixing throughout the process. We use a mixer attached to an electric drill to get a good mix in the can. The first coat is laid down in strips of about 3 feet rolled on alongside each other but not overlapping. Complete coverage is not important at this point but keeping the roller moving in the same direction is. Once an area of about nine square feet is covered, the coating needs to be rolled at a 90-degree angle to the first application and worked in until there is a pretty uniform coverage. Total cover is still not important yet, but a uniform texture is. In a short period of time, you get the technique down easily. This whole process is continued till the entire non-skid areas are covered.

Once the first coat is dry to the touch, the second coat needs to be applied. It is important that this be done quickly and not left until the next day. For us, once we were finished with the first coat it was dry enough for the second. The process is the same as the first coat, except that attention should be paid to getting complete coverage with this coat. To cover Sea Trek’s decks with two coats took us a total of three hours. Once the second coat is completed, the paper and tape must be removed immediately. Leaving the tape too long can pull the coating off of the edges when the tape is removed. As soon as the second coat was completed, we pulled first the paper then the tape around the edges. This can be a bit acrobatic while trying not to walk or lean on the coated areas. Once all of the tape and paper was removed, we had to just stay off the decks for several hours. After that, we were able to walk carefully on the surface in stocking or bare feet. Ideally we wanted to stay off for 48 hours to give it plenty of time to dry. The final step is to re-install and re-bed the hardware that had been removed. Any time hardware is removed and re-installed on the decks, we soak the holes for the fasteners with thinned epoxy to completely seal the deck core so it can not leak or absorb water if the bedding fails.

One of the big challenges in this project is not letting the decks get wet for 48 hours. Careful planning for weather, keeping your dock neighbor from hosing it down and other considerations come into play. One of our concerns was evening dew settling on the surface. We waited until there was no rain in the forecast and the relative humidity was projected to be low. This can be difficult with a boat sitting in the water. Perhaps done on the hard or in a shed with a controlled environment would be the best way to go. As it turned out we had no problems. The finished result looked fantastic and was better than we expected. Taking our time during the application process we were able to get a good looking uniformed texture that rivaled or bettered many factory finishes on the dock. But best is the entire surface was indeed a true non-skid which did not seem to be affected by water or the kind of footwear, or lack thereof, you might be wearing. It appears to be rugged and has held up to anchoring, piling chain up on the foredeck and whatever else we have done in the normal process of sailing the boat. Our entire time invested to completion was about three days. How long the finish will hold up and how long it will continue to look great…only time will tell. But for now we are very optimistic and would recommend anyone contemplating the refinishing of their non-skids to consider this option.

A Hatch From Scratch

Our article from the May/June 2009 issue of Good Old Boat

Sometimes a simple solution to a problem is not always simple. Although Sea Trek is a great cruising vessel, there are a few things we wanted to change. One draw back was the lack of good ventilation below. With six opening ports we thought it would not be a problem. But with ten-inch high bulwarks around the deck it left something wanting. The only deck hatch is forward over the vee-berth. This is great for sleeping but still not great for airflow thru out the main cabin. We added strategically placed solar vents and cabin fans but in the tropical areas we usually cruise it was still not enough.

Our main salon is very open and airy. We knew a center hatch was the perfect solution. It should have been an easy project to accomplish. Not being an experienced woodworker I knew I needed to seek professional help. I am not sure why but we just couldn’t get a carpenter to even come to the boat to look at or estimate the job for us. Some were willing to give us an exorbitant estimate based on my measurements, sight unseen. Believe it or not we went back and forth with this for six years.

One day I met up with a friend that had recently relocated back to our area. I knew he was a very good woodworker and had all the tools and skills necessary. When I mentioned my attempts to get someone to build a hatch he immediately offered to help make it happen. I was delighted to finally get this project started. Sea Trek is a very traditional looking vessel. The off the shelf hatches available just would not do. It had to match the forward hatch as closely as possible. Since that hatch was teak, this one needed to be the same. It also needed to be strong enough to withstand heavy breaking seas and handle the weight of someone walking on it.

The actual hatch size was to be 24 inches by 24 inches. We found a single piece of teak at a local wood shop that was ¾” X 10” X 9’. Cost was just under $200.00 including having the shop do some of the finished planning for us. Since we wanted the hatch to open in both directions, two sets of hinges with removable pins were needed. We also needed to dog it down in both positions, so two sets of latches were needed. A good strong pair of hatch holders to allow us to hold it open in any position rounded out the hardware. Total cost for the hardware was about $95.00. The final piece would be the Lexan top for the finished cover. We chose the dark smoked to again match the forward hatch. It needed to be very strong so we decided on ½ inch. This was slightly thicker than the forward hatch, but in it’s center location it would get walked on quite a bit. Cost for the Lexan locally was $81.00.

Then the construction was to begin. There would be two finished pieces. The main hatch itself measured 24”X24” on the outside and needed to be only 3 ½ “ deep. This would give us a low profile on the deck and fit flush with the headliner inside the cabin. A strip frame was added to the area that would sit above the deck. This would position the hatch frame at the right depth on the inside and give us an overlap on the deck for thorough bedding. Deck leaks are always a concern for us. All pieces were screwed and epoxied together with the screws countersunk and bunged. Next we needed a 1 ½” finished frame for the underside that would attach to the very bottom of the hatch. This was to nicely finish off the bottom that was flush with the headliner.

The second piece is the hatch lid. It needed to overlap the main frame so that water could not work it’s way under it. We decided to allow the lid to sit on the strip frame we added that would rest on the deck. This gave a nice even appearance when the hatch was closed. Everything gave the same appearance as the existing forward hatch. The hatch frame stood 2 ½” above the deck. The lid was 3”tall. But when it was closed, the entire hatch only stands 3 ¾” off the deck because of the overlap. We flush mounted the pieces of Lexan to the top and used a polysulfide sealant to make the Lexan watertight. All fasteners on the Lexan were counter sunk for a nice finished look. Next we added five, ¾” wide strips across the lid. This was both decorative and functional. It hides some of the fasteners in the Lexan and keeps it from getting too scratched when we have to walk on it. We decided that all corners would be overlapped instead of being mitered. This would give us greater strength. Also the finished frame and top needed to be square.

The next and most important step was the placement. I had designed it so that it fit nicely between two teak crossbeams on the headliner. Using the frame itself as a template, we drew out the inside area with a pencil on the interior headliner. Before anything else, we checked to be sure the template we had just marked was truly square. Next we checked to be sure the interior finishing frame would fit clear of any obstructions. I believe I rechecked each of these about ten times. Once I was satisfied that this was the spot, I drilled a ¼” hole through the headliner and deck at each corner. Now I was committed. The main section was then taken on deck and lined up with the four holes I had drilled. Once I was again satisfied with the positioning I drew an outline again using the frame as a template. This time using the outside dimensions. Once again, everything was check to be sure it was square. Then it was checked again….and again….and again.

Now comes the scary part. I was about to cut a two foot square hole right in the middle of my deck. I can’t tell you how many times I asked myself if I had totally lost my mind. We needed to do this in the neatest fashion possible. The executive officer was already making threats if one ounce of fiberglass dust got into the cabin. By taping plastic trash bags to the headliner outside of the area we were working in, we just about eliminated that problem. The exec stood by underneath with a vacuum running just in case. I was concerned that we might have wires for the cabin lights in the area so the saw blade was set to just cut through the deck. It was do or die time. When I get myself to this point I go a little crazy. I ask myself over and over, did I miss something? Was one small calculation off? This is major surgery. Finally, we cut off the power inside the cabin just in case and fired up the trusty power saw. Even with a good carbide blade, Sea Trek was not giving up this section of her deck easily. Finally the cuts were finished on four sides. Because the power saw blade is curved, the cuts did not go all the way to the corners. I needed to finish off with my saber saw, also with a carbide blade. Once the section of the deck was removed the headliner was exposed and no wiring was present. In hindsight, I might have cut out the headliner first to make sure. With that, I adjusted the power saw blade and retraced my steps to cut through the headliner. I now had a perfectly square two-foot hole in my deck. I was sure we would have torrential rains beginning in about three minutes and lasting for days.

Another decision I made was to not use fasteners to attach the hatch to the deck. Because the deck works to some extent and I wanted the hatch to work with it I decided to use a liquid fastener we commonly know as 5200. After carefully taping off the deck and the frame around the hatch I applied generous amounts under the lip and were the frame went through the deck. I used the mahogany color since it was kind of close to the teak. Next I positioned the lid on top of the frame without adding the hardware yet. And finally a five gallon bucket of water added just enough weight to the whole thing as to seat the frame solidly in the 5200 but not squeeze it all out. Then the messy part, cleaning off the excess. And this is how she sat for a week. I wanted it to be undisturbed until the 5200 had completely cured.

One week later the finishing work began. Before the hardware was attached we did the required varnishing. The interior headliner frame was fitted and since we wanted a screen to keep out the bugs we worked on that. A simple wood frame was made that fit inside the opening. A ¾” strip was attached at one end, which ran the length of the inside. At the opposite end on the corners two small 1 ½” strips were attached that could be turned to allow the screen frame to get past them. One end of the frame sat on the strip on one side and the other end sits on the small pieces on the corners when they are turned inward. A quarter turn of those two small strips lets the screen drop right out. I added some molding just above the screen frame so it could not be pushed or blown out the open hatch. Finally all the hardware could be attached.

This has more than surpassed our expectations. The difference this hatch has made in comfort and appearance to the boat was well worth the effort and the wait. The interior is even brighter than before and the amount of air circulation we have now is enormous. We now find we have to chase every piece of paper we put down, all over the cabin. It is not a project I would enter into lightly. The design and planning must be well thought out. I thought ours out for six years. A mistake could be very costly. But for those willing to tackle it, the rewards are wonderful. Careful consideration of structural integrity of the hatch and the decks, once these modifications are done should be at the top of your list. Our total expenditures for materials was about $400.00. This does not count the sweat equity. The satisfaction of such a project cannot be calculated.

Product Safety Recall: Garmin® BlueChart g2 and g2 Vision v2009

Product Safety Recall: Garmin® BlueChart g2 and g2 Vision v2009

Posted June 4, 2009 | 09:17 AM in Marine | Permalink
CAYMAN ISLANDS/June 4, 2009/Business Wire – Garmin Ltd. (NASDAQ: GRMN), the global leader in satellite navigation, announced today that the company is conducting a voluntary product safety recall of the 2009 version of its marine cartography data card known as BlueChart® g2 and g2 Vision. The affected data cards have been sold between April 8, 2009 and June 3, 2009.
In certain waters, the data card provides inaccurate indications of the depth of the water. This creates a risk of boats going aground, which could result in damage to the boat and/or personal injury.

While Garmin has only received reports of data cards giving inaccurate depth indications in the waters along the coast of Sweden and Denmark, out of an abundance of caution, Garmin has voluntarily chosen to globally recall all 2009 versions of the BlueChart g2 and g2 Vision cards. Garmin has notified relevant authorities about this issue and is working closely with them. No other products are affected by this recall.
Affected products are the 2009 version of the BlueChart g2 in Garmin proprietary card format, BlueChart g2 in microSD/SD card format and BlueChart g2 Vision in microSD/SD card format. Customers are being advised not to use these data cards for navigation.
Affected customers will be provided with a free replacement BlueChart or BlueChart g2 Vision v2008.5. When the 2009 version has been corrected Garmin intends to make it available free of charge to those customers. For more information on the recall and to determine if their cards are affected and eligible for a free replacement, go to www.garmin.com/bluechartrecall.

Check Your EPIRB Registartion

We posted earlier about what happens when you activate your EPIRB. Now comes a notice that perhaps there is a problem with the EPIRB registration at NOAA.

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - APRIL 23, 2009 - Cobham Life Support, ACR Products, the world's leader in safety and survival technologies, is urging all EPIRB and PLB owners to double check their 15-character identification code registration.

According to a recent Marine Board of Investigation inquiry, which is looking into the sinking of the scallop boat Lady Mary on March 24th, there was a discrepancy in the EPIRB's identification number, marked on a decal that the boat's owner had received from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration after he registered the EPIRB.

In the case of the Lady Mary, the emergency signal initially received by authorities was regarded as unregistered which may have led to delays in response time while emergency center controllers waited for additional satellite passes to fix a location. Had the controllers been able to pull the Lady Mary's registration data, they could have contacted emergency contacts to confirm the status of the boat and its general location prior to a satellite fix.

"Because this situation came to light, we are urging all beacon owners to compare their 15-character identification code printed on the beacon with the registration sticker they receive from NOAA just to ensure they both match," said Chris Wahler, Marketing Manager for Cobham Life Support, ACR Products. "If there is a discrepancy, we urge the owner to contact NOAA immediately to correct the information."

An EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) or PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) is a satellite-signaling device of last resort, for use when all other means of self-rescue have been exhausted and where the situation is deemed to be grave and imminent, and the loss of life, limb, eyesight or valuable property will occur without assistance. All US beacons must be registered with NOAA following purchase. Registration, including the beacon's unique 15-character identification code, often is made online at www.beaconregistration.noaa.gov.

Despite the requirement to register all EPIRBs and PLBs, some reports show that up to 40 percent of EPIRB activations are from unregistered beacons, a possible deadly mistake when minutes can make the difference between life and death.

In an emergency, the EPIRBs and PLBs transmit on 406 MHz via the Cospas-Sarsat satellite system with the sender's unique, registered, digitally coded distress signal. The code allows emergency officials monitoring the system to tell who is sending the signal (thanks to the coding and registration data). Once the emergency is confirmed and location data is received from the satellites, a search can be authorized.

Wahler said proper registration is vital in the early minutes of an emergency so rescue center officials can obtain critical data about a boat's owner, home port, emergency contacts and other information to begin a search even before a satellite gets a fix on a beacon's location.

See our previous post at http://trawler-beach-house.blogspot.com/search/label/You%20activated%20your%20EPIRB...%20now%20what%3F

Cruising On a Working Class Budget

Our Mariner 40 ketch, Sea Trek, has been our home for 17 years. In that time we have lived aboard and cruised her whenever the kitty reached the magic number we had set for our next voyage.
Since leaving our previous home base in the Florida Keys for this most recent trip we have put a bit more than 3,000 miles under her keel. We visited four countries and transited the coastline of five states — two with the largest coasts in the United States and two with the shortest. We have put 750 hours on our engine and that means eight oil and filter changes and five changes of our three fuel filters.
Our unscientific estimate of anchoring is that we have dropped and raised the anchor more than 190 times (and with a manual windlass). We were very fortunate in only having three pieces of equipment break down and we believe this is a result of good preparation and a good maintenance schedule along the way.

We only spent 127 days at a dock out of 20 months. We anchored behind a reef with nothing but ocean on the other side for thousands of miles. We visited remote Mayan villages and dispensed medicine to a people that once ruled the land in a grand civilization. We visited thousand-year-old ruins of that civilization. It has been a grand adventure. We also spent a few hard-earned dollars. Walk any dock or visit any cruisers’ hang-out or surf the Internet and stop in at any boater’s discussion board and the “How much does it cost?” question always pops up.

Our expenditures presented here are for one year only and do not include preparation, gear, provisioning purchased prior to leaving or money needed to get by once you return to reality, but before the paychecks start coming in again. It includes actual money spent from the time we left the dock until the end of the 12th month. Our cruise began April 1, 2005 and the figures are through March 31, 2006.
We enjoy eating out occasionally, and love to travel and explore the countries we visit. Boat maintenance and repairs are a fact of life and how much you need to budget for repairs is going to be mostly guesswork based on the condition of the boat and the age of your equipment.

Assuming that you have fully outfitted your boat with all the gear — watermaker, life raft, wind generator, solar panels, dinghy and outboard — that you feel you must have to enjoy cruising and to be comfortable and safe, you will then have to provision the boat with foodstuffs and other non-food items. Again, I am not counting this in our expenses, but mention it because there are some items we generally stock up on prior to leaving U.S. waters because they are often difficult or cumbersome to get in remote places. We buy toilet paper and paper towels in large quantities and store them in our largest hanging locker. (The clothes that resided there are packed away for the duration, off the boat and in storage in a friend’s garage.)

We also buy as much soda and beer as we can stow on the boat because it is much cheaper in the United States and it is easier than bringing it by dinghy back to the boat. A year’s supply of vitamins, herbal remedies, prescription meds, over-the-counter remedies, etc., are also placed on board. The over-the-counter medications are generally cheaper in the United States and you might have favorite throat lozenges and if, by chance, you can find them in Belize, they will cost two to three times the amount.

Regarding paying the bills: If you have a boat payment to make each month, have those payments automatically deducted from your account. We only use our debit card from that same account when traveling so we don’t have to worry about monthly credit card bills.
We decided to keep our car instead of selling it this time around so we had the insurance automatically deducted from said account every six months. The car was left with friends, who drove it instead of just letting it sit and rot. Any other bills that may be floating around get sent to us periodically through our mail forwarding service. They are great and will even open the mail and tell us how much the bill is if we can’t access it online, or if we don’t want to pay exorbitant postage to have it sent to us outside of the United States.

We also have made the decision not to carry health insurance while cruising outside the United States. If we need healthcare, we have found it to be affordable everywhere we traveled (except the States) and there are competent physicians in most places. Knock on wood — we have not had any serious health problems in all of our years aboard. This is a personal decision that someone with specific health issues may not be able to make. We don’t own a home or any property anywhere that has to be maintained and the kids are grown so when we are ready to go, all of the strings and umbilical cords have been severed.

Breaking it down
Now, after spending $1,000 or so putting canned foods, paper products, snacks, cookies, juices, shelf milk, rice and so forth into every possible nook and cranny aboard Sea Trek, we are ready to go. The budget consists of about nine months spent in the Western Caribbean and three months in the United States.

The category for boat fuel consists of both diesel for the boat and gas for the dinghy. Boat repair consists of what we paid others, and parts and materials for repairs and replacements that we did ourselves. We have found this figure to be pretty steady throughout recent years. Remember, the wear and tear you put on your boat while under way is much more than it would be just sitting at the dock, so these repairs are inevitable even for a relatively new boat.

The amount we spent on dining out was a big shock to us, but we have included all trips to the local ice cream shop and stops for sodas and beer as well as lunches and dinners in restaurants. If it didn’t get consumed on the boat, it was considered dining out.

Dockage was a fairly large figure for us, but it seemed we spent more time in marinas for various reasons than we usually do. In some places, anchorages just aren’t available due to shoaling or the anchorages have been replaced by mooring fields. In other areas, like Belize City, services can only be accessed by going into a marina. Entertainment included Internet cafes, CDs, museums, concerts, visiting ruins, satellite TV and the like. Travel is taxis, buses, rental cars, etc. Housing was our boat payment. Miscellaneous was haircuts, insect repellent and strange things that didn’t fall into other categories or cash that was spent that we could not account for. Maintenance included any item that was purchased to maintain the boat in her present condition. Most of the other categories are self explanatory and should not require any further explanation.

So here is how it breaks down per year:
Auto insurance (recreational use only) – $378.20
Gas for borrowed cars and rentals – $130.21
Bank charges – $270
Boat fuel (diesel and gas) – $1,440.06
Boat insurance (covering Caribbean) – $2,631.92
Charity – $13
Clothing – $63.02
Dining – $1,792.05
Dockage – $1,833.07
Entertainment – $654.46
Gifts – $229.02
Groceries/provisions – $3,828.54
Housing (boat payments) – $4,479.36
Laundry – $165.10
Maintenance – $888.97
Medical/doctors – $242.50
Medicine – $233.09
Miscellaneous – $730.39
Port fees – $608.83
Postage – $17.28
Subscriptions – $52.86
Taxes and registration – $45.60
Utilities/electric – $161.99
Phone – $304.40
Hotels – $395.07
Travel – $369.66

Our total expenditures for the year were $25,805.10. If your boat is paid off, you’re down to about $21,500 and the amount can be even less if you only anchor out, don’t eat out, etc. Again, we feel this amount is fairly accurate as other friends of ours whose boat is paid off figure they spend about $20,000 for a year off in the wild blue yonder. Surprisingly enough, as I look at our budget for previous years, the costs have not changed dramatically except in the areas of insurance and fuel.

Behind the numbers
To give you an idea of what boat repairs we encountered, the depth sounder transducer needed to be replaced and it had to be a special length so it cost more than your standard transducer. We hauled the boat and had the bottom painted, which should probably be in the maintenance category, but we had the depth sounder installed at that time so we considered it a repair. We also had our outboard completely rebuilt when it was becoming sluggish. We decided that our anchor rode was a little tired and should be replaced. Also, we had to buy a new microwave oven in Guatemala when the old one gave up the ghost. If it was on the boat and had to be repaired or replaced, it was counted in the boat repair category.
The last thing you have to take into consideration over and beyond the above-mentioned expenditures is the amount you will need when you return to keep you going until you are gainfully employed once again. We generally like to set aside about $3,000 for this.

Let your needs and considerations be the determining factors to help you compute your costs, but by all means go and have fun.

Preparations For Cruising

The true meaning of cruising plans are “made in jello” came to live with us several years ago. We had quit our jobs in the Florida Keys, sold our car and were ready to get underway when we had one parent die and the other become injured and need to go into nursing care. That idea that cruisers need to be flexible and change their plans at a moments notice was clearer to us at that moment than at any other since we moved aboard 17 years ago. Instead of turning right outside of our channel, we turned left and started heading North. After getting things settled up North, we were then underway in the ICW heading South after putting our cruising plans on hold for a year and a half and working in the Baltimore/Annapolis area.
You can generally predict the first question people ask you when you tell them you are quitting your job. “Oh, where are you going?” To be able to predict their response when you tell them you are sailing your boat from the Chesapeake Bay to San Diego is not quite so simple. The responses have ranged from “That is so cool!” to simply looks of amazement and open mouths. Once the shock has passed, another barrage of questions begins.

About The Boat

Sea Trek is a Mariner 40 Ketch designed by Clair Oberly and built in the Tayana yard in Taiwan. Her keel was laid late in 1978, she was finished in 1979 and shipped to the United States and commissioned by her first owner in 1980. She is a very traditional, heavy displacement (15 tons) extremely well built offshore cruiser. We purchased her in March of 1992 of moved aboard almost immediately. The previous owner had not abused her but also had not used her much. The equipment list was short so we pretty much started from scratch. She has a lot of teak on deck to keep us busy and a beautiful all teak interior.

Short trips on the Chesapeake Bay showed us the basics we would need. Our first weekend brought about our first addition. Bringing up the anchor from some muddy bottoms encouraged us to immediately install a good wash down system on the foredeck. The basic electronics such as speed, depth and wind instruments came very soon after. She had a VHF but it was old and also was replaced. Our first cruising plans were to head down the ICW to the Bahamas for an initial shakedown. Creature comforts as well as safety equipment took priority. The previous owner believed that the only way to cook on a boat was with an electric skillet and a microwave. He had a large microwave gimbaled in where a stove should go. We made the decision right from the beginning to do all of the installations ourselves as long as it did not endanger the safety and integrity of the vessel. Our first major project was a three burner propane stove with an oven. That meant we needed to completely install the entire propane system. This and all following installs were done according to all manufacturers and AYBS standards of safety and gave us a head start on repairs should something break.

We tried different types of dinghies from the hard rowing type to our final decision for a rigid hull inflatable. One of our friends came walking down the dock one day with a pair of beautiful stainless steel dinghy davits they had just remove from their boat. They ask us if we wanted them and before he finished asking I had them off his shoulder and sitting in our cockpit. The dinghy has almost never spent an night in the water since then.

Other than the normal and required safety equipment we were still pretty basic. But those creature comforts are what makes a cruising experience a pleasant one or a camping trip on the water. We installed a power inverter to run our small appliances and tools as opposed to a generator. We decided we could always change this later on. We never did. New cushions and blinds on the ports had the boat looking much more homey. With the inverter and more electronics we knew we would need a better source to keep the batteries up. Initially we installed a Four Winds wind generator as a starting point. It kept up on that first Bahamas trip but as we added over the years we also added three 85 watt solar panels.

That first cruise taught us a lot. We needed a good source for weather when not available through VHF or TV. At first a small transistor SSB receiver hooked to our laptop got us weatherfax and text weather forecasts. As our cruising expanded we joined all of our fellow cruisers with a SSB which of course did much more than our tiny receiver. Even later Susan received her ham license and we added ham radio to our communications. The 406 epirbs came into their own and we added those. A liferaft was next since we knew longer offshore passages were on the horizon. Over the years we have added new full batten sails to replace the originals. Our Perkins 4-108 proved to be woefully under powered for the boat so a new Yanmar took a big bite out of the cruising kitty. We have added a microwave, DVD/VHS recorder and player and a new LCD HD TV. Our original outdated autopilot did not survive that first trip down the ICW so we installed a heavy duty below decks hydraulic pilot that was designed for boats up to 75 feet and it has paid for itself over and over. One lesson we learned right off was not to buy cheap, ask others that have been out there and always go bigger than you think you will need.

On this last trip we replaced the canvas bimini and dodger with a hardtop that I designed from aluminum frame and Starboard, with a clear Lexan windshield. This has been a fantastic improvement. It allows us to completely enclose the cockpit like a pilothouse and gives us a good place to mount some of the solar panels. A plus lets me climb on top of it to deal with the mizzen. Radar, dual GPS units, a chartplotter, a new stereo set up and just recently a new central AC/Heat unit rounds out just some of the improvements we made along the way, The AC only runs when plugged into the dock by the way. We also found that a watermaker was much needed after that first trip. These are only some of the upgrades we have done. She has custom non skid decks, electric windlass, custom seats on the foredeck and in the cockpit and the list goes on and on.

We carry 78 gallons of fuel which gives us a cruising range under power of about 400 miles. We carry additional plastic jugs on deck with extra fuel for long passages or when in areas where fuel stops are few and far apart. Our water tank hold 100 gallons and can be refilled endlessly from the watermaker. Our draft is 6 feet and although sometimes a bit of a concern, it has not kept us form any cruising grounds. Over the years we have AwlGripped the boat form the waterline to the masthead. She has never experienced the problems many Tawain boats have had with leaks and deck problems. Perhaps that is due to our diligent maintenance or testimony to her solid construction.

To us she is the perfect cruising liveaboard and although she is unlike the new modern "cruisers" with 5 cabins that sleep 12 and can entertain 16 at dinner she is for us, very comfortable, and not too overwhelming should something happen and perhaps only one of us would need to get her home. Her solid construction give us that feeling of safety and well being no matter what the conditions. She has kept us safe and sane through 15 named storms, a few offshore gales and just a bunch of crappy weather. Don't know if you can tell but we kinda like our boat. Fair Winds

Let It Begin Florida Keys to Guatemala

We crossed the bar at 7 a.m. just as we had planned. Well, almost, since we originally thought we would be here yesterday. But today worked out even better after our rain delay because an astronomically high tide of a little better than 2 feet gave us more water to cross over and transit the shallow harbor into Livingston, Guatemala
Sea Trek’s full keel and 6-foot draft make playing the tides an important part of our navigation process. We don’t run aground like other boats — we park.

By 7:30 a.m. the anchor was down off the Municipal Dock and the Q flag was up. All we had to do was wait for the officials to come out to us to start the clearance process. It all went quickly and the officials were the friendliest we have met in all of our travels. After a short trip to town to finish the paperwork process, and the purchase of a few items at the grocery store, we headed back to the boat and hauled up the anchor. We motored across the harbor toward “the gorge.”
As we entered this narrow lower part of the Rio Dulce we were awestruck. Shear cliffs rose above our masts to more than 300 feet, but they were covered with lush green tropical foliage that reached right down to the water. Even with the drone of the engine we could hear the sounds of the jungle above us. Sitting at the helm, and with Susan on the bow watching for river debris, I tried to absorb it all. The contrast of the emerald water, the dense green vegetation and the narrow strip of crystal clear blue sky above was almost overwhelming. It was at that point that I really began to reflect back to the beginnings of our adventure.

Getting started
After waiting for parts, weather, and taking care of last-minute preparations, we untied the dock lines for the last time and pulled out of our slip in Marathon, Fla. We actually began this cruise six years ago, but for a while seemed doomed by last-minute health problems, family issues and financial setbacks that delayed us time after time. At one point this included a 1,200-mile detour in the opposite direction.
The marina was quiet that morning: No fanfare or bands playing to our farewell. We just quietly pulled out into Hawks Channel and motored about seven miles west to Boot Key Harbor.

One last problem needed our attention. During the insurance survey for this trip it was determined that the cutless bearing was worn. We decided to have it replaced now so it didn’t create a problem later. The stop was short and the repairs quickly made at Marathon Boatyard. Sea Trek moved out of the Travelift bay and made a short trip out into Boot Key Harbor where we again anchored and waited for weather.

After a day or so of strong winds coming from the direction we were going and a few squalls now and then, the weather turned calm and we motored the 50 miles to visit with friends in Key West and say goodbye. Living in Marathon we had forgotten the throngs of boats coming and going in Key West Harbor. Cruise ships docking at the main piers, tour boats in an endless parade and the ever-present sportfishing boats (waking everything and everyone) greeted us as we made the turn and headed for our anchorage behind Garrison Bight. 
Boats of all sizes and shapes were anchored everywhere outside the channel. Our plan was to spend a few days here, then move on to the Dry Tortugas 70 miles west of us. There we would wait for a weather window to cross to Mexico. Our go-to guy for weather, Herb Hilgenberg on Southbound II, was telling us that the forecast did not looking promising for some time. So we waited another 10 days for things to improve.
During that time, our daily discussions with Herb on the SSB radio about the weather patterns and Gulf Stream currents brought us to a change in our direction to reach Isla Mujeres.

The accepted route is to cross the Gulf Stream twice. Heading south from the Keys, most boats cross directly to the coast of Cuba, find the counter currents that usually run about 12 miles out, then follow the coast until just due south of Cabo San Antonio. From that point, most turn west and make a run for Isla Mujeres, crossing the Stream again, except it is now the Yucatan Current. But Herb’s research of the currents in the areas that we would cover revealed that the currents were very close to the Cuban coast and would be against us most of the way. Instead, we determined that a better plan would be to go due west into the Gulf of Mexico until we reached a waypoint of about 24 degrees north and 088 degrees west, then turn to the south heading for Isla Mujeres.

On April 20, with the outlook for good weather, we left Key West behind and had a great sail with winds on our port quarter to the Marquesas Keys about 25 miles west. Again we planned to go to the Tortugas for a few days and visit with our friends who bring the tourists out to the fort on the big catamarans. A check with Herb that evening told us our weather window was now and might not look better. So the following morning we pulled up the anchor and changed our plans. We were heading for Mexico.

Promises kept
Our first day out was a perfect sail: Wind on the starboard quarter, as promised, and soon after we left the shallow waters of the Keys the seas flattened out. Herb had been right on the money regarding the currents, and we did indeed have a favorable current with us for all but six hours of the entire passage. 
On Day 2, also as predicted, we lost all of our wind and the Gulf of Mexico took on the characteristics of a swimming pool. That meant motoring. One of our under way routines is to do a check of the bilges and the engine compartment about every three hours. This has headed off many problems in the past. During one of these inspections the gauge on the Racor fuel filter was starting to show a vacuum. This means the filter is dirty and will soon clog. So off went the engine and I did my first filter change in the Middle of the Gulf of Mexico. Since sea conditions were calm, the change went quickly and easily.
The rest of the passage went smoothly. A combination of sailing, motoring and motorsailing brought us off the southeastern tip of Isla Mujeres at around 2 a.m. We had excellent waypoints to get us up the channel on the western side of the island and with a bright full moon that you could almost read by, we dropped anchor about a mile off the island. With the moon and crystal-clear water we could see the anchor drop in the white sand below, even though it was still only 3 a.m.

The entire passage took us 68 hours — short by offshore standards — so we did not have the time to get into a good rhythm for sleeping and watch standing.
Although very tired and looking forward to a good night’s sleep, we both just stood together on deck thinking that if we really closed our eyes we might wake up in our slip in Marathon and once again this was just a dream. But not this time. Our adventure had finally begun.