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October 26, 2001

Rig for Long-Range Running

After 20 years of deep-sea outings in a mid-size boat, William Tyler gives his top 10 suggestions on rigging your vessel for the long haul.

I've owned a number of outboard boats from 20 to 30 feet long. I've beaten each to a pulp over time with regular weekend runs to the canyons in search of big game. As I ventured farther out with each boat, I learned numerous things you can do to a boat from the day you buy it to prevent annoying and potentially dangerous problems in heavy seas. These extra steps will make your boat last longer, perform more reliably and make life safer for you offshore.

1) Props With Less Pitch
Most boats come with the standard prop(s) recommended by the engine manufacturer, often selected strictly for top-end speed on flat water. But if you face rough seas on a regular basis, other props will probably give you better results.
Consider blades with 2 inches less pitch than the standard propellers. Here's why: Factory-issue props usually lift a boat onto plane at about 17 to 19 mph on flat water. Ocean-going boats need to jump onto plane at speeds lower than flat-water and inshore boats require. Heavy ocean conditions sometimes force you to slug it out at a slower speed, say, 15 mph.
With factory-spec props, you'll be slipping off plane often. That will mean constantly adjusting the throttle(s) and generally having a devil of a time keeping the boat from going too slowly or too fast. One minute you'll be digging into the back of a wave at 10 mph, and the next you'll find yourself racing recklessly down its face at 25 mph. (Dual-prop drives such as those made by Volvo and Yamaha do not have this problem.) If you reduce prop pitch by 2 inches, you will jump onto plane around 13 mph and stay on plane at 15 mph where the boat can ride solid and steady into the teeth of the roughest seas without varying speed.

2) Redo Connections
When assembling the electrical systems on mid-size boats, most manufacturers use simple crimps with male/female connections. It makes for quick assembly, and after all, time is money. Check the wiring on your boat and you'll find these inexpensive connections used on every light, gas tank sender, ground and water pump connection in the boat.
Unfortunately, cheap crimp connectors in an ocean environment typically corrode in just a few years and fail. You need to put about two days of hard labor into protecting them when new, while the copper wires still shine. If you wait until the third year, the interior of the wires will have corroded slightly, making soldering very difficult.
Adhesive-lined, heat-shrink tubing on each connection represents the single most important addition you can add to your boat. Every nuclear power plant uses these connectors exclusively, and you should too. The most important connections to protect are the bilge pump wires. Clip off as many standard connectors as you can and replace them with soldered connections covered with adhesive-lined heat-shrink.

3) Replace the Fuse Panel
Most boat manufacturers use modern fuses with the male/female connections to the wires. The problem with these connections is that they tend to loosen up from vibration, so the day you hit the biggest waves and need your loran or GPS the most is the day you may lose it. Loose connections often make electronics units reset every time you hit a big wave.
To avoid this, use old-fashioned glass fuses with the brass eye-crimps held in place with a screw. They don't come loose and seem to be much more reliable in a corrosive environment. When you finish installing the new fuse box, give the whole thing a good covering with an anti-corrosion spray such as BoShield T-9, Corrosion-X or LPS Heavy Duty Rust Inhibitor.

4) A Second Electrical System
System redundancy is a fact of life at sea no matter what size your vessel. Put a backup GPS, radio and depth finder on a completely separate wiring system. For this purpose, combination GPS/fish-finder units serve well. In addition, install a totally new circuit breaker and on/off switch with a backup battery. Run heavy-gauge wires to the dash from the batteries and add a second fuse panel or breaker panel for the backup system. If your original electrical system dies, you'll have a completely separate navigational system to get you home. By the way, the engines often run just fine even if the primary electrical system goes haywire.

5) Provide Access
Make sure you have adequate access to the back of all your electronics areas such as the console and overhead instrument box. You never know when you'll need to have up-close-and-personal time with your circuit breaker panel, wiring or fuse panel while offshore. Design all fuse panel and breaker switches to be accessible (with both hands at once), and put a 12-volt light by them so you can do repairs without holding a flashlight in your mouth.

6) Label Every Wire
As captain, you need to do this yourself. This will force you to learn each wire in the boat. Modern handheld label printers print on silver tape with laser quality. They cost about $80 but are well worth it. Cut off the excess with scissors. Next, paint the label with clear fingernail polish; otherwise, moisture will ruin it in less than a year. You'll also find that servicing any piece of electronics after labeling all the wires becomes infinitely easier.

7) Create Visible Storage
Try a series of clear storage boxes held in place in the bow compartment by bungee cords. These see-through containers make it easy to see the contents at a glance and add an additional level of waterproofing. If you can't stand them on end in the compartment, put masking tape on the tops and label with a permanent felt-tip marker.

8) Chart Holders
This simple little storage tip will make a world of difference when chasing down loran or GPS coordinates. Most mid-size boats have overhanging gunwales next to the driver's seat. A simple Velcro strap makes these overhangs an excellent place to store a rolled-up chart. I use a Velcro bass-fishing rod holder cut down to fit the overhang of the gunwales on my boat.

9) Pad the Cabin Door
Offshore boats occasionally slam down quite hard when in steep seas. On boats of the size we're discussing, the entrance to the cabin is often a little tight. Even in rough seas, there will be a reason to go below for something. Do your passengers a big favor by attaching some closed-cell foam padding across the hatch and the top of the door. It also helps to round off with a file all the sharp wood and plastic corners on this doorway.

10) Keep Towers Light
Most mid-size boats don't come with a tower because they often make such boats too top-heavy. But if you want or need that extra height for better visibility, keep the weight down. Make the tower only high enough to give headroom below at the helm deck level.
On my 30-foot Grady-White, I installed a joystick hooked to my autopilot for steering and a Raytheon Raydata readout. One small display provides me with all the navigation and performance information from all my other electronics at the touch of a selector button. I can steer and still monitor coordinates, water temperature, speed, depth and course, and it all weighs less than 6 pounds.
Finally, I have a small intercom speaker to eliminate the shouting. Besides retaining better stability, this setup costs far less than a full dual station.