The value of keeping spares

Uh-Oh - HPF means maintenance is needed
Living on a boat is great.  The motion, the tranquility, the peace, being closer to nature.  These are just some of the things that make living on a boat really cool.  However if you have a boat or live on a boat, you know that things break.  Just like your home, routine maintenance has to be done, but unlike your house, you really need to know how to fix anything that goes wrong on your own.

I can recall when living in our house, if we had a problem with the plumbing or the air conditioner or wanted an extra set of outlets, we would call someone, make an appointment and wait for the person to come to the house to do the work.  You can certainly do that on a boat too, the difference is as soon as you add the word "Marine" to any part or service, you can double and sometimes triple the cost.  That issue combined with the fact, that you may very well have something go wrong hundreds of miles from land, it is best to have a pretty good handle on how to fix things, and more importantly, carry spares for anything you think you may need.

I don't just mean spare parts.  I find a ton of value for example in having a completely rebuilt Raw Water pump on hand, so if something goes wrong, I can swap it out and then rebuild the old one as a spare at leisure.  For anyone that has had to do work contorted upside down in a hole, in bouncing seas with out good light, you will understand the value of this process.

The value of this, even when at the dock, is still something to consider.  When I got on the boat last night, it felt a bit warm down below.  The thermostat on the forward salon read 79 degrees and also flashing on the Marine-Air control unit was the error code HPF (High Freon Pressure).  With that unit not keeping up, the rear stateroom was working overtime and while still running, it had a pretty good covering of ice on the evaporator coils.  I opened the hatches, turned off the units and decided to look at it this morning.

We have a regular maintenance routine on our boat every 2 weeks to clean the raw water strainers.  This is really dependent on the water your in, it's depth, cleanliness and temperature.  On Clear Lake, just off of Galveston Bay, it was shallow with a lot of silt, so it was not uncommon that we had to actually clean the strainers every week.  In Corpus over the winter, we always had a very clean strainer and we went to cleaning it every 2 weeks.  In Mandeville, LA, we also noticed that we didn't have to clean them every week, but with some things going on, we let them go a bit long.  It had been about 4 weeks since they were last cleaned and with the warming weather, it led to more growth in the strainer.  
Rear Air unit, under stateroom floor panel

Foreward unit strainer (under galley floor panel)
We have 2 different style strainers on DreamChaser.  For consistency sake, I may put bronze Groco's throughout for everything, but that is not an expenditure that we need to make now, so it goes on the 'someday' list.

I typically get a pail and put it below the strainer, turn off the seacock for the water inlet, ensure the Air Conditioner units are off and then open the strainer, letting the excess water run into the bucket.  I drop the site glass and screen/filter down into the pail and repeat the process with the other one.  It is easier to put the pail in the sink, add some water and clean them with a brush right in the pail.  When I have the screen mostly clean, I will then run it under hot water in the sink while scrubbing it with the brush.    I never dump the pail down the sink drain, and only dump it overboard so as not to clog the sink drain and seacock / thru-hull.

After both screens are good and clean, I again use a pail of water and small piece of fine scotch-brite pad cut into about a 1" strip for cleaning.   I then just rub along the inside of the housings and flush some more water through with the pail underneath.

Filters in a pail - preparing to scrub with an old brush
I do this by opening the seacock a bit and letting the water flow into the filter housing while I scrub it over the pail.    Put the screens back on as well as the sight-glass and then open the seacock.  In order to get the air out of it, I always open the sight-glass until water flows out and the air is no longer visible.

Then turn on the pumps and ensure that there is good water output.  Sometimes, you may have to prime the line again, if the pump has lost it's prime.   (I know somebody that put a squeeze bulb in the line much like an outboard gas tank, so that when the prime is lost, he just has to pump the bulb a few times and the flow is restored.  I have held off doing this as I am just nervous that the priming bulb is a weak point that I don't want to introduce into a below the water line system)

So here is where the value of spares comes into play.  After changing the filters and relaxing as the temperature started to drop quickly in the boat, I noticed a loud buzz coming from under the galley floor.  This is where the water circulation pump is located for the forward air conditioner, and sure enough when checked, it had stopped pumping.  It almost sounds as if something may have been lodged into the pump or maybe the motor has a seized bearing.  Either way, the pump needs to be fixed/replace.  I keep a spare Marsh pump on our boat for occasions like this so it was just a matter of swapping this one out and I will see if I can have the old one repaired as a spare.

While having the spare made the job easier, it is never just a simple task it seems.  I removed the galley floor panels and used a floor mat as cushion sincen I was going to have to lay on my stomach inverted down into the floor panel from the waist up and under the solid part of the floor to get to the pump.  I removed the screws that hold the pump to the wooden panel below it.  This allowed me to move it a bit closer to make removing the hoses and hose clamps a bit easier.  

Full ring connectors (not spade connectors)
When this unit was installed, someone located the wiring junction right under the galley counter so the electric connections are not in the bilge.  I ensured the breaker was turned off and tested it with a meter to be sure.  I then disconnected the hot, neutral and ground wires from the junction and removed the pump.

I had to install wire terminals on the ends of the new pumps wires, which was done easily with the spares and tools we have to do electrical work.  HINT - Always use fully enclosed ring connectors and not spade connectors on a boat.  If you don't, the electrical connections will not be ABYC (American Boat and Yacht Council)  compliant.   After getting the terminals installed, it was time to install the barb fittings to the pump that will connect to the hoses.

Old plumbing barbs mounted on the new pump
I removed the fittings from the old pump and cleaned out any of the old teflon tape in the threads.  Once clean, it is just a matter of putting new teflon tape on and hand tightening the fittings.  Marsh pumps (and most others) have a neoprene or plastic type substance that make up the threads.  If you tighten them too much, it is possible to break the threads.  I typically just hand tighten as much as possible and go about 1/2 turn more with a wrench.

With these steps done, it was time to just reverse the whole process and connect the water lines to the pump, then use fish tape to pull the end of the electric cord and terminals up to the junction box.  Make all of the connections and cover them to avoid shocking.  Then slide the base over the 2 back rubber feet, and screw the two front rubber mounts down to the mounting shelf.  This allows the base to absorb any vibration and keep from feeling it anywhere in the boat.

I have yet to find a great way to get a prime back into the lines when they are disconnected.  I usually use the garden hose and just apply water pressure until it comes out the discharge thru-hull then seal up the filter housing and kick on the pump.  That is usually enough water to start the suction and free any air from the lines.

The air conditioner ran all day today cycling on and off as as it should and maintained the boat at a comfortable 74 all day.

Now it is time to see if the old pump can be rebuilt.... That is a post for another day.