Boat Improvements

If you don’t think you need anything for your boat, just go to a boat show and you will quickly find out what you didn’t know you needed.  Just like computers, boat electronics are continually being upgraded and one could spend a fortune upgrading radar, plotters, auto pilots, fish finders, etc., even though many boaters get by using just their iPad and a cheap navigation program.  Other systems are also candidates for upgrading, such as heads, galleys, refrigeration, heating systems, battery banks, inverters, chargers, and thrusters.  You name it and it can be upgraded in one way or another.  We have upgraded a few items over the years.

Surprisingly, our boat came with vinyl seat cushions.  They felt and looked cheap.  Most boats of this type have leather, simulated or real, or nice fabric.  But not cold, hard, off-white vinyl.  This was one of the first items to be upgraded.  We found an upholsterer, at the boat show of course, that we invited to give us a bid.  We decided to go with ultra-leather material of a darker color.  I think it turned out very nicely!  Here is the old and the new. We added the ottoman covered in the same material.  It has a hinged top on it that opens to additional storage.  Very functional.

We also recovered the pilot house seating area to match.

The same upholsterer also makes canvas covers, which we needed.  We had one made to cover the flybridge instruments in the winter and another to cover the bow seating area, which keeps them dry all year.  The covers snap on and are easily removed.

Speaking of bow seating, most outdoor cushions on boats are waterproof for obvious reasons.  While our original cushions had waterproof vinyl covers, the zippers all leaked and the inside cushions were nothing but huge sponges.  Thus, the cushions were mostly not useable.  I found a company that manufactures totally waterproof cushions.  Their process is to use closed cell foam that is waterproof by itself, and to coat it with waterproof vinyl.  They do not absorb any water at all and can be used for floatation devices if needed.  We changed the colors of these drab white cushions too, and added a center cushion with bottle/can holder cutouts. We are having the flybridge seating cushions replaced with the same material.

Most people probably don’t think much about fire extinguishers beyond whether they are available in case of a fire.  The typical fire extinguisher on most boats is the one that meets the minimum Coast Guard requirements.  These contain a dry chemical that smothers fires.  What it also does is ruin anything it is sprayed on.  And they are extremely messy and difficult to clean up.  So I looked for a better option and found extinguishers that use a liquified gas called Halotron that dissipates after use.  They are cleaner and Coast Guard approved when mounted and readily available for use.

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I could probably dedicate a separate post just to safety equipment, and maybe I will later, but we have two pretty cool items that every coastal cruiser shouldn’t be without.  One is the PLB or personal locator beacon.  When it is manually activated, it sends its GPS location via satellite to Search and Rescue.   So if we have a life threatening emergency or medical emergency, we can activate this and the Search and Rescue teams go into action, no questions asked, on their way to our location.  The other item is a DeLorme/Garmin InReach satellite communicator.  It is like a satellite phone, except you can only communicate via text messages.  There is an SOS button that contacts a SAR office that then texts back about what kind of emergency you are having before deciding on the kind of help to send.  So if its a medical emergency they send a medical crew.  If we are stranded onshore, unable to get back to our boat, they send someone to help.  Etc.  This device also allows friends and family to see where we are and where we have been, and to also send text messages.  When we have it on while underway, it charts our position every 10 minutes and leaves a “bread crumb” trail on a map accessible via the internet.  Anyone that has access to the map can see where we are and where we have been.  Both of these devices work anywhere in the world.

Speaking of the internet, there are several ways to access it on a boat.  One is using a cellular network like Verizon with a dedicated hotspot or using your cell phone as a hotspot.  We do that all of the time we have coverage unless there is a good wifi signal nearby.  Sometimes there is no cell service but there is wifi.  So to pick up the most distant signals, we have installed a high gain wifi antenna on the mast that greatly increases the wifi hotspots we can receive.  Some are open and free while others are available to pay as you go.  The antenna plugs directly into a router that creates a wifi network on the boat for use by multiple devices, just like at home.  The internet is necessary to access good weather data, in addition to its typical uses.

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A couple of years ago we decided to get some kayaks.  They are big and bulky and can be in the way if not properly stored.  We found a great storage solution that keeps them secure and out of the way on the flybridge railing.  Plus they are easy to retrieve since they weigh less than thirty pounds each.

What about safe drinking water?  Generally the water we get at local marinas is very good and safe.  Once we fill the water tank, it sits there until it is used.  In the summer we go through a lot of water.  We have a 250 gallon water tank.  Without rationing it, Cathleen and I go through about 40 gallons per day, so it will last almost a week.  We take showers, wash dishes, drink it, cook with it, etc.  In order to make sure it is very clean and safe, I installed a carbon filter that removes all impurities.  I also sterilize the tank and pipes every year, but the water filter really makes the water taste great and there is no question that it is safe to drink.

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Another acquisition to make pleasure boating live up to its name is the propane grill.  It is a definite improvement over cooking over a stove inside, unless it is raining and/or cold.  It is fueled by the small 1 pound propane canisters.  We use it very frequently.

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I saved the best boat improvement for last-stabilizers.  Stabilizers effectively prevent the boat from rolling side to side, which is the boat motion that makes most people seasick.  There are several different types of stabilizers including gyroscopes, active fins, and passive fins.  The most prevalent is active fin stabilizers and that is what we have.  This system includes an underwater fin on each side of the boat, an actuator to move the fin, a hydraulic motor to run the actuator, a roll sensor, and electronics to control it all.  When the roll sensor senses the boat is about to roll, it activates the fins to counteract the roll.  It is an automatic process for the most part, but there is also an option to manually adjust how they react in certain conditions.  They work amazingly well and provide an added level of safety and comfort.

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