Use It or Lose It: Keep things working well by using them.

3 May

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I’ve compiled a list of all the things on a sailboat that do not benefit from regular use:

1. The sails
2. The beer

Sails wear out from use and sun damage. The beer runs out. Other than that, everything on your boat benefits from regular use, the corollary of which is that everything is damaged by lack of use. In the boatyard this is the tragedy we see every day.

Some examples:

1. Seacocks: Open and close them every few months or they’ll freeze up. Why stop there? Every valve on the whole boat, be it fresh water, sea water, or fuel, will benefit from being worked regularly.

2. The engine: run it hard every few weeks, enough to get it up to operating temperature. Much has been written on this subject, but it’s worse to run it a short time than to not run it at all. If you can’t take the boat out, make sure the dock lines are secure and you’re not going to go motoring away with your dock, then put her in gear and let her strain against the lines…for a good 20 minutes, at least. Running the engine keeps all the innards lubricated and corrosion free, and cooks moisture out of the oil. It also keeps oil seals in good working order. See number 3.

3. Oil seals: this is near and dear to my heart, because I am currently rebuilding my windlass, for the second time in 5 years, because the oil seals are shot. Since I’m a landlubber now, I’ve hardly used the windlass, and it went to pot.

An oil seal:
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Here’s how it works: On any machinery with an oil bath, such as a windlass, an engine crank case, a transmission, a mechanical steering linkage, powered cockpit winches, etc. there are oil seals, usually made out of Nitrile rubber, or some other synthetic material. A thin lip seal encircles a rotating shaft, making secure contact, sometimes with the aid of a circular spring.

In normal use this lip seal, with a little of the oil from the oil bath, rubs on the shaft as it rotates, keeping the oil in and outside contaminants out. Since the shaft is metal it corrodes over the years, but the gentle action of the lip seal rubs away the light corrosion as it forms, sending the corrosion into suspension in the oil bath. A self-polishing seal, if you will.

If you don’t use the device, this corrosion will not be polished off or carried away: It will corrode to the point that the seal won’t seat well, and the seal itself might then be damaged by the now rough surface. Then the oil or transmission fluid leaks out. The solution is very simple: Just use the device and rotate the shaft, and thus clean the seal.

Lip seals are amazingly durable if you treat them right: A transmission output seal can last twenty years or more, which isn’t bad for a relatively simple piece of rubber.

On my windlass, the shaft was so badly damaged from corrosion that I (actually my friend Peter, but I learned a lot and can do the other two) had to turn the shaft down on a lathe, then make a bronze sleeve (which is very smooth) to go over it. Now the lip seal mates with the smooth bronze sleeve, instead of the corroded steel shaft underneath:
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4. Macerator pumps: It should come as no surprise that a pump left to soak in sea water and raw sewage for a few months might have some issues. Indeed, a macerator pump will freeze after just a few months sitting idle. Run them for a few seconds from time to time and they’ll last for years.

5. Pressure Fresh Water pump: Same as the macerator pump, with the addition of a pressure switch, which is also prone to freezing in place if it isn’t worked.

6. Switches: Even in a sealed switch some sort of corrosion or gunk can form on the contacts, and this is how most switches end their lives. Sometimes it’s from carbon buildup from overuse, but more often they’re fouled from under-use. Turn things on and off from time to time.

Let’s cut to the chase here: Everything should be used and worked. Blocks, winches, sail tracks, power trains, electrical parts, windlasses, rudders, watermakers, generators, autopilots…everything. Their parts get dirty, corroded, or stuck. O-rings, seals, and impellers get compressed and distorted from sitting in one position for months or years, then don’t bounce back. Working things from time to time keeps them moving freely.

This article was syndicated from The Adventures of the Vessel Condesa

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