Bright Idea: An LED makeover adds value, safety…and enjoyment

Adding LED lighting to your boat can add value and safety.

Light emitting diode (LED) lights became popular in the early 2000s. Since then, prices have dropped and efficiency has increased. Today, more boat owners are switching over to LED lighting as their old incandescent and halogen bulbs burn out. While it makes sense to convert to LEDs, boaters should think about whether the job is do-it-yourself or one for a marine service professional.

“As simple as lighting sounds, it really is what you cannot see powering and controlling the lights that makes every boat different,” explains Bobby Stone, vice president of DRSA in Riviera Beach, Florida. “For example, a 65-foot Viking is completely different than a forty-foot Marlow. In most cases, the Marlow runs off a battery bank with an inverter, and the Viking has generators plus a few DC circuits.”

An electrical professional can determine the condition and layout of the wiring, input power specifications, if transformers are in line, and how to install new switches, dimmers, or LED power supplies.

“If simply replacing the existing halogen or incandescent bulbs to LED, end users can do this themselves without requiring a technician,” says Petro Ploumis, president of Apex Lighting in Deerfield Beach, Florida. “We can either just sell the LED lights to the customer, or we can go on the boat to make a design plan and provide the installation as well. It all depends on what the customer wants and the planned budget.”

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Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIBs) are all-around performers

RIBs have air-filled collars surrounding a rigid hull

You can spot a Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat, or RIB, instantly because of the air-filled collar surrounding its hull. The collar’s lighter weight may look different, but it’s entirely functional and in some ways, better than fiberglass—the RIB’s collar makes low-speed collisions with the dock laughable, not disastrous. Fewer pounds also means enhanced performance with the same horsepower.

Today’s RIBs benefit from outboard motors that are better than ever—cleaner, more powerful and easier to service. Some RIBs are utilitarian and built for durability. Others are loaded with comfort features, such as soft seats, carpet and ski-tow eyes for recreational towing of tubes, skiers and wakeboarders. Here’s my article in Southern Boating magazine about some of the top rigid hull inflatable boatbuilders and their models, and how one may perfectly suit your needs.

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Radar Love: For cruisers, this tool is more than a convenience, it can be a lifesaver

Think of radar as a sonar fish-finder, except the transducer/antenna is spinning inside the radome— that round covering on top of your boat. By transmitting thousands of harmless microwave pulses per second, the radar determines what objects are around you and references their position to your bow.

Invented in the early 20th century, radar is now a common accessory on boats and costs have come down. However, powerful radar systems are underutilized, as many owners don’t know how to get the full value of their units aside from the safety aspect. I wrote about getting the most out of your radar for the What’s New In Electronics column in Southern Boating magazine. You will notice the byline on the story is by Don Minikus, my maternal grandfather, and a pen name I use with pride.

“Most boat owners today use their radar systems as a tool for collision avoidance,” says Jim McGowan, Americas marketing manager of FLIR Maritime and Raymarine. “Typically, that means nighttime, in the rain or in the fog. If you’re out after dark or in the fog, it’s very comforting to know that you have the radar on board if you need it in those circumstances.”

Another popular use for radar is for finding sea birds that feed on small bait fish. This is a specialized usage of the technology, but many anglers find success with it. By locating the birds at long range, it gets them on the fish sooner with less fuel burn.

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Spin Control: How to get propellers to perform their best

A service tech takes down propeller specs

When a boat runs poorly, propellers often get blamed. If the engines are in good shape, it’s only natural to get “propeller tunnel vision” and start indicting your blades for not doing their job. Before you yank out the prop puller and start trying new wheels, remember that props must work in harmony with the rest of the boat. If other parts of the vessel are not in top shape, then the prop can’t save it. I wrote about propeller performance for the May 2019 Engine Room column in Southern Boating magazine.

“Some people seem to view the propellers as isolated and independent from other important factors, such as the power and condition of the engine, or the weight, or the cleanliness and capability of the hull,” explains Jim Thelen, sales engineer for Acme Marine in Big Rapids, Michigan. “I’ve seen people buy numerous new propellers as if to assume that sooner or later they will find the one prop in existence which will ‘fix’ all other possible concerns and transform their performance by something outlandish.”

There are some boat owners who take the oversimplified view of propellers merely in terms of diameter, pitch and number of blades. That’s like defining all automobile tires only in terms of diameter and width. Propeller design and manufacturing differences affect engine load, speed, power, plane time, smoothness, and efficiency.

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Sacrificial anodes die so your boat’s underwater gear may live

A war is raging under your boat. High-priced running gear and outboard lower units made of aluminum, copper and steel face galvanic corrosion that happens when dissimilar metals are connected underwater. But sacrificial anodes made of aluminum, zinc and magnesium are fixed to the boat’s engine and propulsion parts that are underwater and take the brunt of the corrosion.

The solution involves connecting an even more “active” negatively charged material to the copper and steel—the sacrificial anode. The aluminum or zinc that dissolves sacrifices itself underwater to protect the more valuable metals.

“Anodes have to be underwater to work,” explained Martin Wigg, vice president of Anode Business at Performance Metals, for a story I wrote about anodes in Southern Boating magazine’s February 2019 issue. “The anodes work by providing a supply of electrons to lower the voltage of the ‘protected’ metal. That is only half the circuit though. The other half is the flow of ions in the surrounding water. No water equals no ion flow and no circuit and therefore no protection. There are companies that market ‘corrosion grenades,’ to protect metal in air but they are a scam.”

Aluminum has become a recommended metal for anodes in saltwater, and magnesium anodes work best in freshwater. In freshwater, a zinc anode forms a chemical coating that stops it from working. However, zinc anodes are a favorite of many boat owners in saltwater despite the advantages of aluminum.

“Zinc is still used in the majority of cases,” Wigg said. “It’s fine for use on inboard boats in saltwater but that’s really all. However people are slow to change. They have been using zinc for years (hundreds) and are hesitant to change to something new, especially if zinc was working fine.”

When boaters take the leap and try aluminum anodes, they find that they work better than the old zinc anodes and never go back. This is especially true for aluminum-hulled boats and outboard motors.

“Zinc doesn’t really protect aluminum components that well even in saltwater,” Wigg said. “Many boaters also don’t realize that zinc doesn’t work for long in fresh or brackish water. I have heard people say, ‘My anodes have lasted for years.’ Yes, because they stopped working.”

Anodes dissolve over time, and eventually must be replaced. Two factors are important. First, to provide good protection there must be enough anodes to bring the hull potential of the vessel down by 0.2V and into an acceptable range. The lower the measured voltage the less likely the metal will corrode. This is where zinc anodes have a problem protecting aluminum components. Zinc anodes sit at -1.05V and aluminum components sit at around -0.75V a difference of 0.3V. Not much more than the required 0.2V drop required. Aluminum anodes—a special alloy–sit at -1.1V a difference of 0.35V, which is much better.

“The second factor is that the protection offered is proportional to the surface area,” Wigg said. “So as the anodes wear away that surface area is reduced. The general guide is to replace the anodes after they have worn down by one half. That’s why we invented the wear indicator to help tell the boater when that point has been reached.”

Performance Metals’ range of aluminum alloy anodes have a Red Spot plastic indicator that appears on the surface when it is time to change.

Refurbish or replace blurry and worn clear enclosures to improve your view

While underway do you wonder “Is that a scratch in the enclosure–or a buoy?” If so then it’s time to repair or replace your acrylic, vinyl or other type of clear marine enclosure. Don’t push the limits of commonsense and get yourself into the danger zone when it’s simply time for repairs or replacement.

The scheduled down period during haul-out or any time when convenient at a marine service yard gives the professional the time to do it right. The choices of clear enclosures today are myriad—including acrylic, polycarbonate and vinyl.

Note: This article for Southern Boating’s March 2019 Haul Out Guide doesn’t cover the maintenance or replacement of ¼-inch tempered safety glass common on coastal cruisers and yachts.

As a material’s primer, acrylic enclosures are semi-rigid and include brands such as EZ2CY. Polycarbonates fall under brand such as Makrolon, and clear vinyl includes CrystalClear, Regalite and Strataglass.

In the sub-tropics like the Bahamas and South Florida boats must endure high humidity and temperature swings, and that’s where acrylic works the best. Acrylic does not fade or yellow over time, and you can also buff out scratches.

“EZ2CY is 80-gauge acrylic and it’s doesn’t roll, but rather is made to lift up,” explained Andy Flack, project manager for Canvas Designers in Riviera Beach. “The panels pin to the roof or the bridge when you don’t need them. Because of the thickness it can withstand a lot more air pressure when underway and holds in the cool air if you use an air-conditioner.”

For boats already equipped with EZ2CY enclosures, the refurbishing and buffing process during haul-out is simple.

“Once at the yard do an inspection, and if it’s scratched, have the yard take it out and send it to your EZ2CY dealer,” Flack said. “The dealer will have it buffed and polish, then hang it or store it, and bring it back to the boat looking like new. Then it can be re-installed so it’s perfect when the boat comes out of the yard.”

Get a powerful Internet Wi-Fi connection with a boat-mounted system

Boat owners are usually always on the move—it’s not uncommon to go from vessel to home or remote retreat in a week or less. No matter the location, most people on the go want to be connected to the Internet, and that’s where a reliable Wi-Fi system for your boat comes in. I wrote about Wi-Fi in an article for Southern Boating magazine.

It’s not enough to just turn on your computer and tap into a signal. Today’s cruisers want powerful coverage not only for their laptops but also for guests’ devices, including cell phones and tablets. In addition, Smart TVs need Wi-Fi to use streaming services such as Netflix.

However, when you move from your home or office to the boat, the experience changes and usually for the worse. Global Marine Networks (GMN) offers a system that solves that problem. The Halo Long-Range Wi-Fi Extender contains everything you need to get going except the final mount, which depends on how you want to mount it to your boat.

The complete system includes the long-range antenna that connects to the remote hotspot, a local Optimizer access point that everyone connects to on the vessel, 32 to 100 feet of cable, and a stainless-steel connector that works with any 14 TPI, one-inch-wide mount.

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