Skipper’s Tips #19 – The Gas Man Cometh

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I’m on a health kick at the moment.  Actually, on and off for over a year now, I’ve been regularly cycling around chunks of Jersey. At the beginning of June I determined to up my game and now I cycle back and forth to work every day – well, every day it’s not raining that is!  The upshot of this ‘communing with Nature’ is that I am intimately aware of changes in the weather.  The odd rainy or windy day does not a Winter make but a week of teeth chattering and soggy rides tells me that Autumn has either arrived or is imminent.

Given that we can expect the number of great boating days to start diminishing rapidly now, I thought this might be a good time to talk about preparing your boat for the winter months.  That’s not to say you should pack it away and forget about it until next April but there will be days when you are free to go boating yet don’t fancy bashing about the sea for a few hours.  Getting the engines serviced and pulling her out of the water to check the anodes and replace the anti-foul are perfect jobs to get sorted when you do not plan to go out to sea.  I’m a huge fan of winter boating, as I’m sure anyone who knows me personally or reads this blog will testify to. I’ve been out on the Solent in December with crystal clear blue skies, flat water and not another boat in sight.  Wrap up warm or put the heater on, either will do but you really don’t want to miss days like these by sticking your boat on the hard with all the fluids drained and bits of paper stuffed up the outlets. Besides which, the sea gives your engines more protection from the cold than propping her up on stands ever will – food for thought?

Anyway, I digress.  Let’s go back to thinking about the jobs that you’ve put off all year and really can’t be left any longer.  Think of the upholstery, interior fabric surfaces and bedding. In the winter months, these will all go mouldy unless you make provision for the moisture that accumulates in boats.  Firstly, remove any fabrics that, realistically, are not going to be used for a while.  Next, clean out the bilges and dry them out – a good idea is to leave the floor panels propped up/open so that air can circulate.  This will help to keep them dry and prevent them from becoming smelly.  If you have airconditioning on your boat then there is often a setting which effectively works like a dehumidifier.  The a/c kicks in every few hours to dry out the air and then turns itself off again.  If you don’t have a/c or this setting then I heartily recommend getting a dehumidifier and running it on your boat over the months you are not using it.  Standing the dehumidifier by a sink means that the collected moisture can drain straight overboard to save you having to go and empty the water manually every few days.  This doesn’t absolve you from the responsibility of regularly checking on your boat but it does mean that if you can’t get down to your boat for a period you won’t have to worry about the container filling up and the unit switching itself off.

Empty the cupboards out and chuck away all stuff you never use and never will.  Get rid of food that is out of date.  Check stocks of batteries for torches, etc. Make a list of all the items that stopped working in the summer and that you’ve been meaning to get fixed but didn’t.  If you are feeling really keen about your navigation you might consider getting the ship’s compass corrected. Clearly, there are a whole host of things to attend to and now is the time to do it.

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet and it often gets missed is the gas system. You might not have gas on your boat, in which case this probably isn’t relevant to you but if you do, read on.

Whilst many of the safety items you have on your boat are checked on a regular basis, simply by virtue of being used or on show, there are certain items that never get touched from one year to the next.  The liferaft is one example that springs immediately to mind.  Stuck in a locker, only seeing the light of day in the unfortunate event that something goes seriously wrong.  The other item that often gets forgotten about is the gas system.

It is my opinion that every boat should have gas sensors fitted so that a gas leak can be detected in time to prevent a calamity.  The gas sensors should be sited low down in the boat – gas, being heavier than air, will sink into the bilges.  The problem here is that the sensors themselves are susceptible to water damage.  Once soaked by water, sensors will give erroneous alarm signals or not even function at all.  I would suggest that if you intend to fit or replace gas sensors to your boat, that you select waterproof sensors.

Almost as important as fitting sensors is a regular check on your gas system. Even though it is possible to check the system yourself, I would recommend that you get a CORGI registered engineer to check your system on an annual basis.  Any hoses that need replacing will be identified, as will any potential leaks or issues with your cooker and hob.

I organised a check on my own boat at the same time as we had the school boat checked, which we had to do every year for coding purposes. The check on my boat revealed that I needed two hoses replacing. The scary thing was that one of the hoses was almost completely worn through and would soon have made the boat a potential death trap.  Incidentally, I had looked at the hoses myself and they appeared to be fine, but the damaged section was out of view and I simply had not looked properly.  I wonder how many boaters give their gas hoses a cursory glance and assume everything is fine?

Happy boating everyone and have a great Christmas! (Oh my goodness, I mentioned the ‘C’ word and it’s only October)

This has been another Captain Corbett’s Adventure.  If I’m not in the office dreaming about delivering a boat or teaching Yachtmaster and Day Skipper courses then I’m probably off somewhere exotic on holiday!  Whichever it is, I will still be adding my adventures and skipper’s tips so click follow and you will never miss another update.

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