I have been on a lot of boats, and I don't mean just at boat shows. There are things that you may not notice at a boat show or even after a short sea trial. Once at sea, however, they might drive you crazy.
Here are some random observations from my notes over the years. I’ve kept all my notebooks, so this is by no means a complete list. We all know that boats are compromises. But perhaps these comments may help you avoid or fix something before you are on the wrong side of the compromise they represent.
While I'm a visual guy, I am going to refrain from sharing pictures of these issues, for good reason. I don't want to pick on a specific boat, as many of these comments apply to other models and builders, and I prefer to keep it more general, so there is less chance of missing the forest for the trees. Some commentary has already taken place in the many boat tours I've written over the years, and again, I would prefer you walk away with a greater awareness rather than distain for certain boats.
I’m just scratching the surface, really…to be continued in future articles as I continue amassing the vast information resources at my disposal.
In no particular order, here we go...
Engine room access. On some boats, and I mean big, million dollar trawlers, it is downright ridiculous. The hatch access is poorly placed, or not big enough for us to get through without some effort. Sometimes the door entrance opening may have been large enough, but once the builder adds four or more inches of insulation on the inside of the door or hatch, the space is seriously reduced to just wiggle room. Entrance into the engine space needs to be easy without gymnastics, whether offshore or at the dock. And what could possibly be the reason for these hatches and doors to be so small when the engine space on the other side has almost full stand up headroom? I don’t get that.
The pilothouse doors on some trawler yachts are way too low. Raising them up so the sill is several inches off the side deck would eliminate standing water coming in from the side decks. Stepping up and over a door frame is far better than the forever wet pile of towels that lies at the base of the door frame to stem the trickle of water coming in from a side deck as it rolls steadily in a seaway.
And I ask you, once this flaw is discovered, why wouldn’t a boat builder fix this???
I always like to have two stainless steel handholds on either side of the pilothouse doors (inside the pilothouse). I make it a practice when on watch to look outside and behind the boat. Without these handholds, there is nothing to hold onto when poking one’s head out of the pilothouse doors. The massive frame and trim are not sufficient to hold when the seas are rough. Two hand holds would make lots of sense and look great.
Also in the pilothouse, it is nice if there are beefy handholds next to the settee that is usually located behind the helm chair. When sliding off the settee one naturally reaches for something to grab. It seems such a natural thing to have and would add to the safety, utility, and general appearance of a competent sea boat.
There never seems enough room in the pilothouse for both helm chair(s) and the table. Most people must squeeze through to get from one side to the other. I often wonder what a salesperson would say if asked about this. Didn't they know a helm chair was part of the overall design?
If there is just one helm chair, which is the norm, that means the second person on watch (or hanging out) must sit on the settee, not always the best place for watch keeping. And if one is forced to sit pretty much behind the helm chair, because of the furniture layout or location of air handling vents, for example, all conversation take place with no eye contact. Every boat is different, of course, but it is best if people in the pilothouse can maintain eye contact, with visibility and sightlines on the same level.
Heads located to separate staterooms. This one makes me cringe. The visual separation of living spaces is a total illusion on many boats. The owners’ stateroom is situated with the master head located between that stateroom and the guest stateroom. And to make matters worse, the head of the guest berth is against the bulkhead of teak-veneered plywood. On too many occasions, the other side of that plywood is the marine toilet. I get to hear every bodily function, including the “tap tap” of the toothbrush against the side of the sink. Of course, the boat’s owners are the only ones who don’t know about this, as they are at the start of the chain, and it is really not a topic for discussion.
At the very least, there should be some sort of sound deadening between the living spaces.
While we are talking about privacy, notice how louvered doors and vents allow ventilation, but at the expense of privacy. A couple of boats come to mind where the voices of others could be heard even with the stateroom door closed, as if they were inside my cabin. I don't want or need to hear others when I am in my private space. If they are having an argument or simply having a private conversation, I would prefer not to be involved. And if one of them snores? I could go on with more detail, but let's not go there.
The guest berths are sometimes too short, as are the saloon settees. They fit the space rather than the other way around. On a boat going into head seas in an overnight passage or across a gnarly sound, no one is going to be sleeping in the forward berths, but rather in the saloon on whatever settee arrangement the boat has. Or the saloon sole. (That is one negative of those U-shaped settees, by the way.)
The guest staterooms on many different boats are nowhere near large enough for people to share comfortably for any period, forgetting personal gear. And how absurd are upper and lower bunk berths when you can’t even read your Kindle in the top bunk as your forehead is only inches from the overhead? If you are looking at a boat with such an arrangement, get into both bunks and see if it will work for the people you intend to invite aboard. I said wasn't going to name boat brands, but I asked a very well-known builder about such skimpy guest accommodations.
He smiled and told me he didn’t design his boats for guests.
The refrigerator and freezer doors need to be better secured offshore. I recall one night well offshore when I noticed a white liquid next to the main engine during my engine room check. It didn’t feel like oil, but I was not curious enough to taste it. I tried to track the liquid to its source as the noise and heat of the engine and rolling boat heightened a sense of urgency that something might be amiss. Perhaps an emulsified lubricant that splattered from a pump about to fail? Looking around the engine space, I found it seeping from the overhead insulation, and running down teak trim to then drip by the engine.
Back in the galley, I saw the fridge door ajar and a closed milk carton on its side. Milk dribbled slowly out, down the bottom shelf of the fridge and onto the galley sole, eventually finding its way into the engine room. For years builders have tried all sorts of ways to secure the doors of the domestic appliances so common these days, but only a few have really nailed it.
There can always be more handholds around a boat, in staterooms, heads, and other spaces. Boats move around despite our efforts to stabilize them.
I would suggest additional handholds in a companionway leading to the accommodations. I have often had to make my way forward by sliding with a lean, like a drunken sailor, against one side of the passageway, but I would prefer to hold onto something.
The same hot water/mixing valve issue goes for the galley and head faucets. You may be used to it to avoid scalding yourself, but what about your guests? Install a mixing valve on your water heater!
In the engine room, I recommend all owners do their own markings on sight gauges. The fancy plaques done at the builder's yard may not always be accurate, as there are too many variables. Spend some quality time on this project and buy a label maker. Trawler yacht specialist, Jeff Merrill, is a big proponent of this practice as well.
While most boats come with an exhaust fan blower of some kind, I also would add an engine room blower to create a positive pressure. Diesel engines need fresh air and a serious blower forcing cool air into the engine space is a good thing to support our cared for engines. Time on Bruce Kessler’s Spirit of Zopilote gave me an appreciation of this. Below is her engine room.
There is so much more to share, but I hope this first go-round is of some value as you think about how to make your boat better, safer, and more comfortable. I was lucky to go on many, many boats from around the world at PMM, and solutions I noticed on one boat can often be added or modified to fit another boat.
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