Equipment for a boat,
tips for using the equipment,
and parts of a boat.

    Galleon     Contact me.

This page updated: August 2012

My Boat Appliances page (air conditioner, head, stove, refrigerator, watermaker, etc)
My Boat Auto-Steering page
My Boat Basics page (anchor, rigging, cabin, cockpit, mast, hull, keel, etc)
Dinghy (Tender, Dink)
My Boat Electrical page
My Boat Engine, Drive Train, Outboard Motor page
Liferaft (and supplies on it)
My Boat Navigation page
Safety Equipment

"Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler."
- Albert Einstein

If you can't repair it, replace it, or get along without it while you are out there, it shouldn't be on the boat.
- Gary Elder

A cruising sailboat probably is the most complicated vehicle/dwelling there could be: it combines everything from a powerboat, sailboat, house, car, RV, office, power plant, water company, sewage plant, radio station. Then puts it all in a damp, moving, powerful, corrosive environment, where it can sink at any time, and help is not nearby.

Get a subscription to Practical Sailor magazine ($60/year); it does head-to-head equipment comparisons.

West Marine catalog has useful articles in it.

SailNet - Randy Harman's "Cruising Necessities and Luxuries"
SailNet - Liza Copeland's "Criteria for Successful Cruising"
SailNet - Bruce Caldwell's "Daysailing Essentials"
SailNet - Liza Copeland's "Preparing to Sail Offshore, Part I"
SailNet - Don Casey's "If I Knew Then ..."
Gene Gruender's "Preparing to Leave" (what to take, and what not to take)
Sue and Larry's "Creative Cruising Solutions" (misc ideas)
BoatUS's "22 Tips For New Boaters"
FAQs about Sarana
Beth Leonard's "What Two Circumnavigators Left Off When They Equipped Their Dream Boat"
Beth Leonard's "Simple But Sophisticated"

Good books:
"The Voyager's Handbook" by Beth Leonard.

"... I had always found that the art of successful travel consisted in taking as few 'impedimenta' as possible, and not forgetting to carry my wits about me ... I had a secret conviction that, if I did not succeed, it would not be for lack of the 'nicknacks' advertised as indispensable for travellers, but from want of 'pluck', or because a large array of baggage excited the cupidity of the tribes through whose country we wished to pass."
- David Livingstone, missionary and explorer in Africa in the 1850's

From Andy Bacon on Cruising World message board, 3/2009:
Modifications for Living Aboard:

In the Eastern Caribbean where we sail in the winter, we observe that many sailors make their way from the USA to the area via the open ocean, often while doing the Caribbean 1500 Rally. Many European cruisers cross the Atlantic to get there, often as part of the ARC. The vessels making such passages are typically high-quality, well equipped and expensive, and hardly need modification for living aboard.

We, however, always intended that our sailboat would stay in the Eastern Caribbean over the summer, and so we made a different choice of vessel. Although it was equipped with what you would nowadays expect on a modern yacht (GPS, VHF, standard instruments, windlass), we have found it necessary to substantially modify our production sailboat in order to make it really suitable for living aboard. If yours is a lightish displacement yacht aimed primarily at the charter market or at weekenders (who might also embark upon an occasional 2-week cruise) then you might need to change things to make it suitable for living aboard, as we have had to, if that is what you intend to do.

The Vessel Itself

The choice of vessel really is a personal one. Notwithstanding the comments above, there are people sailing and living aboard every conceivable variation of sailing vessel out here. We sail a 37-foot French production yacht [2004 Jeanneau 37]. She is spacious, comfortable, economical, and invigorating under sail. We have concerns as to how she would stand up to severe weather in mid-ocean, and take care to avoid finding ourselves in such a situation. (That said, we did once find ourselves in conditions of 40-knot winds and 12-15 foot seas and felt entirely confident in her. We have also seen a sister ship which crossed the Atlantic twice.)

The issue of why some boats cost more than others is an interesting one, which had a bearing on our purchase decision. In order to illustrate the answer, let's consider 2 stereotypes: a high-volume French or German production yacht and a Swedish or New England yacht, almost entirely hand-built or at least hand-finished in limited numbers. The second costs twice that of the first, maybe more. Asked why, everyone will answer that it's a matter of strength and build quality, and that's true. But it also goes deeper than that.

The stereotype production yacht hull was probably built and then filled with pre-assembled interior modules before the deck was placed on top. Deck and hull were joined by adhesive, held in place until bonding was complete by self-tapping screws through the deck at the gunwales. The stereotype hand-built yacht probably had the deck fitted before the interior was in place. This had to be so because deck and hull were bolted together, and access had to be provided to the nut on the inside to tighten it. Then the interior was completed, from the inside. This involved many more hours labour, hence an extra cost which is reflected in the price (apart from possibly thicker layers of fibreglass and resin and layup method).

There is however, more to it than the integrity of deck-hull bond. Interior modules which are entirely assembled outside the vessel may have components fitted which are totally inaccessible once the unit is dropped into the hull from above. If the shower hose comes off its barb fitting on our boat, we will have a big problem because we can never get to it. There's no guarantee that access would be better in the case of a hand-finished vessel, but the chance of easy disassembly of panels etc to get where you need to be is much greater. This has major implications for the liveaboard owner and maintainer. We considered this and made a judgement.

Our yacht is at the small end of the scale out here. We opted for this length because either of us can handle all the working systems (which we regard as an essential feature), because she is exciting to sail (and that's the main reason we are out here, after all), yet big enough to be equipped with the things we regard as necessary.

Electrical System

The most important on-board system for liveaboards is also the least understood, at least this is so for many people we know and once included ourselves: the electrical system. If you want a refrigerator for cold beer and other drinks, storing foodstuffs, and possibly making ice, you will – like we - need to pay careful attention to the criteria for happy batteries. We cannot discuss the subject without some definitions. Try not to glaze over: we will try to keep it simple.

A volt is a measure of potential energy. In the case of a battery (properly called a lead accumulator), it shows the state of charge: a fully-charged DC battery will show nearly 13 volts, a depleted one less than 12. The simple analogue voltmeter on almost every circuit-breaker panel will give an approximation as to battery condition. We have not found that to be specific enough, and fitted a digital one which also measures ampere flow and amp-hours consumed. See also below.

An amp is a measure of energy flow. An amp-hour is a measure of this flow over time. So what are typical daily energy needs for living aboard? Our refrigerator system (a chest with evaporator plate ice compartment, rather like a small land-based refrigerator) alone uses about 60-70 amp-hours per 24 hours. Total daily usage for everything is some 90-100 amp-hours. We are not extravagant users: we have no microwave oven or electric appliances, no hair dryers, use the CD player fairly sparingly, do not keep the VHF on all day. Cruisers who drive refrigerator compressors directly using a belt to the auxiliary engine do not have anything like such a demand, but must run the engine every day at least once.

Experts are not exaggerating when they state that the capacity of the house battery bank should be 4 times the average daily usage. That's a lot of battery! Many boats including ours do not provide space for such capacity. We at one time had a 2 times reserve but in the end capitulated: it was simply not enough. We burnt out expensive fridge controllers, exhausted batteries quickly, and generally struggled. We now have 3.5 times, at about 350 amp-hours.

The amp-hours used must be put back into the house battery by a combination of auxiliary-driven alternator, solar panels, wind generator, independent petrol-driven generator or some other means. As the charging process continues and the batteries are replenished, the voltage needed to drive energy into them rises, approaching 14 volts as they come up to full charge. The result is that the whole process slows down long before full charge is reached, and the batteries never seem to reach full charge. In addition, charging equipment does not perform at anything like the rated capacity, so charging systems must be over-sized. But not too much, because batteries can only accept a certain rate of charge before they overheat. The regulator sees to this task, but there is a limit to how much excess charge it can dissipate. As an approximation, a rated charging capacity in amps equal to 25-40% of the battery bank capacity in amp-hours is recommended.

In our case, this defined the size of our alternator (at anchor, you can't always count on the wind generator giving anything!) at 85 amps. We fitted one and keep the standard 55 amp as a spare.

Now we find that the bigger alternator is at the limit of the alternator belt power range: we burn a belt a season and have to adjust the tension monthly. We really should have double pulleys…

The wind generator is rated at 100 amps but it takes a constant 20-knot wind to yield this over a 24-hour period. If the anchorage is fairly calm, with an average windspeed of 10 knots, the generator cannot do better than make a 30-40 amp-hour contribution over the day.

The solar panel we have is rated at 115 watts (the largest unit we could find in 2006). This means it is rated to yield some 10 amps per hour, but it only works at this rate during period of strong sunlight directly overhead, and when not partially covered by shadow. Over a typical day, it contributes perhaps 30-40 amp-hours as well.

We thus have to run the auxiliary engine on most days. To speed up the charging process by alternator, 'smart' regulators have been developed which 'push' charge into nearly-full batteries at a faster yet judicious rate. We installed one, and suppose it helps. We also have installed a device which counts amps in and out, and hence gives the balance in terms of amp-hours. This helps us determine how long to run the auxiliary each day. I should point out that the refrigerator will cut out without announcement when the battery voltage is just at 12 volts, so careful monitoring is important (the rest voltage of a charged system is about 12.6 volts). Waking to find a defrosted icebox is not a good start to the day.

Time and money spent on learning about the electrical system will be rewarded. We have covered the basics, not to educate the reader but to motivate him/her to consult and learn from experts.

GPS Chartplotter

GPS is now the standard piece of equipment for cruisers. Enough said. We have found the electronic charts for the area to be almost 100% accurate. That said, errors can be made using these navigation systems, and everyone can quote a story or two, but errors are just as easily made using traditional methods of navigation.

The chartplotter was initially installed at the nav station below. When we moved it to the binnacle, life on passage improved immeasurably. And safety was enhanced: what the chartplotter shows can now be verified by eye without leaving the cockpit, and gets consulted more frequently. And unlike paper charts, it doesn't blow overboard.

Night Vision (RADAR)

Although most passages can be accomplished during daylight hours, it may be necessary to begin a passage well before dawn, in order to make a landfall in good light. Some passages may require a full overnight trip. In these waters, many vessels use inadequate or incorrect lighting at night, if at all. This necessitates diligent watchkeeping, and we have found that 2 people standing alternating watches under these conditions is stressful and tiring: for the long-distance crew, things apparently get into a stride by about day 2 or 3 on a long passage, but we never get that far. We added a small RADAR unit and have never regretted it. Many do not share our opinion and sail without.

The addition of a RADAR was prompted by an event at night in the Anegada Passage, between St Maarten and the British Virgin Islands. While distracted by the approach dead on reciprocal course of a fast-moving vessel(s) showing the strangest set of navigation lights, we neglected to monitor what we initially took to be a cruise ship bound for St Thomas on a parallel heading perhaps 5 to 10 miles away, and therefore no threat to us. It was in fact a bulk carrier – bridge and forecastle lit up with arc lamps - moving at 20-25 knots straight towards our port quarter. We saw it in time, but it passed too close for comfort.

Dinghy and Outboard

A means to get ashore anywhere is essential. The cruiser's dinghy has a hard life: bumps and scratches from rough surfaces, all day in the broiling sun, being dragged up abrasive beaches. The outboard likewise has a hard time of it. Some writers suggest that a planing dinghy (with 2 up, and with load of provisions and/or jerrycans) is vital. The 8-15 horsepower outboard able to do this is heavy, maybe 40-80 lbs, awkward to handle and maybe needing a derrick to raise and lower it onto the dinghy. The dinghy too has to be robust and heavy to carry the weight of the outboard, making hoisting it onto the foredeck more difficult, or necessitating davits.

Nice though it would be to have such equipment, we make do with a 3.5 horsepower 2-stroke outboard, a light rigid-bottomed inflatable, and suffer the inconvenience of getting spray in our faces and on our clothing in the rough waters common to open anchorages. But we do have to be careful in places where there are strong currents running. We invested in a small emergency pack which we take with us: mini flare kit, spare shear pin and spark plug and tools for the outboard, hand-held VHF radio and we never are without the oars. We also have a small dinghy anchor.

At night, we make sure we are well lit up and visible. One night dinghying back to the boat in Simpson's Bay Lagoon, St Maarten, we were nearly ridden down by a speeding powerboat, despite our having a flashlight lit. Close to shore, when there is so much light clutter, it is admittedly hard to see slow-moving objects. Because he was approaching us straight-on, we too had trouble seeing him! We subsequently found small flashing LED lights sold in cyclist stores, a kind of personal strobe, and we now use these as well at night in the dinghy

The following is unsubstantiated by us, so treat with caution. Apparently, PVC inflatables do not stand up well to the Caribbean sun. That said, the major manufacturer of this type is French, and I have seen many French yachts equipped with them. Furthermore, they are difficult to repair properly (the manufacturing process uses heat-sealing, not glue). The most robust and most easily repaired inflatables are constructed of Hypalon, which will have been glued together during assembly. Hence repair is second nature to them. Although they are naturally also the most expensive, we opted for this material of construction.

Survival Gear

Many (most) islands in the Eastern Caribbean have no national rescue service and little in the way of a Coast Guard. Some have a commercial rescue operator, but subscription is not worthwhile to the cruiser because one is usually there for only a short spell at a time. This means that one must be self-reliant. It is tempting to think of this lifestyle as one of carefree island-hopping by day, but this is an illusion: many of the passages between islands are open Atlantic for 30 to 40 miles and should one be forced to take to the liferaft, it is a long drift to the Central American isthmus. In our opinion, this is not an area for trying to make economies. So we bought a good one. And a crash bag which we pack before every long passage. And an EPIRB.

Ground tackle

If you want to sleep well, you need to have faith in your ground tackle. There are many types of anchor on the market. Although the majority of anchoring we do takes place in sand, the anchor had to be suitable for this but also for mangrove mud and also grass. Since no one anchor performs in all these conditions, the implication was that more than one type would be needed. Plough anchors, especially the Delta, have good holding characteristics in sand and grassy bottoms, albeit poor in soft mud. The Bruce type apparently works well in sand and mud, but not as well in grass. Danforth types are excellent for soft bottoms and sand, don't do well in grass and do not reset as reliably as other types.

So we have a Delta at the bow, all-chain rode, and small Fortress kedge anchor set up for regular use. In the locker are a spare Delta and a massive Danforth-type fluke anchor. We have the last-mentioned for emergency use: should a severe weather system come through and require us to take shelter in a mangrove, the major retaining anchor will have to be in soft mud. It seems logical to us to use the anchor type which will perform best in these admittedly abnormal circumstances.

Chain, snubbing line, anti-chafe system all had to be acquired. If you don't have a windlass, you will need a device which stops the chain running back out while you pause for breath between heaves.


Generally, charter companies do not provide spray-hoods on their yachts, and weekenders also often do without. This is acceptable when sailing for a week but no-one can do without a spray-hood over the medium to long term. A bimini (sun awning) which offers protection from the sun was also essential. We also have mesh sunscreens which we use to shield the cockpit – where we live, practically – from the sinking afternoon sun. With wind consistently from the East and the afternoon sun in the West, these get daily use.


We humm-ed and haaa-ed about a watermaker, but heard so many tales about the need for careful husbanding that we opted for four extra 5-gallon jugs instead. These proved very handy for topping up in places where there is no fuel dock, and help us 'stay out' just that bit longer. We have also had a vinyl/canvas raincatcher made, which we span over the foredeck.

Radio Equipment

Information about the weather can be obtained off the internet, but most people use radio.

Our prime means of hearing about the weather is via a Sony World Receiver (portable shortwave radio) equipped with SSB, have a wire connecting the aerial to the rigging to improve reception, a cable running from the earphone socket to the mic input of a laptop running weatherfax software which we bought from a commercial enterprise. Some software requires a modulator between radio and computer, ours does not. In the space of 30 minutes, this setup downloads 3 weatherfaxes showing wind and wave forecasts for 24, 48, and 72 hours ahead without (much) human intervention on our part. NOAA also provide radiofaxes showing sea-state up to 72 hours ahead, which we watch sporadically. We know cruisers who have thousands of dollars worth of marine SSB transmitter/receivers to do the same thing, and would have nothing smaller. It's a personal choice, and we have decided we have no use for an SSB transmitter, only a receiver. Were we making long ocean passages, we might think differently. (There is one disadvantage to radiofaxes: they do not show the likelihood of precipitation, which can have a significant effect on wind strength).

The yacht came fitted with a VHF mounted in the cabin. While that is better than nothing, a mic and control at the binnacle would be most useful. But changing the radio is an expensive job, and we haven't done this yet. Meantime, we have a second handheld VHF radio which we use in the cockpit, and which doubles as spare.

Diesel Filter

All diesel in the Caribbean is contaminated to some extent with water, thanks to area's naturally high humidity. Microbes grow at the water/diesel interface in tanks and when they die, produce a sludge which will eventually try to migrate to the injectors and cause a blockage. We installed a properly sized pre-filter in the diesel line. At the end of the season, it contains plenty of sludge. Fuel additives are commonly available to prevent the sludge forming in the first place and we use this too.

We also invested in a filter/funnel which separates water out from the diesel as it goes into the tank. We have tested its performance and it certainly does remove some of the water. We will never know if it takes out everything...

Books, Charts and Reference Material

We have invested in more guide books, charts, manuals than you can shake a stick at, but all of them have been worth it. A list of these is given in the sister article to this one, on the Caribbean page.


Dinghy (Tender, Dink)

Nuns rowing a dinghy in a pool

Funniest dinghy name I've seen: "Row vs Wade".

A dinghy is much more important than you'd think; having a proper dinghy greatly expands range of things you can get to. Sometimes the best anchorage is not the one closest to town or the best beach. And the dinghy is a safety item: it can tow/push the boat, carry additional anchors out, be a backup for the liferaft, pick up a MOB, take you ashore in a medical emergency, etc.


  • Hard (one-piece, or folding/nesting/two-piece).
    Durable, can be rowed, sailed and powered well, can build yourself, less likely to be stolen, cheaper.
    But heavy, hard to stow, can mark up the boat, can capsize or swamp, hard to get into from diving/snorkeling, surges and can flip while being towed.
    Ones with rounded bottoms are very tippy.
    Can make more stable and give positive flotation by tying fenders or Dinghy Dogs around the outside.

  • Inflatable.
    Light, easier to stow, won't mark up boat, hard to capsize, very stable, best to dive from, tows well, can serve as liferaft.
    But more expensive, more likely to be stolen, hard to row, impossible to row into wind, needs protection from sun and chafe, tubes take up some space that is usable in hard dinghy, harder to remove tar from, vulnerable to solvents.

  • Rigid-bottom inflatable (RIB).
    Similar to inflatable but more durable, easier to row, faster motoring, more expensive, heavier, harder to stow.

  • Hard with pontoons / Rigid Buoyancy Boat (RBB) / RID.
    Bullfrog Boats
    Making one by attaching fenders to a hard dinghy: article by Jim Isbell in Nov/Dec 2000 issue of Good Old Boat magazine

  • Motoring.
  • Sailing.
  • Rowable.
  • Sculling.
Inflatable floor types:
  • Fabric / flat-bottom.
  • Inflatable / air-deck.
  • Floorboard inserts.
  • Segmented floorboards.
  • Inflatable vee.
  • Hard vee / RIB (with vee-floor or flat floor).

And this.

SailNet - Tom Wood's "The Fundamentals Of Dinghy Choice"
SailNet - Sue and Larry's "Choosing a Dinghy"
SailNet - Tom Wood's "Dangerous Dinghies"
Four sailing dinghies (Fatty Knees 8, Walker Bay 8, Tinker Traveler, Eastport Pram) tested in Mar/Apr 2001 issue of Good Old Boat magazine
Walker Bay article in 9/2001 issue of Practical Sailor
Fabric and floorboard inflatables article in 6/2005 issue of Practical Sailor
Tradeoffs surveyed in article by Bob Wood in May/June 2000 issue of Good Old Boat magazine
Ten RIBs tested in article by Ed Sherman in 10/2003 issue of Cruising World magazine
Fourteen hard dinghies tested in article by Darrell Nicholson in 1/2004 issue of Cruising World magazine
Rollup and folding inflatables reviewed in article by Darrell Nicholson in 11/2003 issue of Cruising World magazine

From "Second Thoughts" article by Tim Murphy in 6/2004 issue of Cruising World magazine:
Cruisers in the south Caribbean or South Pacific usually upgrade to a hard-bottom inflatable dinghy with a 15+ horsepower motor. They go longer distances and through more chop than cruisers in north Caribbean or USA.

Larger-diameter pontoons (17-inch) keep you drier.

From John Dunsmoor:
The best most successful tender option I have seen is two tenders. The primary is a hard dinghy about 8 to 10 feet, easy to launch, rugged and can take a beating. This many times is a good rowing, sailing and has the provision for an outboard, say 4 hp. The second tender is an inflatable, say ten to fourteen feet with a larger outboard, up to a 25 hp.

The idea is that you need a working tender, to set anchors, get to shore, what have you. Then in the islands the forty-foot sailboat becomes a stationary home and the "sportboat" comes into play. Diving, snorkeling, fishing, going after supplies, visiting friends, all those wonderful activities.

If you are sailing with friends and cruising, having more than one dinghy is very convenient. Also there is security. It is a lot easier to lock up a rigid dinghy than an inflatable.

Speaking of security, tenders are stolen a lot. It used to be that on the list of high desire inflatables ranked pretty low. Most of the time they were stolen for their larger engines. A 15 hp outboard is a couple of grand, in many islands this is about a year's worth of wages. The inflatable goes into the dump. They may be more sophisticated these days, recognizing that inflatables are worth something also.

We always used a hard dinghy till our last trip to the Bahamas. With proper calculation I would go to shore with the inflatable without the motor and they are tough to row but can be done, I had a piece of single braid with a 1/8" cable inside, this I would lock to something. Never did have a problem with anyone stealing the tender.

New on the scene, well relatively new, are rigid bottom inflatables. They are great, but they are also expensive. I have thought that they would be easy to rig as a sailing dinghy, very light and would scream across the water, especially down wind. They row a lot better than a regular inflatable, due to the rigidity of the bottom. Downside: they are expensive ($2000 to $3000); this is a lot of cruising, but it might be worth it. With moderate power they run great. We just bought one for one of our boats, a Carib 9'8" model, $2300 with tax and quite the boat. Even with the 4 hp and four persons the boat will just about plane.

How hard could it be to install a centerboard and mast step ?


The best situation we had was on a schooner, I vowed if ever I had the ability to make the decision I would have this again. We had a fourteen foot tender, on chocks. Ready to go at any time. This was located between the masts on a flush deck vessel. We had a pair of spare halyards, one from the foremast and the other from the main mast. One person could raise the tender about three feet off the deck, securing the halyards and then push the tender over the side. Simple tilt and over she would go. Then holding both halyards it was a simple matter to lower the tender into the water along side the vessel. I would then let out about two feet of slack. The tender being held both bow and stern would sit quietly along side. I would then enter the tender, start the engine and disconnect the halyards and steam away.

Fourteen feet is a lot of tender, and it sure was nice. From concept to motoring away took maybe ten minutes at most. Coming back was easy also. I would come along side, hook up the bow halyard, hook up the stern and then climb aboard. Hoist one, then the other till the tender was back on deck. Sometimes as a simple overnight procedure I would only hoist the tender about four feet out of the water and let it hang over the side, ready for the next shore trip.

One thing I have learned over the years, if it isn't easy it won't get done. Towing tenders is the first step to losing them. Having a good storage system means having a tender that is fun and practical to use. Bigger is better.

From Dennis Fria of Mustang Island Yachts:
... When cruising, your boat is your home, and the dink is the family car. If you're driving a clunker around the neighborhood, you're not too adventurous! With a good and FAST dinghy you really expand your horizons! Sometimes you may want to explore a reef that might be 6 or 8 miles away. With a slow dinghy you probably won't do that but once! But with a fast dink it's a breeze!

A good example: our first trip to the Bahamas we took the rigid FBG punt I built. When we left I had only oars. And that worked for a while, but it soon became obvious that our explorations would be short! By the time we got to So. Florida it was obvious that we needed a motor. So we got a 2.5 HP. Then when we got to Bimini a fellow cruiser invited me along on a lobstering expedition. "Follow me!" So he took off in his fast dinghy, and I followed in my slow dinghy. Offshore! Out into the Gulfstream! And south nearly 6 miles to Turtle Rocks, which took me nearly an hour! Offshore! That's crazy in a little 8' punt! But, hey, what did I know!!

By the time we got to Georgetown we were really feeling limited with our little slow dink. We anchored near Stocking Island, at what's called Volleyball Beach, and it was a full 2 miles across Elizabeth Harbor to Georgetown. It only took one trip with both of us in that dinghy to realize we were gonna have to have something faster! There's a good chop out in that harbor, and after a half-hour ride over, with the chop slopping into the dink, we were both soaked! Then we had to do it again on the way back to the boat!

So, we bought a 6 HP Yamaha and that really helped! Much faster trips, but still very wet! And a VERY limited payload: just the two of us and 2 bags of groceries! No more! Boy, were we envious of those folks with a good fast dinghy!

An RIB is the best way to go, especially with at least a 10 HP OB. The bigger the tubes, the better. I like Carib RIBs. Big tubes.

The problem is storing it. RIBs are heavy, so they are tough to get on deck. Also not too compact, so tough to store. Many folks use davits, but I don't like them. I lash my dinghy on the foredeck, and that little punt only weighs about 90 lbs, so we winch it up with a Primary winch and a halyard.

If you have the room on the foredeck, that is, I think, the appropriate place for a dinghy. You won't be able to do that with a cutter, though, as the staysail (which is typically on a self-tacking boom) is in the way. Island Packets are typically cutters and have davits. But, again, I don't like davits.

Possibly a good compromise is the new inflatable floor dinghies. I've had some experience with them and they are pretty good. You have to get that damn thing up on a plane, and to do that you need a rigid floor. Inflatables with plywood floors don't plane so well, and that's why the RIBs are so great! However, these new inflatable floor jobs work pretty well. The floors inflate to high pressure and are solid enough to allow the boat to plane. ...


West Marine's "Inflatable Boats"
BoatU.S.'s "Inflatable Boats"
Lightweight RIBs (Apex, Aria, Zodiac) reviewed in 7/15/2000 issue of Practical Sailor
Inflatables tested in 12/2000 issue of Practical Sailor
RIB reviews in Practical Sailor's 1999 Gear-Buying Guide.

  • Type (RIB, inflatable floor, removable floor, RID, etc).
  • Price.
  • Length (some dinghy-docks say maximum length is 12 feet).
  • Tube material (PVC, Hypalon, etc).
  • Tube diameter.
  • Number of tubes.
  • Material construction (overlapped joints better than butt-joints).
  • Weight.
  • Max HP.
  • Max capacity.
  • Hoisting points.
  • Pump.
  • Oarlocks ?

  • Hard dinghy can capsize when getting in (from boat, dock, swimming); an inflatable is better.

  • Inflatables are very hard to row: no keel, lots of windage, high freeboard. Paddling while sitting on the bow works somewhat.

  • A moderate-sized (3 inch ?) tear or hole will deflate and sink an inflatable surprisingly quickly. Get the motor off immediately to avoid submerging it.

  • From 12/2000 issue of Practical Sailor:
    "When it comes to [performance of] inflatable boats, length is nearly everything."

  • Hypalon is more durable than PVC.

  • Make sun-proof cover for inflatable dinghy to protect it.

  • Add extra layer of canvas to dinghy's inside floor.

  • Add sacrificial canvas to outside of dinghy's bow and stern to protect when beached.

  • On tubes: never use products containing silicone (ArmorAll); use 303 (contains UV protectant). Silicone can prevent later patches from adhering.

  • Bad (at least in hot climate): Zodiac, Metzler, older Quicksilvers ?

  • A couple of people say Zodiac's "new fancy flush valves" leak.

  • Bad (according to John Neal): Tinker.

  • My RIB has an airspace in the hull, between the deep-V outer hull and the flat inner sole. Water keeps getting in there, and won't drain out; I have to pump it out. The first time, the extra weight snapped welds on my davits before I figured out what was happening. I'd much rather have a hull with no airspace in it.

  • My RIB has a deep-V hull and a heavy motor; it throws quite a wake at any speed above slow. Maybe a flat-bottom or cathedral-hull dinghy would be able to go faster through harbors and no-wake zones.

  • I found that, when snorkeling from the dinghy, I can propel myself up high enough to get over the tube and back into the RIB if I am wearing swim-fins, but can't if my feet are bare. A ladder or rope with a loop or using the outboard lower unit as a step might work.

From Alan Eddy's "So You Want To Sail Around the World":
It is very annoying to arrive back where you have tied the dinghy, only to find the damned thing floating deflated on the surface like a huge skin. Rubber dinghies are fine for relatively protected anchorages where facilities exist for handling them. Although more difficult to sweat aboard and stow, a wood or fiberglass dinghy will prove much more reliable over the years.
Tom Neale agrees; he says inflatables pop.

From Beau Vrolyk on IRBS live-aboard mailing list:
Thoughts on inflatable:
  1. Larger is ALWAYS better. In particular the larger tubes on some brands (larger than our Achilles) were neat for a number of reasons:

    1. Tubes get caught under the counter in the stern [of the big boat]. Larger tubes keep the dink out of there.

    2. Larger tubes are better to sit on; you're further from the evil water stuff.

    3. Larger tubes don't slide under docks as easily; we popped our Achilles on a steel beam under a dock in Tahiti.

  2. Light colors are ALWAYS better. They get dirty looking, but, you can sit on them when it's hot (BLACK IS NOT TOLERABLE), you can always wash them, and they don't absorb heat causing the dink to blow up. This happened in So. Calif. one time when I was small. Big BANG!

  3. Hard bottoms are ALWAYS better. This, of course, applies to the skipper and crew as well as the dink! The plywood inserts in our Achilles were a pain to get installed, but worked "ok" once there. The single-piece fiberglass hard bottoms are the best. Particularly the ones with a bit of dead rise and a "V" section forward.

  4. Don't put the maximum sized motor the mfg says is ok on your dink. We nearly flipped our Achilles with a 15 hp going up wind in a bad chop in about 35 knots of wind. We were putting a second anchor out and got going a bit fast (10 knots). The resulting 45 knots of air speed got us well and truly airborne for too too long a time. We did something similar when yours-truly was coming home late in a glass-calm flat out. Hit a wake and went almost 10 feet in the air prior to landing motor first and just barely falling forward rather than aft. Jeessss, it was dark out (should I say drunk out) and I didn't see that 3 foot wake. If we'd had the 25 HP motor that the mfg rated the dink for, I'd have been swimming or fish food.

  5. I think you get pretty much what you pay for. The expensive dinks are certainly nicer dinks. But, after all - it's only supposed to float and get you to the beach party.

From Kathy Barron on the SailNet liveaboard-list:
... Don't scrimp on the inflatable dinghy; buy one with large tubes and an inflatable keel and at least 9' in length. We met more cruisers who wished they had bought the next larger size. You end up transporting guests, laundry, water, fuel, provisions and SCUBA gear in them. Sometimes you'll want to set another anchor and will need to carry the anchor and chain in the dink. ...

From Jeff Smith on The Live-Aboard List:
Tips with respect to inflatables:

1) Hypalon is the material of choice. Most other brand names are PVC products with fancy names and the UV will destroy them. Count on it.

2) Look closely at the seams where pieces of hypalon join. Interestingly, the uglier seams are MUCH better than the pretty ones. To elaborate:

Recognizing that many purchasers don't bother to look past esthetics, a number of inflatable makers join the materials in their dinghys using BUTT joints for seams. ... Where the two sections are butted together and then covered with a strip of material. It looks really pretty, but is NOT at all strong. You do not want to buy a dinghy where butt joints are used. They WILL fail eventually.

Instead, look for a dinghy where they have built overlapping joints. They don't look as pretty but are substantially stronger than butt joints. ... the dinghy with overlapping seams is FAR stronger and better made. Look for it on Avons for example, and many other quality inflatables. The smooth pretty joints and seams of a butt-jointed inflatable are doomed to premature failure.

One other thing. Look carefully at the oarlocks. Even if you think you'll never row it, you will need to row one day, and when you do you want to be sure that the oars are held firmly and in proper location to row.

On the subject of oars, also make sure that they stow well so that you don't end up having them break loose underway and flop around ... especially under motor.

Finally look closely to be sure that the transom is overbuilt and well stressed. Again, pretty is not the key here. The transom takes a lot of stress and you need to be sure it is well made. I've seen a lot of inflatables fail at the transom. Overbuilt is good.

From Brian Woloshin on Cruising World message board:
Forget the RIB, forget big engines ...

I sail on a 44-footer and use a Caribe rollup - flat floor and a 3.3 Mercury (Tohatsu, Evinrude, Nissan, all the same engine).

The engine weighs 30 pounds and is easily handled by one person without a crane. It has an integral tank and we only carry extra fuel for long trips.

It will not plane. What's your hurry? Relax a little. How far are you really going in the dink? By the time you mount davits and a crane for the outboard plus the RIB and a 100-pound engine, your stern will squat. Want a windvane? Forget it with davits. Store the dinghy on your foredeck and you can't get forward without climbing over it or under it.

My dink sits athwartships under the boom while sailing, and it is rolled up in a locker for offshore passages. No tripping over the thing if you have to go forward in bad weather.

From JeanneP on Cruising World message board:
We always deflated our inflatable floor dinghy before sailing somewhere. It took us about 15 or 20 minutes to deflate it, suck all the air out, fold and stow it. We have huge lazarettes so it was easy to stow.

Reinflating it was extremely simple - we used a 12V high-volume air pump, finishing up with a hand pump. Took maybe 10 minutes to inflate and launch. I agree that it can get squirrely because it is much lighter than other dinghies, but we soon got used to it. It also was so light that deploying it and bringing it back on board could be done by one person, though it was of course much easier and faster with two. I admit that the 12V pump made it very easy for us to do this.

We could not see any way to put davits on our boat. And we knew that towing a dinghy was a bad idea (because we had done it until we finally learned just how many things can, and inevitably do, go wrong).

Additionally, most cruisers we met who had a RIB not only worried about carrying it on the boat, but also about what to do with it when they went ashore where the tide range exceeded 3 feet or so. The dinghy and a 15 HP outboard gets really heavy the further up the beach you have to carry/drag it. We had trouble carrying a 5 HP outboard and an inflatable with wood floor. Those wheels that are supposed to help didn't seem to do so great a job.

All that said, I think a RIB is a great idea, especially if you won't be doing ocean passages. But from our experience, it can be a burden, too.

From DG on Cruising World message board:
We had an Avon 320 HPIF (inflatable floor). It is/was a great dinghy for what it was. The construction was very good and we were quite pleased. The negative was that though it was portable and we deflated it before longer trips, it was a SERIOUS PITA. First, you just dreaded the idea of deflating and stowing, or inflating and deploying (depending upon whether you were coming or going). Eventually we purchased an electric pump (the military type so that we could use it to inflate the floor to the proper pressure), and then a portable battery to run it (one of the emergency battery things people use to jump-start their cars/boats). The system we devised worked reasonably well as a compromise, and we cruised that way for a few years. Nevertheless, the happiness of arriving at a new destination always was dampened a bit by the "ugh, I need to inflate and launch the dinghy" blues.

Another negative of the HPIF was that the performance never was as advertised. We used a Mercury 15 hp, the largest engine rated for the boat. We sure could pop up on a plane in a heartbeat and the boat was fast, which was great. The floor, however, definitely undulated whenever you planed, notwithstanding the claims of rigidity. You really will bounce around in one of these boats when you plane. Likewise, because it was so light, you were a bit out of control at speed. A couple of times when planing we hit a small wave and the bow popped up and caught air, and I was concerned we might flip. We didn't, and we probably wouldn't have, but we definitely had a feeling of being out of control. Obviously this could be a factor of our using a 15 hp engine, but the boat was rated for it. Likewise, it was somewhat more difficult to stand in the dinghy with the HPIF. You could do it, and it wasn't horrifying or anything, but you never had the sense of standing on something firm.

We then bought a larger mothership. We debated whether to use the Avon HPIF or get a RIB. We happened upon a used 9.5 foot AB RIB for a very reasonable price, so we bought it. We haven't looked back. Obviously, the RIB is not as portable as the HPIF, but it simply performs better and is easier to use. The one negative on performance is that it takes longer (by a couple of seconds) to pop up on a plane, but otherwise that's really it. The RIB probably is a bit slower as well, but not by a meaningful amount. We clocked ourselves in the Avon HPIF at about 24 knots. In the AB we were at about 22. We very rarely travel at that speed, so the difference is not meaningful to us. Also, the AB is about 1.5 feet shorter, so that could also come into play. Also also, we did these tests in a placid empty harbor. If you have any wave action or wakes at all, the RIB definitely would perform better, as she is not impacted as much due to the stable v-shaped hull. This raises a related point, which is that the RIB will be more "seaworthy" and make you feel more secure in those instances when you are in the thing in poor weather.

Anyway, the RIB is much more durable and turnkey in terms of everyday use. Set the hook, jump in the dink, and go. Also, you could just throw your stuff in there without worrying about puncturing the floor, or damaging the floor's valve, which sits very very proud on the Avon.

No doubt, the HPIF is a good compromise and the Avon is a good boat. If portability is a preeminent concern, then go with a HPIF. That being said, the RIB will be easier to use, as you likely will grow to dread inflating/deflating the HPIF, and that will mean you will use it less.

Interestingly enough, the HPIF boats (at least the notable brands) are as expensive as RIBs, so price doesn't really play into this equation (now there's a first!).

From Rick Sylvester on Cruising World message board:
Now we'll be going to a RIB with davits. We live aboard and cruise a couple months a year.

Our experience with the air floor:

Once inflated it stays inflated and lives strapped inverted on the foredeck. As far as your notions of putting it below, I'll bet you won't. It's a bunch of hassle to deflate and pack in the valise and wrestle it down. Never mind that if it's been floating for a few days it's going to smell really lovely below. I suppose you could clean it each time but jeez ... Also, even though we cable-lock ours when it's in the water overnight, it's still not as secure as being lifted free on davits. I'm also a big weenie about towing. I have visions of that sucker getting out of hand (or away) while in crappy conditions that occasionally come from nowhere.

I hate davits but at some point practicality wins out. Go ahead and cave. It's not so bad. Once the I-told-you-so's die down you'll be much happier.

From sded on Cruising World message board:
We have had an Avon 3.11 air floor for 10 years and have been very happy with it. If anything, I might have gotten a slightly smaller version, since this is about as heavy as comfortable for one person to slog around. Plywood floor was too difficult to insert for inflation; slatted floor made the whole thing too heavy/difficult to get in/out of locker. Of course you need to inflate it, and the high-pressure floor takes a couple of hundred pumps, but you can tow it, leave it on deck just like a RIB if desired if you are planning to be out for a while - you do need to occasionally top up the high pressure floor. I also had to replace the floor recently - UV finally got it, so this time I am using a piece of outdoor carpeting to protect it. It planes with two people and gear with an 8 HP Evinrude, but is not as speedy as a RIB. Without davits or a lifting mechanism/convenient place to keep it stowed all the time, it has been a good compromise. And it can be stowed easily in the sail locker when we don't need it for a while.

From "Inflatable Maintenance" article by Jan Mundy in issue 2001 #1 of DIY Boat Owner magazine:
  • First, figure out the construction of your boat:
    • Welded PVC (Quicksilver, West Marine, Zodiac, etc), or
    • Glued Hypalon (AB, Achilles, APEX, Avon, Novurania, Seaworthy, older West Marine, etc).
  • Single biggest cause of damage is running under-inflated: everything flexes and chafes. Should be inflated drum-hard.
  • Don't leave inflatable in water constantly; store on deck or davits.
  • Keep it clean. Remove grit and sand, especially in joints.
  • Never use Armor All or other silicone-based treatments; they make later repairs impossible.
  • Use 303 Protectant (non-silicone) to protect against UV.
  • Use a cover to protect against UV.
  • If wood parts, keep them dry, seal them with epoxy, and paint them with polyurethane.
  • To repair:
    1. Inflate the boat.
    2. Cut a patch with rounded corners, minimum diameter 4 inches.
    3. Dry-fit patch, mark borders with grease pencil.
    4. Abrade surface with emery cloth (for welded PVC) or grinding stone in Dremel (if glued Hypalon).
    5. Also abrade the patch if not pre-abraded.
    6. Wipe surface and patch with MEK (for welded PVC) or acetone (if glued Hypalon). Repeat three times using clean rags.
    7. Brush on three very thin coats of glue to patch and surface, five minutes apart (or follow glue directions).
    8. Apply patch and smooth it down, pressing firmly.
    9. Remove excess glue before it cures.
    10. Let dry for 24 hours.

From S/V Scotty Ann on Cruising World message board:
Re: What is the best / most effective Hypalon glue?

Your best bet is Bostic [Bostik ?] two-part, with 5200 a close second. It is the only thing I will let 5200 on the boat to do. Because the Bostic sometimes is difficult to obtain, I have used 5200 extensively and been quite pleased (and surprised) at the result.

Pump for inflating dinghy:
From JeanneP on Cruising World message board:
... Our newest toy is an electric (12v) air pump for inflating dinghies, bought from West Marine. High volume, low pressure. Need to top up using the hand pump to fully inflate. But it makes all the difference. And put the hose on the other side and it deflates completely, sucking out all that excess air that makes the dinghy so difficult to stow. ...
Several other people and sites also recommend the "start with electric pump and then finish with hand-pump (better: foot-pump)" strategy.

From George Geist on IRBS live-aboard mailing list:
> Does anyone know of a quality, reliable,
> 12-volt dinghy inflator ?

In short - NO! I've gone through several. They were all cheap thin plastic things really more suited for inflatable beach toys and broke after a while.

The only unit I would really recommend is the manual pump made by and delivered with the METZELER dinghy. It's a large orange cylinder, about the size of one of those Orion flaregun containers, operated by hand (not foot), contains a pressure gauge and can be used to quickly inflate or deflate a dinghy. I think it'll beat any 12 volt contraption and if you can get your hands on one - buy it, you'll like it! Mine came with the METZELER inflatable which has long gone to that great dinghy haven in the sky - but the pump is what remains and will probably stay with me forever.


One must consider what the pump is designed for. There are basically two types:

1) Low pressure, high volume - that's for inflatable dinghies, air mattresses etc.

2) High pressure, low volume - that's for tyres and the above mentioned air suspensions.

If you try to inflate an automotive tyre with a type 1 pump, you won't get enough pressure, if you on the other hand try to inflate a dinghy with a type 2 tyre pump, the process is very slow and you have time for more than one brewski before you can float your boat.

From Rob Hepler on IRBS live-aboard mailing list:
How about one of those 12 volt shop-vacs? I used my house shop vac (I took the blower unit off the garbage container) to inflate a 10' inflatable I once had. It would pump it up (hard) in about 1.5 minutes.

P.S. Any good vac/blower will draw quite a few amps.

Pumps from Northwest River Supplies

From ACB on Cruising World message board:
... Stow on coachroof half inflated (one compartment inflated) with the other compartment rolled. Will serve as a panic liferaft (abandon ship with the pump, and inflate the other half in the water - this has been done in earnest!) and only half as much pumping up to do. ...

From McRory's Logbook:
It seems to be common knowledge among veteran Caribbean cruisers that Zodiac makes the worst dinghy for the tropics. Apparently if left in colder climes they can serve their purpose well for years. But get them in the hot Caribbean sun and they melt like ice cream, and nearly that fast. Statistically, since leaving Florida, we have not seen a single other Zodiac.
Also, several people complain bitterly about Zodiac not standing behind their products, won't buy Zodiac again.

From Michelle d'Aoust on the Morgan mailing list:
> ... Quicksilver dink and noticed that the surface of some of the
> rubber "tabs" (those things which connect transom, "d" rings, handles,
> etc.) is sticky. Sort of as if a chemical had attacked the surface. ...

... we also have an Inflatable Repair, Sales and Service business. I think your problem with the Quicksilver is just the nature of the PVC fabric they are made of. Yes, it's fabric that's coated with either PVC or Hypalon on the outside - NOT RUBBER. As far as I know, only Quicksilver and Zodiac/Bombard/Seylor inflatables are made with PVC which does not have anywhere near the longevity of hypalon. That is why PVC inflatables should always have a cover over them to protect them when not in use. There is nothing you can do to stop or alleviate the problem. It's the UV that has broken down the outer surface. It just gets worse. I wish there was better news.

From Peter Hendrick:
Caribe MVP9: great, light, and economical; couldn't carry larger one.

From Lee Haefele on The Live-Aboard List:
My experience with a 4-piece plywood-bottom inflatable (Boat US / Seaworthy): I HATE the thing. The bottom is impossible to assemble, the side struts broke, then the replacements frayed and poked a hole in the tube. Life of the painted plywood is probably short (less than 4 yrs). It will not plane 3 adults, even small ones with a good 8 HP motor. Spend the $$ for a RIB, I wish I had. If you will be carrying more than 2 people go for the 9.9 motor, they have a larger displacement and propeller size, giving a lot more snort.

About Tinker dinghies:
From Tim C on Cruising World message board:
I have a 12' Traveler.

It's very well-made, sails surprisingly well and is the only inflatable I've found that I can row into the wind. It also doesn't need a big motor (lifting a heavy outboard is one of my pet peeves). I think you will find it is better constructed than any other brand out there - certainly more than the very mass-produced Apex or Zodiacs.

The trouble is that it's very expensive. You pay for what you get (quality). I'm not convinced that the high cost justifies the features unless you are going to get one in lieu of a liferaft. In my case I don't need a liferaft (I have an unsinkable trimaran). To be fair you should compare the Tinker against an Apex and a liferaft. That's where the economies come in.

From Alan on Cruising World message board:
Tinkers are supposed to be very good boats - they are recommended by the Pardey's because you can get a sailing kit (optional) with them and you can use them as a life raft (another extra option). This means that you can still get around if your dinghy motor conks out (as long as the wind is blowing). Also, you don't have to carry a separate life raft. But ... this versatility comes at a price. They are very expensive.

We looked at Tinkers at a recent boat show and decided they were just too expensive. We ended up with an Achilles (still top quality) and we love it.

From Henk Meuzelaar on Cruising World message board:
We have had our 12 ft Tinker Star Traveler for 5 years and love it. It folds up readily, it rows very well and planes easily with a small outboard, it is very safe against accidental air loss (4 independent air chambers), it is easy to board (over the submersible bow), it has an inflatable canopy option (for use as a lifeboat) and it comes with the best warranty in the business (10 YEARS !). Practical Sailor (and, I believe also Cruising World or Sail) have tested the Tinker and compared it against other inflatables 4 or 5 years ago, if I remember well. However, although they had mostly good things to say about it (especially rowing ability and warranty) it was also hard to do a real comparison because it is such an "odd bird".

Besides the high price, my only complaint is that it is difficult to sail close-hauled because it lacks a single rigid frame that ties the mast step to the attachments for shrouds and forestay. Therefore the mast tends to wobble around. [In fact, our twice-used sail kit is for sale for 50 % of its replacement value, OBO].

We use it as "offshore collision get-away insurance" by hoisting and securing it high between our stern davits, fully inflated, but with deflated canopy and covered by a smooth tarp to avoid filling up with rain and spray. A sharp knife is tied up nearby to enable launching it over our open transom at a moment's notice. Would only advise this for vessels with very buoyant, dry sterns that have little tendency of getting pooped, though.

From Ron Radko on Cruising World message board:
I also have a 12' Traveler. I absolutely love it. The one I tried before that was the Avon Redcrest, and I absolutely hated it. Even though the Tinker is considerably bigger, it doesn't weigh much more than the RedCrest (I think the weight for the Traveler is about 70 lbs without sailing gear). And it folds into a package that is quite small. I needed something that would work without a motor, and was light, and easy to setup take down. The Tinker does all that. It sails decently and rows well. It's ludicrously stable (1600 lb load capacity). I haven't run mine under motor, so I don't know how it compares to others under motor.

As for price, the basic 12' boat is not necessarily that much more than other 12' boats, it's when you start adding the sails and other options that it gets more expensive. The quality seems to be very high on it as well.

From Jim Manzari on The Live-Aboard List:
The robust oar-locks are one of the things I like best about the Avon Redcrest. The design of the oar-locks makes it possible to really put your back into a stroke without fear that the oarlock will break off. This is important if you find yourself in the situation where it is necessary to row out a second anchor in the face of a rising gale, something we did several times during our 4-year North/South Atlantic cruise. Placing the anchor and rope/chain rode into the back of the dinghy (as the French say -- in an organised heap), it was possible to row into a stiff wind while the rode paid out behind. Having a relatively soft transom tube rather than a rigid vertical motor mount makes it much easier to feed the anchor rode over the stern of the dinghy as one rows away from the boat.

Get the longest oars that you can swing comfortably and take some spares, for one or more will surely be lost during a multi-year cruise.

What I didn't like about the Avon Redcrest were the inflation valves. The valves were protected by a simple push-in plug which was easily snagged and lost. Sand, salt, and sun then damaged the interior valve. It would have been much better if valve had been protected by a screw-on type of cover.

The fabric seemed to be un-killable after 4 years of constant abuse. The seams, however, were damaged by razor clams along the NE coast of Brazil and French Guiana. This was entirely our fault for leaving the dinghy in the water continuously. Had we taken it out of the water whenever we were on the boat and/or cleaned it more frequently this would never have happened.

From Bob Dryer on The Live-Aboard List:
Beware of the current version of the Redcrest outboard bracket; the one with the four "buttons".

I found that unless I topped up the inflation daily, there was sufficient play in the bracket for the motor to pull the bracket back far enough for the prop shaft to get way out of horizontal, so that the motor lost most of its drive.

I sent the boat to an Avon service station and they said everything was up to spec. I complained to West Marine, where I had bought the Redcrest and, wonderful folks that they are, they gave me a refund with no hassle.

From Brooke Oberg and Ed Pare' on The Live-Aboard List:
We just got back from our maiden voyage with our new inflatable. The folding Achilles LEX 96 replaced a 6'7" by 3'6" hard FG pram. We are _SO_ glad we did this. By the way, getting the floorboards in took about 2 minutes - nothing to it. The thing actually is everything the manufacturer said it would be - a welcome change.

We put the boat together on the deck under the boom. We handle the boat with the spinnaker halyard. At 81 pounds, one person can drop it in the water or haul it back out. I'm pretty sure I could even mount the 29# outboard and do this but I don't need to ... yet. The tubes keep any water from entering the boat. The inflatable is far more stable than our hard dink was and we can get on and off stepping pretty much anywhere we want to. My last experience in a hard dinghy resulted in an unplanned swim and a sinking dink! The tube is high enough to step easily on a boarding ladder. The plywood thwart makes more sense than an inflatable thwart because you can put your legs or stuff under it. I sat my 250# on the starboard tube close to the motor and never felt any instability (or water!).

The Nissan 3.5 is really more motor than the boat needed but it was the smallest motor I could find with neutral. Neutral is absolutely necessary for starting and controlling the boat at low speeds. I can even flush the motor while it sits on the stern pulpit by just strapping on a bucket of fresh water and making sure it is in neutral! The 1.4 liter capacity is only good for 30-40 minutes but then, it was only intended to be a tender, not a cruising machine. Anybody have any experience getting gas in one of these things on the water?

I was looking for any tendency of the boat to follow the curvature of the waves but it didn't happen. The inflatable keel is _not_ meant to be a load carrying cell but something to harden up the floor and keep it from bending. We had fun "surfing" down the swells coming down the channel.

Chris Caswell's "Inflatable Repair"
SailNet - Tom Wood's "Inflatable Maintenance"
BoatsToGo (fabric and supplies)

Finding a slow leak:
  1. Valves, seams, joints, rub points are most likely places.
  2. Inflate the tubes to full or beyond full, coat with soapy water, look for bubbles.
  3. Coat with soapy water, wrap with thin clear plastic wrap, leave for a day or two, look for bubbles under the plastic.
  4. For inside leak, fill dinghy with water, leave for a while, look for bubbles.
  5. Replace O-rings on valves.
  6. Mostly fill a chamber with water, leave for a while, look for wet spot. Dry out well when done.
  7. Inject "inflatable sealant" (or tire "fix-a-flat") and hope it gets the leak. But it could gunk up the valves or any built-in pump.

    From Mark S. on Cruisers Forum:
    I took my inflatable to a "professional" for repair earlier this year, and they put some of that liquid latex sealant inside the tube that they worked on.

    The liquid gummed up the valve. I spent a few hours picking bits of partly-dried latex out of the valve with needlenose pliers. It helped, but the valve still doesn't seal as well as it used to. You can hear the air hissing out when you disconnect the pump; put the cap on and screw it down promptly.

    After several months, the liquid was still tacky. The insides of the tube were stuck together every time I tried to inflate it. I can't use the electric air pump on that side, because the pressure from the pump is not enough to overcome the adhesive effect.

    Every time I deflate the tube, it smells like somebody spilled a bottle of ammonia. It irritates my nose and my eyes. I keep thinking that if I inflate/deflate the boat enough times, all the ammonia will evaporate, but not yet.

    In summary, I really wish they had not put this stuff in my boat.

    BTW: If you are looking at the same stuff I saw in West Marine, the package instructions explicitly state that it is not intended to repair leaks.
    From cchris0411 on Cruisers Forum:
    I had lent my zodi inflatable to a neighbor, he put a can of the fix a flat into the inflatable and it did just as what has been posted, turned into a mess. The inflatable was deflated and stuck together. I did not even try to mess with it, pulled the floor and ordered a new one. This was an expensive lesson. In my opinion the product is great for band-aid fix on tires, but will never get near my dock again.
    Inflatable Boat Internal Sealant Kit is supposed to dry, and not make the insides of the tubes stick together when deflated.

    Bixler's ToobSeal.

    Marine sealant may have a short shelf life; may not be in stock at a marine store.

    Could fill the tubes with a polyurethane closed-cell expanding foam (but that seems expensive) ?

Painting dinghy tubes:
I asked specifically about painting a Hypalon dinghy; not sure if these things would work for a PVC dinghy.

  • Dinghy-tube paint from manufacturers is expensive, may not cover underlying colors with less than 2 or 3 coats, and seems to be hard to buy in USA (maybe some EPA rules have kicked in ?).

  • Latex or rubberized roofing paint. Should be more flexible than other paints. Usually available only in black, green, or red.

  • Rubber roof coating, such as for RV's, such as Elixir/Heng PLAS-T-COTE, or KOOL SEAL.
    PPL's "Rubber Roof - Coatings"

  • Rubberized pool paint, such as CRC Rubber-Base Pool Paint. Available only in 1-gallon size ? But it may be bad to use a chlorinated paint on Hypalon (chlorosulfonated polyethylene). Asked a manufacturer, and they didn't respond to that issue, but said "it's not suitable to paint a flexible surface".

  • Start with 2-part polyurethane paint, mix it up, add about 25% of 5200, apply to dinghy (quickly; it kicks off fast), add coat or two of dinghy paint on top, can take up to 2 weeks (!) to dry if use 7-day-cure 5200. If you don't add the dinghy paint on top, the 2-part/5200 combination gives an extremely slippery surface when wet.

    I tried this 7/2014, and it was a fiasco:
    Bought 750 ml of 2-part paint (Epifanes white epoxy primer; couldn't get anything else in reasonable size or color), and normal white 5200 (couldn't get any other version of 5200).

    Mixed 2/3 of the paint and catalyst; wasn't sure I needed it all. Waited 15 minutes. Added all of the 5200. Then decided to do the rest of the paint and catalyst. Waited a couple of minutes, started painting.

    The 5200 started kicking off immediately, making big lumps on the brush and on the dinghy tubes. Managed to get the fabric coated, but it looks a mess. Applied only one hypalon area patch (wanted to do half a dozen), and that was a struggle, because of the lumps.

    Maybe I should have used slow-cure 5200 ? Or maybe adding that second shot of paint and catalyst once the 5200 was added is what ruined it ? Did I buy the wrong paint ?

  • Many people say don't use acrylic latex housepaint: it will peel or flake off in 6-12 months. But someone else showed me their dinghy which had been painted that way, and looked great 12 months later.

Before painting:
Clean the dinghy fabric (maybe with acetone; not sure if okay for PVC).
Lightly sand the dinghy fabric to give the paint something to grip.

A dinghy can be:
  • Towed.
    Bad: easy to lose if painter chafes through, easier to steal, bangs into boat at night, stuff grows on bottom of it, water and sun age it, could foul propeller, can't reverse, awkward when docking, dangerous in heavy weather, best to hoist motor anyway, best to remove all contents anyway, slows boat down slightly, can swamp or capsize, might prevent you from trolling a fishing line.

    Maybe use a small drogue behind the dinghy while towing, and/or make the painter up as series drogue.

    From Erik Hammarlund on Cruising World message board:
    There's an easy way to prevent dink hits from behind underway:


    Get a strong plastic funnel. Thread the painter through it. Tie a knot between the funnel and the dinghy, a little over a dinghy length away from the dink. Tie another knot on the other side (the towing-boat side) of the funnel.

    When the dink starts to surf down a wave it will encounter a steadily increasing resistance as the funnel turns around. As long as the boat-dinghy line is long enough (3 dinghy lengths should do) you'll never hit the boat even in steep following seas. You can play with the rope lengths and funnel size to suit you and the concept will still work. Under normal conditions the funnel is towed pointy end first and is often suspended above the water entirely; in any case it offers almost no resistance.


  • Attached-towed (one end attached to stern of boat).
    Can leave motor on dinghy most times, stows and deploys quickly.

  • Hoisted onto davits.
    Types of davits:
    • Clip-on (clip to dinghy's gunwale; remove motor; flip dinghy up over davits).
    • Rail-mounted (lift straight up, or lift and swivel).
    • Deck-mounted (stronger than rail-mounted).
    Davit power:
    • Manual.
    • Electric.
    • Hydraulic (most powerful).
    Davits are bad because: create windage, cut down visibility, may need cover, adds weight high up, dangerous if pooped / dinghy filled, ugly, one more obstacle when docking/docked. (Want drain plugs in dinghy ?)

    From Dennis Fria of Mustang Island Yachts:
    I don't like davits for two reasons. First, they place an undue mechanical strain on the transom (or the deck aft) which was never designed for the angles of load induced by a 200# dinghy, with a 100# OB, attached to another 100#s of hardware (davits). Also, and foremost in my mind, is what happens in the event of a large following sea which boards the boat or is breaking. I think most knowledgeable sailors will not carry their dinghy there when crossing long distances in open water. They will store the dinghy lashed to the fore deck. A much friendlier place! I also think davits are ugly and far too costly! They are GREAT for coastal cruising, when simply lifting the dink out of the water to decrease the drag of towing.

    I dragged my little FBG punt everywhere, except crossing the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf Stream, and when racing! Otherwise I tow it, and it has probably about 4000 miles under its keel! I have absolutely no problem with towing a dinghy, provided there is no reason to worry that a big sea might deposit it at my 6 o'clock!

    Ocean Marine
    KATO Marine
    St. Croix

  • Lashed onto deck.
    Drawbacks: takes up deck space, probably covers hatches and ports.
    Measure deck-space for stowing dinghy before buying one.

  • Stowed below (if it folds/disassembles/deflates).
    Drawbacks: hard to carry/drag heavy/wet/bulky/dirty dinghy, takes up space below, more time/effort to launch/stow.

From Steve Honour on Cruising World message board:
I don't think you want to be doing any passages with that dink [AB-10 with a 15 horse outboard] on davits. It's not the strength of the davits. It's the way the dink would get bashed about hanging out there.

The most secure way to travel with it is to hoist the motor on the stern rail with a halyard and hoist the dink onto the deck also with a halyard.

Deflate the thing and lash it down.

Use the davits for good weather short hops when you know things will be OK. Moor the dink well with springs to prevent motion in any direction. The dink will be fine as long as you don't see big wind/big waves.

Hard dinghy

  • Want cushioning around rim of dinghy to protect main boat and other people's boats.

  • Want stainless-steel rubbing strip on entire length of dinghy's keel to protect it when grounding.

  • Tie fenders inside to provide flotation in case it is swamped.

  • Relatively easy to build your own hard dinghy ?

  • If you build your own hard dinghy, design it so it can be used as a cover for the inflatable on deck, protecting the inflatable and saving deck space. Has to be the right size and have removable seats.

From article by Darrell Nicholson in 1/2004 issue of Cruising World magazine:
  • Size: performance increases with waterline, but so does weight and stowage.
  • Fit: where will you stow it ?
  • Stability: beamier with flatter bottom gives more initial stability, but round bottom gives more stability after 15 degrees of heeling.
  • Weight: need to drag it ashore, hoist it onto deck.
  • Rowing efficiency: long waterline and efficient shape are key.
  • Thwarts: nice if multiple rowing stations, for varying loads.
  • Towing: want minimal drag, and self-bailer. Keel or skeg will improve tracking.
  • Oars: at least 6.5 feet long, but must fit inside boat too.
  • Oar locks: round oarlocks attached to oars are best. Have spares.
  • Buoyancy: flotation chambers, or foam.
  • Sailing performance: don't expect greatness.
  • Rubrail: very important.
  • Lifting eyes.
  • Self-bailer or drain plug: essential.

Build your own hard dinghy:
Boat Plans OnLine

Building a nesting dinghy:
From Glenn Duncan on Cruising World message board:
Several years ago, I built a couple of nesting dinghies to fit onto my Vancouver 27's coachhouse. First one was styled after a dory. Rowed like a witch, but wouldn't carry enough of a load, because of the narrow beam. The second dinghy was a standard pram, which worked very well.

Based on my experiences and reading at the time, a few general principles follow ...

... an 8' dinghy doesn't come apart into two 4' halves. One section has to be significantly smaller because it's "outside" has to fit into the other sections "inside". Make models out of cardboard or, better yet, pattern plywood to work out the nesting configuration.

... stitch and tape construction with 1/4" ply is simple and makes a surprisingly light dinghy, even allowing for the extra weight of double mating bulkheads and fasteners.

... build the dinghy with two bulkheads about 1/4 inch apart. Then saw the boat in half between the bulkheads.

... flotation under the stern and bow seats seems to be standard, but it can play hell with getting the bow section to fit into the stern section.

... it's nice if the two nested section can be stowed on deck upside down.

... fancy connectors aren't really necessary. I used four lengths of 1/4 s/s threaded rod with wingnuts each end. Local reinforcing pads are needed, of course, plus large washers. I found simply large soft rubber "washers" glued around the bolt holes kept the water out quite well. Neoprene or innertube material is fine.

... I used to assemble my dinghy on the boat, then lower it into the water using the boom as a crane. Some people put both halves in the water, get into the stern section and both the bits together. But it's going to leak through the fastening holes until you tighten them.

From Night Swimming on Cruising World message board:
We built one out of plywood with a single layer of fiberglass. Works great. Rows well, sails well. We use it as our backup/fun dinghy. Got the plans from a guy named Eric Spoonberg, but I think someone once posted a site for free plans on this board. I think you can make any dinghy nest with the judicious use of a chainsaw. The secret (for ours at least) is that the two halves are self-contained and the seat acts as a giant clamp to hold them together by slipping over the bulkhead. There are also some screws involved, but they don't seem to contribute that much. The dinghy is very solid feeling. You definitely don't have the feeling that the two parts move independently of one another or slip in any way.

Put flotation in bow and stern, although stern flotation is tough to do.

B & B Yacht Designs "Catspaw"

Porta-Bote folding boat:
From Jerald King on Cruising World message board:
I have a Caliber 40 which is really a 38' boat with a 2' swim step added. I keep a 12' PortaBote on deck folded flat. It fits between the main traveler and the mast. It extends 3' forward of the mast.

We can set it up and be away, with the 6 HP motor moving us at a 17 knot plane in less than 25 minutes. When stowed on deck it takes up no room since you can walk on it and it is only 3" thick when folded.

We sailed the North Pacific with it on deck, taking green water back to the mast, no problem.

I selected the PortaBote after towing an 8' 6" inflatable and a 12' hard dinghy.

I love the PortaBote - it is our dinghy of choice for this summer's trip to Mexico and beyond.

Portabote also makes a 10' version with the same beam as my 12'. ... The 10' versions are only $1100 and will plane at 17 knots with a 6 HP and 300 pound load.

From Ray Henry on Cruising World message board:
The joints are glued together with some sort of foam (1/8") sandwiched in between. Then the whole thing is stapled every 2 inches with stainless steel mambo staples. Then there is a plastic cover over the whole thing. It's not the prettiest thing in the world, but it is extremely durable and functional.

I've had mine for 2 years now, and have even taken it rowing on a river trip with class 1 rapids - no leaks, no damage, nothing.

The problem is the initial cost. Hard to swallow.

From Tom O'Meara on The Live-Aboard List:
We used to sell these boats. Although we are no longer "in the business", I can assure you that should we go cruising again, a Porta-Bote would again be our tender.

We had a 10-foot model when we owned our Hunter 40, and a 12-foot model aboard Sea Skate, a Searunner 40-foot tri.

They are light, bulletproof and unsinkable if you leave the factory foam in place. The reason I mention leaving the foam in place (which should be obvious to anyone) is that when we sold the boats, we had a client claim his sunk while being towed offshore and he wanted a replacement. After talking to him and his wife, we discovered he had removed all the foam. So much for that warranty claim.

With a 5 hp motor, our 12-footer would easily plane with two aboard. Given that you cannot destroy them by any normal means short of having at one with an ax, I think they make the ideal tender.

From Kenneth and Jane McKelvie on The Live-Aboard List:
We have had one of these for many years in Hong Kong - relatively light, bulletproof and easily driven by a relatively small outboard (at my age, important!) or by oars (also important at my age!).

The seats succumbed to a combination of UV and typhoon damage after about 5 years but were easily replaced, and the wooden transom needs to be properly maintained (why don't they supply a fiberglass transom??). Dog proof! Two of them racing to be first into the portabote caused no problems - an inflatable ... pfffft! Running it up onto a coral-strewn beach or against a stone jetty in order to get the dogs on and off the shore on the comfort break runs and keeping them (and the owners) reasonably dry is not a problem - an inflatable ... pfffft!

Very stable when moving - it seems to be sucked onto the surface of the water by the hull shape, but not so good at rest and this is the only disadvantage to my mind. It is much less stable than an inflatable to get in and out of, and almost impossible for a swimmer (voluntary or otherwise) to climb back into from the water. As long as you are aware of this and it is not a problem, I would strongly recommend one of these as a tender.

Although not designed to be davit hung, it is possible, but siting of the lifting rings needs thought, and you must install a drain hole and plug as there isn't one as standard - again positioning of this is important and you will probably need to hang it at an angle when unattended so that it will drain properly.

Modifications / Use:
  • Put reflective tape on the dinghy and motor.

  • Lash down your oarlocks in case of a capsize.

  • Lash down all contents of dinghy in case of a capsize or swamping (when operating it or when it is docked) and to deter casual theft.

  • Carry on dinghy: anchor, handheld VHF, oars, oarlocks, bright light, long cable and lock, registration (laminated), bailer, whistle, fenders, PFD, first aid kit, water bottle.

  • Use fenders (even with inflatable dinghy) to protect dinghy from docks, and to protect boats from dinghy.

  • Dinghy motor: want deadman switch, and safety line.

  • Dinghy should have bow and stern lights (and patrols in Key West and USVI will cite you if not).

From Norm on The Live-Aboard List:
Dinghies require, in Florida, in addition to life jackets and lights at night, night distress signals (flares or an "electric distress signal" such as SOS flashlight) and an "efficient sound producing device" (freon horn). Some counties require a bailing device.

  • Want to be able to plane; requires about 7 HP per person to plane the average dinghy.

  • "[Get] the biggest you can afford and store on your boat. In a small dinghy, you and everything in it will get wet every time it blows more than 10 knots, and that makes life miserable."

  • 10' rigid inflatable dinghy with an 8 HP Honda four stroke motor:
    dinghy is 150 lbs and the motor is about 78.

  • West Marine RU-260 rollup with a 3.5 hp outboard:
    dinghy weighs 37 lbs and the outboard weighs 30 lbs.

  • With my Novurania 11-foot RIB, 20 HP motor, and 220 lbs of myself, I can't go very fast in harbors without creating a large wake. Smaller, lighter, shallower-draft dinghies can go much faster with less wake.

  • Oars should be twice length of dinghy's beam.

  • Lock oars to dinghy so they don't get stolen.

  • From Chris Bauer: Oars should be painted white so you can find them in the water at night.

  • Seat center should be about 18 inches forward of oarlocks, and about 10 inches above floor.

From Gary Elder:
Twin-Vee brand: an 8 ft catamaran, almost as stable as an inflatable, tows like a dream, obviously not prone to punctures. It's almost bullet proof, and at about 100 lbs (without motor) can be put on deck or on davits. I probably should have gotten the 10 ft version, but it's considerably heavier. I like it just fine as a basic tender, and when the 8 hp Yamaha (and re-pitched prop) is running well, it will plane with my wife and I aboard. With just me in it, it goes too fast. It is a little small for very long trips though, and it can be wet. One other negative is that it does not row very well.

Choosing a dinghy and outboard, my personal opinions:
I think a 10-foot to 11-foot RIB is good. Some dinghy docks have a restriction: nothing longer than 12 feet. Smaller dinghies give a rougher ride, are dangerous in strong conditions. Hard dinghies are tippier.

I think 8 or 9.9 HP is the right choice. Weight is VERY important; I hate the weight of my 15 HP 2-stroke. Low weight is better for davits, easier to service, easier to hoist to deck. Easier all around.

4-stroke would be very nice. They are more fuel-efficient, and seem a little more reliable maybe. The plugs on my 2-stroke keep fouling with oil.

Sailing dinghy, my personal impressions:
Four choices:
  • Near-toy things: AquaGlide MultiSport. Cheaper but less performance.
  • Inflatable sailing dinghies.
  • Hard sailing dinghies.
  • Folding saiing dinghies.

For me in the Virgin Islands area, shipping is a big problem. Probably can't get any hard dinghy shipped to here for any reasonable cost. Could buy a Walker Bay through a West Marine store in Puerto Rico (Walker Bay Breeze 8 sailing dinghy costs about $2K).

Most inflatable sailing dinghies seem to be just a normal RIB or inflatable with a mast/sail/rudder added. They probably sail pretty badly, and they're expensive.

The Tinker is (the only ?) inflatable shaped to have a fine bow and sail well, but it's very expensive (2750 pounds, or about $4600 !).

[Folding] Porta-Bote with sailing rig looks good but is not cheap ($2K for the boat and $900 for the sailing rig; shipping to nearest airport is free, which means buyer has to deal with Customs and pay duty). Stowaway K2 is in $5K range.

Aqua Dutch
Bauer sailing dinghies from Bauteck Marine
Boston Whaler
Brig inflatable
Chesapeake Light Craft dinghy kits
Dyer Boats
Steve Callahan's FRIB (RIB dinghy and sailing liferaft)
Glen-L dinghy kits
Porta-Bote folding boats
Trinka Dinghies
Walker Bay Dinghies
AB Inflatables
Achilles Inflatables
Apex Inflatables and RIBs
Avon (Bombard, Sevylor)
Caribe Inflatables and RIBs
Portland Pudgy ($2200 for basic boat)
Quicksilver Inflatables
Sea Eagle Inflatables
Seaworthy Inflatables (BoatU.S.)
Tinker Marine Inflatables
Titan aluminum-hull inflatables
West Marine Inflatables

From mung on The Live-Aboard List:
Re: Bottom-paint for dinghy?

Keep in mind that most if not all bottom paint needs to be in the water to keep its properties. So if you are going to always keep it in the water yes, but if you take it out for more than 24 hours and don't keep it wet then you will have wasted the money to paint it.
Not true of all paints; read the label.

From Susan Meckley on World-Cruising mailing list:
Dinghy painter:

Take an old piece of double-braid line and strip the outer braid off. Insert new poly line into braid. This way it will float but the poly line will be protected from UV ... remember, poly line deteriorates quicker than you can cut new line ... that is, if left out in the sun.

Fun stuff:
Shuttle Bike
Flying dinghy

Liferaft (and supplies on it)

Castaways on island and dinghy

West Marine's "Selecting a Life Raft"
BoatU.S.'s "Life Rafts"
Gene Gruender's "The ABC's of Life Rafts"
Equipped To Survive's "Life Rafts in the Desert" (results not published yet)
Equipped To Survive's "Aviation Life Raft Reviews"
See liferaft article in Practical Sailor's 5/1/2000 issue.
Coastal liferafts reviewed in Practical Sailor's 6/2000 issue.
Offshore liferafts reviewed in Practical Sailor's 7/1/2000 issue.
SailNet - Mark Matthews' "Repacking the Liferaft"
Liferaft materials article in Practical Sailor's 8/1/2000 issue.
Inshore liferafts article in Practical Sailor's 8/15/2000 issue.


  • "A '4-man' has room for 2 large adults".

  • From Bud on Cruising World message board:
    Me and another person spent about 12-13 hrs in a 4 man LR in storm conditions and let me tell you if you're figuring for 4 people, you absolutely need an 8 man raft. Always double your needs. The four man has about 16 sqft of floor space (the size of a half sheet of plywood). We sat on the floor with legs out stretched out facing one another and there was no space left for hardly anything.

From Brian Woloshin on Cruising World message board:
If the CO2 tank in the liferaft has not been hydrostaticly tested in the last five years be prepared for a VERY BIG repack bill. My Avon six-man cost $600 to certify last spring.

From DLL on BoaterEd forum 2/2008:
[When buying a liferaft:] Make sure the manufacturer puts it in writing that everything in it will be less than a year old, or better yet, made within the last 6 months.

[2/2008] I just had a re-pack on my 6-man Deluxe, Off Shore Life Raft. I bought it at the end of May 2004 because we had a trip planned up the west coast. Our plans were changed due to family things and then my health has kept us home most of the time since.

I took this "Deluxe" raft over to a very reputable dealer and was amazed to find the CO2 cylinder was dated 5-2000. What they did was legal, I guess, but not good business. Their ads say you should get your raft checked every year at an estimated cost of $150 to $200. If I had done that, my CO2 was already requiring a Hydrostat and new valve when it was one year old. $$$$ Our fishing package was dated 1988 and looked used. It was open, not sealed. The oars look used. Our sea anchor was packed so far inside it did not fall out as their ads implied it should so the entryway would be on the leeward side for easier entry. We inflated it with 100 psi air, except the lower chamber would not open for 100 psi, so the gentleman attached the cylinder again, using 1800 psi to "pop" it open. Then he continued with 100 psi. His reasoning for that is that the chemicals in the CO2 bottles can cause deterioration of the raft. The PRV valves did not have a plug. The actuating valve on the CO2 bottle is the old Sparklee, which had failure problems, so it is not used in most raft manufacturers, maybe all by now. I think the new valve is called the SEI.

The cost of a hydrostat on the CO2 bottle and a new valve will not be cheap. I have asked the company to provide me with 2004 items at a minimum.

If you have a raft and have never really thought about it, you may have a rude awakening. If you have never seen your raft on the floor or in the water, good luck getting in it. I did not understand what the expert was telling me until he held it up so it was positioned like I would be swimming up to it. I could not open the entry way, sealed with velcro, with my fist, elbow, etc. Now, those of you who are more experienced in these matters might point out there is a line you are supposed to pull. You are right. But which line? It is not written on the raft.

My raft said it has a 50 ft lanyard. It has about 25-30 feet.

I looked at a 1996 raft by the same company and the oars are bright and shiny, like new. The fishing kit looked better than mine, but it may have been replaced.

This man spent 2 hours showing my wife and I how to really operate the raft. The video I was sent did not cover the stuff you need to know if you are in the water. I understand the entry door needs a real good seal because waves will hit it, but without the time this man took to help us, if it were dark and stormy, I might have just cut my way through the door, I wouldn't know where the correct line was on the raft. This is not necessarily the company's fault, but I wish their video had covered these things.

The nylon "steps" that are supposed to aid you getting in will be floating in your way. The best way to get in appears to be reaching inside the raft for a line, hang on to it, then go down in the water and kick hard to help you get in. I am sure there are other ways, but his point was that few of us really know what we have or what is in it.

ONLY the manufacturer can provide the new CO2 valve. If they won't send it to his shop, he says he will have to pack it and ship it to their facilities, then back to me. $$$$$

No one said boating would be cheap and I certainly did not have to buy a life raft. But compared to losing my wife or a friend because I didn't have one would be more costly.


It gets worse. Another raft had a similar control valve for the CO2 bottle. I understood that is was put on a raft by the same manufacturer as mine, so the owner of the business brought it over to show me the difference between a Sparklee and a slightly different one.

A picture really is worth a thousand words. When he opened this other actuator, the wire around the brass cam was NOT inserted correctly. In a life and death situation, the person using this raft would be sunk. Literally. The wire winds around and fits in a cut out. When you pull the lanyard, the wire moves the cam around and allows the CO2 to fill the tubes. The ball at the end of this wire was not set up correctly. I have a color, digital photo of it.

I just looked at a photo of my CO2 bottle. It has TARE 8.55; CO2 4.50; N2 .35 and a total, also hand written in red -- 13.40. NEXT TO IT IS RED LETTERS SAYING 6-00. Yet the stamp on the tank says 5-2000. I wonder if the red is when they packed it, or they made a mistake and said the tank was made in June 2000 ?

Givens is the manufacturer. My raft is number 3398.

But lets try to be fair to Givens, this other raft may have been serviced by a less experienced shop than the one I was in.

I ordered my raft early and Givens didn't get it to me so I canceled the contract for non-performance per time line. They shipped it overnight to me so I accepted it.

I don't know if Givens is the only raft manufacturer that puts old things in the rafts. I am not going to get any satisfaction from them, but I hope anyone reading this will warn virtually every boater they know. Get it in writing. Nothing in that raft will be over N months old. Remember, I bought their best and got screwed. They can argue the CO2 bottle was within the 5 year period. 5-2000. I don't know how SOLAS or the USCG looks at these dates, but I received it in the last part of May 2004 as I recall. IF it were made on May 1, 2000, it would have been past its Hydro before my warranty year was up. Can you see Givens realizing they had really screwed up and I was canceling, so they grabbed whatever they had on the shelf and putting it in. A 1988 fishing kit? I have a photo of it with a new one next to it.

... A reputable firm should replace these items with an apology. I have been told Givens usually does not cooperate.

... if you have a Givens with a valve that looks like the Sparklee, have it checked by a really good pro. Please note I have not called Givens bad names nor said all their rafts are junk. That would not be true. But I have a photo of this actuator that shows the little ball is NOT in the "cut out" it is supposed to be in. The owner of this shop said the raft would not have been inflated if used in this condition.
From Bob Austin on BoaterEd forum 2/2008:
Givens had an excellent reputation. There was a change of ownership and at one point some very negative publicity about some bad repacks. It may be that your raft was one of these.

There is a report on "Equipted to Survive" of the problem getting thru the canopy - as you suggested. There are a lot of rafts which do not hold air even after relatively short time. I don't know how Dave's raft was kept, but many are in fiberglass container, in the high humidity and high heat environment, plus lower temps at night -- give expansion and contraction -- so that moisture gets into the packed raft and deterioration occurs.

If I was buying a raft today, I would want one which is vacuum-packed and does not require a repack for 3 years -- and then keep it in a valise, or below decks or at home when I was not using the boat. The tradeoff is not being able to get the raft on deck in the emergency. You did good, by spending time with the repacking technician!
From DLL on BoaterEd forum 2/2008:
We kept the raft in the V-Berth for the summer of 2004, thinking we might still go up to the San Juans. Then we stored it in the house, in a spare bedroom most of the time. It was in our garage a while, but mostly in the house. At most, its exposure to sunlight was a few days on the sun deck, and our boat is in a covered slip. This life raft has never sat in the hot sun that I can remember.

I may not be using the correct terminology, but to me, an original packing is not a repack. This is the only "repack" of this raft. I understand you need to replace the items annually if you are going to use it, but due to health issues, I knew we would not need it.
From Sandy on BoaterEd forum 2/2008:
Several years ago, I bought a previously-owned Zodiac Offshore Racing 4 valise raft through the BoaterEd classifieds. When it came time to have it serviced and repacked I took it to LRSE in RI and I asked whether there was any chance of seeing it opened up. They said they heartily encourage owners to be present when the raft is inspected and I can tell you this is an absolutely invaluable experience . I was a lot more fortunate than DLL in that everything inside the inner vacuum-pak bag looked like new though of course there are batteries, flares and rations that need timely replacement and cylinders and tubes to be tested/filled.

This owner-inspection is the only really good way to get to intimately know before a real emergency exactly what to do to deploy and to expect from your particular raft and have peace of mind that your life-saving equipment is in better shape than what DLL traumatically confronted and should be reliable when needed. I learned so much about this raft that I hadn't thought about and took about 30 or more digital pics while asking about every single feature, and the service tech was more than happy that I was showing the interest this particular subject truly deserves. It helped me understand why it really is important to keep to the recommended service schedule, not the least reason being to change the fold positions to lessen the risk of tube material cracking over time. I think the vacuum-pak may possibly slightly increase fold crease stress but expect it also considerably increases the overall longevity of all the contents as long as servicing is done. You just have to compare the somewhat painful cost of servicing to possibility of an unknowingly unusable raft boaters may be confidently relying on.

I was then able to later go over the pics and features and peculiarities of proper deployment, entry and use with my usual offshore crew, and expect to do that yearly to refresh. I had seen and even been in plenty of rafts at boatshows but this experience was so much more valuable. ...
From DLL on BoaterEd forum 2/2008:
The most sobering thing about our raft was that I could NOT knock the velcro loose with my fist or elbow and I was standing on concrete, let alone in the water. We have a couple of lanyards that plainly say "PULL". But you don't have any more directions. I could have been flushing a toilet for all I knew.

All I can say to anyone operating their boat after dark, and if they have a life raft they might need, they had better do like you and I did. The sales brochure talks about a heavy-duty boarding ladder or some such terminology. It is white, lightweight nylon that looks like it would float on top. I guess you could find it, push it down to where your foot is and lift yourself upwards. Our expert showed us the line inside and said most people would be better off grabbing that to pull themselves inward.

Since our sea anchor was buried inside the life raft, we would not have the advantage of it stabilizing the raft. And the 50 ft lanyard being approx 25-30 ft would complicate it some. Our expert recommended using a red nylon "breakaway" line -- sorry, can't remember it. It is supposed to break at 500 pounds pressure, which our guy feels is better than having your lanyard pulling the rubber patch off your raft. I know I did not use the correct terminology, but I hope you get the idea.

I also wish the manufacturer would put a weight in the ballast device, so it would sink faster, allowing stability for the raft quicker. One thing our expert will NOT do is make any changes to the factory equipment. I can't buy another CO2 canister or actuator from him. I don't know if that is the law or just his comfort zone.

[As of end of 4/2008, no satisfaction from Givens.]

From Bob Austin on BoaterEd forum:
A few years ago one of my neighbors owned a SOLAS liferaft certification and repacking company -- it was a real education. Most of the rafts they packed were from large ships and yachts, not small private boats. The rafts which were in fiberglass canisters on deck suffered the most. The best were those which were kept below in valises. ...

[Having the repacker give you photos] or personally being present [during repacking] is excellent. The reason I prefer the personal presence is to see what the raft is really like, and how it actually inflates.

Dinghy as liferaft

Suppose you have a dinghy with positive flotation and quick release. Does that mean you don't need a liferaft ? Certainly means that you'd be sure it is in working shape, which is not always true of a liferaft. Could even have two such dinghies on board instead of a dinghy and a liferaft. Maybe would want a survival suit per person, in addition. Might be harder to launch than a liferaft, and more likely to capsize and lose the contents.

Good things about using an inflatable, second dinghy (with suitable additions) as a liferaft:
  • Cheaper.
  • Routine use/inspection ensures it is in working condition.
  • Can renew contents, inspect, test, and practice abandon-ship without incurring repack fee.
  • Useful to have as a second dinghy.

I asked John Dunsmoor this:
Suppose you have a dinghy with positive flotation and quick release. Does that mean you don't need a liferaft ?

Certainly means that you'd be sure it [and everything in it] is in working shape, which is not true of a liferaft.

Could even have two such dinghies on board instead of a dinghy and a liferaft.
and got this response:
... If you are going to be crossing oceans, and money is not a problem then I would purchase a Givens, it is probably the best made life raft ever and could be a home in severe conditions and survive for long periods of time. Downside, they are expensive, big and heavy.

If you are going to the islands and will never be more than a couple of hundred miles offshore then I don't think I would make the investment.


A good life raft like the Givens is an island, secure but beyond your ability to navigate. You just sit. I am not sure that would be my first choice. A good sailing dinghy could not only suffice as a tender, life saver, but could also get you to shore. A raft by its very nature is not going to get you anywhere. I have read a couple of stories about rafts drifting just out of reach of safety only to be swept offshore once again.

A good liferaft also has features not satisfied by an inflatable dinghy:
  • Roof/canopy to protect you from the sun.
  • Roof and/or jack-lines so you don't get thrown out when it gets rolled.
  • Ballast pockets.
  • Redundancy in the inflatable chambers.
  • Quick release from stowage.
  • Automatic deployment / hydrostatic release (most liferafts don't have this anyway).
  • Smaller when stowed.
  • Certified (may be required by insurance, rally rules, etc).
  • Has emergency supplies stored in it (you may not do this in a dinghy you're using every day).

Modifications to make to use an inflatable, second dinghy as a liferaft:
  • Add canopy.
  • Add jack-lines.
  • Add water ballast pockets.
  • Add quick-inflation option (unless you keep it inflated all of the time).
  • Add survival suits.

From Genesis on BoaterEd forum:
Are the typical liferafts really all that useful?

Have you ever attempted to deploy such a raft under the typical sea conditions in which you'd need it? You know, 10+ foot breakers, the boat's tossing all over the place, the raft is on the foredeck and *you need to get there without going overboard* and actually get it deployed?

This is my problem with the "liferaft" solutions out there - I have serious questions about their true utility in an emergency situation if for no other reason than your ability to get the darn thing unlimbered and get in it without either going in the drink or damaging it to the point it becomes useless!

Such situations don't typically arise on a nice sunny day!

Oh sure, if you have a seacock unexpectedly fail (or you hit something really big and submerged that severely holes you) and you're filling up with water in decent weather I'm sure they're great. But in that condition so is a tender; just launch it and step up, and further, you can mitigate some of those risks with emergency bilge pickups off the main engines - you might be able to keep from going down in such a situation. The 406 EPIRB should get you rescued in a reasonable amount of time; the issue is staying alive long enough for that to happen if the boat goes out from under you.

The value of a raft, as I see it, is in the real snot when you get in trouble due to structural or mechanical failure (e.g. engines out in a blow.) Why? Because in such a situation you need its capsize resistance (a survival bag with water, watermaker, tarp, etc can be at hand in any event.) And it's there that I question their utility right up front. Can you get it deployed? Hydrostatic releases are nice, but by the time those trip the boat is COMPLETELY under; hardly ideal.

Another dialog with John Dunsmoor; I asked if the typical testing/repacking fee (in the $100 to $500 range) was related to purchase price of the raft:
In out of the way places they can't even repack it.

You will understand quickly why most cruisers do not carry life rafts. They are expensive and a good sailor and a good boat has about as much opportunity to actually use the life raft as a good driver and good vehicle has of getting a flat tire. I say that as I am knocking on wood.

Life rafts are interesting creatures and most can not take much abuse. The best ones like a Givens are very robust but are also very expensive, large and heavy and they are expensive to have serviced.

I am not sure what the ratio is for servicing cost. I know here [Florida] I have paid seven or eight hundred dollars for a commercial raft with a lot of extra gear. Radios, flares, distillation unit, blah, blah, blah. Not that these were replaced, that would have been thousands of dollars.

Many cruisers elect to rig a hard sailing dinghy with survival gear or go with an inflatable that has an auto-inflate option.

Sliding scale of cost vs options vs weight vs available funds. Everything is a compromise.
Avon says repacking costs 5% to 10% of purchase price.

From Justin on Cruising World message board:
... a life raft can be as much a help as a hindrance. If only we had the statistics to show how many people perish in liferafts off boats that are found still floating.

Will you ever need it anyway?
Will you even have time to deploy the raft? Will it inflate?
Will it stay attached to the boat long enough for you to get onboard?
Will you be able to stay in the raft once you do get in?
Will you ever be found even if you do get in and stay in?

From Gary Elder:
Most boats do not carry liferafts. For crossing oceans, I would seriously consider one. My boat had a liferaft in a hard case mounted on deck when I bought it, and after a few years the sun cooked it to the point of being useless. I took it off the boat and do not plan to replace it. For coastal cruising, the latest generation of EPIRB's are great, the next generation will be even better.

From Curtis and MaggiLu Tucker on the SailNet liveaboard-list:
We had our liferaft serviced ... While being inflated, one of the seams exploded. We were so glad that it didn't happen at sea ...

We also had our EPIRB tested and it was found to have a defective battery, which thankfully was under warranty and was replaced.

From JohnC on BoaterEd forum:
Hydrostatic releases are typically designed to release when about 12' under water. The idea of waiting till the boat is that far under for the thing to hopefully pop up and inflate doesn't appeal to me too much. And if you're in a gale, there's always a chance if it doesn't come up quite where you're expecting it, the raft will blow away before you can get to it anyway. The guy I was talking to at Winslow also said when a canister is dropped from the foredeck it will often inflate upside down, and getting into it becomes a problem. Being able to place a valise in the water from the stern is definitely the preferred situation. I had heard from a friend who used to fish in Gloucester about a brand new 40' downeast boat up there that was rolled by a rogue wave while fishing, and despite the fact that the raft was brand new and so was the hydrostatic release, it never came up. They were fishing in a fleet and were quickly picked up, but everyone was a bit bothered that the release failed like that. On a boat with a full tower like mine there are too many places for it to get caught up anyway.

I originally bought a Crewsaver for my previous 26' express sportfish (Regulator). My mistake there was buying it without ever seeing the valise and trying to pick it up. The thing weighed 110 pounds, and the only place I had for it was in the v-berth in the cabin. Getting it in and out of the cabin at the dock was a pain, doing it offshore in bad conditions would have been a nightmare. I stuck with it for 6 years anyway, but when I bought the bigger boat and had dry storage out on deck I decided I would buy something that would fit there. The Crewsaver would not fit under the bench seat, actually the standard packing of the Winslow wouldn't either. But one of the reasons I bought from them is that they will custom pack to your dimensions within a certain range, so I got it packed so it fits under the seat with room to spare in all directions so it won't be wedged in there.

The Winslow with some options I got came out to 64 pounds in the valise. It's pretty easy to carry, and compared to what I had seems really light. They do make lighter versions with less gear inside also. ...

Buying a used liferaft,
from Brian Woloshin on Cruising World message board:
Get one that is just due for an annual inspection. Make a deal with the seller that if it passes inspection and looks OK to you that you will pay for the inspection. If it fails he pays for any charges. Go to the inspection and watch them inflate it. Ask the inspector how much life he thinks the liferaft has left. If the CO2 canister needs to be hydroed it will add a lot to the inspection cost. For my Avon it added about $200.

Never, ever, buy a liferaft without having seen it inflated first. You have no idea what you are buying. There are con artists selling valises full of bricks and rags.

I see no reason not to buy a ten year old liferaft if it is in good shape. Mine is now fifteen years old and at last inspection it looked like new.

From Phil Sherwood on World-Cruising mailing list:
[2006] I just completed some research and went to the Strictly Sail boat show in Oakland in April for the express purpose of getting up close and personal with lots of different life rafts from as many of the various manufacturers as possible. My conclusions in a nutshell (which of course are just mine, Y and everyone else's MMV):

Switlik is the top-of-the-line product, really good stuff, but it's also the most expensive, by a considerable margin. You're paying a lot for the name.

Viking is extremely solid, industrial grade, also really good stuff, used in a great many commercial applications (fishing and working boats, cruise liners, etc). Doesn't have the brand/name recognition (yet) that Switlik does among cruisers and rec boaters, but according to the Viking sales mgr I talked to in Oakland, they're catching up and may be hiking prices in the next year or two to capitalize on that. The four-man self-righting also packs into a remarkably small canister, smaller than the unserviceably old Givens 6-man I have now.

Winslow makes good products but the more affordable ones that they market to the recreational yachting crowd (objectionable label, but that's you and me) are lighter because they're made of much lighter fabric -- it's basically their aviation-grade raft. If you move out of that product tier and into some heavier products, you get into some heavier pricing as well.

DBC, in Surrey BC or thereabouts, used to make very good, solid liferafts but is now owned by Zodiac. If you can buy an older, pre-Zodiac one that is still serviceable cost effectively, that could be a good option.

Zodiac is a French product and I ran into more than one person whose perspective I respect who didn't think their products held up that well compared to other manufacturers.

Revere is an economy-level product. It costs less for various reasons. You have to decide for yourself if you want to rely on that sort of a product if worst comes to worst and how you'll think about the subject if it's your sorry butt winds up floating around out there waiting to be rescued. 'Nuf said on that account.

Givens wasn't at the show, although I talked with the head sales person by phone a few times prior to the show. Some kind of weird politics are going on there -- the guy who started the company sold it, then bought some part of it back, or retained some of the manufacturing rights but not the brand name, or something. Serviceability worldwide (or even on the West Coast) could be an issue with Givens. Also not clear to me whether the people now manufacturing under the Givens name are doing it right, or the original Givens guy, again manufacturing but now under the RCR name, I think, is still doing it right. They also suddenly got unresponsive when I didn't take their bait immediately and asked a lot more questions. Too complicated for me; I was outta there.

I wound up getting a 4-person Viking self-righting life raft. It's a bit bigger than the regular 4-person, although not quite as big as either the Viking or the Switlik 6-person raft. (I'm a pretty big guy, about 6'7" and 230 lbs, and don't really expect to be cruising with more than four people aboard.) Including the stainless steel rack to deck-mount the canister in, it was about $3K, boat show prices. A very big-ticket item, at least for the atmosphere I live in. But at that it was $2K less than the rec yachting-level Switlik, and I couldn't identify any differences in design, materials, or workmanship that could begin to explain the $2K price delta.

And all of this, like your life insurance policy (which this basically is) for a product you hope you never have to use. I felt that Viking offered an excellent quality product at a reasonable price point, below which compromises lurked that I personally did not want to make. But that was just my conclusion. As I say, YMMV.

Supplies on liferaft

(Or in abandon-ship bag; partly in priority order:)
  • EPIRB.
  • Handheld VHF radio.
  • GPS.
  • Water.
  • Water-purifying tablets.
  • Hand-operated watermaker.
  • Solar water still.
  • Space blanket.
  • Shade to protect from sun.
  • Thermal Protective Aid suit for each person
  • Sunscreen.
  • Sun hat and/or warm hat.
  • First aid kit.
  • Survival manual.
  • Food.
  • Patch kit.
  • Whistle.
  • Non-melting flares. Or a rescue light.
  • Signaling mirror.
  • Collapsible RADAR reflector.
  • SEE/RESCUE Streamer ($80).
  • Spare set of eyeglasses.
  • Knife.
  • Bailer.
  • Canvas bucket.
  • Copies of identification documents (passports, etc).
  • Entertainment (deck of cards, travel chess set).
  • Water glass.
  • Air-mattress for additional floor insulation ?
  • Fishing gear (spear, gaff).
  • Drogue or sea-anchor or bucket-and-line.
  • Vitamins.
Abandon-ship bag should be stored near companionway/cockpit.
Abandon-ship bags tested in 3/2001 issue of Practical Sailor

Rule of thumb ("rule of 4's") from Tom Wolf in Wilderness First Aid class:
A person can live for:
  • 4 minutes without oxygen.
  • 4 hours without shelter from cold.
  • 4 days without water.
  • 4 weeks without food.

Chris Riley's "Abandon Ship Bag"
SailNet - Sue and Larry's "Preparing an Abandon-Ship Bag"


Don Casey's "Boat Plumbing"
West Marine's "Pressurized Freshwater Systems"
SailNet - Tom Wood's "Boat Plumbing Inspection"
David Brown's "Water System Installation"
BoatU.S.'s "Freshwater Pumps"
Pumps article by Steve D'Antonio in 4/2000 issue of Cruising World magazine
Don Casey's "Installing a Deckwash Pump"
Don Casey's "Raw-Water Strainers"
David Brown's "Installing A Transom Shower"
Fuel/water/waste tank articles in Oct 2000 issue of Cruising World magazine
Installing flexible water tank article by Paul Esterle in 1/2004 issue of Sail magazine

Possible seawater filter/strainer locations

Your boat may have more seawater filters/strainers than you suspect; don't overlook:
  • Engine cooling intake.
  • Genset cooling intake.
  • Outboard motor cooling intake.
  • Air conditioner cooling intake.
  • Refrigerator cooling intake.
  • Watermaker intake (pre-filter).
  • Head intake.
  • Saltwater faucet intakes.
  • Deck washdown intake.

From Roger Hellyar-Brook in Ocean Navigator magazine newsletter:

What material is best for an onboard tank? How are tanks best installed? These and other questions came up when we were performing several tank replacements during recent refits. Fuel tanks have been discussed in this newsletter before, but let's go through the basic requirements for various tanks again, as this is a recurring issue for many boatowners.

Marine-grade aluminum is the most common material used for constructing tanks. If it is installed correctly, it can last for years; if poorly installed, it can corrode very quickly. Even the best alloys cannot stand to be washed with bilge water or even held against a wet surface, so a dry platform with drainage is vital. This means the platform cannot be bare wood, as its moisture content can damage the alloy. You should epoxy-coat plywood and then use strips of neoprene or starboard to allow the tank base to stay dry. To avoid galvanic corrosion, never use any brass or copper alloys in direct contact with the tank. You also must use stainless-steel bushings for the pick-up and return lines, and the grounding wires need a stainless washer between the copper lug and the tank grounding tab. Do not let the tank move at all, as chafe can damage the soft alloy.

If aluminum is not the best choice for the location, you can use cross-linked polyethylene (pex) or a custom fiberglass tank; the polyethylene must be cross-linked to resist hydrocarbons. Since such a tank will expand up to 3 percent, provision must be made for growth.

Fiberglass tanks can be very successful, but this type of material is best left to an experienced builder, as the fittings for a fiberglass tank are harder to engineer than for other tanks.

Stainless steel can be used, but it has lots of potential problems and should only be built after consulting the ABYC standards. One of those standards is that a stainless tank be cylindrical with domed ends, which wastes space.

Remember that no matter which material you choose, all tanks should be capable of being cleaned out from a top inspection/cleaning port. Most modern boats are built with the tankage in place before the deck is on. We have had to cut bad tanks into sections to remove them, and the replacements were multiple smaller tanks that could fit through the companionway. So a good installation can save thousands of dollars in the future.

Black-water or head holding tanks should only be thick-walled polyethylene or fiberglass composite, as corrosion potential rules out all but expensive alloys. Potable water tanks can be stainless steel, or they can be a food-grade plastic/polyethylene or composite material. But they should not be constructed from aluminum. The key is using a material that is safe to store water for human consumption, with no chemical leaching from poorly built composite tanks.

In an emergency or if there is no other alternative for the space, an inflatable bladder tank is available for every application, just be aware chafe is an issue with these tanks.

From editor in 12/2003 issue of Passagemaker Magazine:
Water tanks:
  • Stainless steel is best. Fairly easy to add inspection ports. Clean with a hot water pressure washer, flush with chlorine solution, then flush with clean water.
  • Polyethylene: harder to add inspection ports, because of flexibility. Often leak. Pressure-washer is too aggressive.
  • Fiberglass: Must be made of FDA-approved resins and gelcoats.
  • Aluminum: replace it with another material.
  • Never "winterize" a water tank or heater with antifreeze; drain it. Winterize water lines by blowing them empty with air, or adding cheap vodka or nontoxic antifreeze.

From Ed Kelly on The Live-Aboard List:
Re: Epoxy tank coating:

We are using epoxy for a water tank. We are trying to rehab a built-in 112 gallon aluminum water tank. It developed corrosion holes ... Our search for Epoxy finally ended when we found a product called Brewcoat - which is FDA-approved for water or beer and wine. We earlier talked to the West system epoxy experts ... they cannot recommend their epoxy for water tanks as it has never been tested and approved by FDA - though they noted very good techniques for you to use it if you desire to do a water tank in it - as many boats have done for many years.

From Peggie Hall on Cruising World message board:
It's never a good idea to connect hard pipe (or any other rigid device) directly to any other rigid objective -- the toilet, the tank, pump, or through hull. Boats are subject to quite a bit of shock in heavy seas ... or just banging the dock (it happens to the best of us!) -- enough shock to move things ... a little or a lot, depending upon how well-secured they are. When that happens, if it puts enough stress on the connection, the weakest part will crack ... in most cases, it's the PVC pipe ... but a female plastic holding tank fitting is equally at risk. In cold weather, the risk is even greater, 'cuz the colder it gets, the more brittle PVC becomes. Always "soft couple" hard pipe to anything else with enough hose to act as a shock absorber ... to let whatever is gonna shift, shift without putting stress on the connection.

From Andrew Bebbington on Cruising World message board:
... make sure the Y valves are oriented so that they drain out. We found that a small pool of standing waste inside resulted in calcium deposits that jammed them within just a few days. ...

Ways of repairing a leak in a copper tube in the drinking water system:
  • Piece of rubber and hose-clamp over the leak.
  • Marine-Tex or epoxy over the leak.
  • Empty water out of the tube and solder it.
  • Replace bad section with new section of copper tube.
  • Replace bad section with PEX plastic tubing.

Changing drinking water system from copper to PEX:
There are special copper to plastic adapters.

From Chris Deziel's "How to Connect Pex to Copper":
PEX connects easily to existing copper lines using simple, push-together style fittings that eliminate the need for making difficult soldered joints.


PEX pipes cannot be connected directly to a water heater or the heat will damage them; the heater must be connected to copper lines at least 18 inches long, then to PEX with a transition fitting.

Never use PEX for above-ground exterior lines, as UV rays from sunlight will quickly ruin its integrity.

DIY Network's "How to install a PEX plumbing system"

Water filters:
Use water filters between shore and tank, and between tank and faucet. Boats notoriously have bad-tasting water.

Ametek 151002 (Kleen-Plus ?) with CBC-10 filter cartridge (e.g. from Tim's RV Parts and Supply).
Systems IV F7-GBH (West Marine #193755, $20).

From Al Hatch on Cruising World message board:
1. Paper and charcoal filters remove only chemicals and particulates. They DO NOT remove any bacteria, microbes or virus. In fact if not used daily and thus rinsed daily, the charcoal becomes a perfect medium for growing bacteria. Many university labs have proven this and about 5 or so years ago the charcoal filter industry finally admitted lack of daily use was a problem. Bad enough so that if you don't use the filter for a week the water coming out of the filter is several thousand times dirtier (bacteria wise) than the water coming in.

2. While 1 micron filters will remove parasites such as giardia they will not touch most bacteria and they won't eliminate any viruses. In fact there is only one filter on the market worldwide that is certified to remove viruses. It is manufactured by Katadyn in Switzerland. Sold in the US in mountaineering shops and camping stores as a handheld unit filtering 1 quart/min. or in the expedition model filtering 1 gal/min. They make an inline unit but it requires 90 psi to filter about 1 qt/min. More info on this filter can be gotten from the importer Katadyn USA in Scottsdale Arizona. They also make a countertop model which is too large for most boats.


If you are concerned about drinking and cooking water get a Katadyn filter and just filter what you need each day.

From JeanneP on Cruising World message board:
I agree that you need to use a filter on a daily basis to prevent organic contamination. But for liveaboards, that's no big deal. And when we leave the boat for a few days we "pickle" the water filter the same way we "pickle" the water desalinator (it's so small, 4 litres/hour, that we can't really rely totally on it for our drinking water). As I said, we filter with paper before the water goes into the tank to remove sediment, then have an in-line charcoal filter, and 1 micron filter, to treat the chlorinated tank water. Treating the tank water is necessary regardless of whether you filter it or not, if you live in the tropics - otherwise not only bacteria will grow, but also algae and other slimy substances. Chlorinating the water keeps everything pretty clean and clear (actually, the biocide for pickling watermakers is probably even better, and we know boats who have used it in place of chlorine - especially the Australians, where it is easily available because it's used to sterilize their home brew beer bottles).

From Erik Hammarlund on Cruising World message board:
Actually, chlorine DOES kill giardia ... we used it to sterilize H2O to that effect numerous times. And there are also filters that will remove giardia.

Viruses are currently beyond the scope of filtration systems that one would use on a yacht. For those, chemical or UV treatment is required.

From Rick Kennerly on The Live-Aboard List:
Re: Water Purification

> Does anyone on-list use a water catchment system onboard ?

We do, but only collect rain water well offshore or downwind from non-industrial islands. And we always fit one of those RV store filters that has garden hose fittings on each end to the catchment system anyway.

About drinking water, however, it seems to me that there are two different things to look at here.

First of all, the tanks and how they're treated. They should be cleaned every year and even if you do have good access, they should be "shock" treated with a healthy dose of chlorine (assuming the tanks are not made of a reactive material, or any of the water treatments recommended for your tanks) and left to stand for 24 hours. Be sure to circulate the shock treatment through all your hoses, too. Then the tanks and hoses should be flushed several times. You'll need to filter all the water going in on every fill, even when you're flushing the tanks as you clean them.

Drinking water is clearly a case of GIGO, garbage in, garbage out, but the fact is you'll never get your holding systems really sterile, so you need to slightly over-chlorinate (or otherwise treat with iodine, purification tablets, etc) the water you hold.

The second part is how you filter the water at the sink. We use a double filtration system, similar to the way most of us treat our diesel. The first is an in-line RV store filter (always cheaper than boat store) that removes coarse particles, chlorine, and has a silver mesh which kills bacteria that "stand" in the stagnant water inside the filter between uses. The next filter is a PUR filter, which is even finer and takes care of those non-bacteria organisms travel books are always warning us about.

This makes for somewhat slower flow at the sink, which is a pain when drawing cooking water. For that, we have a foot pump with another of the RV filters in-line, which is good enough for water you're going to boil anyway.

From Peggie Hall on newsgroup, about "a source for stainless steel sinks":
If you have a pressurized water system, there's nothing "marine" about the sinks and faucets ... so check out Home Depot and major plumbing supply houses that have a really good selection, especially those that cater to high end homes ... 'cuz they're the ones which have the best selection of "nonstandard" shapes and sizes for wetbars -- which are mostly stainless. If you want it to last, just make sure you get the best quality stainless hardware.

From Mary Mcatee on The Live-Aboard List:
The West Advisor has a great section on regulators for [direct connection to] dockside water. I would recommend three safeguards besides the regulator:

1) Never leave the water on when you leave the boat. We disconnect the hose so that passing folks aren't tempted to help us out.

2) Add a water alarm in the bilge. Pick your location carefully to assure you aren't irritated by minute water alarms. These alarms are cheap and reliable.

3) This last one is an option but a good one. Talk to your local plumbing supply guy. They make water counters for sprinkling systems that limit the volume throughput to whatever you set it at, say 60 gallons. You might have to reset it manually occasionally but it does give some additional peace of mind.
From Randolph Stroschein on The Live-Aboard List:
... I do not want to be plumbed in - the water in your tanks will get stale, necessitating much fooling around every time you want to go away ...

From article by Steve D'Antonio in 11/2002 issue of Cruising World magazine:
Water tank:
  • Need inspection/cleanout port into every baffled chamber.
  • Tank should be stainless steel; port should be same material as tank. Port cover plates should be thicker than tank wall, to avoid distortion and bad seal.
  • If adding an inspection port to an existing tank, could use a specialized rivet with internal threads to provide seat for the bolts. Or use a split inside ring from Clarus.
  • Could installer a stripper tube: a pipe from top into tank, to suck up debris from bottom. Or a drain valve in the lowest point of the bottom of the tank. Want a large drain valve, so it doesn't get clogged.
  • Don't want a screen in the pickup tube inside the tank; if it clogs, there's no easy way to detect it or clean it.
  • After cleaning the tank, rinse with fresh water, fill with 1% bleach solution and let stand 1 hour, empty it, then fill again with fresh water, and empty it. Then fill with drinking water and use it.

Deck wash-down

From Evans Starzinger on Cruising World message board:
We like the Groco pump best (good pressure and reliable), but the pressure switch tends to die if you do not use it for several months (it sticks closed, even if you flush it with fresh water). It is pretty easy to carry a spare pressure switch and install it, but it is too bad the design is flawed this way.

We are currently using a Flojet, which has less pressure but is ok.

Whatever pump you get, be sure to install a water filter before the pump, otherwise the pump will self-destruct when it gets sand/mud (or other stuff) in the water.

From JoeC on Cruising World message board:
Also note that the pumps do get pretty warm, particularly when you have put down lots of chain and it is thick with mud.

From Jeff M on Cruising World message board:
I'm on my second one [Groco ?]. First rule is keep the connections tight and keep the salt water off it. I mounted the first one vertically, and when the pump seals started to weep it dribbled onto the motor ... very bad.

I had no trouble with the pressure valve sticking. I did notice that as the pump aged, the vanes would wear, and the pump would not shut off as it had trouble reaching the higher pressure. I just kept adjusting the cutoff setting lower until the above dribble ate the motor, requiring a new one. I mounted the second one horizontally.

Gauges for tanks (water, fuel, holding):
Snake River Electronics

Gauge for holding tank:
Botons "Tank Eye Gauge"

From Stan Gardner on The Live-Aboard List:
Sealand Tankwatch sensor in stainless steel holding tank "disintegrated" after a year.

Safety Equipment

SailNet - Mark Matthews' "Safety Check"

Personal Flotation Device (PFD, life-vest, life-jacket)

BoatSafe's "How To Choose The Right Life Jacket For Your Needs"
Automatically Inflatable PFD's article in 7/2000 issue of BoatU.S. Magazine.
BoatU.S.'s "PFDs"
BoatU.S.'s "Inflatable Life Jackets"
Inflatable PFD review in 10/1/2000 issue of Practical Sailor
"Inflatable PFDs" test by Quentin Warren in Nov/Dec 2000 issue of Blue Water Sailing magazine
PFDs article in 10/1/2001 issue of Practical Sailor

From Ric on Cruising World message board:
... we were able to try on all available types of PFD's and test them in a pool. Not only were the inflatables comfortable to wear (i.e., you will put them on and leave them on) but they were more buoyant (15 to 35 pounds of buoyancy vs. the biggest, bulkiest Offshore Life Jackets -- Type I, that gave 22-25 pounds), and they were better designed to hold the unconscious victim's face out of the water than other types. European studies consistently show need for 35 pounds of buoyancy. They do require careful care to avoid punctures and mechanical problems with automatic inflation equipment. Be sure to get a vest with manual inflation capabilities, and inflatables are best not used for children who may not have quick-wittedness to use the manual backup.

From Van on Cruising World message board:
I have the SOSpenders with the built-in harness. Unfortunately, the damned things all deployed automatically with either rainwater or minimal wave splashing. Get the new USCG approved kind that have to be manually discharged.

From Andy on Cruising World message board:
Mustang automatic inflating life vest with harness is now USCG approved. I got one for Christmas. I am 6'3" and 250 lbs. It fits me even with foul weather gear!!! The WM or Sospenders were much too short. They felt like a horse collar around my neck with the D rings 8" under my chin.

From Richmond Marine Police, in letter from Linda Cahill in 2/1/2001 issue of Practical Sailor:
3 things regularly go wrong with inflatable PFD's:
  • Plastic pull mechanism fails.

  • CO2 cartridge goes bad (leaks ? corrodes ?).

  • CO2 cartridge gradually unscrews itself as you put PFD on and take it off.

  • Clothing in shades of blue, green, white, grey are not easy to see on/in the water.
    PFD's should be bright red.

  • Put reflective tape and boat's name on each PFD.
    And attach a small whistle and small light.

  • Test inflatable PFD: orally inflate, let stand overnight, deflate, inspect CO2 cylinder, replace bobbin.

Immersion Suit (Survival Suit)

Stewart Tweed's "Care and Use of Immersion Suits"
Michael Maurice's "Survival/Immersion Suits" tips

$300-$600 new; $150 used.
Better to get mittens (keep hands warmer) or gloves (can use hands without taking protection off) ?
When in doubt, get larger size suit.

Stearns, Mustang are popular brands.


West Marine's "Safety Harnesses and Jacklines"
SailNet - John Rousmaniere's "Safety Harnesses And Tethers"

  • Adjustable shoulders and waist.
  • Lanyard with clips at both ends, and maybe one in the middle.
  • Clips that can't open accidentally (Gibb, etc).
  • Tether should be v-shaped with clips at 3 points, so you never get un-clipped from boat.
  • Safety harness should have leg straps.
    (But few on market ?
    "SOSpenders makes a Universal Crotch Strap (Model ACS 1000). The 2000 West Marine catalog has them on page 403 / Model No 136536 for $7.99")


  • Jack lines should end 6 feet forward of transom, so you don't get dragged behind boat.

  • Flat webbing best because it doesn't roll underfoot, and other lines can't be mistaken for it. But webbing stretches when wet; get it soaking wet before tensioning it.

  • When you go into cabin, step inside and unclip tether from harness and leave tether dangling in companionway. Then when coming out of cabin, you can clip back on before coming on deck.

  • UV damages jack-lines; stow them below when finished using them.

Fire extinguisher

Fire types:
  • A == paper, wood, cloth.
  • B == liquids.
  • C == electrical.
  • D == flammable metals.

Apparently only type B is required on boats in USA ?

Extinguishing agents:
  • Dry chemical powder (some corrosive, some not).
  • Clean-agent (halotron, FM-200, FE-241, HFC-227, etc).
  • Aqueous foam.
  • Water (only for type A fires).
  • Physical smothering (fire blanket, sand, etc).

BoatSafe's "Marine Fire Extinguishers and Boat Fires"
SailNet - John Kretschmer's "Fire Aboard"
SailNet - Don Casey's "Fire on Board!"
Heidi Hackler's "Eight lessons learned fighting a real fire aboard our boat"
BoatU.S.'s "Fire Extinguishers"
Fire extinguishers tested in 8/15/2001 and 6/2005 issues of Practical Sailor
Fire extinguishers article (including automatic system choice and installation) by Susan Canfield in issue 2002 #3 of DIY Boat Owner magazine

According to a BoatU.S. study, electrical problems (such as wire chafe) cause 55% of boat fires. Engine or transmission overheating caused 24% of fires; fuel leaks caused 8% of fires.

From Mo Girard's "Spring Check Up":
You can extend the life of your extinguishers by shaking the chemical up at least every 6 months. You should be able to feel the powder in the extinguisher as you shake it. If not, the powder has solidified and it should be serviced.

I would recommend that you have at least a 5 pound extinguisher, even though some vessels only require a 2.5 pound unit. The 2.5 pound unit doesn't last very long and unless you hit the fire just right on the first attempt, you may not get a second chance.

Mount fire extinguishers horizontally instead of vertically to help keep powder from settling/packing as boat moves.

From CCHIPFIRE on BoaterEd forum:
... If you plan to change your extinguisher get one with a metal neck and handle. UV light can make plastic units brittle (making an accidental activation a real possibility). Also don't forget you need a USCG-rated holder (metal not plastic) for the extinguisher or it will not count as operational ...

From Dave Pascoe on BoaterEd forum:
When interviewed after a boat fire, the typical owner will tell a story something like this: there were three fire-x aboard. Owner discharges two of them and nothing happens. The third is in a drawer that he can't get to because it's too close to the fire, or he can't remember where it is. Dock neighbors rush to the scene with their fire-x. After the fire is out, there are nine extinguishers laying around, of which we've determined that only two of them worked.

People make the mistake of thinking that because the gauge reads in the green zone, the unit is okay. Not only does the powder cake up on the bottom, but frequently the pressure gauge needle freezes in place due to corrosion.

I just finished playing around with two units I have here in my office. Frankly, I cannot tell whether the chemical is packed on the bottom or not. They are heavy on the bottom side, and there's no sense that the material moves around when I turn it upside down. The only way I could find to prove it was to give it a shot. Surprise, it worked. The needle dropped a fraction of an inch, so despite the brief discharge, the unit is still usable.

There are two advantages to activating to test it. First, you find out if it works. Second, you find out if the pressure needle moves after a brief discharge. Plus you'll also find out if the valve is corroded. If it is, the valve will not reseal fully and all the pressure will slowly leak out, letting you know that it's time for replacement. [Other people say testing by activation is bad, mostly because valve may not reseal properly. Also, these things fully discharge in about 10 seconds, so there's not much to waste.]

One last thing, the ABYC standard calls for fire-x to be mounted in conspicuous locations where someone not familiar with the boat could find them if necessary. It's a mistake to simply toss them into a drawer, and assume that because you know where they are, that you'll be the only one called upon to have to use it. What if the fire starts when you're not there, but your wife, kids or guests are? Do they know where the units are located?

Automatic fire extinguisher (in engine compartment) should have manual release too.

From article by Margaret Williams in Cruising World's "Safety at Sea":
"All portable extinguishers discharge in a matter of seconds."
[So you'd better know exactly how to use it, and get it right the first time.]

Portable 5-pound extinguisher discharges for about 14 seconds.

Powder residue from dry-chemical extinguisher can destroy bearings in engine.

Best extinguishing agent: aqueous foam.
Versatile, non-toxic, easy to clean up, but not USCG-approved.
Kidde Fire Out Foam ($60).
Flamestop ($15) from American Safety Products

When time to recharge, take fire extinguishers to a recharge station and ask to set them off yourself, to see how they work.

Novel automatic fire extinguisher (melting tube releases charge): Stinger.
From article in 6/2005 issue of Practical Sailor:
  • Dry-powder extinguishers are very hard to clean up after.

  • CO2 extinguishers tend to be bigger and heavier, and there's more risk of the fire rekindling after the CO2 is expended. And the cold blast can cause "thermal shock" damage when sprayed on a hot engine.

  • Dry-powder extinguishers that stop class B and C fires usually use some kind of bicarbonate. Extinguishers also rated for class A use a different, highly corrosive chemical that can damage electronics.

  • An extinguisher with a hose-mounted nozzle requires two hands to operate; one with a fixed nozzle requires only one hand.

  • Best strategy: several dry-chemical extinguishers to satisfy USCG requirements, a clean-agent (halotron, FM-200, FE-241, HFC-227, etc) extinguisher (preferably automatic) for/in the engine compartment, and an aqueous foam extinguisher for actual use everywhere except the engine compartment.

Fume alarms

(Propane, CNG, carbon monoxide, gasoline, methane, hydrogen, etc:)

BoatU.S.'s "CO and Fume Detectors"
West Marine's "Fume Detectors and Alarms"
David Pascoe's "Carbon Monoxide Alert"

Modern CO alarms give fewer false alarms than older units.

From 3/2006 issue of Practical Sailor:
Nuisance alarms are a problem: "... gas venting from a conventional lead-acid battery that is charging can activate a CO alarm."

"CO is practically the same weight as air and will therefore go anywhere - unpredictably !"

Only safe way to test CO alarm using actual CO is to return it to the manufacturer.

In comparison to gasoline exhaust, the CO component of diesel exhaust is extremely low.

Xintex CMD-2M CO alarm $80
Xintex's "Propane Detectors and Controls"

From Todd Dunn on Cruising World message board,
... a propane detector in the bilge. It is also very easy to check the detector/shut-off circuit to see if it is leaking. All you do is use your butane barbeque lighter by cupping your hand around the detector and clicking the lighter on without lighting it. That releases butane in the area of the detector which then shuts the propane down and sounds the alarm if it is working. ...

Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) and Personal Location Beacon (PLB)

EPIRB Types:
  • Class B (121.5 MHz):
    Cheap ($300).
    Obsolete; high false-alarm rate (99 %) makes authorities require corroboration before responding.
    Phased out as of 1/1/2007; do not use.

  • 406 MHz:
    Expensive ($600 - $900).
    Worldwide coverage.
    Also high false-alarm rate (90+ %).
    May be water-activated or manual-activated.
    May have integrated GPS (AKA "GPIRB"), interface to GPS, or not.
    • Category I: Auto-release bracket.
    • Category II: Manual-release bracket.
NOAA's "Emergency Beacons"
What is an EPIRB ?
BoatU.S.'s "Why Buy A 406 MHz EPIRB?"
NOAA's "Emergency Beacons"
SailNet - Jim Krezenski's "Betting it All on EPIRBs"
Equipped To Survive's "PLB FAQ"
Article by John Kettlewell in Mar/Apr 2008 issue of Ocean Navigator magazine
Neil Langford's "Expose on EPIRBs - what price safety?"

ACR Satellite 3 406 Cat II EPIRB: about $470 at Amazon 2/2013
KTI SafetyAlert SA1G (AU$380 plus shipping ?)

406 MHz EPIRB's can be rented for $45/week from BoatU.S.

USCG has a program of free testing of 406 MHz EPIRBs. It tests the actual transmissions (self-test button doesn't do that).

The registration you filled out when you purchased your EPIRB is good for two years, after which it needs to be updated.

I called NOAA (888-212-SAVE) in 7/2004 and got this info:
  • Registering with NOAA, and having FCC licenses (SRS and RRTO), are completely separate things. An EPIRB or PLB will work fine and cause a search if registered with NOAA; whether or not there are FCC licenses and FCC call-sign doesn't matter.

  • A NOAA-registered PLB will work outside the USA.

From articles in 12/2002 issue of Cruising World magazine:
  • False-alert rates on 406 MHz EPIRBs are so high (90% plus) that a search is not initiated immediately. First, they see if the alert signal continues. Then they call your contact person, to see if they know how to call you directly. Then they try for some other confirmation or correlation, by VHF or SSB broadcast, or by the presence of a storm at your location, etc. Then an alert goes to the area "rescue center", which may or may not have resources that can search for you.
  • The system is far from perfect. In many parts of the world, many days can elapse before any kind of search is launched. Some poor countries have no search resources. In some cases, alerts fall through the bureaucratic cracks.
  • Your registered "contact person" should have a good description of your vessel, people aboard, location and float plan, types of communication equipment, call-signs and phone numbers, whether you have a liferaft.
  • Some water-activated EPIRBs must stay in the water to signal effectively (I guess the water acts as the radio ground plane): don't pull them aboard the liferaft.
  • Hydrostatic release should be replaced every 2 years.
  • Battery must be replaced after it is used in an emergency.
  • Once EPIRB is activated in an emergency, leave it on until you're rescued or the batteries die. Don't turn it on and off to conserve battery life.

From sidebar article by Ben Ellison in 5/2004 issue of Sail magazine:
... it's tricky to get a GPS to cold-start in close proximity to radio transmissions, especially when everything is squeezed together into a tiny waterproof case. Apparently there are some serious performance issues with PLBs and even with their bigger brethren, the GPS-enabled EPIRBs, also known as GPIRBs. ... Some models seem to deliver GPS position data quite poorly, if at all. ... Some experts say there may be other performance problems related to claimed battery life and transmit powers and that the signal strength of some PLBs may be significantly reduced when wet. ...

From West Marine advisor 81 version 1 7/2004:
  • Initial 406 EPIRB signal goes to satellite, which relays to ground station (LUT). After they determine position, appropriate control center (MCC) is notified. MCC tracks signal and looks up registration, and contacts registered contact person. Then, MCC contacts appropriate rescue control center (RCC). RCC starts search.

  • Satellite computes 406 EPIRB position to within 1 NM radius.

  • 406 EPIRB average "time to notification" (to MCC ?) is 46 minutes.

  • Adding GPS to EPIRB reduces average "time to notification" (to MCC ?) to 4 minutes.

  • Adding GPS to EPIRB does not improve position report to less than 1 NM radius.

  • Search will use homing beacon built into EPIRB to actually find you.

From Alejandro Paquin on Yacht-L mailing list:
... there are no guarantees that once SARSAT and partners receive the [EPIRB] alarm and they can confirm you are not drunk in Las Vegas, that a SAR operation will be launched. That may be true for the USA or first world country jurisdictions BUT when you try other less developed regions (Caribbean for example) it may be very difficult for SARSAT in Maryland, for example, to contact a SAR agency. I know that from first-hand experience. The eight (8) emergency numbers given to me by SARSAT Chief Commander in Maryland last September for Venezuelan SAR operators were outdated and now belonged to private citizens or regular businesses. Surprise surprise. To make matters worse, the responsibility for MSAR operations in Venezuela is not clearly defined ...

On most EPIRBs, replacing the battery is very expensive ($200-$500), and requires returning the unit to the manufacturer. Replacement is required every 5 to 6 years and after every emergency use; includes new seals and gaskets, testing, etc. But for some reason, several major brands of PLBs do have user-replaceable batteries (still $200).

"When you are looking for a 406 EPIRB, determine the cost of battery replacement before you buy. My $800 EPIRB requires a $350 battery replacement after six years."

My opinion: I'd rather have a Marine SSB radio than an EPIRB. The EPIRB is single-function, one-way (no indication that someone has heard the alert and is doing something about it), and not fully testable. The radio can be used for many things. On the other hand, the radio requires more equipment and installation, in a quick emergency you may not have time to use the radio, and you can't take the radio with you into the liferaft.

From Clyde Kennewick on Cruising World message board:
Now that it's legal to buy a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) in the lower 48 states as of yesterday (7/1/2003), I wonder if it will replace the EPIRB in coastal and inland waters ? The literature on the PLB states that it's for land-based use, but in some publications they state that it can be used in coastal waters. In one boating publication they came out and evaluated it's benefits on the water. There are some differences between an EPIRB and a PLB. The signal from a PLB is monitored by the US Air Force who must then relay the information to the US Coast Guard; the EPIRB is monitored by the US Coast Guard. The PLB has a short battery life requirement of 24 vs. 48 hours for the EPIRB. The PLB is only rated for a submersion of one meter, but you can always get a waterproof bag. In general the EPIRB can withstand a lot more abuse than a PLB, but with a PLB it goes where ever you go; an EPIRB stays with your boat, even though you might be on the water on someone else's sailboat. I notice that the PLBs are now listed along with EPIRBs on online boating stores like West Marine.

I like the idea of carrying a PLB when I'm going to be sailing on someone else's sailboat; it's like bringing your own PFD instead of relaying on the sailboat owner's safety equipment. ...

Both EPIRBs and PLBs are registered with NOAA for free, and both will work internationally.

From jypsyjana on SSCA discussion boards 1/2011:
If we recall correctly, our ACR 406 has a limited life. That is to say that after 12 (?) years, ACR will no longer replace the battery. That was a pretty rude surprise.
From Frank / Draco on SSCA discussion boards 1/2011:
ACR will not replace the battery of any EPIRB that is more than 12 years old.

Summarized from article by John Kettlewell in Mar/Apr 2008 issue of Ocean Navigator magazine:
PLB compared to EPIRB: majority of reduction in size is achieved by shrinking the battery pack and its sophistication. PLB's minimum broadcast time (in cold temperatures) is 24 hours, versus EPIRB's 48 hours. These times should be greatly extended in warmer temperatures.

Reduced battery life may affect final rescue phase, when rescuers are homing in using the 121.5 MHz beacon.

PLB's usually are waterproof, but may not float, and probably won't float upright so that GPS acquires signal or beacon sends signal up to satellite.
New product that is alternative to EPIRB: Globalstar's Spot. Longer battery life, more features, cost is about $170 plus $99/year, but coverage is not worldwide.

I asked ACR 10/2011 about PLB versus EPIRB:
I wondered if the "reaction path" for a PLB is a little more complicated than for an EPIRB ? I guessed an EPIRB alert goes straight to some maritime-safety agency. Would a PLB alert go to some more general-purpose land-based agency, before eventually being forwarded to some maritime agency ?

Response from ACR:
  • The path of response for EPIRBs and PLBs are the same.
  • EPIRB can go for 48 hours, PLB for 24.
  • EPIRB activates when in the water, PLB activates by manual button.
  • EPIRB floats properly to transmit, PLB needs to be held properly.
  • Both must be properly registered.

In 10/2011, a sailboat 90 NM W of Martinique activated their EPIRB because an unknown powerboat (old, white, 50-60 foot) seemed to be trying to intercept them, and came within 3/4 mile. The sailboat tried to contact the powerboat on VHF, tried to evade, then put out a Mayday on VHF, and then activated their EPIRB. Then the wind came up and they were able to sail away from the powerboat. Later, this reaction was said to be okay by USCG: "San Juan CG confirms that if a vessel believes that they are in danger, triggering an EPIRB is completely justifiable. The San Juan CG officer did not feel that the crew of [the sailboat] misused the Global Maritime Distress Safety System in any manner."

easyRESCUE A040 (personal MOB AIS transmitter)

VPIRB: transmits alert via VHF and DSC.
But VHF signal range depends on antenna size and height; what range will this have ?

Annual subscription: $100 for basic (includes messaging), additional $50 for position-tracking, additional $8 for rescue service.

Apparently there is a no-refund policy on the subscriptions, so if you sign up and decide it's not working for you, no refund.

Summarized from letter by Gil Anspacher in Apr 2010 issue of All At Sea magazine:
SPOT is not completely reliable; plenty of our location/status updates did not get through. Thus, it is not a replacement for an EPIRB.

From Joe Kuster on BackpackingLight forum 3/2008:
I've used mine throughout tons of places where my standard GPS had a horrible time syncing, and given 5 minutes I never had the SPOT fail to send a signal.

Here are the limitations as far as I can tell: While moving it takes a while to sync if you just turned it on. The same is true for my Gecko 301 GPS. This is easily fixed by leaving the unit on. You have to know what to expect to tell if it sent the signal. I keep reading about how people couldn't tell it sent, but I've always been able to see mine flash the acknowledgement if I wanted to verify. I just toss it on the ground while I'm cooking dinner and wait for the double flashes which are eye-catching in the evening light.

I think a lot of folks are giving up and turning the unit off too soon. You have to plan on the initial GPS sync taking 4 minutes and then up to 10-15 for all three signals to go out (it sends 3 different times just in case, but filters it down to 1 for your emails etc). Sure, if you're on the move this isn't great since its fix is slow that way. If however you are in an emergency you're likely stationary anyway.

I've had luck leaving it on, hitting the OK button and just tossing it in the top pouch of my pack and the signal went through.

The good: I've sent over 100 signals now and have yet to have a single signal not go through, even in canyons, heavy forest coverage, in heavy snow/storm conditions and even cold-starting it 1,500 miles away from the last point with no issues.

It also sips batteries very lightly. The manufacturer claims nearly 1 year in standby mode, which is why I really wonder why people keep turning theirs off during trips only to suffer increased sync time. I've left mine on during dozens of trips - effectively weeks worth of on-time and my original batteries have plenty of charge according to my multimeter.

Overall, my Gecko 301 GPS is less reliable in signal fixes, as are my Holux GPS receivers I use for auto navigation.

For me, it works as advertised and it has actually gained my trust. Hitting that occasional OK button has given my family a lot of peace of mind so I get a lot less flak and they don't unnecessarily worry nearly the same when I go solo.

I also need to state that I do not use the tracking feature. I've heard it's spotty but the manual OKs have been fine for me.

The only downsides to me are it could be a bit lighter, have a better message-sent indicator and they need to not charge as much on the yearly subscriptions.

From Phil / Sunshine on World-Cruising mailing list 2/2011:
We also love our SPOT and wish we could say the same for their web site. It is klunky at best and extremely slow. The device itself is great when you are out of cell and Wi-Fi range and need to let the folks back home you are OK. Personally, I would not consider it as a substitute for an EPIRB.

From Normandie / Sea Venture on World-Cruising mailing list 2/2011:
One reason not to consider it a substitute for an EPIRB is that sometimes it sends messages even if it can't find the GPS coordinates. Otherwise, it's a great link to family at home.

From Ed Kelly:
The SPOT transmissions need to have a satellite near and above us when we send it, and also having no heavy clouds that could block the signal. The signal goes over the GLOBALSTAR Satellite network. In the past Globalstar has had times in the mid-Atlantic when no satellites were there to relay signals ... causing alarm to folks watching from afar. Globalstar uses low earth satellites.

From eat4fun on reddit:
Raising your transmitter 8 feet into the air can increase signal strength by 40%, as can placing it on a sheet of metal, and don't hold it close to your body (you'll absorb the signal).

SPOT versus EPIRB:
EPIRB is better:
  • Provides a direction-finding signal (homing beacon) that rescuer can use when they get within a few miles of you.
  • No annual subscription fee; SPOT subscription costs $100 to $150 per year.
  • SPOT not guaranteed to be waterproof ?
  • SPOT communications not 100% reliable ?
  • SPOT is proprietary system run by single company.
SPOT is better:
  • Provides position-tracking and OK button that communicates to family/friends.
  • Provides a "help" button that communicates to family/friends, less drastic than an official distress call.
  • EPIRB more expensive initial purchase price.
  • EPIRB battery expensive to replace, every 5 years.
  • Some EPIRB's have lifetime limited to 12 years.
  • In an emergency, when activated, EPIRB battery will last 2-3 days, while SPOT battery will last for weeks.

Communication service for non-emergency situations.

Two satellites that receive test-messages from any 406 EPIRB, including most non-ACR EPIRBs. That causes an "OK" message to be sent to friends/family via email and text message. If using ACR's AquaLink PLB, GPS coords are sent too.

Annual subscription: starting at $40.

Sounds like the "OK" message is a canned, pre-set message, not one you create or tailor each time.

From Peter Ogilvie on World-Cruising mailing list:
If you cruise in most ocean waters except the tropics, you will have less than an hour of consciousness and precious little more time than that before you are dead from hypothermia. There just isn't much hope that an aircraft or ship could find you in time, if your own boat didn't pick you up. Of course, a 'gumby' suit will greatly increase survival time but such a suit probably would only be a factor in a controlled abandonment of your boat. If I carried a personal EPIRB, it would primarily be to help the authorities find my body. I wouldn't put much faith in it being useful for much else.

That would be a great psychological plus for my wife and loved ones. Have had an acquaintance's boat go missing on a voyage from Hawaii to the mainland. It was a tri eventually found inverted with his crew tangled in lines and drowned. He was never found. It was awfully hard on his wife not having the closure of finding the body.

Man-Overboard (MOB) Alarms

  • Each crew wears a 121.5 MHz transmitter ($200 - $400).
  • Vessel has a receiver ($200 - $3500!), maybe with direction-finding ability.

Article in 9/2000 issue of Practical Sailor
Article by Gordon West in 5/2004 issue of Sail magazine

Emerald Marine Products
ACR (Mini B2 and Vecta2)

Man-Overboard (MOB) Retrieval:
  • Stern swim steps (permanent).
  • Ladder (portable).
  • Sling (horseshoe-shape, seat, ring).
  • Cradle / net / stretcher / scoop.
  • Sail / sheet / parbuckle (one edge attached to toerail, lift outboard end and roll victim aboard).
  • Harness (worn).
  • Use dinghy or surfboard as intermediate step between in-water and aboard-boat.

Article in 1/2006 issue of Practical Sailor

Maybe throw mask, snorkel and swim fins to person in water, to aid their swimming, and let them help get themselves up out of the water a bit when being lifted ?

SailNet - Tom Wood's "Maintaining Safety Gear"

See RADAR section of my Boat Electrical page (for RADAR reflector info, too).
See RADAR Detector section of my Boat Electrical page

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