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A Tidy Vessel is a Safe Vessel

by Wayne Spivak, National Press Corps, United States Coast Guard Auxiliary

When I was younger, I remember saying "Cleanliness is next to Godliness." I guess it was our culture's way of teaching us that neat and clean were a healthy way to live. Then I remember my third-grade teacher sending me to the desk in the back of the room for being a slob.... Oh well, so much for "being next to Godliness."

However, that old adage as many old sayings do has some truth to them. And no better place to share the validity of the adage is on your boat. A sloppy boat is just a disaster waiting to happen.

What is a sloppy boat?

Let's define my term "sloppy". A sloppy boat has lines, and equipment lying around the deck. A sloppy boat has a bilge, which contains foreign objects. A sloppy boat has chafed and/or exposed electrical systems. A sloppy boat has leaky or poorly supported fuel systems.

A sloppy boat has a galley full of dirty dishes. A sloppy boat has pots and pans not secured. A sloppy boat has heating and air conditioner ducts clogged or blocked. A sloppy boat is a very dangerous place to be.

A USCG Auxiliary Vessel Safety Examiner will, during the course of a free Vessel Safety Check (VSC), check your boat and note when and where these and other conditions exist. Failure to keep a tidy boat, is just one of the reasons for failing a VSC, and if not corrected, could cause the Coast Guard to issue a voyage termination order.

But, we've gone a little too far. Let us examine why a sloppy boat is a very dangerous place to be!

Dangers of a sloppy boat

For some of us who remember the original Dennis the Menace television series, Mr. Wilson was always tripping over Dennis' toys. I remember laughing at every pratfall. However, that was TV, and your boat is reality!

Tripping on equipment or lines that are just lying around the cockpit, the galley, the sole, or even the walkways can seriously injure you, your crew or guests. In fact, it's possible to fall overboard by tripping over something (I know, I've almost done it myself, but it was on a sailboat, and I didn't see the chock).

In addition, gear, which is not stowed properly, as far as weight distribution, can cause instability for the vessel, and increase the chances of both a broaching and/or a swamping. A reason for the increased likelihood of these two conditions is the reduced freeboard caused by the improper weight distribution.

Foreign articles in the bilge can cause the pump to fail, which in turn, prohibits the water from finding its way out of the boat. Excess water in the bilge can cause stability problems for your vessel, by having a freely shifting weight moving counter to the righting arm of the vessel.

For those who haven't taken a seamanship course, the righting arm is the term used in determining the amount of heel a vessel can withstand before it capsizes. Many factors (vectors) are involved, from height of the vessel, to beam. One factor is the buoyancy of the vessel. Free moving water changes the relationship of this vector and hence the equations of the righting arm. In simpler terms, when the bilge pump isn't working, your vessel isn't safe!

Electrical systems and fuel systems that are in need of repair can be the cause of the one element you never want to loose control of in a boat. From time in memorial, fire has been one of the most prized, yet frightening aspects on a boat. "Fire", as Richard Pryor once said, "is inspirational", except on boat!

With nowhere to go, but overboard, a fire can be one of the most frightening and dangerous events that a boater can encounter. As in your house, frayed wires can cause a fire. Improperly maintained fuel systems can also cause gas fumes, which can be ignited. In either case, unsafe electrical and fuel systems are a dangerous condition. Dirty and clogged heating or air conditioner vents prevent these systems from efficiently working, and can cause overheating of the a/c or heating systems.

Vermin, insects, food poisoning, flying debris are all caused by a sloppy galley. Broken glass, crockery, sharp implements (such as knives, forks and even spoons) can be dislodged during a bouncy ride, and be the catalyst for injury.

Who wants to sleep in an overly cold or hot cabin that most likely is inhabited by non-paying, non-contributory guests (we're not talking about the in-laws...we're talking about vermin and insects).

A clean galley is a safer galley. A safer galley is a safer boat, and safe boating is what we in the Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary want for all boaters. In fact, why don't you contact your local Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla? You can find them at www.cgaux.org or by contacting your local Coast Guard unit (www.uscg.mil) and request a VSC.

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