Living Aboard and Buying a Boat (Part 2)

Part 1 is here:
Part 3 is here:
Part 4 is here:

[Minor Digression]
My good friend Ed (Hooligan), who solo circumnavigated on a 29 foot sailboat told me there are three things everyone needs on a boat: golf clubs, an umbrella, and a wheelbarrow. See the bottom of the post for the rest of the story.
[/Minor Digression]

The world has changed. Equipping a sailboat today has quite a range of options that were not available 10 years ago. This posts talks about my equipment experiences over the last 6 years of living aboard and open ocean cruising. My purpose is to give you a prioritized list of how I, like all cruisers with limited means, would equip a sailboat. My purpose here is to focus primarily on "big ticket" items. One needs a first aid kit, fenders, dock lines, winch handles, etc. That is not the focus of this post. I do, however, start with Federally mandated requirements.
  • Life jackets: Rule one is arrive alive. For most casual cruising the old style "kapok" jackets are just fine and only cost about $10. As you move up into more severe conditions a fully automatic life jacket with a built in harness will become important. These are going to cost you about $225. In addition you will need jacklines (about $60 the pair) and tethers (about $150 apiece.) (33 Code of Federal Regulations 175 - normally cited as 33 CFR 175. You can Google it to read the text.)
  • Fire Extinguishers: Fiberglass burns. Its very hot and puts out lots of toxic smoke. Be prepared to put out that kitchen fire - especially if you have an alcohol stove as is found on many older boats. (46 CFR 25)
  • VHF Radio: No matter where you sail this is an absolute must. There are lots of communications options but only one lets you ask that big ship bearing down on you "where would you like me to be?" With prices starting around $110 this is not a major capital expenditure. If you are on a very limited budget I would suggest a hand held radio - just remember that they have far less power on high power (usually 4 watts vs 25 watts) and a much poorer antenna (since it is a little stick vs a gain antenna on the top of the mast.)
  • Visual Distress Signals: Basically you need a way to attract attention (like an orange flag) and a way to make noise (like a whistle.) If you are going at all offshore I would suggest SOLAS flares - a kit of parachute, hand held, and dye markers is about $225. Forgot the little pop-gun flares - if another boat can see them they can also see you! (33 CFR 175.101) (33 CFR 83)
The other Federally mandated safety equipment is usually integral to any boat you would purchase. A nice chart is here:

Now we get to the more interesting stuff. Remember, this is my personal opinion (and I explicitly refuse to accept any liability.) Your mileage may vary.
  1. Flyswatter, Mosquito Coils, Benadryl: You will thank me!
  2. Class "B" transmit/receive AIS:  A recent change in USCG regulations requires just about every commercial vessel in the United States to carry a transmit/receive AIS (automatic identification system.) This has taken a very useful device and moved it to the top of my list. In my experience no matter what you do (radar reflectors, etc.) sailboats are less visible then Lockheed F-117 Nighthawks to radar. The COLREGS (International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea) require just about everyone except commercial fishing vessels currently engaged in fishing to stay out of the way of a sailboat under sail. This includes big ships, tugs with tows, etc. As a general rule if they can maneuver around you they are required to do so. With AIS it is difficult if not impossible for them to say: "I  didn't see him/her." IMHO a receive only AIS is useless. So you can see them. They can't necessarily see you in time to take evasive maneuvers. Figure about $550 at current prices. With the new regulation the price is likely to come down as thousands of additional units will be required before December 31, 2015. [Small Aside] Military vessels have their own rules. I spend a bit of time in Norfolk, VA. I love it when the USCG comes on the radio with "This is USCG vessel xxx escorting Navy Warship. The use of DEADLY FORCE is authorized." You probably don't want to argue COLREGS with them! [/Small Aside]
  3. Depth Gauge: Trying to steer by charts alone in narrow channels (like the ICW) is pretty hard. A depth gauge reminds you to hold on just before you run aground. Many boats come equipped with a depth gauge, and a speed gauge. A laptop (see "3" below) makes all of the sensors except for depth and wind redundant.
  4. Windex: It's a sailboat. Its nice to know the wind direction at the top of the mast. For $30 how can you pass this up? Wind speed indicators are nice but the helm does a good job. You can't steer? Too much wind for the sails. You aren't going. Too little wind for the sails. You are upside down? You didn't reef in time.
  5. Laptop or Tablet (with GPS): When I equipped Reboot six years ago the choice of a laptop vs a multifunction display was pretty easy. The multifunction displays were quite bulletproof. The laptops were not. It is my belief that the state of the art has reached the point where laptops are a viable alternative. Free navigation software like OpenCPN and free charts for the US ((Free ENC chart downloads) make up to date US navigation inexpensive to free (you already own a laptop or tablet, right?) You may need to purchase a GPS puck - about $35 for the USB version, closer to $100 for a Bluetooth version) if your laptop does not have a built in GPS that works off the satellite system, not the local cell towers.
  6. DeLorme inReach (about $300 plus service plan) or SPOT Satellite Messenger (about $150 plus service): Again a major change in technology has resulted in much lower capital costs. In the  old days a marine and/or HAM MF/HF radio (known by cruisers as an SSB radio, $1,900), an SCS modem ($1,200), an antenna tuner ($500 - $1,200) and an insulated backstay (a few hundred bucks for parts and installation) were considered the only way to go. These options are substantially cheaper and my field tests have shown the inReach to be quite reliable at sea - my friends report the same for the SPOT. A nice feature of both is that they send "tracks" on a regular basis. This is great if you need to request the "vertical elevator" from the Coast Guard. It is an open question whether these are sufficient as an emergency signaling device. You will have to decide on your own.
  7. EPIRB and/or PLB: Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon ($450); Personal Locator Beacon ($300.)  Both of these devices have but one purpose: to tell SARSAT that you need the "vertical elevator." The advantage of both of these devices is that they tell the global search and rescue system (SAR) that you are in trouble and provide a GPS position and homing beacon to assist in your rescue. The inReach and SPOT require the service provider to interface with the SAR control centers for your rescue. Since the SAR system uses AMVER (automated mutual vessel rescue system) to dispatch assets to your location the coordination between the inReach or SPOT provider and the SAR assistance vessels has an additional level of complexity. I would choose a PLB attached to my life jacket for a solo sailor, an EPRIB for multiple people on the boat. Remember, they are going to find the device, not you. You better be firmly attached to the device.
  8. Solar Panels or Wind Generator (or both): All this cool stuff takes power - a lot of it continuously. The price of solar panels has dropped (about $250 per 135 Watt panel) to the point where they are very affordable. Charge controllers range from about $40 to a couple of hundred, in most cases the cheap ones are fine. And there will be some additional cost for mounting the panels. There are days, particularly in the winter, when the solar panels just don't put out much charge. Unfortunately wind generators are still in the $1,200 price range plus the cost of mounting. But I would still put one high on my list.
  9. Life Raft or Immersion Suits: Another technology decision with significant cost differences. An offshore life raft is going to cost between $1,600 and $4,000. Every five years the cost to inspect and refresh the raft will be about $2,000. An alternative is an immersion suit for each person on board (about $300.) You have seen them on The Deadliest Catch. One can save a lot of money if one is willing to bob around in the ocean (one assumes in very bad weather, that is how you got into trouble in the first place) with no protection from the seas nor food and water. My  personal preference is that a life raft is a must.
  10. Wind Vane Autopilot: Nothing is more tiring than hand steering in the open ocean for hours at a time. You need something to take the load. Examples include Monitor and Hydrovane. These are anything but cheap - figure at least $3,000. They have two advantages: they use no electricity and they follow the wind (that means you will not wake up in the middle of the night with a crash gybe taking down your mast because of a wind shift.) Many electronic autopilots can follow the wind but most require you to constantly approve of the course changes. This is not terribly useful. Electric autopilots become less efficient with more wind, wind vanes become more efficient. Plus the more the wind and waves the more the electric autopilot will consume your batteries. Yes, I have both on Reboot. The electric autopilot was factory installed. I love it for light winds conditions and traveling in channels (like the ICW.) Figure $2,000 to $2,500.
  11. Roller Furling: Jib furling systems have been around for years. They are easy to justify. The cost of the furling system vs the cost of multiple head sails for various conditions gives the jib furler the edge. Prices range from $300 for very small boats to $1,500 for a typical cruising boat. Mainsail furling systems have been around for a while but are finally becoming mainstream. Figure $1,500 to $2,500 independent of what you may need to pay a sail maker to adapt your mainsail to the furler. Ask anyone who has ever had to reef the main on a pitching deck at night in high wind about the experience and you will know why (it has been reported) that 90% of new boats are now being delivered with mainsail roller furling.
Things that are nice to have:

I have a lot of equipment on my boat that I once thought important but over time have turned out to be in the category (for me) of "nice to have." In no particular order:
  • Dinghy and outboard: When I first started sailing Reboot (the first one, a Catalina 30) with my family I thought a dinghy and outboard were important. Because at that time my lifestyle was family cruising we spent just about every night in a marina so I dragged the dinghy around for a couple of years and finally left it at the marina where I kept my boat. Since I now anchor out most of the time these have become "must haves." After fighting with my soft bottom inflatable and 9.9 HP engine in choppy anchorages I upgraded to a RIB (about $1,0000 and a 15 HP outboard ($2,500.) With multiple passengers or a heavy load the difference is like night and day.
  • Radar: I equipped Reboot with radar before AIS became ubiquitous. It has proved itself handy under two conditions: sensing the course and speed of an oncoming storm (the radar reflects of the rain) and in heavy fog such as I encountered frequently in the Canadian Maritimes.
  • Watermaker: An expensive device ($3,800) of limited utility in North America, Central America, the Caribbean and Europe. In these locations bottled tap water has become ubiquitous and cheap. These devices require a lot of care, can not be used in most anchorages due to pollution, and make an annoying noise when in use. They may be valuable in the Pacific and Asia, I don't have any experience in  those areas.
  • Multifunction Display (a.k.a "Chart Plotter"): Yes they are old school and expensive. But they are still a pretty bulletproof way of keeping track of everything without wires hanging all over the place. They are particularly nice when you integrate AIS, Radar, Sounder, and (in the US) XM marine weather (which is within 4 or 5 minutes of being real time - nice to see the storms coming - nicer to see them leaving.)
  • XM (or Sirus) Marine Weather: I love this. I wish the coverage was more than just the United States. Getting semi-real time Nexrad radar, buoy day, wind and wave data, forecasts, etc. takes the load off all the other communications gear and displays it all in once convenient place.
  • Sewing Machine:
(Last updated 4/16, to be continued, Internet here in the daytime is terrible, I will write more tonight. Plus I have to work on Reboot.)

[Minor Digression] I mentioned in a blog post that I had gone golfing. Ed, who circumnavigated with a compass and a sextant laughed. He said there were three things that didn't belong on a sailboat. Golf clubs, umbrellas, and wheelbarrows. I play golf so I have clubs, the bag has an umbrella. The only thing that was missing was the wheelbarrow. Fortunately the marina had one - so I called up Ed and asked him for help stowing it on the boat. And yes, I did leave the wheelbarrow behind when I left the marina. [/Minor Digression]

Fair winds and following seas :)


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