Brass Valve Follow-up
Your recent article ("Beware Brass Valves Used as Seacocks," December, 1997) has caused some confusion. We share your concern for the use of brass valves as seacocks. However, please note the following:
Comments by Conbraco referred only to a single ball valve of unknown age and source that was returned to us. This valve (70-103-05) is not in our Marine Catalog and we do not believe it was originally supplied by Hunter. This valve is in our Plumbing and Heating catalog and thus is widely available.
Conbraco Industries is a domestic company which is ISO 9001 quality approved throughout our four operations. We have reviewed our Marine Catalog and find no errors. Apollo Ball Valves and Apollo Sea Flange Valves have been successfully used in the marine industry for over 30 years.
We recommend that all seacocks and marine fittings be procured from a reputable marine dealer. When a seacock is required, please advise your readers to look for and demand the Apollo valve with the appropriate UL listing.
Harry E. Farley, PE
Director of Engineering
Conbraco Industries, Inc.
Matthews, North Carolina
Please accept my apologies for some confusion generated with respect to your journalist's phone call to me.
His question related to the type of engine intake seacock Hunter utilized on its 27-foot model. As he was not able to tell me the model year of the boat (or in which decade it was manufactured), I was unable to confirm the brand and type of seacock supplied. Your article refers to the model year as 1977. Therefore, I am now able to confirm that the engine intake seacock was of the gate valve variety, the same type as utilized on your own past Pearson Triton.
Therefore, the Conbraco seacock fitted on Mr. Carney's Hunter 27 was a replacement to the original equipment. Hence, we have no way of knowing exactly what year or model number this seacock might be.
Considering the age of the boat and the unknown age of the seacock that failed, it would appear that corrosion, debris or lack of maintenance likely was the cause of failure. In Hunter's library, we keep a book authored by yourself (which we enjoy), named Spurr's Boatbook: Upgrading the Cruising Sailboat. Your concluding statement in the chapter "Installing and Maintaining Sea Cocks" is: "Maintaining sea cocks is a task every cruising sailor should learn to do himself. Know where every sea cock is located, how to get to it quickly, and how to maintain it." Good advice, however, not always followed or thought of within the time constraints of today's sailors.
Your "Beware" article states that ABYC's standard for seacocks is that they must have a flanged base. This is not the case, as the ABYC standards definition of a seacock is as follows: "Seacock—A type of valve used to control intake or discharge of water through the hull. It is operated by a lever-type handle usually operating through a 90° arc giving a clear indication of whether it is open or shut." The standard continues by stating, "If a flanged seacock is used, its flange shall be securely mounted to the hull."
By 1989, Hunter was, and still is, using bronze seacocks below the waterline on all inboard models. This is a higher standard than found with a number of builders. You will find these same Conbraco seacocks aboard Island Packet, Hatteras and Sea Ray, amongst a host of other well-respected builders. A failure of this bronze seacock is almost unheard of over the thousands of sailboats we have built during this period.
We believe our selection of materials to be of sound base and with the safety and enjoyment of our customers firmly in mind. Hunter sailboats are certified by the NMMA standards, ISO standards as set out by the European community, plus we comply with commercial certification with the rigid requirements of Australia and New Zealand.
Customer Service Director
Hunter Marine Corp.
As background for new readers, our December 1997 "Gear Graveyard" report on the Conbraco valve began when a reader, Edward Carney, Sr. of Sarasota, Florida, sent us a badly corroded valve that had failed aboard his 1977 Hunter 27. As noted, we disassembled it and mailed the parts to Conbraco. At that time we were told by Conbraco's Don Waters that in his opinion failure occurred due to saltwater corrosion. We asked what metal the ball was made of and were told it was brass. Conbraco's Marine Catalog shows chrome-plated bronze valves in its Apollo® Full Flow Sea Flange Valves, or seacocks. Several other models of Shut-Off Valves, including the 77-100-10 Series, describe the product as "bronze" and the ball only as "Chrome Plated." They are, according to Conbraco, brass, not bronze. But one could easily assume the entire valve is bronze. This is where we think West Marine got led astray, describing in its catalog these valves as having "chrome-plated bronze balls." An inadvertent mistake, we are sure.
During our discussions with Conbraco we were told that Conbraco manufactures these valves in many configurations, with chrome-plated brass balls and stainless steel balls. We were not told that they also make brass balls without any chrome plating for general household or industrial/agricultural-type plumbing applications. Now, as indicated in the letter from Conbraco above, the company asserts that Mr. Carney's valve was a plumbing grade product with no chrome plating. If true, certainly this would explain its failure (chrome is corrosion resistant and protects the underlying brass).
This prompted us to re-examine Mr. Carney's valve. Unfortunately, the same bronze valve body is used for the various Marine and Plumbing models, so the number on it does not distinguish the various types of balls that are installed inside. The corroded ball is mostly of a dull brass color, but a fair portion of it is not brown but a dull silver, which we have presumed was the remains of the worn chrome plating. (Note that the chrome plating even when new is extremely thin.) If the valve is indeed plumbing grade and never had chrome plating, what then is the silver color? Perhaps we shall never know.
Our purpose in investigating failed equipment such as this valve is not to attack or malign good companies such as Conbraco Industries (whose seacocks we praised in our September 1, 1995 evaluation), Hunter Marine (whom we are happy to hear did not install Mr. Carney's valve, and is no longer using gate valves), or West Marine. Rather, our intent is to alert consumers to potential problems that could affect their boats and their safety.
Regardless of the model of this valve, we still believe the points raised are valid: brass ball valves, even when chrome-plated, do not belong in saltwater contact, especially on a through-hull below the waterline. While we assume that chandlers and boatbuilders purchase Conbraco valves from its Marine Catalog, we know that chrome-plated brass Shut-Off Valves are being used as seacocks—by builders and owners doing retrofits—when in fact they should be using Conbraco's Full Flow Sea Flanges with chrome-plated bronze balls. This is why we suggested that mail-order catalogs take stronger steps to make this distinction by not displaying the two types on the same pages. If they must, stronger, clearer language is needed to describe their different applications.
Also, Mr. Breeden is correct in that ABYC no longer stipulates that seacocks have flanged bases. This change was made when ABYC revised standard H-27 to include the requirement that seacocks be able to "withstand a 500 pound static force applied for 30 seconds to the inboard end of its connecting fitting, at any point in its most vulnerable direction, without the system failing to perform as intended." Certainly, flanges can help the seacock pass this test, but if the seacock is strong enough on its own, flanges can be dispensed with.
As a last note, we understand that because of our December report, a number of West Marine customers have asked West to pay for a haul-out and replacement of the valve with yet another in-line ball valve. West has expressed to us their concern with this solution. First, as noted above, only the Apollo Full Flow Sea Flange seacocks have chrome-plated bronze balls; other Apollo in-line valves have chrome-plated brass balls. Secondly, the in-line valves have NPT straight threads which will not seat tightly with NPS tapered thread through-hulls. Instead, one should choose a seacock (whether Apollo, Groco or other) with NPS threads on the bottom. Beyond ball material, this reason alone should compel owners to retrofit real seacocks.
Autohelm Chart Plotter
Following publication of our evaluation of GPS/Plotters in the February 1, 1998 issue, we learned that Autohelm now has a virtually identical model to the Raytheon 620. Autohelm, of course, is owned by Raytheon. This is of interest to owners of Autohelm instruments because the new Autohelm Navcenter 600 speaks SeaTalk®. The only difference between these two good plotters is color: the Autohelm is a darker gray. Price is the same.
In the January 1 test of 12-volt watermakers, we inadvertently listed on the chart on page 6 Sea Recovery as the manufacturer of the PUR PowerSurvivor 40E and 160E. In fact, they are made by Recovery Engineering, correctly listed in the "Contacts" list at the end of the article. Our apologies for the confusion.