Beware of Fake Gear "Reviews"

April 10, 2012 - Who can you trust? You’d think that the Internet explosion and the current boom in blogging and social media would make life easier for the wannabe cruising sailor looking for information on boats, equipment, and cruising in general. But when you start peeling back the layers of information—everything from bulletin boards to blogs to e-zines—you find that the Web is rife with contradictions, bad advice, and now, some contemptible stealth marketing.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 10:30AM Comments (6)

Buttons, Dials, and Touchscreens

April 3, 2012 - We’re just wrapping up our testing of the new e7 MFD from Raymarine, which we ran side-by-side with the Garmin 740s, one of our favorites in our recent comparison of small chartplotter-sounders. The e7 was the most interesting electronic gizmo we saw at this year’s Miami Boat Show, the annual debutante ball for manufacturers to unveil their newest creations to the public. The company calls it a “hybrid” display, using both a…
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 11:20AM Comments (0)

Sailboats, Pirates, and the Police State

March 27, 2012 - The government already has a variety of ways to track our comings and goings, and I suppose I can learn to live with these. But my boat always has been a more sacred and personal space. As I reflected on a future when a person can no longer step aboard his sailboat and fall off the map, I began to wonder whether this new floating creation, forever held in the gaze of the state, will even qualify as a boat.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 01:25PM Comments (13)

Can Sailors Learn Something from Mil-spec Tethers?

March 20, 2012 - Has one of the world's most important suppliers of safety tethers for commercial, rescue, and military markets solved many of the problems faced by sailors today? PS Editor Darrell Nicholson talks about safety-tether release lanyards and how marine manufacturers and non-marine manufacturers approach the design challenges associated with this component.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 01:08PM Comments (6)

PS Seeks Input on Harness and Tether Design

March 13, 2012 - We’ve received some good suggestions from readers in response to my editorial in the March issue of Practical Sailor that described our tether and harness design project. Similar to what we did with toddler life jackets back in 2007, the plan is to solicit input from experts in the field, other sailors, and PS readers to try to come up with an improved design for inflatable PFD/harnesses. Because the tether is such an integral part of the PFD/harness when sailing offshore, we plan to work on improved tether designs as well.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 02:29PM Comments (9)

When Two Cultures Collide

March 6, 2012 - I usually don’t get too excited about the tricked-out space ships circling the globe in the Volvo Ocean Race, but when I heard the race fleet was split in half, with three of the Volvo 70s planning to weave through the Solomon Islands, my interest was piqued. While the images of these thoroughbred machines racing down the long swells of the bottom of the planet are impressive, the idea of threading through an area of poorly charted reefs, jungle islands, and notoriously squally weather in the darkness presented a tantalizing new twist.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 11:17AM Comments (3)

An Eye-opening Boat Show

February 21, 2012 - They say a photo is worth 1,000 words, and this one certainly says a lot. On our way to a very serious study of hose clamps at the Miami International Boat Show, the nice sales ladies at the booth of some nameless speedboat showed their appreciation for Capt. Frank Lanier, a retired Coast Guard officer and one of our contributors. It is a standard boat show ploy: Beautiful girls attract men (even those as high-minded as Capt. Lanier) and men buy boats. For many complex reasons (including the fact that Frank's incredibly supportive wife might one day stumble on this blog post), I hesitated to publish this photo. But it serves to illustrate a point that struck me at this year’s Miami show . . .
Posted by By Darrell Nicholson at 11:59AM Comments (10)

New Man Overboard Tracking Technology

February 14, 2012 - More affordable electronic man-overboard tracking technology is on the way. The US-based Radio Technical Commission for Maritime Services has just completed a new standard for man-overboard beacons using Digital Selective Calling (DSC) and/or Automatic Identification System (AIS). According to a news release from the RTCM, the standard requires MOB beacons using DSC and sending "open loop" messages (i.e. standard all-ships distress calls) to be fitted with a GPS and a DSC channel transceiver. The GPS automatically inserts a position in the DSC (and AIS) call, making it easier for boats to locate and recover a crew member who has fallen overboard.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 11:40AM Comments (2)

No Rest for the Weary

February 7, 2012 - We’ve got so many tests in the air, I’m afraid to open my inbox these days, for fear that one of our testers has again spiraled off into the deep end of data collection. This, you see, is the greatest challenge we face. So consumed by their mission, our testers like to pick up every detour and follow it to its end, wherever it may lead. Three-week tests drag on for years, with the final results forever lying tantalizingly out of reach. So where are the detours leading these days? Here’s a sampling of what’s ahead.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 10:01AM Comments (3)

Eco-friendly Bottom Paints 2012

February 1, 2012 - There are very few times when the door to my office is closed. Bottom paint rating tabulation time is one of them. For the past week, I’ve been poring over bottom paint data collected earlier this month: three Excel tables representing more than 300 data points. Although mammoth data tables are not what drew me into this business, the bottom paint program is still one of my favorite projects. I’ve spent enough time scrubbing, scraping, and painting to appreciate the importance of what we do.
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Taming Engine Room Noise

January 25, 2012 - Practical Sailor reader Duncan Hood wrote us last week, asking about engine room noise insulation and prompting me to dive into our files to find our last test. It’s been over a decade, so we’re due for another round of testing, but much of the information in our last report is still helpful. Many of the players are the same, and one of the most prominent players in our last test, Soundown, is still regarded as a leader in the field. For those like Hood who are contemplating ways to silence the engine, the following excerpt from that article offers some general guidance.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 11:07AM Comments (3)

Holding Tank Test Correction

January 18, 2012 - In the February 2012 issue, we tested two holding tanks—one from Trionic and one from SeaLand. Both tanks slightly leaked water while under pressure. The leaks were very small and occurred at top-mounted fittings that were supplied separately with the tanks and were installed by our tester according to the manufacturers’ instructions. After the story’s publication, SeaLand informed us that tank that we tested and recommended was not the most current model.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 10:45AM Comments (2)

Winning the Battle Against Holding Tank Odors

January 10, 2012 - Take a look at this photo and imagine it is your backyard. Or your patio, or sun-deck. Yep, those are sealed 5-gallon buckets full of iguana poop and “other” waste, ripening in the Chesapeake Bay area's autumn sun. Do you ever wonder whether those bright blue bottles of chemicals that claim to eliminate your head odors actually work? So did we. Did you ever wonder how the neighbors would react if you set up a head odor testing facility in your backyard? So did PS contributor Drew Frye. So far, it seems, “Operation Potty Odor,” has not alarmed the local zoning tipsters . . . and it is yielding some interesting results.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 12:51PM Comments (11)

Pondering Solar Panels

January 4, 2012 - My post last week on storing batteries for winter prompted a couple comments and letters on solar panels, so I thought I'd point out some of our past articles on the topic that can be found online at It is a timely project for me, since our upcoming project testing one of the new sonic-pulse antifouling devices will require a solar panel. According to the device's maker, Smart Antifouling, the unit draws about .08 amps, which means will want to put a small 5-watt solar panel on our Cape Dory 25 test boat, Skimmer, which typically lies on a mooring.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 02:31PM Comments (10)

Jamming GPS Signals, the Lightsquared Way

December 20, 2011 - This month’s report on satellite communication devices focuses on existing technology, so it does not dig into one of the more controversial satcomm topics of the moment: a proposal by the upstart wireless company Lightsquared to provide a combined satellite and land-based broadband service that will reach remote areas of the United States where broadband is not yet available. While the idea of giving everyone the ability to stream reruns of "The Simpsons" at lightning speed seems noble, Lightsquared’s $14 billion plan does so at the expense of GPS-based navigation systems—the kind that land you safely at O’Hare.
Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 05:49PM Comments (5)