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Hidden Dangers

“Hey Krabby - let me buy you a drink! I have a question”

“Ok, great. You know how questions make me thirsty”.


So, I just got back from the East Coast and everyone is packing up their boat and getting ready for winter. The clubs are closing for the season, it’s hard to even find a place for a drink! We really have it made here, good weather almost every day, and we don’t winterize our boats and store them for most of the year. Do we need to worry about bad weather during a San Diego winter?”


It’s true, compared to most yachting venues San Diego is a fair weather sailor’s dream. Perhaps the biggest evidence of the seasons’ change is the presence of Hot Rum’s on menus around the basin. But, while we have it easier than our friends on the Eastern Seaboard, you do have to keep a weather eye, especially late fall though the early spring. I have been caught a couple times with my (ahem) burgee upside down by what we here call a “storm” - certainly not an Atlantic winter gale or a hurricane in the Gulf Stream - but still enough to unfurl sails, blow covers adrift, and part a tired dock line. You probably don’t need me to tell you about making sure those kinds of things won’t happen.


Because we don’t spend as much time on our boats when the days get short it’s easy to forget about good seamanship – so this year; take a little time to make sure your boat is ready for a little weather before the San Diego version of winter arrives and hopefully you can avoid getting caught with your burgee upside down.


There are many things that can go wrong, even in our milder weather, when your yacht is let to fend for herself on the dock during the shorter, darker days of the year. There is one real “silent killer” – the automatic bilge pump – and it can be a sneaky one.


“Hold on Krabby, how can the bilge pump be a bad thing? When a little rain leaks in the pump pumps it out; I am somewhere warm and dry, not on the boat operating the pump in the rain.”


When all is working, yes, it’s a terrific contraption. However, if it fails and the conditions are just so –the water can run back though the pump and sink your boat.


Here is the typical string of bad luck events:

The pump discharge is close to or under water. The wind heels the boat to the point the discharge is fully submerged. A little rain water or just the motion of the boat in the wind sloshes the bilge water and triggers the automatic pump switch, a small amount of debris fouls the siphon break and/or check valve and when the water is pumped down the pump shuts off. Water then siphons back into the bilge due to the fouled siphon break and check valve, the water rises, the pump starts, and the loop continues until the power (or something else related) fails. If your luck is still bad the discharge is underwater and soon your boat will be too.


If this sounds far-fetched, ask your insurance agent, he has probably experienced this silent killer more than he would like to mention. Fortunately, this worst-case-scenario is easy to avoid – just make sure you have made a complete inspection of your auto bilge system so you can rest easy and you boat can stay afloat while you stay high and dry during the not-so-long-or-dreary San Diego “winter” season.

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