Sunday, May 30, 2010

Fifty posts plus, "To infinity and beyond".

I passed fifty posts this week, and I want to say a couple words about this. On a rainy weekend last October, I was milling around on the internet looking at blogs, and pondering a particularly odious example of boat building, that had just been giving me fits all week. I thought to myself, I can write a blog, and I always have something to say, which my wife Kate will aver to. So I down loaded Google's Blogger, and spent the weekend getting this less than perfect piece of software to work, and published my first post.

I had no idea at the time how much I would enjoy it. Over the years, I have written thousands of pages of technical proposal materials, that would end up in the hands of various aerospace companies. A simple rule of thumb was one pound of proposal paper, per million dollars sold. Now sell a $20,000,000 system, and see how many banker boxes it takes to deliver 10 copies to the client. I was good at it, and fast, although keeping engineers engaged in the proposal writing process is a lot like herding cats. Writing for myself is a truly a pleasure, and better than a good bourbon, at least before five.

So I wanted to thank my wife Kate for her patience, even though she says at times I have turned her into an "Internet Widow", Ben Ellison for the the kind words and link, Dick Reston for his editorial insights, and his always erudite conversations with me, George Flavell, for finding all of those typos, and of course, all of the readers.

Although I don't mind the technical writing, It's the whimsical stories that are far more enjoyable. I hope that the occasional whimsy, doesn't detract from what can be the more important issues sometimes being discussed. So below are some of the stories I had the the most fun playing with.

After I wrote that, so many people asked me, much to my surprise, who Goofus and Gallant were.

Although I didn't write this, I think it is a true nautical gem, and I thought it was perfect for Thanksgiving.


One final personal note here. My dad is a civil engineer, and turned 83 a few weeks ago. His health is good, and he will always be smarter, and wiser than I. As a kid, the family always had some sort of boat under construction. This has included a Piver trimaran, various Bolger vessels, a John Marples 35" Searuner, a 40' cold molded catamaran, and many others. Although he can tell you where you are, within a couple of hundred feet with a sextant, and a current copy the Nautical Almanac, the Internet is not one of his fortes, and he has never read my blog. So with this post, Happy Birthday Dad, thanks for the education, and a copy of this, in book form is heading toward you.

Thanks everyone,  Bill Bishop  

The case of the dueling pilots.

It was a gloomy drizzly day. I was sitting at my desk, having a conversation with my old buddy Woodford, when the phone rings. I needed a case badly, and answered the phone. It was a dame with a sultry Danish accent. She was passing through town, and was having problems with a couple of miscreant pilots, and she needed my help. I took a last swig of my buddy Woodford, put a couple fresh AA slugs in my DVM, grabbed my fedora, and headed out into the drizzle. She was hanging out down at the docks, and wasn't hard to find. She was a well seasoned babe, with enough curves to straighten the bent hawse pipe of a freighter. In short, she was my kind of women.

Redundancy is a wonderful thing, but if it isn't done with much care, it can cause endless problems. In this case, it did. This is also a little bit about navigation system evolution.

The boat, a Nordhavn 40 trawler, had originally been originally been outfitted with a Raymarine RL series system, that had a Raymarine RN300 GPS. At some point, one of the two RL80 chart plotters had been removed, and it was replaced with a new Raymarine E-120 chart plotter, with a new radar, leaving the original RL 80 radar as back up. The original RN 300 GPS passed away quietly in its sleep one night, and a new Raystar 125 was connected to the old RL80 system, via Seatalk for position data.

At some point, a second, and redundant autopilot was then added. In the picture above, you can see the new autopilot control head next to the Raymarine E-120. In the picture below, you can see the original autopilot's control head above the console.

This was a first for me. I had briefly seen the boat a year earlier, and provided some assistance to its captain, and I arranged to have some autopilot hydraulic leaks fixed. There are two Raymarine autopilot pumps, two rotary rudder references (one now), two course computers of different vintage, and two autopilot control heads. Below you can see one of the pumps, and the yellow handles are used to change the hydraulic lines from one pump to another. You can also see one of the two original rudder references.

In the picture below is the second hydraulic pump, which is just a couple of feet away from its twin.

The problem with the autopilot systems, was both were tracking poorly. Looking at the boats wake, it was always curvy, and not straight as it is supposed to be. My first sense, was that maybe they were not set up properly, but this was not the case. I also noticed that the rudder bars were flickering, and not solid. Ha, I thought, we have a bad rudder reference here, and I have seen this exact symptom before. So I identify the new autopilot's rudder reference, and disconnect it, but to my dismay, the new pilot's control head rudder bars, are still flickering, and worse, there is no rudder reference connected to it at all, so what's going on? If I turn the helm, the rudder bars still change, but there is not a rudder reference connected, or is there?

I spoke to the clever tech staff at Raymarine, and with some helpful insight from them, and coupled with the slowly dawning epiphany that somehow, both autopilot systems were seeing both rudder references at the same time. It turns out that they actually were.

The original installer's concept, was to install a switch that would remove power from one autopilot, and transfer it to the other. You would then switch the pumps with the valving, and you would be back in business. Even though the autopilot's control head, for the back up system was not lit up, meaning to me, at the time, there was no power, I ohmed out the switch. Lo and behold it was leaking current, and leaking just enough to give the second auto pilot computer some power, but not enough to power up the control head. What was powered on the second autopilot, was some portion of the course computer's system, and the Seatalk network. When I took the second autopilot's power wire off the switch, the flickering immediately stopped. Even though the course computer did not have a rudder reference attached, it still remembered the last position that it had been at, and was reporting it via Seatalk.

What I think happed here, is when the old RN 300 GPS failed, someone used the Seatalk network to provide position data to the old Raymarine RL system with the new Raystar 125 GPS that was connected to the new E-series system, and ended up connecting both Raymarine systems together, including the two autopilots via Seatalk. This could have been better. When the original RN 300 GPS failed, a second GPS could have been added just for it, or the installer could have used a NMEA output from the E120 to give position info to the RL system. Each autopilot should have been tied to one system only, with no link between the systems at all. Redundancy is alway desirable, but it must always be very well thought out.

The boat was leaving, to cross the Gulf to Mobile Al, and they were worried about the oil slick. I was running out of time, so I disconnected the older pilot, did a seatrial, and a new "Auto Learn", and she tracked beautifully. I will think about the problems, and make some suggestions to the owner on how to correct it from afar.

The dame thanked me for handling her scurrilous pilots, but with a sad smile, and a kiss on the cheek, said she had to keep moving on. I watched her curves disappear over the horizon. Oh well, we will always have Sarasota. I pulled my collar up, and fedora down, and headed back through the murk to the office, to visit again with my old buddy Woodford, and wait for another dame to call.

The photo of the Nordhavn 40 trawler is in the public domain, and came from the website

Friday, May 28, 2010

BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Gulf of Mexico boaters can find detailed information on the current, and projected locations of the oil spill at the NOAA link below. This will have a long term profound impact on the Gulf. What a waste, what a shame.

NOAA Deepwater Horizon oil spill page

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The accidental lesson in 72 Colregs "Lines of Demarcation"

Today I'm channeling James Burke, author of "Connections, and the host of the like named PBS TV show. The story starts with a boating accident, we learn a bit about "Metes and Bounds" surveys, and then onto, hopefully in a James Burke "Connected" way to the mysterious 72 Colregs "Lines of Demarcation".

Doc and Jean were in a bad boating accident, and this happen on the very last day of their "Great Loop" trip. They are friends of mine, and own the boat you see on the title page of this blog. Both are very skilled boaters, and multi engine rated pilots. They have logged over 10,000 miles on their 44' Manta power cat. The boat was heading south down the west coast of Florida, on auto pilot, about 10 miles offshore, in three foot seas. Doc had a call to nature, so he cleared port, starboard, and ahead for traffic, Jean takes the helm, and Doc goes to the head. This is where the first technical error occurred. When Doc looked port, he did not look port, and way off to the aft behind the boat. In the distance behind them, was lurking another boat, also on autopilot. 

So this is what happened. The boat behind them was a crab boat, and all of the crew was aft throwing crab traps out. What Jean sees initially, out of the corner of her left eye is a boat that is crossing her bow from the port side at an angle.

There is a huge impact, and the crab boat is impaled at amidships by the Manta's bow. Doc is catapulted out of the head into the next cabin, and Jeans slams into the helm. Both boats still have engines running, and the two boats start to turn in circles together. Jean shifts the boat into reverse, and backs off from the crab boat. One of the bows had been literally been torn off Doc and Jean's boat. The crab boat, seeing that the Manta wasn't sinking, and they were, started toward land, and shallower water. Doc scrambles up to the helm, and he is badly hurt.

A Mayday goes out to the Coast Guard, and shortly a chopper is above them. An interesting side note about the Mayday call was the Coast Guard initially was requesting their position in TD's, and it took a few extra moments to sort this out. Doc gave them the Lat/Longs.

Jean tends to Doc, and a medic is dropped from the chopper on board. He takes one look at Doc, and says "you're leaving". On the bow of the boat, Doc is strapped in, and lifted up, up, and away to St. Petersburg's Bayfront hospital.

Jean is left on the boat by herself briefly, until a Coast Guard vessel shows up. The crew gets her description of the accident, examine the boat, and decide it can be "very" slowly limped into shore. They assist Jean in getting the boat to the only available dock in the area, and this happens to be the floating town dock in Cedar Key Florida, and I mean this is the only dock in Cedar Key, and there is no other dock for 40 miles, or more in any direction. The bow was ripped off about 6 inches above the waterline, and back about three feet at the deck. A 6" wave would put water in the bow compartment. The boat could not be moved, without temporary repairs. Jean was taken home by her daughter. I orchestrated temporary repairs, and five painful days later, the boat was moved to a location where real repairs could be made. I may tell this story later, but this is not a place to be with your boat, if you have a problem.

Doc was pretty beat up, lost a lot of blood, (the boat looked like a CSI serial killer crime scene), had a bunch of things cracked, but he's a tough bird, and after a few weeks he was up and running again.

The Coast Guard does their investigation, and Jean (she was at the helm at the time) gets two citations.

The first was under rule five, Lookout: Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision (the other vessel violated the right of way, but being technically right was not much of a bonus.)

The second was under rule seven, Risk of Collision: (a) Every vessel shall use all available means appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions to determine if risk of collision exists. If there is any doubt such risk shall be deemed to exist. 
(b) Proper use shall be made of radar equipment if fitted and operational, including long-range scanning to obtain early warning of risk of collision and radar plotting or equivalent systematic observation of detected objects.

That's the technical jargon, I will now translate these tickets, an a way everybody will clearly understand. Under rule 5 "Lookout", if you have been in any kind of a boating accident, you should have been looking out for other boats, so unless a bunch of Nazi frogmen in a submarine surfaces directly under your boat, you will get this citation.

Under rule 7, if you have an operational radar, and it is not on at the time of the accident, and in this case it was not, you will get a citation. If you have a radar, it should be turned on, and used while underway.

After the accident, Doc and Jean speak with a maritime lawyer, and the lawyer wants to know if the accident occurred in international waters, or inland waters from a "Rules Of The Road"  viewpoint. They ask me to find out. No problem, I will look at the track on the chartplotter, see where the accident happened, and tell you. I could see exactly on the chartplotter track where the accident happened, but now where are those pesky Lines of Demarcation? I get the paper charts out, nope, not here either, so off to Google I go for an answer.

With the exception of where the Lines of Demarcation pass across a harbor entrance, or the ilk, these lines do not appear on your charts. Look at where the red arrow is pointing, and you will see a pink dashed line and a note off to the left side saying "Colregs Demarcation Line". These are the only places on your charts where you will see them.

These lines do exist, but in a "Metes and Bounds" written format. This is a very old survey system style, that uses compass directions, distance, and descriptions to define boundaries. For example, a property boundary  might read "Beginning at a stone on the Bank of Doe River, at a point where the highway from A. to B. crosses said river (see point marked C. on Diagram 1); thence 40 degrees North of West 100 rods to a large stump; then 10 degrees North of West 90 rods; thence 15 degrees West of North 80 rods to an oak tree".... This is an overly simplified description of this system, but here is a real description of  "Lines of Demarcation".

Race Point, MA, to Watch Hill, RI.
(a) Except inside lines specifically described in this section, the 72 COLREGS shall apply on the sounds, bays, harbors, and inlets along the coast of Cape Cod and the southern coasts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island from Race Point to Watch Hill.
(b) A line drawn from Nobska Point Light to Tarpaulin Cove Light on the southeastern side of Naushon Island; thence from the southernmost tangent of Naushon Island to the easternmost extremity of Nashawena Island; thence from the southwestern most extremity of Nashawena Island to the easternmost extremity of Cuttyhunk Island; thence from the southwestern tangent of Cuttyhunk Island to the tower on Gooseberry Neck charted in approximate position latitude 41°29.1' N. longitude 71°02.3' W.
(c) A line drawn from Sakonnet Breakwater Light 2 tangent to the southernmost part of Sachuest Point charted in approximate position latitude 41°28.5' N. longitude 71°14.8' W.
(d) An east-west line drawn through Beavertail Light between Brenton Point and the Boston Neck shoreline.

Piece of cake, now you know, in a somewhat antiquarian way, exactly where they are for this part of the east coast.

All in all, I enjoyed this intellectual exercise. Like most of us, I knew what the Lines of Demarcation were for, but not where they actually were, and it took some level of effort to find them. I have attached the link below to a Navy site with them. So in a James Burke sort of way, we have connected the "Colregs 72 Lines of Demarcation", to "Metes and Bounds surveys", to an accident off the west coast of Florida, and learned that short of having a submarine full of Nazi frogmen surface under you, what kind of tickets you can get from this type of unfortunate event.

Despair not if you don't know exactly where the Lines of Demarcation are, because as a practical matter there are now few differences between the international, and inland rules of the road from the average boaters perspective. I was thinking about how you could add them to your chartplotter, and I think the easiest way to do it would be to build a route following the lines in your area. You could also blow the dust off your parallel ruler, and divider, and with one of those old fashioned pencil things draw them on your paper charts

Doc and Jean are currently in the Bahamas, running their radar all the time, (I have done some additional MARPA training), and the boat is now sporting a shiny new Garmin 600 AIS transponder. They are now ever more vigilant.

For those that are interested, below is the Navy site that sports the Lines of Demarcation.

James Burke is a well known author, and was the host of the PBS/BBC TV series "Connections". His view of the history of science is most eclectic, and  demonstrates that where you start out in history is never where you end up. So if you want to know what the invention of plastics has to do with development of the Flyut, a type of Dutch cargo ship, this is the guy who knows. Here is the link to the Wikipedia page about him, and the TV show.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The yacht club, rockets, and the electron police. The quest for the electrically perfect marina.

Something bad happened in the marina. A small cute day sailor had a hidden secret. It had an electric drive system, and the boat was loaded with batteries and multiple battery chargers. Something shorted, and the very large battery bank was discharging itself, in part to the boat next door through the sea water. In a surprisingly short period of time, the rudder shaft was completely cut off the adjacent boat with electrolysis being the culprit. The owner of the damaged boat was not happy, and the club members were deservedly concerned. The club members decided something should be done to prevent this from happening again, and a committee was charged with looking into the problem. The goal of having the safest possible yacht basin was born.

I sold large scale, custom built robotic systems, that operated in extremely hazardous environments, for many years. One of the systems I sold was a custom built mixing bowl cleaning robot, referred to in-house as the "Pot Licker". Solid fuel rock propellant, (think of those two big white rockets on each side of the space shuttle) is mixed in very large stainless steel bowls (around 10 feet across, and about 5 feet deep).

Large mixer blades take a highly explosive set of materials and very carefully turn them into a gray goo with the consistency of thin peanut butter. The mixture is poured into the rocket motor's case, and the bowl then has to be cleaned for another cycle. Before the robot was built, people cleaned these bowls, again very carefully by hand with rags and solvents. It was dangerous work.

When a piece of equipment is designed to do this type of job, every aspect of the system's design is very carefully reviewed, over, and over again to prevent a failure, whose outcome could be catastrophic. In effect, you had to know where every electron was at all times, because a spark caused by electrostatic discharge, or a shorting wire, could have tragic human consequences. I sat in on innumerable meetings that discussed how to do the grounding of all aspects of the system, how to measure any potential charge build-ups, how to dissipate any charges that could build up, reviewing the electrical systems, and sensors for safe operation, and on, and on, and on.

In this business, things deflagrate (burns slower than the speed of sound), or detonate (burns faster than the speed of sound). To the employees at these facilities this means if it deflagrates, you see the flash, then you die. If it detonates, you don't get to see the flash.

The above picture is a test firing of a space shuttle solid fuel propellant booster. It produces approximately 2.8 million pounds of thrust in 1 minute and 58 seconds.
So what does any of this have to do this boats and marinas? In the real world, there are striking similarities. Both the marina and the propellant mixing facility have very complex electrical systems that are all interacting with each other.

For example, one hundred boats live in a marina, all with different electrical systems, that interact with each other through the conductive sea water they float in, and the common shore power system, they all share. Like the explosive environment, the robot works in, there are life and safety issues also for the boat occupants, the divers who clean the bottoms, and the people who repair them. 

So this is the story about some aspects of the effort to achieve the goal of the electrically perfect marina, docking electrically perfect vessels. This type of effort has not often been done, there are few if any guidelines to follow, and the learning curve has been difficult to climb at times. It's tough to be a pioneer, as everyone involved will attest. My observations about what has been done are being given on a constructive note. So off we go with this saga.

An electrical contractor was hired to scrub, and test the dock shore power pedestals, dock wiring, and ground systems. A marine surveyor was hired to test all of the boats in the basin. No boats were boarded, (some exceptions here) during the majority of the testing.

The testing involved checking the hull potential (how good are the bonding systems, and the zincs on the boats), and measuring for stray AC currents coming from the boats. The AC measurements were done by adding a short section of shore power cable, in line with the plugged in shore power cable, that had the wires (black, white, and green et al) exposed for measurement. A clamp-on ammeter was used to measure the current in the cable altogether. If the reading was zero, it meant that all of the current was all accounted for, and the boat passed. If it did not measure zero, each of the wires in the shore power cord was individually measured with the meter, and the results were recorded. The ground lug on the unplugged shore power plug was used to measure the hull potential. 

If the boat failed either of these tests, the owners were sent a letter with the measurements and were told they had thirty days to correct the problem. The technician who corrected the problem, like me, had to sign and date the letter, which was then returned to the committee, and the boat was re-tested to verify the results.

This is where, in my mind, the difficulties started. When the tests were completed, a very high number of boats were flagged as having a problem, and many of them were in clusters. A lot of these yachts were late model, high-end vessels from good builders, and all had been built to current AYBC (American Yacht and Boat Council) electrical standards. So after some time, it was discovered that there were some bugs in the testing system. For example, all of the boats with isolation transformers (no direct ground connection to the dock) had initially failed the hull potential test. Since the shore power cable was being used to do the measurement, and there was no direct connection to the boat because of the isolation transformer, it would always measure zero, and those boats failed. These boats were later boarded, and tested from the inside. 

In addition, you are measuring the hull potential through what might be slightly, (more or less) corroded shore power connectors, and also, in most boats, through the galvanic isolators. I think doing this measurement works best, will be more accurate, and more consistent, if the testing is done by direct connection to the bonding system inside the boat. Although I understand that Mr. Ohm, may technically disagree, I still believe that the closer to the bonding system you are, the better the veracity of the readings will be. What’s even better about this approach, is that as long as you are in boat’s basement, you can also take a couple of minutes to check the bonding system at the same time for any problems.

Another issue that popped up was in defining what hull type you were measuring. Current ABYC standards were being used to define what hull potential measurements were acceptable. For example, a fiberglass boat that measured 800 millivolts would be okay, and 2000 millivolts would not. But what measurement standards do you apply to a cold molded boat or a wood boat that is sheathed with fiberglass? At first blush, it not always easy to tell exactly what hull type you may be dealing with. The standards do not easily fit well in some cases, and this also caused some issues. 

There are reading differences in measuring hull potential depending on where the probe is located in the water relative to the boat. An example of this would be a large sailboat with its bow into the dock. If you take the measurement from the bow, you can be quite a distance to the closest zinc or a connected through hull, and again the measurements can vary. 

Now onto the AC side of the fence. For the record, and from the very beginning, I was uncomfortable with just throwing the breaker on a boat’s power pedestal, unplugging the cable, doing the testing, plugging the boat back in, and throwing the breaker back on, and maybe doing some more testing. My concern was that Murphy's Laws would raise its ugly head, and those unpredictable events could and would happen. 

Let's say the boat has two air conditioning systems running when the power is turned off. When power is restored, both air conditioning systems may try to restart at the same time. The combined loads of both units (maybe 40 amps or more alone on the startup cycle), and everything else on the boat starting up at the same time could pop the ship’s main breaker. The air conditioning system won't be hurt, but oops, the refrigerator now has no AC power so it switches over to DC power. But alas, now the battery charger is also off because there is no AC power, and the owners won't be back for two weeks. They return to the odious fragrance of a decomposing two week shut down refrigerator, coupled with flat batteries. I do not want the liability that could come, and will eventually occur, with this approach, even if it’s only in the owner's mind, knowing what has been done to his or her boat. It’s an accident looking for a place to occur.

I know that Mother Nature is fickle and can produce an outage on a casual whim, or do worse, coupled with the electricity suppliers systemic issues, but it won't be me! Every boat's owners manual describes how to properly disconnect a vessel from shore power, and it doesn't start with "Throw the shore power pedestal breaker off, and jerk out the plug".

So after some of the bugs in the testing system were discovered, the number of failed boats dropped, but it was still a pretty big number. From the surveyor's viewpoint, the testing was simple, On the AC tests, you pass, or you fail. If the ammeter produces a reading, the boat failed. I looked at a number of "failed" boats, and on some, there were real problems like a bad inverter transfer switch, or faulty wiring discovered. But on several boats, I could not find a problem at all. The panels tested fine, the resistors on the reverse polarity lights were fine. No shorts or leaks could be found, but the boats had still failed. 

So recently, in a gentle fit of peak, I had the opportunity to collect the owner of a boat that had repeatedly failed the testing, (and one that I could not find a problem with), the surveyor, and representatives of the committee, and we go down the dock to the boat. The boat is tested, and it fails. It is leaking on the ground wire and with a fair amount of current. This vessel's shore power cable goes to a junction box in the engine room, with a breaker that turns off both the black hot wire and the white neutral wire. I turn off the breaker and ask to have the boat tested, and it fails again. Now here is the pivotal question? If everything on the boat is off, and there is no electrical connection to the boat, and with no inverter on board that could make AC current, where is the leakage coming from? The answer had to be the dock’s ground system or another vessel with problems attached to the same ground system.  

Through most of this process, the original clubhouse being torn down, and a new one was being constructed (it's a beauty). This meant temporary power at the site, all kinds of electrical construction equipment was operating, and temporary club facilities were being used. Despite a lot of effort, the shore power wiring system was problematic and changeable. It was the dock's ground system at fault on this particular occasion, although it could have been caused by another boat on the same circuit. All testing was ended, to the best of my knowledge, for the time being.

This is the real problem. There are so many variables involved here, that a few simple tests, at best, indicate that there may be issues, but can’t always specifically identify exactly what the problems really are, and where they are coming from. In other words, you have information, but what does it mean? Is the AC current in the water, coming from another a boat with a real problem, or is it coming from an old dock power cable from years ago that is laying in the water? Was something on, in the boat one time when it was measured, that was not on the next time it was measured? Is another boat leaking AC current on the dock grounding system, that you're reading on the boat next door? And to top it off, since you don’t board the boat, you never know what the true operating state of the vessel is. What’s running, and what is not, at the time of measurement, can be an important part of the data, if electrical perfection is the goal. 

There are many questions to ask, and there are always answers to be had. But sometimes the costs of some answers can be very high. In my opinion, in order to achieve the goal of having perfectly electrically safe boats, the boats tested ideally should be isolated away from variables of the marina shore power system, other vessels, and then tested.

This is all about how you interpret the data. For the flagged boats that had no problems, despite a substantial investment in my hours chasing ghosts, I couldn't bring my self to bill the owners. It was not their fault, and I did much of the work gratis. 

So what's the moral of this story? The interaction of both marina shore power systems and the vessels themselves are very complex, and, and you can't always easily identify the actual source of the problem using simple tests. Because of this a lot of money can be expended on one boat, only to discover it's the boat on next dock, or one five docks down that's causing the problem. Now, who pays for what?

Added to this is what are the real goals of doing this type of investigation, and what does the word "Safe" really encompass? Should hoses and through hull fittings be inspected? How about checking fuel fillers for good grounding (you don't want a spark to cause a deflagration or conflagration)? The resistance in shore power cords? If a vessel is leaking 2 milliamps, is it safe? How about 4.7 milliamps? And by the way, almost all boats do leak some AC, by design, at small levels. These are difficult decisions, and the closer to perfection you get, the more costly, and time consuming achieving the goals become. In the end, true perfection may not even be possible. Close yes, but not perfect.

In the beginning, it all looked to be simple. Test the boats, get the bad ones fixed, and we all will live happily ever after. As I said, the goal is laudable, important, and a number of boats had real and serious problems, including one boat I found with a subtle, but a bad problem the manufacturer had to fix in many boats from that production run. The downside was that during the process, boats with no problems, ended up being flagged, and owners were spending money trying to fix problems that didn't really exist. I think a more comprehensive methodology would have been better at identifying vessels with real problems, and fewer vessels with no problems would have been flagged. Few things in life are truly simple. A kiss is but a kiss and raw data is only as good as its interpretation.

So here are my suggestions for those who want to embark on this type of program.

1. Educate your self well, and understand exactly what you are trying to accomplish. This includes talking to industry professionals, and trade organizations. 

2. When you have group meetings, work hard at couching the discussion in terms owners can understand. If it gets too geeky, what people hear is blah, blah, blah, and most won't tell you they don't understand.

3. Develop a solid group consensus about the project goals, and work with and listen to those who may disagree with various aspects of the approach. This works best if all participate and are listened to.

4. Find the right professionals with experience in this area of expertise to help you.

5. Professionals hired to do testing work, should not be allowed to do repairs. This gives the appearance of a conflict of interest, at the very minimum.

6. Be flexible. This is a complicated process, and it does not lend itself well to fixed timetables. Be prepared to be surprised daily as you learn. Gird your loins for increased costs for both the organization and the owners.

7. Even if you make mistakes, and you will, learn from them.

8. Understand your goals, the technical tools that will be needed to achieve them, and the potential cost impacts.

9. And lastly, remember that there are few things in life that are truly black and white. In my life, things range from greyish black to greyish white. I work on boats you know.  

I personally assure you the boat above is electrically perfect, in a grayish sort of way.

The above photograph is from Wikimedia Commons and was taken by Steve Bulgin in Twillingate Newfoundland. It is called a "Rodney" and is typically a one-person boat used for hook, and line fishing, or squid jigging.