Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

Boat Prep

Getting Ready for the Season

 

February 1, 2019

Al Larson Boat Shop says commercial boat owners might spend large sums of money on boat repairs if they had wait too long to perform required routine maintenance. Photo by Mark Edward Nero.

Although commercial fishing boats are usually durable enough to last decades – or even generations, in some cases – it isn't just good construction that allows them to spend after year in rough waters without falling apart.

Proper regular maintenance is also a key component when it comes to ensure that a vessel remains safe and reliable. And experts say that before taking a vessel out on the open water during fishing season, the vessel needs to be properly prepped before going out to handle the hard labor that lies ahead of it.

So what are some of the maintenance issues that commercial vessel owners and operators have to ensure are taken care of so that boats in their care remain ship-shape?

There are four or five basic items that boats need to do to prep when they leave, Todd Roberts, president of San Diego-area based vessel repair shop Marine Group Boat Works told Fishermen's News.

Family-owned Marine Group Boat Works, which has three facilities – two in the San Diego area and one in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico – has been in the repair business for 30 years. And over that time, Roberts has seen enough vessels come in to offer some solid tips regarding boat prep.

"First and foremost is to ensure that all their safety equipment is in good working order," he said, mentioning that this includes having current certifications for all life rafts and firefighting equipment, as well as making sure that emergency positioning equipment is available, plus seeing that all onboard electronics are in good working order.

Also important, Roberts said, is having a tracking device onboard a boat as a preventative measure, since they help to avoid collisions.

"The vessel should be equipped with AIS, or automatic identification system. It allows them to be visible on the radar and displays of larger ships," he explained. "So, if there's fishing in an area and they're a smaller vessel, it's a way they can be detectible, to avoid being hit."

A receiving station using an external antenna can typically receive AIS information from AIS-equipped vessels sailing within 15-20 nautical miles of the antenna. New AIS transponders for boats can cost between $2,500 and $5,000, not including professional installation, Roberts said.

Safety and Electronics Equipment

In addition to the above tips, another thing to remember, Roberts said, is that properly functioning safety and electronics equipment are of paramount importance, particularly for boats that have a lot of netting, rigging and fishing reels.

"Going through the hydraulic system and making sure the hydraulics are fully operational and you don't have any bad fittings or any contamination in your hydraulic system that may have accumulated during the offseason, that's a big one," he said.

Additionally, Roberts said, old rigging, cables and wires should be replaced or tested before heading out to sea to make sure that there won't be a gear failure while the vessel's underway.

"For example," he said, "a boat that's crabbing may want to make sure that their (rope) coilers and equipment that has moving wire rope or lines are all in good shape."

There's one boat preparation tip, however, that Roberts said most commercial fishermen probably consider to be of utmost importance.

"Make sure that their refrigeration systems and their ability to either blast freeze or brine fish in their fish hold is readily available and is functional and has been tested, and your charge limits on your ice machines are good, and that you're going to be able to preserve your catch."

The head of another marine vessel repair facility, Jack Wall, president of Al Larson Boat Shop, said it's not uncommon for commercial boat owners to spend large sums of money on boat repairs when they come in because they had waited too long to perform required routine maintenance.

Al Larson Boat Shop, located near the Los Angeles-Long Beach seaport complex, has been located in San Pedro for more than a century and is the oldest boat repair yard in Southern California. And over the decades, workers and managers have seen a wide variety of vessels come in for a wide spectrum of work.

And Wall, like Roberts, said that maintaining the safety equipment on vessels is paramount.

"Safety is a very big issue – they work in pretty rough weather," Wall said. "The commercial boats get beat up pretty hard because they're out in the open sea trying to catch fish and they beat up the boat pretty good."

Wall said there are a handful of things that boat operators need to check before heading out to sea, with motorized equipment being near the top of the list.

"It is important that the mechanical aspects of the fishing boat are up to speed: the hydraulic systems, the piping and stuff, so you don't have accidents at sea," Wall said. "Oil spills at sea are very dangerous."

Among the repairs and maintenance that commercial vessels have spent money on at his shop in the past couple of years, he said, are shafting, propellers, bearings, engine realignments, welding work and structure reinforcements.

"When they come in, they all have a bottom job put on – that means hydroblast (hull cleaning) and painting the bottoms," he told Fishermen's News. "Sometimes it's a quick job, they just top-coat the existing paint. And sometimes we take it all the way off and start all over and put a four-coat system on it."

Another kind of work that commercial fishing vessels, especially older boats, have performed, Wall said, is welding repair. The local fleet of non-wooden boats is at least 30 years old, he said, with some carrying 100 to 150 tons of fish.

"A lot of the boats are made out of steel, and they have steel guards and the guards start leaking, and (they) crack because of the skiff beating the side of the boat when they're catching fish," he explained.

Beware of Leaks

Also important, Wall mentioned, is repacking the vessel's shaft, so that there are no leaks.

"They don't want to have a problem with water intrusion into the boat when they're out fishing," he said.

When it comes to water intrusion, John Woodrum, a fisherman and boat owner from San Pedro, agrees with Wall. One of the more important measures for owners of aging vessels to take is to ensure that there are no leaks in the structure.

"The best thing to do with old boats is to keep 'em dry," Woodrum said when asked about vessel preparation and preventative maintenance tips. "Fiberglass 'em up, keep the water out of 'em, try to keep 'em as dry as possible. The water, even though we're on it and even though we live on it, it's the enemy. And it'll rot these old boats away."

Woodrum, who said he's been an Al Larson customer for about 10 years now, has three boats that he brings to the shop for repair and maintenance. Another of his boat preparation tips is that special attention should be paid to the vessel's hull.

"Always keep an eye on the bottom of your boat," he told Fishermen's News. "If you see any little problem, or where you're taking on water or anything, get it fixed immediately. I've put off things like that and it ends up costing a lot more money in the long run. So if you see any little problem, you want to address it right away."

"You don't want to go cheap on the bottom of your boat," he continued, "it's the most important part."

Roberts of Marine Group Boat Works said that one current trend for commercial vessels is the application of a product called PropSpeed on boat propellers. PropSpeed is a coating system that can prevent marine growth from bonding to metal surfaces below the water line.

"What PropSpeed does is it allows the propeller to move through the water with greater efficiency, which increases fuel economy and reduces fouling (by marine growth like barnacles) on the propeller," he explained. "It's been in the yacht business for a while, and we're starting to see it make its way to commercial fishing vessels."

Marine Group Boat Works in San Diego says a good antifouling coating on hulls and propellers is a good idea to prevent marine growth from bonding to metal surfaces below the water line. Photo courtesy of Marine Group Boat Works.

According to the product's maker, Auckland, New Zealand-based Oceanmax, most marine-growth has a difficult time sticking to the coating and simply slides off the boat's gear whenever a vessel's running. Boat owners and captains report fuel savings and increases in speed over the life of a PropSpeed application, according to Oceanmax, which specializes in developing high performance products for marine craft.

But whatever measures boat owners and captains choose to prepare their vessels for upcoming work, the most important thing is to ensure that the prep work actually gets done, because a little preventative maintenance can avert the need for much more substantial – and costly– repairs in the future.

And not only that, but good boat preparation could mean the difference between coming away with a successful catch and leaving empty-handed. It could also mean the difference between coming home safely and not making it home at all.

 
 

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