Resilience

I have touched on the subject before, but I feel like it is time to revisit what I previously referred to as resilience: the ability to accept and adapt to changing circumstances. Although commonly associated with Alcoholics Anonymous, the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change those that we can, and the wisdom to know the difference are just darn good life skills to have. And right now, there is little we can do besides be patient, keep up with best practices, even though they change, and look to building our relationships in new ways. On that last note, are you picking up the phone more than usual to reach out to friends and family? (Don’t look at me, I may not technically be a millennial, but the only person I talk to regularly on the phone is my mother. Everyone else gets email or text) Have you learned the ins and outs of video conferencing as a means of getting a larger group together? And, call me old fashioned, but when was the last time you mailed off a hand written note? Many people still get excited about getting personal mail. Take the time to write something out for your loved ones. Check with a nursing home to see if they have anyone looking for a pen pal. Do something to cheer up your neighbors. Don’t wait for Halloween to put fun decorations in your yard. For some reason, the gate near our condo is extraordinarily popular, so we put up a dragon on our fence to entertain our many passers by. If you have any costumes sitting around the house, put one on the next time you go for a walk. Put decorations on your bike or helmet before your next trip out. Use magnets or flags to decorate your car to cheer those who see it. Be the cheer you wish were in the world. I will be back tomorrow with other tactics for thriving in these trying times. Keep safe, keep learning Tanya Weimer SEO

Boat Plumbing

Evidently, I have been googling too much boat plumbing this week, because this showed up in my feed, even though I had just planned on writing something out:
 
 
Beyond pressurized pumps, if you plan to cruise, you may want to consider manual/foot pumps. If placed within the freshwater system, these pumps can help you conserve water, since you only pump exactly what you need. However, some boats also use these manual pumps to bring in salt water. This will extend your water supply by allowing you to use salt water for cleaning, and freshwater only for rinsing and cooking. And teeth brushing. Don’t brush your teeth with salt water.

Have a safe holiday. I may not be back until Tuesday, as Jay’s employer has added in a 35th anniversary holiday to make a four day weekend. 

Keep safe, keep learning
Tanya Weimer
SEO

Freshwater system overview

Here is the freshwater system overview, from our old friend Don Casey. I will also take this opportunity to make a shameless plug on plumbing products. On Sea Story, we have experimented with many different brands of plumbing supplies. The easiest style to work with underway are the modern pop on (aka quick connect) fittings that work with PEX piping. PEX itself nice due to the blue/red color coding that keeps everything running to the right place. With the pop on fittings, all you need is a PEX cutter and large variety of fittings. Some of the pop on fitting also require a special tool to release the pressure and pop them back off again. We have found that the brand that most consistently works is also the brand that offers the widest variety of fittings: SeaTech. The variety of fittings has allowed us to seamlessly tie in the new plumbing with the old gray stuff that gets a little more fragile each year. Unfortunately, few local stores carry this brand, so we source it online from freshwatersystems.com. If you have a plumbing emergency, Whale plumbing fittings are available in the local stores, but we were not able to consistently seat the fittings properly. Whatever you choose, keep some variety onboard, including plugs so that you can replace or bypass whatever happens to pop a leak. And keep both colors  of PEX onboard so that you aren’t cursing at yourself next year when trying to figure out why that blue tubing is hot. Keep safe, keep learning Tanya Weimer SEO

Marine sanitation systems

West Marine offers a good overview of the possible set ups for marine sanitation systems (aka, the head and holding tank).

Interestingly enough, I could not find an article that covered both the traditional options and an age old option that is becoming more popular on boats: the composting toilet. The name is a misnomer, as little to no composting actually happens within the system. The main point of a composting toilet is to separate liquids from solids, which minimizes the odors that we associate with sewage. The urine can be discarded in any toilet, or even overboard in many instances. The feces is mixed with a drying agent, such as coconut fibers, and can be composted or discarded on land or far out to sea.
 
Whatever you choose, remember we don’t want it in the Bay, follow proper disposal procedures according to local and international laws.
 
BTW, joker valves are not funny.

Keep safe, keep learning
Tanya Weimer
SEO

Wrap up electrical systems

To wrap up electrical systems week, take a look at this article from Boat US regarding boat batteries!

I had a nice plan to also tell you about the differences between hooking up your batteries in parallel versus in series, but I lost it. So let’s reduce it to: as you learn more about batteries and battery sizes, you will find that one way to reduce the weight of the individual batteries that you are trying to carry onboard is to learn that if you hook the batteries up one way (in series) you can turn two 6 volt batteries into one 12 volt battery bank. When you connect batteries in parallel, you create a bigger bank, capable of providing more amp hours (longer running time for the same instruments). On Sea Story, we have two sets of two golf cart batteries – each set is connected in series to make one 12 volt, and the two sets are connected together in parallel to provide ~250 amp hours. This is known as the house bank, because it runs the house-like features, such as the lights, refrigerator, screens… We have a separate large 12 volt battery that is only used for the windlass and starting the engine, as these both requires enormous amounts of energy in an instant, rather than over time.

Keep safe, keep learning
Tanya Weimer
SEO

About the wiring on your boat

It was going to be very hard to explain your boat’s wiring set up without pictures, so I was very happy to find this website that did it for me! This is only the DC (12volt) system, but it does a very good job of showing the various components necessary for safety.

Although it claims to be all about wiring your boat, it leaves out the actual wires. Ever wondered why there are so many different sizes of wiring on your boat? Using the smallest wiring appropriate for the task reduces loss of energy and transfer of heat. The amperage, which is basically how much energy you expect to flow through the wire at the time, and the distance, determine the actual size of the wire. Wires are sized oddly: the bigger the gauge, the smaller the diameter. If you are installing new equipment, the equipment itself may well tell you the ideal wire gauge. Otherwise, you will need to look up the amp draw of the equipment and cross reference that with your distance. West Marine actually posts a handy table where they sell the wires.

As for the rainbow of colors of wiring, well they are manufactured that way to allow you to color code the whole system, so that you can tell at a glance which system a wire will run to. In reality, unless you are particularly fastidious, at some point, you will grab the wire that is available to you, double check the gauge, and 20 years later some poor fool is left trying to figure out why one green wire is used as a positive in the DC system while all the other green wires are grounds for the AC system. And that is where this poor fool has come up with the term “previous idiot” when referring to work done on the boat.

Marine grade wiring is stranded (lots of little wires creating a cable, rather than one wire). This allows for you to run the wiring through those odd contours of your boat. Solid wiring is prone to breakage if you make too tight a turn or pull too hard, or bang the wire against the bulkhead with each pounding wave in a storm. Stranded wire is more flexible, and also means that if one strand breaks, the others can still carry the load.

Marine grade wire is also tinned. This means that your individual strands may look tinny, rather than coppery. This is to protect the copper wire itself from the corrosive marine environment. If you find that your boat has untinned wiring, you may notices that a black substance has built up on the wires, or the wires may even be corroded through. In such cases, the wires should be trimmed back. If there are still signs of corrosion a few inches back, the wires should be replaced.

Marine grade wiring should be connected with crimping and waterproofing. Soldering is not appropriate. Your boat is a mover and a shaker, but solder is fragile. If anyone insists that you should solder, you have my permission to have them walk the plank. Wing nuts are not appropriate. They can trap moisture in the connection and create all kinds of issues. Crimp and waterproof. I prefer to buy the the connectors that come with heat shrink, but we also carry all sizes of heat shrink tubing in our electrical tool kit. Be sure not to confuse the built in heat shrink with the nylon covers. Ancor sells both, but as you can imagine, the nylon does not shrink and it does not smell good when you apply heat. Most jobs on the boat we either naturally fall into or we fight over whose turn it is to suffer through. But when it comes to wiring, we both find a high level of satisfaction in the process of stripping, crimping and shrinking a good connection!

 
Keep Safe, Keep Learning
Tanya Weimer
SEO

More electrical systems

The front of your electrical panel probably looks nice and orderly. These panels tend to consist of neat rows of switches with clear, black and white labels. And a pretty light beside each switch. However, depending on the age of your boat and the orderliness of the electricians over the years, it is very likely that the back of your electrical panel looks like something that would give Indiana Jones heart palpitations.

Whether your panel is a set of three DC switches or several rows and columns of switches divided into DC (usually on the left) and AC (usually on the right), it will be worth your time to get to know what is going on both on the panel and behind the panel. I once found myself helping a recent widow who knew little about the nuts and bolts of her boat. It was delivered by a friend, but when we went to check it out, the batteries were dead. Boiled completely dry, no room for recovery. Turns out, the labels on the electrical panel did not do what they said they did. A switch on the panel had been randomly assigned to the inverter, which ran all of the outlets, even when the boat was hooked up to shore power. A separate, unlabeled switch in the engine room was used to turn on the battery charger when hooked up to shore power. The boat had been left for a month or more drawing energy from the batteries to power the time on the microwave. I don’t know if I mentioned it yesterday, but while inverters may be awesome, they use a lot of DC power to mediocre amounts of AC power. It took us a full day of following wires to figure out what was going on in this case.

And that, unfortunately, is what it takes on most boats. My boat has an AC switch labeled “appliances.” What appliances? It isn’t like we have an electric stove, a 120v fridge or even a blender on board! We have followed the wires, but we still do not know what may have been on the far end of them, seemingly when the boat was built in the 1980s.

Start exploring by reading the labels. Flip a switch and see if the expected thing happens. Once you have flipped the switches and made your slip neighbors wonder why the lights are going on and off, get out a flashlight and turn of the main breakers for the DC and AC. Only then should you set about figuring out how to open your board. Once you have gotten behind your board, prepare to marvel. Perhaps you will get to marvel at the orderliness of it all, with harnesses and cable ties keeping everything in place. More likely, you will get to marvel at the sheer disorder, or perhaps at the fact that so many colors of wire have been manufactured. Hopefully, you will at least see some patterns. Red, blue, grey, white will likely be attached to the breakers themselves. Black wires may well be attached to a bar somewhere set off from the breakers. This is called a bus bar. Everything that is connected will need to have both the positive and negative wires attached to work, most of the negatives will be on this bar. You may also find negative bus bars located near clusters, such as where your batteries are located or the helm.

The first thing you want to check is that it seems like everything is indeed attached, without lots of loose wires floating about. If you do find unattached wires, these are the first things that you should start tracing. Sometimes they will lead to that thing that you never figured out how to work. Sometimes, they will lead to…unconnected wires on the far end of the boat. Once you have identified such wires, you have to decide what to do with them. If they went through any particularly tricky spots, you may want to leave them in place. In this way, you can use them in a future project, or use them to pull wires through the tricky spot in the future. If they are older wires, I prefer to tie on a string and pull that through, removing the wires that are not up to modern yachting standards. I then leave the string in place to use to pull wires in the future. This is sometimes referred to as a mouser. Just don’t go looking that up, because some brilliant entrepreneur named their electrical supply company after that little trick.

While you were following your wires, did you find any unattached wires in your lazarette? Your cabin? Follow these back to the board – hopefully your board is still turned off, in case some prior budding electrician decided to uninstall an instrument and leave the live wires just dangling in space. We have removed miles of wiring in this way from Sea Story.

If you keep following wires and back and forth, you will get to know your whole boat better than you ever thought possible. While it may not always be possible to follow the wires through a conduit, at least you will know where the conduits are so that you don’t accidently drill through your wiring in the future. However, if you have a household member around, you may be able to follow the wiring through the conduit if you can find the other side. One person stands at one end and wiggles the wire they are interested in until the other person identifies the other end.

This may all seem like rather a lot of busy work, and maneuvering through the crawl spaces of your boat involves more uncomfortable positions than sitting at home reading Nigel Calders’ Electrical Manual. But if you can make time to do it when you would otherwise be sitting home twiddling your thumbs, it is the kind of hands on learning that can prove invaluable when you have to replace your bilge pump or trouble shoot why your GPS won’t come on.

Just make sure you turn off the main switches! If we are actually going to be doing any wiring, I even take the time to unplug the boat from shore power.

Keep safe, keep learning
Tanya Weimer
SEO

Electrical systems

One of the first things to understand is the difference between your AC system and your DC system.

AC power is what you have at your house. As you know, you shouldn’t stick your finger in the outlet (or the light socket, for that matter) because AC power is, well, powerful. It is the high voltage that will get you. We also refer to the AC system on the boat as the 120volt system (or the 110volt: the truth is that it is usually somewhere in between 110 and 130). 

DC power is stored in batteries. It usually gets to the batteries from an AC source or from solar power. Boat systems tend to operate in multiples of 12 volts. 12 volts isn’t so bad, but I still don’t recommend trying to touch your tongue to the terminals like your older sibling used to suggest with a 9v (just me? sorry). But once you get up into 24v or 48v, which is used for larger systems, and especially for those fancy new electrical motors, things are getting more serious. Don’t underestimate any kind of electricity: even at its most mild it is far too good at starting fires.

Your house probably gets its AC power from either a solar system or the power lines. The power lines also carry AC power to your boat via the shore power cord. We often refer to this as plugging our boat in, but it has the fancy connections to allow you to pull a lot more energy than any individual household outlet can handle. You will notice that your Tesla and maybe even your dryer have fancy plugs for much the same reason. Or perhaps your only use of AC power for your boat is the trickle charger that you use to keep your batteries happy in the off season.

If your house has a solar system, there is a reason we refer to it as a system: it requires an inverter to take the DC power collected by the panels and change it into AC power that your house can use. Even if you have a Tesla wall battery, that is just storing DC energy to be inverted to AC when the sun isn’t shining. Your boat may also have a similar system. An inverter is used to take the energy stored in the batteries and make it available for AC devices, like standard vacuums, TVs, kitchen appliances, etc. If you have sophisticated electronics that require AC power, they will thank you for getting a True Sine Wave inverter. This creates a more clear electrical signal, where as older or cheaper systems kind of try to fake the wave and end up causing damage to systems that can tell the difference. This is definitely a place where it can be tempting to be penny wise (buying the cheaper modified sine wave inverter) and pound foolish (watching your laptop die).

If you live in the backcountry or have sensitive equipment or just like to be prepared, you may have a third source of AC power: a generator. Boats tend to have two different sources that take the place of a generator and are much more common on boats than in American houses, due to the fact that houses don’t often try to wander away from the power lines. Many boats have a generator, either installed somewhere or portable, that will allow them to have AC power wherever they are, for as long as they have fuel (remember to leave enough to get home again, please!). Batteries are not very good at producing power for heat, even with an inverter (or at least an inverter that will fit on your <100ft boat). As such, many power boats with electrical stoves will need to run the generator in order to cook. 

For those with smaller needs, particularly those who just want to recharge their batteries, they may also use an alternator on the engine. Most people think of alternators as the thing that lets their car charge its own battery. Hopefully, none of you have been reminded of this after letting your car sit too long or running quick errands that didn’t give the alternator a chance to do its job before you shut off the car again. Luckily, boaters don’t usually run short errands, so if you have an alternator, it probably has plenty of time charge at least your starting battery back up before you can raise the mainsail and shut everything back down. However, not everyone realizes that the alternator is actually generating AC power and converting it to DC power to be sent to the batteries.

You will notice that I have referred to inverting from DC to AC and converting from AC to DC. I will admit right now that the ins and outs of why that is requires one to really care about electronics a smidge more than I do. Nonetheless, it is important terminology to keep straight. One way we keep that straight onboard is to refer to a converter as a “battery charger.” That is much more straight forward. Why didn’t I start there? Because your alternator still manages to convert from the AC power generated by spinning things to the DC power that goes straight to your battery, do not pass Go, do not collect $200 at the battery charger.

It is with all of the above that you can see why one might want to purchase a battery charger/ pure sine wave inverter combo. You get one thing that does all the things, hook it up (well, if you have learned anything in this email, you might want to do some more research or hire someone else to hook it up), and forget about it. That is, until one or the other of the components burn out… Many of us still choose to get a battery charger and a separate inverter so that we know what the problem is and only have to replace one at a time down the road.

One reason it is important to know the difference is so that you can figure out how to best shut the power off in case of emergency. You may be able to shut down the AC main breaker and still operate off DC power to see your way around to fixing an issue. More simply, if something isn’t working, the first thing to check is usually going to be the corresponding circuit breakers and cut offs. You wouldn’t be the first person to call out an electrician to find out the problem is your boat isn’t plugged in. On our boat, we had a particularly frustrating  situation with a light in the galley because when we were at dock and had plenty of time to trouble shoot, it was working. But when we were out sailing and just wanted to flip it on and see, it wouldn’t work… Someone had chosen to install a hard wired AC light. This is very rare on boats. Even boats that have plenty of power tend to use a combination of installed lights that run on DC and maybe a few lamps to plug into the AC system.

Keep safe, keep learning
Tanya Weimer
SEO