July 2013

Life Jackets for Active, Racing Sailors

Subscribers Only For this test, we rounded up seven flotation aids from four manufacturers: Float Tech, Gill, Spinlock, and Stohlquist. The test field included an inflatable rash guard, foam racing-style life vests, inflatable PFD-harness combinations, and PFDs designed specifically for women. Only the Stohlquist PFDs meet U.S. Coast Guard standards, but all have innovative features and offer increased comfort and mobility over many Type I and Type II PFDs.

Marine Handheld VHFs Test

Subscribers Only Testers evaluated handheld VHF radios from three leading marine electronics makers. From Icom, we tested the M92D and M24. Standard Horizon submitted the HX290, HX300, and HX400, and from Midland Radio, we reviewed the Nautico 2. The VHFs in our test group ranged in price and features from a $50 basic, budget-friendly model to a $299, feature-rich handheld with DSC and GPS capabilities. All offered channel scanning, channel 16 quick select, NOAA weather radio, and weather alert. Unique features among the group included scrambler capabilities and remote microphone options.

Navigation Software for Macs

Subscribers Only There are still not as many marine navigation programs for Mac computers as for there are for PCs, but their quality often matches that of PC software, and their cost tends to be lower. The Mac software programs we tested were MacEnc, GPSNavX, Polar View, and OpenCPN. Testers have used MacEnc and GPSNavX extensively while cruising, and we evaluated OpenCPN during two three-month cruises and Polar View for a little over a month during another cruise. Prices range from $180 for MacEnc, to free for OpenCPN, an open-source, non-commercial software created by volunteers.

A Look at B&G’s New Zeus Touch

Subscribers Only Sailing and tactical software has long been B&G’s strong suit. The Zeus Touch is the first time the Navico company’s high-end racing software has been tweaked for mainstream use and bundled along with normal chartplotter and GPS functions. At first blush, it appears to be a dressed-up version of the Simrad NSS. The big difference between the two is the software. It uses the boat’s set sailing characteristics to calculate tacking or jibing points to most efficiently reach a given destination. Many of these functions are simple measurements that any skipper can predict or calculate using a paper chart and simple arithmetic, but the Zeus Touch delivers this information instantaneously and continuously, and removes the chance of human error.

Joker Valves for Marine Heads

We tested nitrile and neoprene valves from marine toilet makers Groco, Jabsco, and Raritan. The Raritan and Groco are straight duckbill valves, while the Jabsco is a tricuspid valve that opens slightly wider. Bench tests and real-world testing aboard a cruising catamarn helped determine the valves’ chemical resistance and durability. Each valve was exposed to cleaners, oils, and other liquids that marine toilets are commonly exposed to, including urine and antifreeze.

Summer Reads for Every Sailor

Summer is here, and hopefully, the living is easy. We’ve put together a roundup of summer reads perfect for those lazy afternoons aboard. Our reading selection this season includes a provocative reassessment of the War in the Pacific, a look at turning sailing skills into business strategy, the mysteries and memoirs of yacht racing, and more than one way to die, or survive, at sea.

Rope vs. Wire Lifelines

Three years ago, I bought a 1968 Hinterhoeller HR28 from a local junkyard that had paid $250 for it with plans to salvage the lead keel and Sawzall the rest. I’ve spent almost three years on an amateur’s refit. Now, I need new lifelines. I know that plastic-coated wire is out-of-favor and that race-sanctioning bodies now approve of high-tech (and high-priced) ropes. What risks am I taking if I just use a cheaper and thicker rope—something like Samson LS 3/8-inch with a tensile strength of 3,700 pounds? Stainless-steel 3/16 lifeline wire is rated at 3,700-pounds breaking strength. Are tensile and breaking strength the same?

Where Credit Is Due: July 2013

After reading your article, “A Sailor's Guide to Marine Insurance“, I wanted to give a shout-out to Progressive Insurance (www.progressive.com), which has insured our Stiletto catamaran and our dinghy, outboard motors, and trailers. Customer service is extremely friendly and efficient on the phone any time we want to check or change our policy. And when lightning struck the mast of our catamaran, they sent an adjuster out within two days, took care of the paper work, and had a payment sent to us within two weeks. That’s an incredible turn-around time.

Mailport: July 2013

A few issues ago, you had a short article on deck hardware (blocks, traveler, cars, etc.) that included Garhauer, and you mentioned that the manufacturer offered individual parts and complete systems that allow conversion from “on deck to cockpit” adjustment of the car position. We recently installed the EZ adjustable genoa car system from Garhauer and are very pleased with the results. This equipment fits on existing traveler tracks, is easy to install, and performs as advertised.

An Elusive Perfect Fit

I’ve found that the deeper one plunges into sailing, the closer you move toward nature, and the fringe culture of like-minded nut cases who embrace its wildness and unpredictability. This is a good thing. Everyone needs a break from the multimedia barrage that can blind our senses to the natural world. We all need a few nut cases in our life. The downside of drifting away from high-def screens and toward the edge of the sea is that fewer companies seem inclined to make the things that truly fit our needs.

Inside Practical Sailor Blog

Calling Mayday on an SSB

by Darrell Nicholson on October 21, 2014

Based on US Coast Guard statistics, surprisingly few boaters enable the Digital Selective Calling (DSC) function on their VHF radio, or have it operating correctly. From what we are hearing from some marine manufacturers like ICOM, the numbers for marine single-sideband (SSB) marine radios—the topic of our ongoing series of tests—are just as discouraging. It doesn't have to be that way. With a few simple tools and maybe a trip to a Radio Shack, getting your radio (VHF or SSB) DSC-ready can be carried in a single weekend.

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