Layering for Comfort and Safety

What They Do
Layers of special clothing for active boating, such as foul weather gear, fleece jackets and long underwear, help keep us warm, dry and comfortable regardless of changing weather. We can’t always depend on the weather being balmy and inviting when our schedules allow us to spend a day on the water. Boating weather may range from freezing conditions for New England frostbite to very hot and humid tropical weather for offshore fishing in Miami or cruising in Baja California. Staying comfortable means staying safe. If you are shivering and using your body’s energy to keep warm, if you have cold hands or numb toes, or conversely if the interior of your foul weather jacket feels like a steam bath, your ability to function and make sound decisions may suffer. You may have difficulty gripping a line or maintaining your balance on a bounding foredeck. Fortunately, wearing the right kind of layered boating gear helps you maintain a pleasant “microclimate” around your body by controlling temperature and moisture.

How They Work
At rest, your body gives off about 1/4 cup (2 oz.) of sweat per hour. With moderate activity like sail trimming, that amount increases to about a pint per hour. With heavy activity-changing a sail in rough weather or fighting a powerful fish, for example-output increases to a quart per hour and heat becomes a factor, too. Since water absorbs heat 25 times faster than air of the same temperature, so that wet skin gets cold faster than dry skin, staying dry is a key goal of any system of layered boating clothing. Proper layering helps keep the moisture migrating away from your skin, insulates you appropriately for the conditions, and allows you to shed layers to stay comfortable when you increase your activity level.

Modern clothing systems consist of three layers, used in lots of combinations to control heat transfer and manage moisture. Some combination of layers will be right for just about every condition, whether it’s a complete system of wicking and insulating layers worn under waterproof, breathable offshore foul weather gear, or a simple T-shirt and jacket combo using a wind- and spray-proof shelled jacket. In extreme cold and wet conditions and at varying activity levels, comfort can be improved dramatically through proper layering. Several carefully selected layers of clothes are warmer and more versatile than a single heavy layer.

The Base Layer: Constructed of nonabsorbent stretchy, double-knit synthetic fibers, the base layer or wicking layer is worn next to the skin. Capillary or “wicking” action of this “hydrophobic” or water repelling fabric facilitates the transfer of moisture away from the skin. Wicking allows the body’s natural evaporation process to maintain body temperature and preserve a layer of warm, dry air next to the skin-a very important part of staying comfortable. Polyester and polypropylene are the primary fabrics that are used to create hydrophobic (water repelling), slippery, sheer and very light material. Fabrics such as Dupont’s CoolMax and Henri Lloyd’s Fast Dri are designed to move moisture away from the skin. Our selection includes both short and long sleeve tee shirts, and short and long pants.

The traditional fabric, cotton, is inferior to these synthetic fabrics at removing moisture. Wearing a cotton base layer, which absorbs up to 25% of its own weight in water, reduces the effectiveness of high-performance outer layers.

The Insulating Layer: Worn over the wicking layer, the insulating or mid layer acts as a buffer between warm skin and cold air or foul weather gear fabric. Its job is to reduce heat loss from convection by limiting air circulation, trapping a layer of warm air near the body. Wool, since it retains some insulating ability even when wet, is the traditional insulating layer. Modern synthetic fibers like fleece are even better insulators because they are lighter, dry quickly, pass moisture outward and don’t mildew. Densely woven fabrics, like the Polartec® family of polyester fleeces maintain a warm layer by trapping air within themselves. The insulating mid layer can be removed as conditions warm up.

Insulating layers are available in three varieties. Windbreakers are very lightweight, and can increase the warmth of layering systems, but have little insulation. Shelled fleece garments combine the wind and water protection of a windbreaker with an inner layer of fleece for warmth. Fleece garments, made of 100% polyester, are ideal insulators. Fleece is soft, lightweight, and has a high warmth-to-weight ratio. Even better, fleece doesn’t absorb water, dries quickly, and stays warm, even when wet, making it an exceptional thermal midlayer. It doesn’t itch or chafe, so you can wear it next to your skin. It’s washable and shrink-proof. A miracle fabric? Almost. Fleece is not windproof or waterproof. However, some fleece fabrics are now produced with coatings or laminates, such as Polartec Windbloc®, that make garments windproof for added warmth. Others, like Polartec Wind Pro®, are made with a tighter weave to block wind penetration. Shelled jackets combine the benefits of windbreakers and fleece. They provide protection from wind and water, and provide warmth. They have style, too, which makes them both popular and useful boating garments and casual wear. The insulating inner layer is usually fleece and the outer “shell” is usually nylon treated to reduce wind penetration and repel water.

The Weather Protection Layer: The outside layer keeps water and cold air out of the inner insulating layers, and aids them in preserving the temperate microclimate inside your layering system. Your choice of an appropriate exterior layer depends on whether or not rain, snow, spray, or wind is a factor. Stopping wind penetration is relatively simple with the use of a tightly woven material, a coated fabric or a fabric with a wind blocking membrane. Stopping moisture is far more complicated..

Non-breathable foul weather gear keeps water out, but it also traps perspiration vapor inside. Breathable foul weather gear will allow moisture from inside your layering system to pass through to the outside, keeping you dry and comfortable.

Choose a set of breathable foul weather gear that matches the kind of boating you do and the typical conditions you encounter during the season. Do you use your boat only during the day, or do you spend time on deck or in the cockpit at three a.m.? If you regularly operate your vessel on overnight excursions in nasty weather you should consider Offshore-rated equipment, but for daytime-only use, Coastal or Inshore gear may suffice. Highly breathable gear that is easy to adjust is especially important, as perspiration can easily overload your foul weather gear’s capacity for shedding moisture when you engage in intense activity. Afterward you will feel cold and clammy. Look for hoods, zippers and cuffs that are easy to adjust.

Recommended Additions
The extremities, especially the head and neck, are where most of the body’s heat loss takes place, so protection is critical for the head, neck, hands and feet. The layering principles apply here, too. Bulk can be a serious negative factor, especially on the hands, so garments combine the functions of several layers. Cold weather gloves use a waterproof, breathable nylon exterior, and are fleece lined for insulation. Palms are reinforced with amara, a synthetic leather that does not curl, shrink or harden, and Kevlar, the material used in bulletproof vests.

Wearing insulating head protection can reduce the risk of hypothermia and is essential for keeping warm and comfortable on a cold watch. The West Marine Orca Hat, for example, has a DWR (durable water resistant)–coated Taslan nylon shell, so water beads up. It is lined with Wind Pro® fleece, which is tightly woven so it blocks wind four times better than normal fleece.

Many boaters have no incentive to spend more for high-tech synthetic socks, and will instead wear cotton. The problem with this approach is that cotton retains moisture, and it is this moisture that causes friction and blisters. For years, many in the healthcare field recommended all-cotton socks to prevent foot problems. This is the biggest myth out there! Cotton absorbs moisture and in socks, that moisture stays next to the foot creating an ideal environment for bacteria and fungi to grow, and for blisters to form. Stay away from all-cotton socks!

Modern socks, like our Fox River Wick Dry® socks, work just like other base layer clothing. They move moisture away from your feet, using hydrophobic yarns (like CoolMax) that won’t absorb perspiration vapor next to your foot, and hydrophilic yarns on the outside to draw moisture out to where it can evaporate, keeping feet warm and dry even during active sports, or while wearing clammy boots.

In Conclusion
Wearing layered clothing helps keep you dry and comfortable, because each layer is only required to do one thing well. A hydrophobic wicking layer of long underwear worn next to the skin disperses perspiration outward. A middle insulating layer traps warm air, providing a barrier from cold outside air or fabric, and helps funnel moisture to the weather protection layer. The breathable outside layer uses hydrophilic, water vapor absorbing coatings or microporous membranes like a heat-driven water pump, allowing water vapor molecules to escape. Solid water molecules are blocked, along with wind, from entering. With each layer performing its designed function you stay dry, warm and alert, however hostile the outside environment.

View our current selection of Light Weight Underwear >>

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Protecting Your Boat From Freeze Damage by Heating

Avoiding Winterizing or Freeze Damage49828
Guess which state had the highest number of freeze-related insurance claims. Michigan? Minnesota? Try California, according to the marine insurers at BoatUS. Folks in the deep-freeze states take their bitter winters seriously, but in the more temperate states like Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and California, mild climates lull boaters into ignoring the forecasts for the occasional freezing weather. Cold snaps can do a lot of damage to your boat, but in another week the temperature may climb back into the 60’s—perfect for boating. How do you protect your boat from a cracked engine block or other damage and still go boating when the weather warms up?

Engine compartment heaters, like those from BoatSafe and XTreme, are a safe and effective alternative to winterizing your engine (or engines). They cycle on and off in temperatures between about 40°F and 55°F and are safer than home space heaters or a constantly burning 60W light bulb. Those “quick and dirty” alternatives have caused many fires and sunken boats.

Engine heaters work best when you place covers over your boat’s bilge blower vents. The best method we have found is to have a canvas shop or an upholstery shop make a set of simple, inexpensive “snap-on” covers to fit over the vents. When you are ready to use the boat, simply remove the vent covers. When you leave the boat, snap the covers back on. This will keep the cold, damp winter wind out of the engine compartment, and keep the heat in.52530b

Remember that a boat stored out of the water loses heat much faster than a boat in the slip. If you store your boat suspended on a lift or on its trailer, you should also cover the outdrive unit, in addition to covering your bilge blower vents. A similar snap-on cover or a heavy-mil plastic garbage bag slipped up over the outdrive and tied at the top will prevent the engine compartment heat from dissipating through the exposed metal.

When a freeze is forecast, you can also put your boat back in the water, since water provides greater insulation than air. Boats stored in the water can use de-icers (see our Maintenance section) to circulate the water below your slip to prevent your boat from freezing in.

Heating the Cabin52523c
A good cabin heater makes life onboard much more pleasant in the early or late season. Boaters in temperate climates may require only minimal heating. During summer boating we use our West Marine Portable Cabin Heater for only a few minutes when we climb out of the V-berth on our Newport 30 sailboat in the morning. That, and a galley stove, are all we need to heat the cabin with outside temperatures in the 50°F range.

Extending your comfort range and your boating season requires a real heater. Boaters often choose a heater that uses the same fuel as their galley stove or engine for safety and convenience. How much BTU capacity do you need? One simple rule of thumb to maintain a 36° temperature differential (68° inside the boat when the outside is freezing) is to multiply the cubic volume of the interior by 15 (for powerboats) or by 12 (for sailboats) to get BTU capacity. Our 30′ sailboat with about 800 cu.ft. would need about 9,600 BTU, for example.

Carbon Monoxide42830d
Discussing combustion heating requires a few words about safety. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, invisible, and very toxic gas. CO is produced by incomplete combustion of a carbon-based fuel—such as gasoline, wood or kerosene—burned in an atmosphere with insufficient oxygen. Every year, malfunctioning or improperly vented heating appliances cause hundreds of deaths or chronic illness brought on by less than lethal carbon monoxide levels that go undetected. Take precautions against this threat.

Look for propane heaters with oxygen depletion sensors that shut off the fuel supply when room oxygen levels fall below 95% of normal (ABYC 26.5.11). Always keep a hatch open when using unvented heat sources, know the symptoms of CO poisoning (which are sometimes mistaken for those of seasickness), and purchase a carbon monoxide detector, located in our Safety section. Then enjoy the warm comfort of your cozy cabin.

Reverse Cycle Air Conditioning Systems
Cabin Mate Reverse Cycle Air Conditioners cool your cabin, and also act as a “heat pump,” running backwards to warm the interior of your boat. They let you extend the boating season into the spring and fall, and are a good choice for liveaboards or cruisers who travel between tropical and cool climates, providing one system that can efficiently cool and heat the boat. Though affected by water temperature, they can cool your boat in 90ºF waters and heat your boat in waters as low as 40ºF. More information on how to select a reverse cycle AC system is in the West Advisor on Climate Control.

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Hurricane Preparedness

Your Hurricane Preparedness essential shopping list:

  • Nylon Dock Lines
  • Nylon Anchor Lines
  • Chafe Gear
  • Galvanized Chain
  • Snubbers
  • Anchors
  • Anchor and Chain Hardware
  • Hurricane Ike Aftermath

    If you own a boat on the Gulf Coast or Atlantic Coast of the US, you face the possibility of a hurricane striking during the second half of the year. Every year an average of two hurricanes make landfall in the US, and cause tremendous amounts of damage. But boatowners can take precautions that will reduce the likelihood of damage if you’re unfortunate enough to find yourself in harm’s way.
    The real experts in hurricane preparation are the associates at the marine insurance division of BoatU.S. They have collected an incredible amount of information about what works, and what doesn’t, for the last 25 years. Their Hurricane Catastrophe Team members are frequently among the first to arrive after a hurricane has passed through, and they can observe which boats survived with little or no damage, and which ones are totaled.

    You can get up-to-date information on current hurricanes as well as tips on how to prepare at the Hurricane Resource Center online at http://www.boatus.com/hurricanes.

    BoatU.S. also publishes this highly informative booklet "Preparing Boats and Marinas for Hurricanes" which has a wealth of information. It’s available by calling the BoatU.S. home office, or it can be downloaded from the Hurricane Resource Center online (click here for the PDF). In fact, this booklet served as a resource for much of the information that we’re presenting here. We’ve boiled down a dozen pages of advice in to our Top Ten List for Hurricane Preparation.

    Tip #1 is to think about what you’re going to do in case of a hurricane by creating a comprehensive plan in advance. By starting with the form that’s in the Hurricane booklet, you’ll have all of the vital information you need in one comprehensive list. This form is also available for downloading from the BoatU.S. Hurricane Resource Center. It covers items like where you plan to take your boat, how will your boat get moved if you’re away, and a checklist of critical gear to have to minimize damage.

    Tip #2 is to make sure you understand your insurance policy and your marina contract. As an example, your insurance company may pay you up to 50% of the cost of hauling or moving your boat prior to a hurricane. And some marinas require that you haul your boat in advance of a storm to protect both the boat and the marina.

    Coordination with your marina is vital.

    Tip #3 is that if you do plan on hauling your boat, make sure you’ve arranged this in advance with the marina operator. The evidence is strong that boats stored on land fare better, on average, than boat kept in the water.  Making boats fast to anchor points embedded into the yard’s surface can keep boats from toppling over, but at the very least, make sure that jackstands are chained together to prevent shifting. Also, make sure that jackstands are on a firm surface. If the surface is dirt or gravel, put the jackstands on pieces of plywood to keep them from sinking into the soil. If you have a trailerable boat, anchor the trailer to the ground if possible, or consider using that additional mobility to move the entire rig away from the hurricane’s anticipated path.

    Tip #4 is for boats that have to be left in the water. In that case, you’ll want to choose someplace that has minimal fetch: that means that the waves have less distance to develop into larger and larger waves due to wind exposure. Canals are nearly ideal, since they generally allow lines to be run to both sides so the boat doesn’t pound against a dock. Hurricane Holes also provide protection since they are completely enclosed. Remember, the wind direction is going to veer as the storm passes by, so make sure that you’re protected from a wide range of wind angles.

    Hurricane Ike AftermathTip #5 concerns boats that are tied to docks or pilings. If you are making your lines fast to fixed docks or pilings that don’t float with the tide or surge, you need to use long lines so that your boat can float up as the water height increases. Lines that are too short can break, or in some cases, can actually jack pilings out of the bottom. You’ll also want to reduce windage by orienting your boat bow-to the anticipated storm direction which may be different than how you normally tie up.

    Tip #6 is for boats on floating docks. They won’t require lines that are as long, but you will have to insure that the storm surge doesn’t lift the docks entirely off the tops of the pilings. Older marinas with pilings that extend only 6-8′ high above high tide can easily float free. Newer marinas will have pilings that are up to 14-18′ tall to be more "storm proof". You can also use one or more anchors to hold your boat away from a dock, or to share in the load that your boat would otherwise create on the dock alone.

    Tip #7 concerns boats on moorings since they face special challenges. Most mooring anchors can handle summer squalls and storms, but hurricanes place extraordinary loads on the anchor and the anchor rode. The best anchors are helix-types which screw into the seabed. They are much more effective than mushroom or deadweight anchors. According to tests done by BoatU.S. and Cruising World Magazine, mushroom anchors held about 2 ½ times their dry weight, while concrete anchors held about half of their dry weight. Helix anchors held between 12,000 and 20,000 pounds and were unable to be pulled free. A problem with mushroom anchors is that they may have taken a set during the season in the prevailing wind direction, but the hurricane you face may be out of an entirely different direction. Assuming the anchor holds, you also have to be concerned about the anchor pennant. The rapid pitching of the vessel can cause unprotected lines to chafe quickly, and even heat up to the point of melting.

    Tip #8: If you have to anchor out, select your location so that there is as little fetch as possible to reduce the size of the waves. You should consider using multiple anchors, set either in tandem (one anchor connected to another anchor with chain), or in multiple directions. If you have two large anchors, set them approximately 90 degrees apart in the direction of the anticipated winds. Three anchors can be set 120 degrees apart, and led to a single swivel and line leading to the vessel’s bow. This is especially effective if the room available is tight and you need to reduce the swinging radius of the vessel.

    Tip #9 is to protect any line that’s used to secure your vessel from chafe. Modern lines are incredibly strong in tension, but they can wear very quickly if allowed to rub over surfaces. Chain can be used, for example, to connect lines to pilings, trees, and concrete structures and will provide immense resistance to chafe by comparison to nylon line. Spliced lines with thimbles will fare better than bowlines or other knots.

    Chafe protectors come in a variety of different styles. You can use common garden hose which is tied in place with small polyester cord, or woven chafe protectors made from polyester or Spectra, or leather chafe guards which are stitched in place. Since the stretch in the line causes it to saw back and forth across bow rollers or chocks, one technique is to use a short length of low-stretch polyester line where the line passes over the gunwale of the boat, and connect this to a high-stretch nylon line to absorb shock.

    Finally, this isn’t a time to use your old, ratty lines as anchor lines, mooring pendants, or dock lines. A recent test by Practical Sailor magazine found that old lines had lost from 49-75% of their strength due to a lack of lubricity and the addition of dirt, salt, and chafe. Use lines in good condition, if not new condition, for the greatest reliability.

    Tip #9 is to make your boat as "streamlined" as possible. Regardless of where your boat weathers the storm, you should try to reduce windage to minimize the force exerted on the boat. Boat canvas, in particular, should be removed including dodgers and biminis. Furling genoas inevitably unfurl, no matter how scrupulous you’ve been in rolling them up. Halyards should be tied to a small line and allowed to run to the top of the mast to reduce windage and flogging. Mainsail covers and mainsails should be removed and stowed. On powerboats, cockpit enclosures should be removed. Even if the additional windage doesn’t cause your boat to be damaged, it’s very likely that the boat canvas will be destroyed by the force of the wind and debris in the air.

    Become an educated storm trackerOur final tip is to be an educated storm tracker. As soon as a hurricane is forecast for your general area, use the BoatU.S. Hurricane Resource Center to get the latest information on the storm track from NOAA and other agencies. And remember to prepare early; if you delay in hauling your boat or buying additional lines or anchors, you may find that it’s too late when the storm gets close

    Do it Yourself >> Installing Hatches and Vents

    Ventilation is essential for the longevity of your boat’s interior and the comfort of your crew. Stagnant, moist air can collect in your cabin and compartments, forming a breeding ground for mildew. Fabrics will rot, electronics will corrode and bubbles will form in your hull’s gelcoat as moisture on the inside forces the exterior finish to delaminate. In other words, if you love your boat—ventilate. If your vents and hatches are deteriorating, replacing them with new ones will add protection for your boat’s interior. Old, warped hatches with decayed trim rings don’t seal well, allowing moisture in and heat out.

    Choosing a location

    1. Keep structural issues in mind. Hatches and vents don’t provide any stiffness. Be sure to pick a spot that won’t compromise the deck’s structural integrity.

    2. Make sure the installation surface is as flat as possible. Lewmar, for example, only allows 1mm of crown for their hatches. If you can’t find a flat spot, plan a build-up pad. You can even make it an attractive addition by choosing mahogany or teak instead of fiberglass, though that adds maintenance work in the long run.

    3. Make sure there’s adequate room for the hatch to swing open without hitting hardware or other obstacles. Check your proposed cutout from both above and below deck by measuring from objects with known locations that pass through both sides, like hardware mounting bolts, an existing vent, or a mast. Lay out the outline of your cutout, both above and below. Extra care in the layout and measuring process now will prevent nasty surprises later, like accidentally sawing into a bulkhead.

    4. Be careful when you remove your old hatch—pulling out the old bedding compound too roughly can delaminate the deck. Use a combination of a thin blade, solvents, clamps, wedges and, perhaps, a few choice expletives to coax it out.

    Cutting the hole

    5. Use the right tools for the job: drill and hole saws or spade bits, jigsaw or Sawzall, compass (for marking radii), ruler, felt-tip marker, masking tape, screwdrivers Allen wrenches, hack saw, files or rasps.

    6. Use the right supplies: caulking gun and caulk or bedding compound, epoxy and the new hatch or vent with appropriate screws and fasteners.

    7. Follow the old adage: “Measure twice, cut once.”

    8. Before you saw, be sure there are no wires, gas lines, rigging, plumbing or other kinds of interference in the area you plan to make your hole.

    9. Headliners will have to be removed to enable proper inspection of the underdeck area. Be careful not to damage the headliner material if you plan to reuse it. Cut the headliner from corner to corner of your cutout location, fold the triangles of material back, secure them with tape, and trim to the exact fit when the hatch is in place.

    10. Templates are often provided with the hatch or vent. Tape the template down to the deck to trace the cutout outline.

    11. Take a deep breath, and make the cuts! For rectangular shapes, use an appropriately sized hole saw or spade bit to outline the radius of each corner, if possible, and connect the four corners by making straight cuts with a jig or saber saw. Make all your cuts just inside the outline to be on the safe side, and clean up the edges with a file and coarse sandpaper.

    Finishing the Cutout and Installing the Hardware

    12. Seal all exposed edges of the deck, with several coats of epoxy. If there is foam or balsa core material, chisel it back from the edge about half an inch. Prime it with epoxy. Mix a batch of epoxy with some colloidal silica or low-density filler to peanut butter thickness, and trowel it into the cavity. Sealing the deck and core thoroughly is crucial to prevent water intrusion from delaminating and damaging your deck’s core.

    13. If you have leftover fastener holes from the old hatch or vent, fill them using a syringe filled with thickened epoxy, color matched to the deck if they will be exposed once the new hatch or vent is in place. Be sure to back the holes inside with cardboard or scrap wood covered with waxed paper to prevent drips from making a mess inside the cabin.

    14. Drill the new fastener holes and dry-fit the hatch or vent before fitting it in place with caulk. (You want to make sure everything lines up and fits correctly.) Use masking tape to keep sealant and epoxy from getting on the deck, especially non-skid surfaces, where it’s nearly impossible to remove. If any goo gets loose, wipe it up while it’s still wet.

    15. Install the interior trim ring or screen kit to give the hatch a neat, finished appearance.

    A vent in your deck allows the compartments belowdecks to breathe. Experts recommend that the air inside a boat be changed completely at least once per hour. Vents and hatches help prevent mildew and damage while underway as well as when moored or at anchor, so we definitely recommend having plenty of them. However, not all ventilation projects are the same. Be realistic about the job and your level of carpentry skill, after all, you’re putting some sizable holes into your boat. While most of us can install a simple low-profile ventilator on a horizontal surface, putting a new hatch or cowl ventilator into a cambered deck, or where there are additional complications such as wiring or plumbing, may be a job better left for a marine professional.

    SEE OUR VENT SELECTION >>

    Another great article about Ventilation from MyBoatsGear.com >>

    How To Select A Downrigger

    What they do
    Downriggers are used when trolling for fish far below the surface, which requires lures or bait to be kept at a specific depth while the boat is moving.
    (check them out here >>)

    How they work
    Downriggers use a heavy weight to keep the lure much deeper than would be possible with a conventional sinker. By presenting the bait or lure at the desired depth while trolling, various species of fish (salmon, walleye, king mackerel) are easier to attract and catch. The downrigger consists of a mounting bracket, a spool for the stainless steel cable, a boom of fixed or varying length to allow the line to clear the boat’s gunwale, a clutch/brake mechanism to control the weight deployment and retrieval, 100 – 300’ of cable and, in many cases, a rod holder. Saltwater downriggers feature components made from corrosion- resistant materials like glass-reinforced polycarbonate, anodized aluminum and stainless steel.

    The Downrigger Principle
    1. The fishing line is hooked to the line release mechanism. Next, the length of the leader between lure and weight has to be determined.

    2. The reel is put into freespool mode with the click engaged or kept in gear with very light drag so weight and lure can be lowered to the desired depth, which is shown on the cable footage counter. Excess line is wound back onto the reel until the rod tip bows downward.

    3. When a fish strikes, the release mechanism is tripped. This separates the fishing line from the weighted downrigger cable.

    4. While the weight is returned to the downrigger, the line runs free to play and land the fish.

    What to look for
    Manual or Electric: Downriggers are available in manual or electric models. For fishing greater depths we strongly recommend electric models because a 12V DC motor can retrieve the weighted cable at speeds of more than 200’/min on fast models, which is hard to match by cranking a manual spool. Sophisticated electric downriggers can retrieve the line automatically while the angler fights the fish, and stop when the weight breaks the surface. Some high-end models can interface with fishing sonars or fishfinders, or they can be programmed to jig the lure automatically to attract fish. For smaller boats we recommend manual models, which are more economically priced, lighter and more compact.

    Mounting Options:To maximize performance, downriggers can be mounted in a variety of positions, depending on the type of boat. As mentioned above, some small units simply clamp to the gunwale while others attach to a fixed mount that offers strength and durability at the expense of flexibility. Tilt mounts offer one fixed mounting position for fishing but slant the downrigger inboards for docking purposes. In our opinion, the most versatile method of mounting a downrigger use pedestal/swivel mounts. The advantages are obvious: they offer 360 degree rotation and multiple locking positions for maximum control and convenience during fishing. They also allow the downrigger to be swung out of the way for docking. If drilling holes into your boat for permanent mounting brackets is not your cup of tea, gimbal mounts that slide into flush-mounted rod holders are a practical alternative. The drawback of this system is the necessity to lift the downrigger out of the rod holder when the boat docks. Portable models that attach to the gunwale with a C-clamp are practical for very small craft or boats that are rented for an afternoon of fishing.

    Horizontal or Vertical Reels: This is largely determined by which manufacturer’s products you prefer; Scotty is generally known for horizontal spool design, which provides a “low profile, for easy winding and compact storage” while Cannon and Penn use vertical reels. We recommend trying to fish on boats that use both styles to see which one is right for you.

    Boom Length and Style: Generally, bigger boats should use downriggers with longer booms to ensure that the weight swings clear of the topsides. But storing units with long booms is a hassle; so many models have the option of a telescoping boom to allow compact storage. For heavy weights, a rigid stainless steel boom may be a better choice because of its greater stiffness.

    Clutch/Brake Mechanism: All downriggers have a clutch/brake mechanism to control the deployment and retrieval of the weight. One feature we like is a combination of brake and clutch on the reel like the one offered by Penn, to allow simple, one-handed operation. This is especially useful when fishing alone.

    Retrieve Speed and Amp Draw: Retrieve speed is important when fishing deeper waters and low amperage draw is easy on the battery, which is important on boats with limited power supply. Currently, Scotty offers the fastest retrieval speeds and the lowest amperage draw for a given workload for electric downriggers ( e.g. 235’/min @ 5 amps for a 7-pound weight). The speed for manual retrieval depends on your arm strength, cranking technique and the size of the spool. If one revolution of the crank takes up 2’of cable, it requires 100 revolutions to wind up 200’. Combined with a 10 lb. weight that is a pretty good workout.

    Positive Ion Control (PIC): PIC uses the conductivity of the downrigger cable to emit positive ions, which allegedly attract fish. Since we generally limit out, it’s not obvious if it’s the positive ion control or our skill that makes the difference…

    Bottom Tracking and Automatic Jigging: Cannon offers electric downriggers with a bottom tracking feature that keeps the weight at a pre-set distance to the bottom when used with a transducer mounted on the stern of the boat. Following the contours of the seafloor at consistent distance, it keeps the lure in or near the habitat of the species you’re fishing for. Another advanced feature is the ability to pre-program multiple depths and cycle them automatically, which creates a jigging motion of the lure that attracts fish.

    Conclusion
    Downriggers are a must-have for trolling in deep water. Selecting the right model for your fishing style depends on where you fish, how deep you want to go, what type of boat you fish from and the number of features you want. Fishing on the ocean requires downriggers made from sturdy, corrosion-resistant material. Electric models are better for fishing great depths because of their faster retrieval rates and added convenience. Manual models are lighter, more compact and more economically priced. The larger the boat, the longer the boom needs to be to keep the weight from banging against the topsides. Telescopic booms make it much easier to transport and store the downrigger. Clutch/brake systems on the reel control the deployment and retrieval of the cable and should enable you to keep one hand free for fishing, especially when you are alone. Swivel mounts provide more convenience and control than fixed mounts. Tilt and gimbal mounts are other ways to affix a downrigger to gunwale or railing and position it to give you the best fishing results.

    Installing a Roller Furling Unit

    Roller furling allows you to spend less time folding or changing sails and more time on the water sailing. Furlers have become a reliable, easy to install, industry standard found on many performance racing boats as well as necessary gear for cruisers. This brief synopsis will give you an idea of what to expect when installing a new unit, no matter what brand you choose.

    Components

    The basic components to a furling system include foil extrusions, a feeder, the upper swivel (in most systems—but not all), the lower drum assembly and a furling line. Most manufacturers include all the components needed for installation, but you may have to buy furling line, line hardware and a headstay terminal separately. Some furling units will require you to cut your headstay while others will use your existing stay with no modifications necessary. You may also need a halyard restrainer, which keeps the halyard from wrapping around the forestay, or a toggle or link plate at the base to raise the unit clear of a windlass or bow pulpit. Make sure to order the necessary terminals or kits to complete installation.

    Your sail may need to be modified to work with your new furler. You can convert your jib by having a qualified sailmaker sew in a luff wire or bolt rope, but you may be much happier if you spring for a new, properly designed headsail that will keep its shape when fully or partially deployed. Talk to your sailmaker about which furler you are buying and how you intend to use it.

    Tools

  • Wire cutters
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Screwdrivers: 1/8″ and 1/4″ flat and #2 philips
  • Tape measure
  • Large adjustable wrench
  • Crescent wrenches
  • Tube of polysulfide marine sealant for Norseman® or Sta-lok® fittings (do not use silicone sealant)
  • Hacksaw
  • File or sandpaper
  • Paper towels/rags
  • Vise grips
  • Drill/rivet gun
  • Bucket or container
  • Installation

    All systems include detailed instructions, but installation may be a handful for the amateur. If you are uncomfortable with measuring, removing, and re-installing your headstay, hire a professional rigger. Many manufacturers require that you purchase a terminal separately. A rigger with special equipment must install swage fittings, but a Hi-Mod®, Norseman® or Sta-lok® terminal can be installed without special equipment and come with detailed instructions. If your headstay is older than four years when you install your furler, it is best to have a rigger make you a new headstay with the required terminals.

    The sizing of your furler is based on your headstay length, maximum wire and clevis pin diameter and turnbuckle size. Measure your headstay from pin-to-pin with the turnbuckle set to the correct length before measuring. If you are using your existing stay, you may have to cut your stay to length. Most manufacturers provide a detailed guide to determine how much wire to remove. When you’ve made your calculation, make a clean cut using wire cutters or a hacksaw with a fresh blade. Next, lay out all the parts that come with the furler organized in order. Choose a spot on the ground free from dirt and gravel or sand, like the dock next to your boat.

    Depending on the unit, you may be instructed to slide components onto the stay in reverse order. Harken units assemble in this way beginning with sliding the top foil cap and all extrusion connectors up onto the stay first before the lower terminal is attached. The foil sections slide on over the connectors and are attached with a wedge, set screws and Red Loctite. Before attaching the bottom extrusion, slide the top swivel onto the foil, attach the feeder, and then slide the torque tube on. Next, install your terminal and attach the bottom foil. Now you can assemble the drum.

    Other manufacturers will have you start by feeding components onto the stay so they slide down to meet the lower connection. Disassemble the lower drum and slide the lower swivel and torque tube assembly over the stay and down to the bottom. Slide the first extrusion on and attach the feeder. Slide each extrusion over the stay connecting sections with the supplied joints or connectors and fasteners. The last piece of extrusion at the top may have to be cut to size. When the extrusions are in place, slide on the upper swivel. Make sure it runs smoothly over the extrusion connections so the sail will hoist easily once attached. Add the top cap to the top extrusion. If you don’t have a top swivel, you may just have to attach the top cap and start working on your terminal connection.

    Once your terminal fitting is installed, you are ready to raise your furler into place using a halyard, friends and a bosun’s chair with you in it. Place the lower end of the system inside the lifelines, attach the unit to the chainplate and lift using a halyard at the top end. Make sure the upper swivel is resting at the bottom to avoid it crashing down in the process. Connect the upper clevis pin. You may need to open the turnbuckle at the drum to make reattachment to the mast easier.

    Finally, it’s time to rig your furling line! Furling line and hardware either come with your unit or are offered as part of an optional kit. Lead the line aft to the cockpit through a series of blocks. The line should come off the drum perpendicular to the headstay to avoid line chafe and reduce friction. This is done by careful placement of the first block. After the line is led, hoist your sail and you are ready to furl!

    Modern roller-furling systems are more reliable and easier to install than ever. You’ll save money by installing it yourself and minimize your time spent on the foredeck, making sail handling an easy, one-person job. Happy sailing!