Friday, 30 September 2011

Winter lay up advice from Navigators & General.

As we enter October owners may be turning their attention to where to winter their boats this year. With available hard standing reducing due to development over the years and costs rising, it is often sensible to make arrangements early. Navigators & General (N&G) offers the following advice to avoid the common claims.

Longer nights and tougher times financially always raise the risk of crime, theft of gear and equipment is N&G’s second most common claim. The UK has already seen a steady rise in the number of outboard motor thefts since 2009, and more recently well documented metal thefts. Sub zero temperatures can also cause thousands of pounds worth damage.  

For all those reasons N&G advises owners to allow time to prepare their boats, seriously consider security, and be vigilant to minimise exposure to crime and damage.

It is very important not to let cover lapse over the winter period, as there are no days of grace in marine insurance so if you do not renew your policy in good time your cover lapses. Claims resulting from incidents such as theft, fire, vandalism, damage by vehicles, storm damage, frost damage, and much more besides are arguably more likely to occur during the longer nights and harsher weather.

If a trip by road is required, it is important to check that your policy provides this cover, If not, you will need to request an extension. N&G’s yacht & motorboat policy automatically includes transit for craft up to 30 feet, but not all policies will be the same. If the trailer has been left standing it should be thoroughly checked and serviced if necessary, there may be a policy condition that the trailer is kept in a roadworthy condition.

Removing sails, dodgers and canopies not only dramatically reduces windage, (one of the main reason boats blow over) but will significantly extend their life. Winter gales make short work of any fabric left on deck (especially furled headsails), and UV exposure with mould/mildew speeds their deterioration further. Why not use the opportunity to have them laundered and serviced, it will extend their lifespan considerably, and insurance policies do not generally cover sails, canopies or covers split by the wind
Once ashore removing all valuable equipment and leaving drawers or cupboards open should reduce the temptation to thieves. Any soft furnishings will fair far better in a warm dry environment and also further add to the impression that the boat has been stripped for the Winter.

Metal theft has made the headlines quite a bit this year, so owners may be more at risk this winter. Easily accessible brass or bronze propellers will make an attractive target, as will copper sheeting. If easily removable owners should do just that and store securely. It is not only the cost but the difficulty in matching the stolen part. If you cannot remove the vulnerable metal try to cover or disguise it and ensure you have the best possible security.

Outboard motor thefts have been steadily rising since 2009, so this is an area where owners really need to take action. If an engine can easily be removed do just that, and consider a service at the same time. If the engine is so large and so well secured as to be very hard to remove  N&G suggests that you remove the engine cover (taking care to fit alternative weather protection) to deter thieves. Distributors and yards are suspicious about selling covers only for that very reason and it may be enough to prevent you being a target. Otherwise mark all separate engine components, fit the best possible anti theft devices and think very carefully about the security your boat has over the winter. Outboard thieves are not put off by the size of an engine and will cut them out of boats if the opportunity is there.

Remember to properly winterise engines and machinery and drain down water systems. An unexpected sharp drop in temperatures can catch boat owners unawares and result in engine blocks cracking, pipes or heating systems splitting or causing a problem that manifests itself for years after. Not all policies cover this type of claim and they can be particularly expensive. Yards or engineers should know how to winterise machinery on your boat, but don’t leave it too late.

Particular care should be taken if leaving battery chargers or de humidifiers running over the winter period. There have been a number of devastating fires on boats as a result of electrical faults on shore powered devices. Keeping your boat dry through the winter is the right thing to do, but you need to be sure that any de humidifier being used is well secured, has clean filters and adequate drainage facilities.

If you plan to have a heater running as well, be sure that you are not overloading the circuits and that you have the right sort of heater as this could significantly increase the risk of fire. Check with your local yard or boat surveyor to make sure. Concerned owners could consider temporarily mounting an automatic fire extinguisher next to such equipment

Remember that you should still check on the boat periodically or pay someone to do this for you. Winter maintenance is an essential part of boat ownership and necessary for enjoyable trouble free boating over throughout the season. It also prolongs the life of the boat and helps reduce depreciation. But following a few basic tips can help prevent a worthwhile exercise becoming a potential disaster.

  • Remove all expensive equipment such as radios, GPS, navigation and electronic equipment, TV’s, CD players etc and store them in a safe place.
  • Remove the outboard, tender and life-raft.
  • leave empty lockers and drawers ajar to ventilate and deter thieves
  • Drain down water and heating systems.
  • Have engines professionally winterised or ensure that you carefully follow all of the manufacturer’s recommendations to avoid frost damage.
  • Remove berth cushions to a dry environment.
  • Remove furled headsails, mainsails, covers, dodgers and spray hoods.
  • Take out halyards leaving a mouse line and thoroughly wash and check for wear.  
  • Check all backstays for wear at top batten point.
  • Check all standing rigging for broken strands and rigging screws for wear.
  • Ensure the yard use cross bracing if using wooden shores, for extra safety.
  • Ensure that whilst ashore the trim of the craft is correct, to allow cockpit drains to be effective, and avoid rainwater building up on decks or within the craft.
  • Do not tie covers or tarpaulins to wooden shores or cross bracing.
  • Preferably use only close fitting covers, to avoid additional windage.
  • Place tie-on labels on the wheel and engine controls to remind you to check all skin fittings, impellers, seacocks and transducers prior to launching/starting the engine.
  • Disconnect batteries and leave them fully charged.
  • Do check the craft periodically during the winter months, unless you have made a specific arrangement for this to be done on your behalf. Do not assume that the rental of space will include this service.
  • avoid running fuel tanks too low due to risk of sucking dirt into filters or condensation in the tank space

Diesel bug and bio fuel.

We've recently undertaken quiet a lot of research into the effects of diesel bug and bio fuels. The result has been published in Waterways World, as can be seen below.
Already three marinas have identified (independently) that there is an issue with the bio fuel and fuel set. All three report having several cases of emulsification following fuel set treatment where bio fuel had been added. The marinas have been given advice as to how to sort this problem out but it goes to prove that the problem exists.
Diesel Bug, Water Contamination and Bio Diesel
With the recent introduction of Bio Diesel the confusion surrounding what is best practise and how to deal with situations which are affecting more boaters has lead to RCR provide the following guidance.
Fuel Tank construction in boats
Fuel tanks in boats are usually constructed so that the outlet pipe for the fuel system is located approximately 1-2 inches above the bottom of the tank. The reason for this construction is two fold. 
1) Most tanks are metal and therefore over time fuel /water/ air results in corrosion and rust build up, this debris drops to the bottom of the tank and remains there.  
2) The water which is present due to condensation and water ingress in the fuel tank naturally separates out and drops to the bottom of the tank when left to stand. 
In both these cases the outlet pipe position ensures that neither water nor debris is passed though the fuel system providing protection from these types of issues.
The easiest method to identify how much fuel/water is in your tank is to use a clear plastic hose, drop this in to the tank being careful not to disturb the fuel , and when you feel the bottom place your thumb over the end to seal it and withdraw the hose. This should provide you with a sample of the tank and will show the amount of water present, along with an indication of any diesel bug contamination.
We recommend that you :-
  1. Dip your tank regularly and where water is present remove it, this can be done simply and cheaply using an oil extractor or electric pump, by pushing the pipe down to the layer of water and extracting water until the diesel comes though. Alternatively visit one of the Marina’s who offer a fuel polishing service. 
  2. Regularly check your filler cap seal and replace if worn, cracked or damaged. Also if it has been raining the cap sits lower than the deck so wipe over to remove excess water before opening the cap.
  3. If you have a water trap filter, check and empty regularly, so that it is effective.
  4. Either leave the tank empty during winterisation and remove any water on your return, or leave the tank full and treated.
The advice above will combat both diesel bug and Bio diesel issues and water contamination removing almost all risks without the need to treat the fuel.
Water in Diesel
All diesels contains some element of water. Water content in diesel makes the diesel murky or cloudy and can be the first indication of an issue.
However when diesel is standing this water separates naturally (around 800ppm 0.08%) and as it is heavier than diesel it eventually drops to the bottom tank. This is why many commercial storage tanks have taps at the bottom to drain off the water.  
Water in fuel is acceptable in small amounts and has been known to improve performance when in quantities of up to 1200ppm (0.12% volume), however there is a risk that too much water (greater than 1500ppm (0.15%) will result in the water lying un-burnt in the combustion chamber and affecting the operation of the pistons, valves, liners,  ect by destroying the lubrication properties of fuel
In addition, too much water in the fuel can cause issues even before this point, as the injectors pressurise the diesel to turn it in to a fine spray, if there is too much water present in diesel then emulsification occurs and the white creamy solution that results will stop you in your tracks.
What is Diesel Bug
Diesel bug is the term given to the enzymes, bacteria etc that live of the water in diesel and affect the diesel properties, and there are over 148 different types identified so far. The first signs of fuel degradation are a fine black dust that is regularly described as soot, a very strong smell of varnish coming from the fuel tank and the fuel turning darker.  
Visible sludge and other lesser known variations of diesel bug that can show as yellow/orange or pale debris floating in the diesel is an indicator of severe or high risk contamination and should be treated as soon as possible.  
Extreme cases see this develop in to a thick black sludge that quickly clogs up the fuel system and stops the engine operating.
Bio Diesel & Low Sulphur Fuels NEW EU Directive
The introduction of the new rules relating to supply of diesel for recreational boats has stipulated that from 2011 it is an offence to sell diesel that contains more than 10mg of sulphur per kilogram of diesel, this effectively makes the fuel virtually ‘sulphur free’.  
Diesel which is low in sulphur can cause issues with rubber and plastic components in the fuel system because is contains less lubricants, and eventually this lack of lubrication can result in faster degradation of these components, resulting in fuel pump and seal failures.
To accomplish the low sulphur content many suppliers have opted to incorporate Bio Diesel, (when biodiesel is blended, fatty acid methyl esters (FAME) are added to the mineral diesel) the recommended maximum is 7% although this will rise to 12% in 2012. The previous level was 5% and the new increase has resulted agricultural users seeing a fast rise in both diesel bug contamination and fuel blockage issues. This has been attributed to the fact that Bio diesel absorbs ‘free’ water, and this is what diesel bug requires to live on, but it can also result in emulsification of the diesel if too much water is absorbed.
Bio diesel only has a shelf life of approx 6months, put it in a marine environment and this half’s and if microbes like diesel bug are present it half’s again, potentially you may only get a few months shelf life!
*100% true bio fuel ie biodiesel produced strictly according to EN14214 standards does not tend to suffer the issues identified above and is a true green alternative which has many other benefits not seen with bio diesel mixtures.
The treatments on the market at present have concentrated on two issues, removing water from the diesel and killing diesel bug. There are many different products on the market but these can be split into Biocides and Enzyme based products. Each tackles the issue in different ways. 
With any treatment; it is important to ensure that the product is mixed with the fuel evenly, and therefore treat before filling up, or alternatively give the tank a stir to ensure that the product is effective. If using enzymes it is important not to overdose as this can result in excessive water retention in the diesel.
These are chemically produced products designed to deal with specific issues. They can be used as a one off to treat diesel contamination (diesel bug killer), or dosed to prevent contamination occurring. These include products like M16 Diesel Bug, Grotamar, Yachtcon, Kathon, In general they contain biocide to kill micro bacterial contamination and inhibit further growth of micro bacteria. In some products they include demulsifies to separate out the water from the diesel , and lock in the dead bug ‘bodies’ in the fuel so that they are burnt in the combustions cycle, effectively removing the ‘sludge’. 
Biocides are toxic and therefore should be treated with care and applied strictly according to the supplied instructions. When treating for fuel contamination then it is always advisable to change your filter and remove any water form the tank and water separator. However please ensure that the water is disposed of in accordance to the EU Biocide Directive.
There are many worries relating to bugs building an ‘immunity’ to these biocides, however in reality as all bugs are destroyed rather than treated, the analogy with antibiotics is not applicable.
Enzyme and Natural Emulsifier Products
These products are generally environmentally safe and are based on a combination of manmade enzymes and plant extracts, they tackle the issue by distributing and locking the water in to the fuel so that it can be burnt during the combustion cycle, by removing the water they remove the food for the diesel bug.  If dosed correctly then the maximum water absorption should be in the region of 900ppm (0.09%) for the natural emulsifier products, which is safe; however if overdose this can raise to 2500ppm resulting in diesel turning milky. These include products like FuelSet, Fortron, Soltron and Starbrite. The other group of enzyme based products use Kerosene as a carrier and while this restrict the ability to absorb water kerosene has a much higher wax content. Overdosing with these types of products can lead to change in fuels ability to combust quick enough and cause injector damage.
Some enzyme based products are temperature and UV sensitive and this can cause them deteriorated or stop working effectively if subject to extreme temperature variations and if they are not stored properly.  They are not suitable for treating severe diesel bug contamination and are only effective as a preventative maintenance solution. Overdosing is the biggest risk with these products.
Emulsification of Diesel 
Too much water in the diesel can cause emulsification, this is seen at the filters or more commonly at the injectors as the fuel is put under pressure. Emulsification of diesel at the injectors due to water content has only recently become an issue and RCR in the past 2 months have attended nine boats where 20-40ltrs of bio diesel has been added to the fuel tank, in some cases these vessels have been using regular treatments of enzyme based products.  Initially we were unable to resolve and the first three boats had to have the whole system cleaned and flushed, although in one case the diesel destroyed the seals in the fuel polisher, and resulted in over 200ltrs of fuel being lost!  
To combat this issue we have had to develop a new strategy and after a number of test cases we now use biocide treatments to separate out the water from the diesel whilst in the tank, although because of the complex nature of the mixture this can take up to 48hrs to accomplish. Following this the fuel system is cleaned right though to the return pipes, and the water drained off from the fuel tank to remove the risk of the water being absorbed in the future.
So what treatment should you use:
RCR attends hundreds of contamination issues each year and therefore we have had to ensure that the product we use provides instant results and stops these problems from reoccurring, and for this reason we favour the Biocide treatments.  Enzyme based products are effective and useful when there is only a small amount of water content but too much and you run the risk of not removing it  or overdosing and locking to much water in to the diesel. 
Another reason for favouring the biocide treatment is with the new introduction of Bio diesel and rise in cases of emulsification at the injectors, we believe enzyme products can compound the problem of water absorption.  
RCR use Marine 16 products and recommend the use of Diesel Fuel complete as a regular treatment.  However the most important message to get across is to regularly check your tank for water and if found remove it, doing this will reduce the risk of water contamination and diesel bug irrelevant of which product you choose to use.
Written by 
Stephanie Horton BEng Hons CEng MIET 
 MD of River Canal Rescue
Acknowledgment:- David White of M16, Ian Roos of FuelQC, and background support from David Fletcher NABO chairman, EU Directive, Tony Brooks training notes

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Busy summer for RCR.

Summer 2011 may not have been the sunniest on record but for River Canal Rescue it’s certainly been the busiest.

Over the period from March to the end of August 2011 RCR received 40% more calls than over the same period last year. This increase in demand underlined RCR’s recent recruitment drive which saw two more engineers out on the road. Despite this the company are still looking for another engineer to cover London and the K&A, and with boat traffic expected to increase in the area on the run up to the 2012 Olympics, the new member of the team could be busy .

During the 2011 summer season over 200 calls were made for cable problems, 180 battery related and 125 were fuel problems (including running out of fuel all together). It’s felt that one of the reasons for boater experiencing problems this year is the economic situation. With money being in short supply it’s thought that an increasing number of boaters are skipping their boats regular service. In addition with many people opting to take a boat holiday rather than go abroad, if the vessel has not been used regularly the essential repairs may have been overlooked with the result that more boats are experiencing breaking down. With boatyards reporting an increase in “repair rather than replace” jobs it could well be the case that boaters are cutting back.

In these harsh economic times it’s easy to see why this happens but as RCR’s MD, Stephanie Horton commented recently, “it really is false economy to cut back on servicing and repairs, and as has happened in a number of cases, can result in a serious accident or damage when something fails at a critical time” Stephanie added, “we are always looking for ways to help our member deal with some of the simpler issues and we have produced a Breakdown Advice sheet which can help owners identify and sort our many simple problems, so if anyone would like a copy please drop us a line at and we’ll happily send you a copy.”

With prevention always being better than a cure it’s worth dropping RCR a line to pick up a copy of the advice sheet or for more information on RCR’s range of services visit their website at