Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Hole of the week, and "Name that bad boat, the new prime time game show"

It's sweltering. The fan is roaring next to me, and I'm soaked to the bone in my own sweat. My arms are black and blue from the continual impacts against the sharp edges of a tiny access hole as I pull a cable. I think to myself, I shouldn't have enrolled in that marine installer's training school I saw advertised on that pack of matches. They promised me a glamorous and exciting career in marine technology. I should have drawn the picture of Blinky the clown, and gone to the "Famous Artist" school instead.

I'm just not happy. It's bad enough the working conditions are at times most odious, but the quality of the vessels I work on runs the gamut from fairly good, (never perfect) to lousy examples of design engineering, and implementation with the later predominating. Hearkening back to my very first posting, I made some rules, and set some journalistic standards, which I have maintained so far. 

The point of this blog is to relate my every day frustrations with trying to install a wide variety of marine electronics on boats of all sizes and types. It is hoped that boat builders will read these postings, have an epiphany, and make the small changes needed to make my life easier, and hence save some of my clients hard earned dollars. I am going to abide by the rule, that I will leave the offending boat builders names out of the blog, but you know who you are, and straighten up.

The rules were simple. Do no harm. Use only close up photographs if you were pointing out someone's less than perfect design work or implementation, and don't publish the offenders names. Using the close up photos would allow the builders to recognize their own work, but it would be very difficult for the average reader to know whose bad work it was. I may change my mind about all of this.

Where do these stories come from? They are easy to find. Design and manufacturing malfeasance runs amok in the boating industry. The manufacturers don't seem to care, and often the buyers are clueless about what they're purchasing. Many are worrying more about the color of the hull, and stereo system, than what's actually inside of what they have purchased, and the downstream costs involved to maintain it.

I'm astounded at the excuses I hear from builders when I call them. One, when asked "Why won't the anchor locker design accommodate an anchor winch, and why does the anchor locker barely hold 150 of rode on a $250,000 fishing boat?" They said, "Where we live we pick up the anchor with the orange ball, and most fishermen troll." Great I think to myself, I have to tell the 70 year old owner that he has to reach over, and haul up not only the 40 lb anchor, but the large orange ball, and drag all of it into the boat along with the wet road, sort it all out, and stow it. Lets see, 7 to 1 scope, 150 feet of rode, let me think for a second, you can anchor safely in twenty feet of water on a windy day. Who are you kidding, you just didn't think about it, and not even a anchor bow pulpit, but the boat was colorful, and fast.

How about a brand new sizable motor yacht with a large hardtop, and there is only one small pull through the starboard side arch. There is no way to use the other side, and when the owner wanted to mount a second VHF antenna on the other side, it took 8 hours, a bunch of disassembly, and two people to get a single VHF wire through the arch. The builders response, "Huh!, we never thought someone would want a second VHF on the boat." The one side that you could do a pull through just barely accepted the needed wiring, and thank goodness for NMEA 2000, which reduced the number of cables that needed to be pulled. My thought was it would have added about 30 minutes, or less to the manufacturing time to make the second arch usable. Do you own a hole saw? Nobody would want a second VHF? Really now? Seriously?

The excuses go on and on. "We didn't think anyone would put a radar on the boat." "Well our customers just prefer danforth anchors so that's what we designed the anchor locker to use." "Gosh did they foam that area closed?" "We didn't think the bilge pump would fail, you will just have to cut a hole in the bulkhead to get to it." "Sorry, but you have to remove the (insert your favorite piece of equipment here) fuel tank, water tank, hot water heater, engine manifolds, exhaust systems, isolation transformer........ to get to it." "Golly, we don't have any wiring diagrams, or construction drawings to send you, let me ask one of the old guys on the line how they did it." "We forgot to put in a wire pull? Sorry about that, and no you can't do a warranty claim about it." "They want to install a chart plotter in the console? Well I never."

Okay, I've griped enough, and you get my acrimonious  point. Few have listened to me, if any at all, and I suspect that it is because I don't call them out by name. Maybe if I included the make, year, and model of their boat in the story, they would pay closer attention to what is being said, or maybe they would sue me. What do you think? Angry wrathful Installer smiting the bad builders, or just stay a nice guy?

Oh yes, the hole of the week. The good news is there is a pull, the bad news is half of the hole is covered by a backing plate, and you couldn't get a human hair through the balance of the hole. WTF, how will I ever get a radar cable through that hole on this 2010 26' walk around made by.......

I should have drawn Blinky the clown, then I would just be writing about the sad state of modern art. Nope, not for me. Dealing with boats is like dancing the Tango, I love you, I hate you, I love you, I hate you. 

By the way, there are actually some good boats out there, and I will be talking about some of them very soon, and not in that boat test article sort of way about how pretty it is, and how fast it will go.


  1. Hey Bill,

    Bob here from Sarasota. (we exchanged some emails a while back) Boy do I know of what you speak. Although I don't do this as a profession, I have a sickness that commands me to take derelict boats and rebuild them to better than new. I am constantly amazed at the level of incompetence I witness while ripping out floors or fuel tanks, not to mention the spaghetti they consider "wiring".

    Floor didn't rest on the stringers? That's okay bang some cedar shims in there, that'll last till he gets it out the showroom.

    fuel hoses might need to be replaced one day, but there's no access plates to the pickup tube? That's fine, it helps keep dewalt sawzalls in business

    Brass drain tubes through the transom? Ya mean you have to pean them over enough to compact that little rubber dohickey to act as a gasket? Who'da thunk it.

    Don't worry those steel staples will never rust and stain that vinyl.

    Bedding for Bow rails? Do you get that at bed bath and beyond?

    don't worry these 1/4 inch snaps screwed into gelcoated mat will never pull out when the customer removes his canvas...

    foamed in the wire chase for the bowlights? Well at least he won't sink when the boat that hits him because his lights don't work..

    What do you mean using scrap cut offs in a block pattern won't hold up for flooring? They do it all the time, ever see a parquet floor?

    Like you I could go on an on and on.

    Love your posts

  2. Thanks Bob, it's a good list, anyone else have more? Tnx Bill

  3. Publishing the names of the boat builders who really get it right would be very helpful to our readers. How has been your experience with Albin's regarding design for access?

  4. Patrick, thanks for the question. I have never had any particular issues with Albins. They have deep bilges, are beamy, and in general they are commodious, and well built trawlers. I have some rules of thumbs that I generically use to determine the pain thresholds (difficulty)in working on them. Some of the generic characteristics that create problems are:

    Very high levels of interior finishing means poorer access.
    Large amounts of optional systems. ie the genset package in the 26' cruiser. (Options are often afterthoughts.)
    Small boats, ie flats boats in general (No room for anything, anywhere.)
    Any boat that is to colorful. There is a direct coloration between the usage of bright pleatheresque products, and maintainability difficulties.
    Curvaceous foam molded dashes waves a red flag, function follows form.
    Any boat that can travel at very high speeds. (See colorful).
    Any live aboard. It might be a good boat, but it will be full to the brim with stuff everywhere.

    I could go on and on. I am going to do some reviews on boats that achieve a decent level of maintainability, and what they do to achieve it.
    Tnx Bill

  5. How about European vs. American boats?

  6. Hi Bill,

    Yes you need to mention names. Make the manufactures come out of the closet! Admitting that they have a problem will help start to solve it. Right now you are using a get out of jail free card for them.

    Working on my own boats, I feel for you. Some of the idiototic things that they do on boats is beyond me. When they cost more than a house, and you can’t add an antenna on them is sad.

    They should have taken some pointers from the auto manufactures. You can get all the info you want including full wiring diagrams, manuals etc for a car. I understand the mass production of cars vs boats, but still, if boats are built so slow then why can’t you have complete manuals for each one. With computers its amazing what you can do now. I would enjoy to see all manuals and diagrams in PDF files delivered on flash drive or CD so you can load them into your portable devices. You can also work on just about anything on cars and they are made to come apart and go back together. While they are far from perfect, you don't have to cut out your trunk to get the fuel tank out.

    Chris Hallock


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