San Diego waterways and locales tops for recreational cruisers

Front page of story about San Diego for Southern Boating magazine

San Diego’s skyline and Marriott Marquis Marina

San Diego may play second fiddle to Los Angeles and San Francisco in entertainment and commerce, but it is tops for recreational cruisers. This port city is a launching point for voyages to Hawaii and Mexico as well as an important stop for cruisers heading to and from Alaska and South America. I wrote about San Diego and the value it has for cruisers in the story “Stunning San Diego” for Southern Boating magazine.

When you enter the San Diego Bay, you’re struck by not only its size, but also its ships—it is 12 miles long, as wide as 3 miles, and home to the U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet and Naval Air Station North Island. Aircraft carriers, submarines, and other warships are commonplace. Approaching from the north on a clear day, boats running near the coast will spy the tony shores and cliffside homes of La Jolla and Point Loma. Mild weather and warmer ocean waters offer a contrast to the colder climes of San Francisco and Los Angeles—the average temperature in San Diego is 72 degrees year-round.

While the Pacific Ocean temperatures hover in the high 60s, the breezes, and often strong winds, make for predictable sailing conditions. The America’s Cup was hosted by the San Diego Yacht Club and contested out of the Port of San Diego three times (1988, 1992, and 1995).

“When we cruise down from Santa Barbara to Mexico, we like all the options you have around the Port of San Diego,” says Jim Johns of Montecito, who cruises the coast of California south to Los Cabos, Mexico, in his Marlow Explorer 61E. “There are visiting slips you can rent out for a day or longer as well as anchorages. We often spend more time in San Diego than planned.”

And why not? Vessels can remain at the Guest Dock facility on the southern end Shelter Island for a few hours or up to 15 days. The facility is maintained by the San Diego Unified Port District and has 26 slips for boats up to 65 feet in length. Once docked, you can begin to explore both the land and sea. Visit the legendary San Diego Zoo, the lively Gaslamp Quarter downtown, the trails of Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, the historic Old Point Loma Lighthouse, and the parks around Mission Bay.

Read the entire article.

How Volvo Penta’s smarter engines share info for better boating

Mobile phones are great at connectivity. Apps like Tinder foster romance, emails make it easy to work anywhere, and Facebook keeps you up-to-date with family and friends worldwide. Even inboard engines can “talk” to owners and service techs.

Volvo Penta controls operate to smarter engines

Volvo Penta has made engine technology smarter with Easy Connect, an app that gives boat owners remote access to engine, boat, and route data directly on a smartphone or tablet. “For Volvo Penta, the key to this integration is the Electronic Vessel Control (EVC) which serves as the platform for all components throughout the boat,” explains Jens Bering, vice president of marine sales for Volvo Penta of the Americas. “Through Easy Connect, the EVC can share information through the mobile dashboard that allows them to provide data quickly and accurately to their authorized Volvo Penta service dealers, lowering maintenance time and improving repair precision.”

I wrote about Volvo Penta’s powerplants for the Engine Room column in Southern Boating magazine.

Besides the ability to quickly connect with a service technician to analyze diagnostics, Easy Connect provides a live dashboard display so passengers can follow along with the performance of the boat while underway via Bluetooth, a great complement to analog instrumentation. The app also stores the data from the boat’s previous trips so you can view the route history, fuel usage, speeds, and more from the comfort of your home to help plan future voyages.

Read the entire article.

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.

Read the entire article.

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.

Read the entire article.

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.

Read the entire article.

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.

Read the entire article.

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.”

Read the entire article.