PS Advisor August 15, 2002 Issue

PS Advisor: 08/15/02

To Haul or Not to Haul?
Living on a tidal creek of the Chesapeake Bay, we keep our 1996 cutter at our backyard dock.  Each year, following the "common wisdom," we have religiously pulled and stored the boat from November through March at a local boatyard, incurring a monthly charge which escalates geometrically from year to year.  The robust growth of this budget item leads me to inquire what evidence exists to support this practice.

My general impression is that out-of-water stowage is recommended to diminish the possibility of ice damage, and to minimize fiberglass blistering.  There is little ice on the Chesapeake in most years—never enough in the past decade to remotely challenge a de-icing bubbler, when required.  I am no expert on fiberglass, but I have the impression that the epidemic of blistering has been largely contained by more modern assembly methods.  In any event, to date we have had no problem with hull blistering.  Parenthetically, the boat's hull is solid fiberglass.

Besides saving on ground rent, I can see real advantages to keeping the boat close to home for the winter: ability to maintain batteries in fully charged status, to run (and then rewinterize) the engine and genset from time to time, to exercise electronics, and simply to keep the boat clean.  Also, human nature being what it is, timely scheduled maintenance is much more likely when the boat is in the backyard, rather than 20 miles away.

So, the question is, does winter dry storage have proven benefits which I have missed?  If so, are these benefits proven, or rather, wishfully conjured without clearcut scientific basis over the years? If this subject is anything like medicine, a lot of common wisdom may lie in the second category.

-John Russo
Annapolis, MD


John, it seems to us that your thinking is quite clear on all these issues. The short answer is that—in your situation, at least—there's no urgent reason to haul and store the boat through those only moderately cold months. Usually people do it because they don't care to sail or hassle with their boats in the winter, especially when it's freezing cold and there's ice in the water. They put them ashore mostly so they don't have to worry about them.

The only element in the mix that would bother us in some cases would be the possibility of water absorption in the laminate. You're right, these problems are not common in recently built boats, due to the increased use of vinylester resin and better building techniques, but more and more we think that if we had a boat built, say, 20 years ago, with polyester resin below the waterline, it would just be good insurance to give it an epoxy barrier coat with something like Interlux's Interprotect.

Pleasure boaters aside, there are a lot of people who make their way around the world's waters in cold weather without ill effect. Observe the Bay watermen in your zone, and everywhere there are boats from the Coast Guard, DEP, EPA, and other acronyms; marine survey boats, lighters and launches, bridgebuilders, cable and pipeline boats, and frostbite fleets (hard to define as pleasure boaters). There's a lot going on out there in the winter. The views are good and the crowds are down.

Of course, you'll have to haul once in a while to paint the bottom, but, given the conditions you describe, if you don't mind taking care of the boat in the winter, the boat won't mind being in the water.

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Keeping Track of Batteries
I am rewiring my 1974 Hallberg-Rassey Monsun 31, which has about 20years of patched-in Mickey Mouse wiring to decipher.  I am starting fromscratch, both with the boat and my own knowledge of DC wiring.  I amtrying to get information on battery combiners and isolators.  Will agood marine alternator with a smart regulator wired to a combiner chargeboth my house bank and my starting battery?  Would an isolator do thesame thing?  Will a cranking battery wired to this system get the rightcharging regimen from a regulator that is primarily designed to chargedeep-cycle batteries?  My amp loads are very modest, but since I amstarting from scratch I want to design and install a system that will meet my needs for the next 10 years or so.  Any ideas or recommendations? Thanks for the great publication.

-Barent Rice
Napa, CA


What you must do is get a copy of Nigel Calder's Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual (International Marine), and read the first chapter. Calder explains all the elements of an electrical system, how they fit together in various combinations, and the pitfalls of the connections and usage.

As an ideal solution, Calder recommends using the engine's factory-installed alternator to charge the starting battery, and adding a high-output alternator with a smart regulator to charge the house bank. This eliminates the problems of trying to charge two different-sized or different-type batteries from the same source, and keeps everything direct and fairly simple, if bulky.

We'd also suggest visiting www.pkys.com, the website of marine electrical systems specialist Peter Kennedy in Annapolis. The next six paragraphs, which Mr. Kennedy is kind enough to let us reprint from his FAQ file, pertain to your questions. (His second point echoes Calder.)

"The simplest way, if you can remember to do it, is to turn your battery switch to "BOTH" when charging, and turn it back to 1 or 2 when you are finished.  This solution is unsatisfactory for those who sometimes forget and then end up with a flat battery from time to time. If you want to automate the process and make it idiot proof, then you need to pick one of the other options. 

"The best way, if you can manage it, is to have two alternators. This allows independent charging of each bank, and by fitting a combiner switch you get the added feature of a backup alternator for either bank in the event of a failure.

"Another way to do this is to have a dual-output alternator.  This doesn't give independent regulation of the charge to each bank, but as  the charge goes to where it is most needed, it works pretty well.

"The old-fashioned way was to use a battery isolator, which is a set of diodes which allow the charge to go to each battery but doesn't allow the batteries to connect to each other.  One problem is that there is a voltage drop across the isolator, which wastes alternator energy (by creating heat) that could be used to charge the batteries, and means that you need an externally regulated alternator with a voltage sense wire downstream of the isolator.

"Another popular way is to use a battery combiner.  This is a solenoid which connects the batteries together when they are being charged and separates them when they are being discharged.  These work well, but it is important to have a heavy-duty one as the smaller ones have a high failure rate.

"The last way is one of the most satisfactory. Using either the Heart Interface "Echo Charge" or the  Ample Power  "Eliminator" you can charge the start battery from the house bank. These relatively simple devices give a controlled amount of charge whenever the house bank is receiving a charge."

We'd like to add some backing to Peter Kennedy's first option, which, as he says, is "the simplest way, if you can remember to do it."

Before loading on the gear, try it the simplest way, and develop your habits accordingly. Whether you run a lot of electricity or a little, it will behoove you to be on intimate personal terms with your starting and house batteries. Best not to leave primary awareness of battery state to an automatic device. That way lies regret.

You can actually have fun on a boat with different-capacity battery banks, a standard alternator, and a rudimentary voltmeter. Learn to play the isolator switch, and you can charge batteries independently and evenly. If you're worried about frying your alternator—well, you should be. Just remember not to. Fretting is OK.

For now, watch the volts and amps, and exercise the red switch. If you need to, you can automate later on.

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