Underwater lights synced with music will transform your ho-hum boat

Underwater lights dazzle below your boat

The best parties have it all: great food and drinks, music and dancing, fun people, and the right mood to tie it all together. Lights that change with the rhythm of music is the icing on the cake. But when you put them underwater on the bottom of your boat, it turns the water—whether you’re at the dock or off shore—into a modern-day disco ball for guests to shimmy to a watery version of Saturday Night Fever. This is what I wrote for the article “Get Lit” for Southern Boating magazine’s August 2018 issue. For those who are less into parties and more into romance, lighting controls can be set to enhance the mood for a quiet evening on the hook.

“Underwater lights can be programmed to change color depending on the type of music you’re playing,” says Alexandra Bader, U.S. vice president of sales and marketing for Aqualuma (aqualuma.com). “They can pulse or stay stagnant depending on the mood of the evening. Underwater lights like our Gen 4, 18 Series Thru Hull lights can really change the atmosphere of any boat party with just a few clicks.”

The earliest versions of programmable underwater lights only offered a few colors, but the range of colors, effects and features now available has increased dramatically over the past few years. According to Susan James, marketing director for Lumishore (lumishore.com), the company’s EOS Series offers fish strobe, color cycle with adjustable speed and color sweep with adjustable speed that cycles the color across the boat’s transom or around the entire vessel.

“There is also Sound-to-Light, which is enabled simply by connecting a single, 3.5-millimeter stereo jack audio out cable from your onboard stereo to the EOS controller. There are also adjustments users can make to their Sound-to-Light mode where they can increase or decrease the sensitivity or pulse speed of their lights.”

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Designer Doug Zurn turns boating dreams into reality

Doug Zurn in his Marblehead office

Opportunity has knocked on yacht designer Doug Zurn’s door more than once, and the 54-year-old from Marblehead, Massachusetts, has nearly always had the good sense to answer the call. I met Zurn during a boat show and spent an hour learning about his career, and then wrote a story for Southern Boating magazine’s May 2018 issue. I found out Zurn always loved boats and grew up sailing on the Great Lakes. He graduated high school from University School east of Cleveland in 1982, and even though his senior year design project was a sailboat instead of the house he was assigned, a career in the marine industry seemed unlikely. His parents pushed him toward engineering, and in the mid-1980s, he was at the University of Arizona, yet he still dreamed of designing boats.

“I looked up naval architecture schools on microfilm and found the Westlawn correspondence course,” Zurn says, referring to the famous school that boasts graduates such as designers Tom Fexas, Gary Mull, Bruce King, and Jack Hargrave. “I moved back east, started the Westlawn program and set a goal to get a boat built with my name on it within five years.”

Zurn moved to Marblehead and worked as a rigger with Dieter Empacher in the late 1980s, then Chuck Paine, and in the 1990s, he moved back to Cleveland and worked for Tartan Yachts for three years as a rigger and sailboat designer. He finished his Westlawn correspondence course in 1993 and had a boat launched with his name on it, the Tartan Yachts 4600.

“Tim Jackett, who now owns the company, was nice enough to share the credit,” Zurn said. “Working at Tartan was a really good education. I learned about tooling, building molds, and about custom boat building and relationships. I had more than a few tape balls thrown at me as I learned how my work affected other people’s work.”

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Powercats Offer Unique Cruising Features

A powercat on the move

The multi-hull catamaran design has centuries-old roots in seafaring cultures around the world—think outrigger canoes in the South Pacific. As engine technology evolved, applying power to sailing catamarans was a natural progression. Today, powercats range from 28-foot fishing boats to 70-foot luxury yachts that come equipped with sought-after mono-hull features like generous interior appointments, advanced electronics and equipment that ensures ease of use. Bareboat charter companies, such as The Moorings and MarineMax Vacations, use powercats for their fleets, where customers charter and pilot the boats themselves. (Allowing charter customers to pilot vessels unaided says a lot about how well powercats perform.) And once you take a tour of the luxury powercats, you will be amazed at the size; the sprawling interiors seem more like apartments than boats. I had a chance to review a slew of these marvels for a story in Southern Boating Magazine’s March 2018 issue.

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Keep boat’s generator running strong with proper maintenance

Cummins Onan generator

Marine generators are beasts of burden, able to toil tirelessly for years with little trouble. Using the right fluids and with proper maintenance, generators keep electricity flowing and allow boats to come to life with electronic gadgets, heaters and sound systems when the main engines are shut down. It’s easier to keep the generator in shape during your main boating season, as it most likely is run every time you go out, provided you use the boat on a weekly basis or so. However, if you’re a boat owner who may not run the vessel for weeks or months at a time, rest isn’t good for a generator. Exercise is crucial to keep the unit in shape and well lubricated. This is what I wrote for my Engine Room column in the March 2018 issue of Southern Boating.

“Our generators are virtually bulletproof when cared for properly,” says Andy Kelly, marketing communications manager for Cummins, Inc. “The best thing you can do for your generator is to start and run it periodically. This helps keep the moving parts moving [and gives] the lubricants in the engine an opportunity to do their job. To maximize engine life… you should always allow for proper warm-up prior to turning on large appliances like air conditioners; about two minutes is sufficient.”

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Tips to Solve Your Shore Power Connection Problems

Shore power connections by Marinco.

Keeping a boat shipshape at the dock pays dividends. Neat and clean looks great and passersby say what a“well-maintained vessel you have.” Feels good, doesn’t it?  Yet every boat owner knows problems are just over the horizon, and keeping shore power connections shipshape is a no-brainer. That’s what I wrote for my story in the February 2018 issue of Southern Boating. But when you take care of your power connections, they will take care of you. For example, always power down before connecting or disconnecting cords. That’s the message from experts who understand the challenges consumers face with marine shore power, and they advise that it’s not as difficult as it seems.

Top on the list of challenges is keeping the flow of electricity constant and safe. “Maintaining a reliable connection between the boat, cord and dock pedestal is the biggest challenge for recreational boat owners,” explains Matt Elsner, product manager for Marinco, a leading manufacturer of shore power products. “This is solved by ensuring the cord is properly twisted into the inlet and receptacle and using the included locking ring (15A, 20A, 30A or 50A locking devices) to connect the cord to the inlet.”

Another challenge is the identification of connections, specifically differentiated between 50A 125V or 50A 125/250V. “The vast majority of 50A connections are 50A 125/250V,” Elsner adds. “Users confuse the two configurations as they look very similar.” Consumers should verify the voltage (125 or 125/250) which will be noted on the inlet or receptacle. Additionally, 50A 125/250V inlets and female connectors contain a visible grounding plate that can be used for identification.

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Self-driving boats are here, but does the pleasure-boat market want it—or need it?

It’s happening with cars, and now Sea Machines in Boston is developing the technology for autonomous, self-driving boats that can do the real dirty work on the water. I wrote this for a story in Southern Boating’s November 2017 issue. Sea Machines’ sea trials in the summer of 2017 show that these pilot-free boats will one day snuff out oil fires, track criminals through dark harbors and transport cargo through heaving, empty seas—and no human will suffer a whit. Robot world is a reality.

While autonomous vessels may succeed in the commercial and military market, the recreational boating field seems far less likely to embrace self-driving boats. What many people love about boating is the feel of the steering wheel and power of the engines or sails. Take that away, and you might as well be on a ferry boat.

“While technology certainly makes navigating an easier task, there is no substitute for a vigilant watch keeper and regular engine room checks,” said Roger Sowerbutts of Horizon Yacht USA. “As a more traditional ‘paper chart’ operator I would have to be far more convinced than I am now about the reliability of the systems and the ability to overcome issues like a lost engine, hydraulic failure and internal power surges before I would consider it the norm.”

Sea Machines’ Autonomous Control System for commercial boats uses on-board instruments (such as digital GPS, 4G radar, AIS, sonar, and night vision) and proprietary algorithms so the boat itself can avoid obstacles or run with another boat. The system integrates propulsion, steering, and thrusters with instruments and sensors, while remote control is provided for command and control as well as data reception from the autonomous vessel.

The Sea Machines tagline is bringing value to “things that are dangerous, dirty and dull.” While that’s an apt description of firefighting or a 6,000-mile commercial cargo haul, it’s not applicable to what Southern Boating readers and boating enthusiasts desire.

“One of the reason that people go boating is that they learn the joys of being one with the wind and waves,” said Bob Johnstone, founder and CEO of MJM Yachts. “It’s not quite as utilitarian of a job of driving a car. Our mantra now at MJM is the luxury of effortless driving. It’s just so much fun. All our boats have the same 24-inch destroyer wheel–nice varnished teak to hold on to. If you can’t enjoy driving the boat, why would you own it?”

Comparing the rapid development of self-driving cars by companies like Google and Tesla to the recreational marine market may not be possible, according to David Marlow, founder and CEO of Marlow Marine.

“On balance while the ability to describe a safe course for the automobile is less complex, the inputs of danger to the auto and people are also constantly varying in degree and scope,” Marlow said. “The response rate for the yacht would be less rapid and more variable, posing significantly higher hurdles that would require instant recognition of a sudden athwartships tidal stream, wind gust, etc., as an example in a narrow canal or passage over a narrow opening. Control mechanisms in a yacht generally are much slower to respond fully to variations in course, and of course for some vessels a straight course down sea is difficult or in worst case impossible.”

Long hauls over open water can already be accomplished by an autopilot system. The captain stands watch to listen for an alarm or problem. An autopilot also keeps the boat on a truer heading over the long haul, reducing fuel usage by eliminating the “wandering” that occurs when human beings are steering.

However, a crowded dock is a place where boat owners may welcome even more assistance—instead of self-driving, how about self-docking?

“To go one step further and have boats come into the marina and position themselves at the dock ready for the lines is certainly not too far away,” Sowerbutts said. “There are already some great integrated systems for autopilots and GPS to work together seamlessly and follow set courses and waypoints which are amazingly accurate.”

Relying too much on technology is an upsetting trend to Marlow.

“I personally want no part of the technology as I enjoy operating a vessel whether 1,500 miles offshore or coast-wise,” Marlow said. “Further the denigration in native skills I have observed over nearly 60 years of going to sea on virtually all types of vessels leads me to believe that soon the basic ability to simply look up and dead reckon would further disappear. Some people may fail to use the most basic of tools–their eyes to see the destination out their front or side windows.”

As computer processing power increases and electronics become more sophisticated, it is likely that some type of self-driving assistance is coming to the cockpit. In the words of Capt. Ron played by Kurt Russell in the movie Overboard, “Get her out on the ocean. If it’s gonna happen, it’s out there!”


If U.S. Coast Guard boards your boat it pays to be calm and ready

The U.S. Coast Guard isn’t to be feared like Big Brother, though boat operators may feel like scofflaws who speed through school zones when the red-and-blue clad Coasties appear. It’s the same driver angst police officers elicit on the road: What will I get busted for now?

The U.S. Coast Guard boarding a boat and interviewing a passenger regarding safety and proper boat operation.

Anyone regularly navigating ports or waters near international borders will likely have an encounter with the Coast Guard. As one of the five branches of the U.S. military (Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corp., Navy) the Coast Guard is under Department of Homeland Security, and there to enforce the law, not teach it.

In addition, when you launch your boat in U.S. waters you relinquish your Fourth Amendment rights at the dock. The Coast Guard doesn’t require probable cause to board your boat, a provision which dates to the late 1700s and the Revolutionary War.

“When the Coast Guard pulls up to a boat, often it’s a common question of “Hey we are just checking to see how you are doing today,’ ” said Jonathan Lally, a Coast Guard spokesman and Petty Office Second Class, based out of the 7th Coast Guard District, Miami Public Affairs Office. “Our crews are not out there to hassle people. They are out there to make sure people are safe, and prevent accidents before they happen.”

Making the Coast Guard’s job difficult when officers want to board your boat will only make the stop last longer, and may increase suspicion. If you have a firearm or other weapons on board, let the Coast Guard officers know before they board. Once they do an initial safety sweep to their satisfaction and make sure your registration and identification check out, then they may look for drugs. If that happens they will go through compartments and closets in a thorough manner.

Heeding basic regulations will prevent a citation. The Coast Guard will ensure that all children under 13 are wearing life jackets and there are enough flotation devices onboard. Make sure you have a noisemaker and throw ring with a line that is easy to get to. A lack of boat registration or fire extinguisher is a common error, as these are federal requirements. Again, the Coast Guard’s main duties are making sure boats are secure from foreign threats, environmentally in compliance and most importantly, that the boat and passengers are safe.

“Already having on a life jacket when you go into the water is going to increase your chances of survival,” Lally explained. “Not only does it help you float, but it gives us and other rescuers more to search for, because we are looking for a basketball-size object in the water. Today’s life jackets are more comfortable than old-style life jackets, as well as colorful.”

Once the inspection is complete, the Coast Guard will issue a Report of Boarding Form CG-4100, a two-page form that consists of a white original and a yellow copy. The captain gets the yellow copy. Keep it handy, as you can show it to Coast Guard officers if you are boarded again soon.

If you are embarking on a long voyage, proper communication before and after the passage is crucial. “File a float plan with family and friends, the more detailed the better,” Lally said, noting that your boat’s equipment and tools are also vitally important. Make sure your charts – electronic and paper – are up to date so you can use them to navigate instead of visual aids. “If you do get lost or delayed and don’t make it to a certain marina you said you were headed to, the Coast Guard knows where to search.”

In addition, make sure your marine-band VHF is working—the Coast Guard constantly monitors Channel 16. Don’t rely on a cell phone as cell towers are unreliable. You can use your VHF radio to call for help even in spots where your cell phone has no signal. In addition, Sea Tow offers a free Automated Radio Check system to ensure the radio is working properly.

Other tips include stowing extra gear, such as blankets and a tarp to help protect you against the elements or should a thunderstorm arise. Always have a dry bag with a change of clothes. Staying dry is an essential part of survival. Finally, keeping a “weather eye” is invaluable, as conditions can change rapidly.

“Know how to use your flares if you are forced into using them, so you don’t fire them off boom, boom, boom and then run out when you really need to send a signal,” Lally said. “Nowadays there are many boating safety classes out there where people can learn to be safe,” Lally said. “We encourage everyone to take these classes and keep taking them, to continue their safety education.”