March 26, 2016

EPIRB Battery Test

Two EPIRBs came with the boat we acquired in May-2014; one was packaged with the life raft and one in mounted just inside the upper companionway. 

When we had our life raft repacked/certified at that same time, we had them remove the out-of-date EPIRB [batteries past their shelf life, and no internal GPS...] and replace it with a much smaller, waterproof, freshly dated [6 year battery shelf life]  PLB with built-in GPS. 

To be prudent, we investigated the cost of replacing the battery in the outdated McMurdo / Pains Wessex SOS Rescue 406 EPIRB that we had removed from the life raft.


 At US$250 plus shipping both ways, we decided to toss it because we can buy a new, modern EPIRB with GPS and a 10 year battery life for about US$100 more than the replacement battery...

This decision left us with an old EPIRB to dispose of. Since there was no USCG base near us at the time, we went online and found the original manual which included disposal instructions. The two options were to either remove the battery and recycle appropriately, or remove the antenna, wrap the unit in metal foil [to prevent signal transmission] and set it off to drain the battery...

We decided to fire off the unit to observe the battery runtime and prevent activation in the future.

This EPIRB had already been declared inactive in the NOAA registration database, but we wanted to make sure and not contribute to the already prevalent false alarms. Therefore we decided to follow the manufacturer's instructions for running the EPIRB without the antenna, but instead of wrapping it in aluminum foil, we put it in our stainless steel oven [solid door; i.e., no glass] and fired it off. [...the EPIRB, not the oven...] 

We started the test at the top of the hour- the designated time period for testing PLB and EPIRBs- just in case...

As you might expect, the xenon [not LED as in more modern EPIRBS; i.e., bigger drain on battery...] strobe started flashing immediately, and the other lights indicated it was faithfully attempting to transmit the emergency signal.  

No phone calls were received, nothing was heard on the VHF radio, and no rescue boats or helicopters showed up so apparently we were successful attenuating the signal. 

Since the unit was 7 1/2 years past the original [5 year shelf life] battery expiration date, we didn't expect it to last for long. Therefore we peeked in the oven every ~4 hours to see if the strobe was still firing and the other lights still indicated it was transmitting... 

These units are specified to meet the EPIRB standards of transmitting for a minimum of 48 hours at -4°F. [The ambient temperature inside the boat averaged 65°F during the testing period.]

We continued checking every few hours [4-6 times each day] and after 4 days the unit was still transmitting. 

It finally died sometime around the 4 1/2 day mark. [~108 hours] We left it in the oven another 24 hours just in case the battery came back to life after a rest... it didn't...

Who cares? Well, we're naturally curious, and we found this test encouraging. 

To summarize: this older model EPIRB [without GPS] with batteries 7 years and 7 months past their expiration date still ran more than twice as long as the minimum required period [48 hours with non-expired batteries...]

What does this mean to us? When the batteries expire in our current and future EPIRBs, we will keep them onboard and actively registered for a couple of additional years as back-ups to their replacement(s). 

This is based upon the assumption that battery technology keeps improving, and if the older lithium batteries delivered the performance documented above, newer battery technology/formulations will likely be equal or better.

Will we bet our lives on it?  Nope! [Nor are we recommending anyone else does either...]

The key word here is back-up; we will always carry at least one in-date, modern EPIRB on the boat, and likewise an EPIRB or PLB packed in with the life raft, and we always have PLBs on our person- on the boat and on land.

That means as of this writing we can fire off 5 NOAA registered emergency beacons in case of an emergency. [Our written plan is to do this in succession- not simultaneously- in extenuating circumstances; possibly using the out-of-date units first if it isn't an abandon ship emergency. If a beacon fails to transmit, then fire off another...] Bump that count to 6 once we replace our current EPIRB later this year... [Update Dec-2016; New 10 year EPIRB added to inventory.]

But we all know SOPs and reality can vary in times of crisis... At least the odds are in our favor that one of these buggers ought to work if/when needed...

Here's hoping none of us ever have a need for our emergency beacons...


Related Resources: 


March 16, 2016

Immersing ourselves in new cultures...

One of the reasons many of us have adopted this cruising lifestyle is to travel; to visit lands and cultures we either have never experienced, or wish to learn more about.

There are often some minor barriers to admission; things we don't know or are unfamiliar with, like language, dress, customs, and cultural mores...

We never want to offend anyone, nor be perceived as the 'Ugly Americans'... 

I personally enjoy asking what must be mundane questions, but one has to start somewhere... 

This is akin to our being occasionally asked if we live in an igloo, have a dog team, where to exchange currency [this from fellow citizens- and yes, I can handle that for you...] or insistence that shipping to Alaska from the lower 48 US states is international... [A testament of our public education system perhaps?]

Regardless, I always enjoy being immersed in a culture- especially on that is new to me. I have found that is the best way for me to absorb some the cultural nuances and bits of language. But it rarely sticks for long- especially if we are just passing through- but I can't stay isolated just because I am embarrassed by my own ignorance...



Another example: I have lived and boated in Mexico several times, the most recent being many years ago. I was fluent in Spanish then, but languages don't stay that way [for me...] without continued use. 

Keeping with my desire for immersion, when I have an opportunity to converse in Spanish I jump right in. I try speaking without thinking it through in English first [i.e., translating; it is said you know a language when you think in the language you are speaking- or attempting to speak in...] This can lead to some funny situations...

I remember being in Mexico joining friends for dinner in very nice restaurant- after a few years of absence from the country [and the language...] I intended to order camarones a la diabla [Shrimp of the She-Devil (chipotle sauce) which was not on the menu... To die for! (Or die of...)]

At this point my tongue was well lubricated through my reacquaintance with the local beverages, and running about half a step ahead of the brain which was driving it...

What I actually ordered was a few demonic trucks [camiones.] And I knew this as soon as it escaped my lips. Hysterical laughter ensued; mine and theirs.

My second attempt would have required a waiter [camarero...] to volunteer to be diced and sautéed in the chipotle sauce...  Now they think I'm a stand-up comedian... A round from the house!

My friends are getting pretty hungry at this point, and some food in me might help ensure we receive something familiar for desert...

Of course I hit the target on my third try [as if they didn't already know...] and we [especially the wait staff] continued to chuckle our way into dinner... 

It was great fun and a marvelous learning opportunity at the cost of some humility; a small price to pay indeed.

C'est la vie! [...or should I say Que Sera, Sera...]

And I can assure you boaters that- unlike unfamiliar cultures-  unknown waters do not compel in me that same desire for immersion...




March 10, 2016

Stuff we have and use...

We are always eager to learn from others about their specific ways of doing things and what products and services they like and use.

We also like using our blog as a notebook for ourselves to supplement our logs and voluminous onboard document library [Fourteen 3 inch three-ring binders full of product documentation, as-built system schematics, notes, etc. and counting.... And the first binder is just the the index...]

Consequently, we need an abridged, online reference for our own use, and for sharing with others. 

Our Weather page is an example of this; we created it principally for our own use, but we make it available to anyone who may be interested.

Therefore we have started adding Pages to this blog to document various systems, services, and items we have and use. [Pages are like web pages, vs. blog Posts- like this one...] Examples of Pages include the buttons across the top of our blog:


The reason we decided to use Pages is, since they are not blog Posts, they won't get buried in the chronological archive. Instead, they will always be out in the open. 

We will use Pages for documenting items to be accessed routinely that do not benefit from a chronological archive, and Posts for news, information, travel stories and the like that may only be read once [or occasionally] and lend themselves to being archived in a timeline... 

Since we have been publishing this type of information in blog Posts, we will also be converting some of those archived Posts into Pages, and noting this on the original blog Post [for reference for future readers...]

One trade-off for using Pages is subscribers to our blog will not be automatically notified when we publish a new Page, even though they will continue to be notified of new blog Posts... 

Another trade-off is, while Pages will still show up in search results, they will not when you click on specific Topic in the side-bar. 

So, you will have to peek at the blog on occasion to see what new Stuff we may have added or updated. And, as with this post, we may also Post once in a while if we feel there may be a general interest in a recently published Page about Stuff...

Initially we are placing this growing list of Stuff we have and use in the right hand column:


Stuff we have and use...


We look forward to hearing your feedback and suggestions for improving this approach, and to our ongoing assimilation of all the great information shared by so many other boaters.

March 5, 2016

Bedding considerations in cooler climates...

Since most of my experience is boating in cooler climates, [ignoring one multi-year coconut-milk-run...] I am sometimes asked about special considerations and adaptations I found useful over time. 

In this post I'll discuss my take on bedding [sheets and blankets if you like] and ways of reducing/preventing condensation under and around mattresses. 

I [now we...] have been making our boat beds a bit differently for the last few decades. (Those of you in warmer climes may wish to experiment with non-fleece variations of what I am about to describe...)

I always hated the fitted sheet wrestling match [as does the Admiral...] so I experimented on myself one winter 30+ years ago and made a fleece bedroll the shape of the V-Berth on my boat at that time. [I'm positive I'm not the first, and I'll bet there are even better ideas out there, but this works great for me, now us...]

Wonderful! I had one item to wash, and making the bed was as easy as standing at the head of the berth and unrolling the fleece on top [with a flourish!] 

The bedroll facilitated easy access to the stowage below the berth as I had no fitted sheets to wrestle with. And it cost [much] less that a set of custom fitted sheets- which are only part of the solution anyway...

My original bedroll design was more complicated than it needed to be [as I am wont to do...] But hey, it was the middle of winter and I needed another project...

It had the full length matching two-way zippers that met in the middle of the bottom, so the top and bottom could be separated [each half then became a single person bed roll] and one of both sides of the bottom could be unzipped for ventilation for the hot footed sleeper...

I eliminated the zippers in subsequent models [which typically failed after a few years, and weren't all that comfortable to lay upon...] The new models were sew together across the bottom and up the sides to about knee level. [Don't go higher otherwise it is more like exiting a sleeping bag instead of a bed- especially if the berth orientation requires you to enter/exit toward the foot or side of the berth vs. crawling out head first...] 

This modified design is ideal for us; easy to get out of if you have to exit the foot of the berth as we do, and no tangling or burrito effect...

Other variations over time included using a heavy [thicker] fleece on one side [e.g., 300 weight- which is what I recommend] and a lighter fleeced on the other. [e.g., 200]  This way I could flip the bedroll over to accommodate my sleeping needs during the seasons... 

I have always used high quality Polar Fleece from Malden Mills.

Fast forward to our current boat with a custom shaped, quasi-queen sized mattress. It has a cloth hinge down the middle so the mattress folds in half lengthwise for accessing the storage and steering system underneath. And the hinge facilitates attaching a lee cloth to split the bert in two- making two pilot berths [we sail a monohull...] when needed... 

The bedroll eliminates the need to remake the berth whenever you fold the mattress over to access stowage beneath the berth. [Which isn't really that often, however the convenience is not to be overrated...]

We keep a few fleece blankets on hand if we need them, and of course we have super cold weather sleeping bags on board. [And a 4 season tent I can use as the dog house... All are in a supplemental ditch bag in case we ever have to abandon ship close to shore. Remember we are exploring the Alaskan coastlines these days...]

Other considerations:
Since we have a smaller front-loading clothes washing machine on our current boat, we have made some micro-fleece sheet liners that fit inside the fleece bedroll so we can wash those on the boat. [The one piece fleece bedroll is just a tad too big for our 1.8 cu ft washer... A two piece bedroll with zippers may work better for us now so we could wash the fleece halves separately onboard...]

What about condensation under the mattresses and cushions on a boat?

I have been using Hypervent on the last 3 boats in cooler climates [occasionally living aboard in -20°F temps and colder during some winters...] over the last 30+ years or so and it is great. 

One trick I learned is to also extend the Hypervent up the side(s) and end(s) of the mattress [just to the top of the mattress... this stuff is stiff and scratchy...] anywhere the mattress is against the hull, bulkhead, furniture, etc. This greatly improves airflow, and keeps the mattress/foam pads from sliding around.

The Froli sleep system looks like it would also work well, and has the added advantage of letting you individually customize your mattress comfort level(s). It is also the most expensive of the lot.

Dri-Dek also works [somewhat] but is not as thick so air flow is reduced. 

I prefer Hypervent because it is thicker [better air flow] and it costs less.

And when you have shore power, don't forget to run a dehumidifier. This will really help keep everything dry...

Additional Resources: