Marine Internet, An Internet Connected Boat.

Just a few years ago it was relatively unheard of to have internet on your boat. Now marine internet and connecting your boat and all the devices  needed for everyday life is a relatively easy process once you understand the basics. I will briefly talk about my set up at the dock in this post and I will link to a very well written article from a cruising  boater who goes into depth about the technical and logistical issues and fixes to have an enjoyable internet experience on your boat.

I may be in a very unique situation at my marina. I dock at a marina with no marina wide internet but they do have a house on the property that has internet capability from both Xfinity and Verizon Fios. The Current occupants of the house are using the Xfinity service so I called and was able to get Fios installed. When the installer came I had her install the modem in a housing at the demarcation box from the street so my modem is actually installed right where the Fios service comes into the house. I then installed a Ubiquiti Nanobeam M5-16 Wireless antenna at the house and another Ubiquiti Nanobeam M5-16 Wireless at the dock near my boat. These antennas were probably over kill for my needs but they are great antennas and are sometimes referred to as “air fiber” because they have a very fast high bandwidth capability along with a very long range. Once I had the antennas installed I installed a TP-LINK N300 Long Range 11n 2.4G Wireless Outdoor Access Point on the dock. The access point lets me “share” the internet with all of my devices just like your modem or router does at your house.

For a more in depth look at internet on the water from a boater who just spent a year on the water with his family please read Ben Stein’s article on Panbo.com

https://www.panbo.com/marine-internet-a-connected-year-on-the-water/

New Chris Craft Catalina Owners Group Forums

I am working on setting up forum software on the site for owners of Chris Craft Catalina boats. It seems the old catalina user group is no longer up so hopefully we can have a spot here to post and discuss our boats.

The forum can be found here: http://ilikeithere.net/CatalinaClub

We also have a Facebook group with a lot more activity than the online forum located here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/509735432730990/?ref=group_header

It’s a work in progress so bear with me!

Don’t Fall For The New Coast Guard Documentation Renewal Scam!

I’ve been meaning to make a post about the documentation renewal scam regarding Coast Guard documentation and I just saw the Coast Guard made a post on their website about it. All boaters who have a documented vessel should be aware there are companies that will mail you a “renewal notice’ a few weeks or a month before your vessel documentation needs to be renewed. These mailings and the companies are fraudulent. They will charge you hundreds of dollars to handle your renewal but what you get in return is worthless.

 

The letters they mail out look official and are full of threatening wording in order to scare you into a knee jerk reaction and paying them to handle your renewal. Do not use these people to renew anything or give them any of your information. Many times they will try to sign you up for expensive automatic renewals and according to the Coast Guard they give you documentation that can’t be used legally.

Registering or renewing you documentation can only be done through the official Coast Guard website or documentation center. When renewing online only go to the official .mil website. Any website with a .com, .us, or .info is a fake website. The Coast Guard DOES send renewal notices by mail but that notice will direct you to the .mil website or a telephone number to the Documentation Center in West Virginia. Official documentation only costs $26 not the $100’s these scammers charge.

This new scam highlights the need to be vigilant both online and when receiving unsolicited mail or telephone calls. Many boaters are out of the country or traveling often and may not be aware of scams like these.

If you have fallen victim to this scam you can try to get a charge back from your credit card company though it maybe difficult without a fight.

For more information please read the Official Coast Guard post on this topic.

Know Before You Go With These Free Weather Apps For IOS and Android Devices

We’ve all been there, heading to the boat for a day of fun only to realize the weather turned and it’s no longer safe to head out on the water. Or we have spent a weekend out, get ready to head back to the dock and get surprised by a storm on our way in. Luckily these days we have access to many different forecasting and live data tools to make checking the weather an easy task.

Tides Near Me is a great app to see when the next low tide, high tide or what the current tide is right where you are.

Android version of tides near me can be downloaded here.

Iphone and IOS version of tides near me can be found here.

NOAA Buoy Data app lets you see real time buoy data from and NOAA buoy that is actively reporting data to NOAA. This app also includes all the data sent by the buoy including wave height and water temperature.

Android Play store version of NOAA Buoy data can be found here.

Apple App Store version of NOAA Buoy data can be found here.

Windy is a great app for forecasts, wave height and forecasted wave height. It is used by professionals, fishermen, governments and other people who want accurate real time information. I love this app and use it almost everyday.

Android version of Windy can be downloaded here.

Apple App Store version of Windy can be found here.

MyRadar NOAA weather app is one of the best no frills radar apps out today. It does just what is it supposed to and that is show you your local radar.

Android version of MyRadar can be downloaded here.

Apple App Store version of MyRadar can be found here.

qtVlm is a navigation software designed for sailing boats. It is also a free weather grib viewer that accepts all kinds of gribs. It can read and display maps in various formats, such as Vector charts (S57), Raster Charts (kaps, geotiff, etc) and mbtiles charts. This is a serious app for serious users and it’s only available on android devices. It is a weather app, a navigation app and is able to parse NMEA data on devices fitted to GPS or Chartplotters.

Android version of qtVlm can be downloaded here.

There are many free weather apps and maybe you use one that isn’t listed here and that’s great! These are some that I use and trust. There is one marine specifict app that I left out, I use it but the reviews are terrible. If you use it you will know what I am talking about and if you don’t use it the reviews may scare you away however I would say give it a try and see if you like it. I personally haven’t had problems with it like others have had.

Don’t forget about the free weather broadcast you can receive on your marine VHF radio or on your weather radio. The over the air broadcast contains real time information and alerts concerning the listening area. Boating on the Chesapeake bay I usually listen to the marine forecast on the radio and use an app to double check conditions before leaving the dock.

Remember your weather app might not work once you leave populated areas and no longer have a reliable internet connection. The NOAA radio is a true lifesaver.

Keeping Your Boats Head and Sanitation System Odor Free

We all know those smells and how they affect our time on the boat. No one wants to spend quality time working on your boats head (toilet for you land lubbers!) We’d all much rather be on the water enjoying the day.

Head odors can be caused by a number of things. The biggest culprits are; Using raw water for flushing, old permeated hoses, lack of airflow in the holding tank, mixing of waste products, lack of beneficial bacteria in the holding tank, not pumping out the holding tank often enough and mechanical issues with the head.

Compact Electric Head

Unfortunately many of use have an electric flush head that draws raw seawater from a through hull located somewhere on the boat and uses that water to flush the head. This introduces all kinds of bacteria and elements to the sanitation system that can and will cause odors. If you have this setup, there are a few tricks you in order to help keep the smell down.Flush using freshwater once a day. I use the shower head to fill the head and flush it every time I shower on the boat.  Flush or use the head daily, this helps keep the water from becoming stagnant in both the pickup hose and the hoses that lead to your holding tank.  The longer the raw water sits without being oxygenated the more anaerobic bacteria grows and creates odors.  This odor is typically a sulfur like smell. You can disconnect the raw water intake and with proper check valves and anti siphon devices hook the head intake to your freshwater tank. Another option is to replace the electric flush head with a vacuum flush system that uses freshwater only to flush the head. A concern with this set up is contaminating your freshwater system with wastewater from the toilet, either through failure of a check valve or from a siphon created when the water tank is lower than the head. There are industry standards regarding hooking up a fresh water tank to a sanitation system. Another concern with tying into the freshwater system is over using your fresh water for flushing the toilet. In some areas and for some long range cruisers water is an important and expensive commodity. Adding freshwater flush capability will improve many foul odor issues drastically.

High Quality Sanitation Hose

Sanitation hoses are another common area odors originate from. Make sure you have marine grade impermeable sanitation hose installed on your boat. Even impermeable hose will allow odors to leach out after a few years of use. I’ve read recommendations that say to replace your sanitation hose with high quality hose every 4-5 years. Waste sitting in low spots along the hose can and will permeate through the hose. One account I read from a boat owner claimed just replacing the hose eliminated almost all the waste odors from her boat. To test if your sanitation hose is causing odors on your boat wet a clean rag with very hot water and wrap it around a low section of hose and leave it on the hose until it cools. Remove the rag and sniff it. If you smell any bad odors on the rag it’s time to replace the hoses.

The boating community is never short of debate and differing ideas on what works no matter the topic. The next item on our list is a hotbed of debate amongst many boaters. A holding tank with poor airflow will be a hotbed of odors from anaerobic bacteria that thrive in low oxygen environments. To tackle this you want to make sure your vent lines to the holding tank are adequate and unclogged. Vent lines can become clogged from the waste itself when the tank is overfilled or from spiders or other things crawling into the vent and setting up a home. A good charcoal filter on the vent line also helps with odors outside of your boat. Now, the debatable item. A newer trend is to install an aerator pump to the holding tank and aerating the waste 24/7. From what I’ve researched and read most people claim aerating the waste tank eliminates most of the odors emanating from it.  The detractors claim it is unnecessary and a waste of battery power. Either way large 1 inch vent hoses or an intank aerator both will help encourage aerobic bacteria to form and digest the waste in the tank. Aerobic bacteria are good for the health of the sanitation system. Using bleach or other products that kill germs may reduce the level or kill off all the good bacteria in the system.

Anyone that has a composting head will tell you they are great until you mix the urine and feces. Poop by itself in the composting head doesn’t smell all that bad but if you mix urine into the equation you end up with horrible smells. Anyone that has used a camp toilet or composting toilet in years past can relate to the horrible smells. New composting toilet designs keep the pee from the poop. They use a urine diverter to store the urine in a separate detachable container from the main waste receptacle. Installing a composting head in most cases and when used properly will eliminate most head odor issues. I am considering replacing my head with a composting head for these reasons.

Composting Head

Waste shouldn’t be in your holing tank long enough to set up shop and start stinking. Pump the holding tank out frequently and before leaving the boat sit unattended for any length of time. The simple act of having the tank pumped and flushed will drastically reduce odors plus who wants all that stuff sitting around anyhow. After pumping the tank out flush the tank with water a few times and pump it empty. Adding a few capfuls of liquid fabric softener to the tank while washing it out will help make it so waste doesn’t stick to the sides and bottom of the tank.

Marine Holding Tank

A poorly maintained head and tank can also contribute to odors. Duckbill or joker valves need replacing and can be damaged by using household chemicals to clean the head. Seals and tank fitting can leak into the bilge and cause boat wide odors. Check and maintain your head and tank, inspecting the system often. Never use bleach or other caustic chemicals to clean the head or tank as they can breakdown seals and parts. If needed vinegar is a decent alternative to bleach.

How to Let your Children Enjoy Boating

Many of us with kids have found out our children don’t enjoy boating as much as we had hoped they would. To us adults boating is a way to relax and get away from the pressures of everyday life. To our children it can seem like a prison. When I met my girlfriend and her son I had visions of time spent on the boat together enjoying the outdoors and each other’s company for days at a time. After the first boat trip I realized her son didn’t share the same views and being “stuck” on the boat wasn’t his idea of fun.

It seems I projected my views and feelings onto others without taking the time to understand we are all different with different likes and dislikes. When I was a child I wanted nothing more than to be on the water and would do anything to be on a boat traveling and exploring new places. I lived in Florida and spent most of my time growing up either in the ocean with my parents or deep sea fishing with my dad. Those are some of my fondest memories of that time in my life.

We are seasonal liveaboards meaning my girlfriends son stays with us most of the summer on the boat. Over the last few years I’ve learned a few things that work for us to make everyone happy and make boating enjoyable for us. Being in a larger cabin cruiser we miss out on some activities like tubing and skiing but with the help of friends with smaller type appropriate boats we manage to get those activities in.

Some of the things I’ve found that help us are:

This may seem like common sense but it’s a big one. Allow your child’s friends to spend time on the boat with you. We are in a marina that is mostly childless. Occasionally there may be someone with a like aged child around but for the most part we are the only ones with children at the marina. Having one of your kids friends (especially one that is excited about boating!) along for the day or weekend makes for a memorable time that you and your child can remember for years.

Boating to me is a way to unwind, remove technology from my life and meet new people. My girlfriend’s son enjoys XBOX and streaming TV shows. For me I always thought being outdoors and experiencing new things trumped playing XBOX and resisted any type of electronic games on the boat. I installed a gaming system on the boat and allowed him to bring his games onto the boat now we will sit and play games together and have a bonding experience where we not only game but talk to each other. If you have no room or electricity for an XBOX or something similar play board games together at anchor or at the dock.

It’s boring sitting and watching the adults talk while underway. Put yourself in your child’s shoes. You may have several adult guests aboard. Some might be indulging in adult beverages, some talking or sightseeing and others operating the boat.  Making your child an active participant in boating is both an educational experience and a fun thing for most kids. We bought a book on tying knots and with short sections of rope practiced until all of us could tie all of the basic knots needed for boating. I also ask for help on lookout and explain the rules of the road for boating and safe operation of the boat and share how important it is to be on watch. When we are underway we discuss the mechanical operation of the boat and things like the gauges and controls so when he is ready he will be able to operate the boat safely and without damaging the systems. When it’s time to clean the boat after a day on the water we all participate in cleaning and washing. It doesn’t seem like much but being included in the operation of the boat and in maintenance kids gain a sense of belonging and responsibility.

On our traveling adventures we try to select marinas with amenities that are child friendly. Boating on the Chesapeake bay we are lucky we can find things our child loves to do like swim in a swimming pool or bike around the marina. We also like to anchor out and swim or float in the bay. I carry a few water games and toys like floats, a football, squirt guns and an underwater camera. All these things are easily stowable and quick to deploy. This year we bought kayaks to use at the marina and to take with us and we each have our own kayak we paddle around in. We also have a small dingy that he gets to operate (he is the legal age in our state) while we are in it with him. The smiles and joy that we get while putting around in the dingy are worth more than gold to me.

Hopefully with some understanding on both sides and with a little work you and your children can enjoy boating together and build lifelong memories that will pass on to future generations.

US Coast Guard Iphone and Android App

Today I was preparing to write a post about coast guard required safety equipment and I came across something I didn’t know existed. The Official US Coast Guard App for boaters. I just installed the android version of the app on my phone in order to review it for this post. When you install the app you are asked to agree to the terms of service for the app. For a government agency the terms are fairly straightforward but read them first to make sure you really want to agree to them. Since you can make reports of hazards and emergencies through the app you are reminded that false reports are illegal and waste resources. The app asks to use your location because it will give the GPS coordinates when making a report The app asks you to fill out info for a profile but you don’t have to fill out any info until you try to make a report.

In addition to being able to make a report of a hazard you can make reports of pollution, report suspicious activity and request emergency assistance through the app. The app lets you view state boating information, request a safety check, review safety equipment, file a float plan, view the rules of the road, and see NOAA buoy information. That’s quite a lot of good information right at your finger tips. It appears you will need an internet connection to view some of the information.

Check out this video for an overview of the application. 

This app is another tool in your boating toolbox and for the low, low price of free I’d recommend checking it out. The app also shows your GPS coordinates so you can quickly relay them to the authorities in the event of an emergency.

Led Lights On Boats

A few years ago the LED lighting market exploded. Companies started making all kinds of LED light bulbs and fixtures to replace standard incandescent lighting. For us boaters this is a really great opportunity to affordably replace our incandescent lights and fixtures with low power consuming LED lights. We also can install some cool new accent or mood lighting in cabins, cockpits, heads and just about anywhere on the boat we need lighting.

Waterproof LED Strip Lights

My first experience with LED lights on a boat was when I installed LED strip lighting at the helm of my Maxum 2900 SCR. I bought a 16 foot roll of strip lights that came with a 120 volt power supply, remote control and 16 feet of stick on water proof LED lights. The strip could be cut to size and cut for the area it was being installed. About every 12 inches there is a cut mark where you can cut the strip and reconnect it with special connectors. There are several different types of strip lights you can buy. Some come with a music controller that changes the lights with the music. Ones labeled RGB are multi-colored and the color is user changeable. An Amazon search shows all the options available. When buying LED strip lights for a boat you generally want to buy the water proof ones with a good 3m adhesive on the back. I really liked the RGB lights since I could change them depending on if the boat was in motion or sitting at the dock. Installation is easy since the 120 volt transformer steps the voltage down to 12 volt. Just get rid of the transformer and cut the end off of the plug that connects to it. Make sure you know what wire is positive and what wire is negative and connect the positive to a fused power source or switch and the negative to ground.

LED G4 Bulbs

Another light that can be replaced with LEDs are the cabin lights. Many boats use a G4 bulb for cabin lights though yours might be different. Replacing these lights is as simple as removing the old bulb and replacing it with the LED bulb. In general these LED bulbs will draw around 1 watt of power. This significantly extends the time you can run the lights off of battery power. LED lights will only work if the positive and negative leg are installed properly. If you installed a light bulb and it doesn’t turn on flip its orientation and it should work.

On an older boat you may have outdated light fixtures and want to change them out for something a bit more modern. There are many LED light fixtures available, you should be able to find a fixture that will compliment your boats interior or exterior.

Led Navigation Light

LED navigation lights have hit the market and are a great replacement for older navigation lights. With LED navigation lights you have a several year run time compared to incandescent navigation lights. This means less bulb changes, less chance a bulb burns out while underway and less chance the Coast Guard will stop you for having a light out.

Overall replacing your lights with LED lights will enhance the look of your boat and increase the run time from your 12 volt electrical system.

Seamanship And the Rules Of The Road For Boaters

As a former full time liveaboard and current seasonal liveaboard I am on the water quite a bit and see a wide range of boating skill and etiquette from my fellow boaters. Often I wonder if a certain boat operator has even taken a look at the ColRegs AKA the rules of the road for boaters. If you haven’t yet I suggest visiting the coast guard website and downloading their free copy of the amalgamation of the International (72 COLREGS) and Inland Navigation Rules. I will touch on the major parts of the rules here but won’t get as in depth as the official source.

First rule is avoid a collision. It is the position of the Coast Guard and the Admiralty Court that there are no accidents. If a collision occurs the navigation rules were not followed. Plain and simple.

Second, a constant watch and lookout is required anytime a vessel is underway. This is a pet peeve of mine. I’ve witnessed both power and sail boats operated in tight navigational areas by people who were not keeping a lookout. I have had a large cabin cruiser almost hit me and several others being operated by autopilot while the “captain” was sitting on the aft deck having a drink with his guests.  This is illegal and a good way to hurt or kill other people.

Stand on Vessel and Give way vessel which are you? 

The “Stand on Vessel” (the one that has the Right of Way) is required to hold course until such time that it is determined the “Give Way Vessel”  (the one that is yielding the right of way) is not going to Give Way. The Stand on Vessel is then required to avoid a collision. All maneuvers must be made early and obvious to avoid any chance of misinterpretation.

The “Give Way” vessel is the vessel that must yield (the term used on roads when you drive a car) to the other.  “Stand On” is the vessel that has the right of way.

A Stand on Vessel MAY give up it’s rights. However any maneuvers must be made early and obvious BEFORE it becomes Stand on to show the vessel that would be the Give Way Vessel that it is not required to make an avoiding maneuver.

“Obvious” It’s an important word. Let’s say you are the give way vessel approaching the stand on vessel. You make a slight course adjustment to pass the stand on vessel but that adjustment is so slight the stand on vessel is confused as to what your intentions are. I try to make it clear both visually and on the radio or horn what my intentions are when meeting or passing a vessel. This possibly means a safe yet exaggerated turn to the proper side.

The following is from the Maritime.College website and is linked here

Rules to remember when two vessels meet

  • When two power vessels are approaching head on,both vessels should alter course to starboard to pass port-side to port-side.
  • When two power-driven vessels are in crossing situation on a collision course, give way to the vessel to starboard (right).The give way vessel must take early and obvious action to avoid a collision by either stopping or altering course to starboard.
  • If the give way vessel has another power-driven vessel from the Port (left) which does not take obvious action to give way, or alter course to starboard, then the Skipper of give-way (stand on) vessel must take evasive action by either stopping, or again, altering course to starboard.
  • Every vessel (power or sail) that is overtaking must keep well clear of the over taking vessel. You are overtaking if you are approaching another vessel anywhere in a 135 degree sector at its stern.

Channels and harbours

  • All vessels must keep to the starboard (right) side of any channel.
  • Inside a harbour (normally shown on the pilotage limit on the chart) you must keep out of the way of any ship over 500 tons. (which is about 50 metres in length)
  • Do not create a wake which causes unnecessary danger to other vessels or people.
  • You must not anchor in a channel.
  • All small craft must keep out of the way of larger vessels which are restricted by their draft to maintain passage and steering within the channel.

When power meets power

  • You must give way to another vessel on your starboard. (right)
  • If you meet head on, both vessels must turn to starboard. (right)

When power meets sail

  • Power gives way to sail unless the sailing vessel is overtaking.
  • Sailing vessels should avoid sailing in a narrow channel. They have to give way to power-driven vessels restricted in their ability to manouvre in the channel.

When sail meets sail

  • The vessel which has the wind on its starboard (right) side has the right of way. The vessel which has the wind on its port (left) side must give way.
  • When both boats have the wind on the same side the windward (upwind) boat has to give way.

When things go wrong

  • If the give way vessel does not appear to be giving way, the stand on vessel must take evasive action and should turn to starboard (right). Do not alter course to port, it could place you into the path of the give way vessel.

Five or more blasts of a horn indicate immediate danger. If five or more blasts are heard you should immediately determine the source of the danger and take immediate evasive action if required.

The above are a few of the common ways you’ll meet and navigate around other vessels for a more indepth look read the ColRegs or purchase a book on seamanship. I also recommend the US Power Squadron Books and Courses to every boater. They cover everything from beginning to advanced topics.

There is so much more to boating safely I may make a few more posts in the future discussing topics like navigation and aids to navigation. This post touches on the rules of the road and is meant as a companion to truly learning the rules, taking a certified boaters course and other self study. It is in no way complete or intended as the sole source of information.