The New England boating season is short. For those of us still on the hard, you can hear a murmured chorus of doubt and regret. There’s the fellow next to me with the repowering project stooped over an Atomic-4 he’s removed and planted under his boat. He doesn’t say much. The enthusiastic college kids in the corner have a daysailer they’ve stripped of paint and hardware and now stand around looking forlorn and uncertain of the next step like how farmers might ogle a dying heifer – curious, but unmoved. A craggy blue-water sailor and his brunette ingénue are puttering on a wooden classic looking determined and unfettered by the passing season (they’ll no doubt sail successfully to Tahiti!). As for me, I’m close-on to the edge of the water and in ear-shot of all the prattle of people heading to the launch for a day of dappled spray and sun. It’s really annoying.
Let me orient you: I’m atop an eight-foot plank running a rotary sander over 35 feet of lovely molded hull muttering, “Ye gods! What biblical burden is this?” My hands vibrate late into the evening, long after all the sanding, puttying, taping and eyeballing. When you read this, I hope to have finished priming.
Why? I second-chaired the Awl-Gripping of many a topside in college and the Mercedes 450SEL my wife first met me in was something I’d Awl-Gripped, so I possess a marginal understanding of the process. I also like challenges and having spent a lot of time at my desk in the last 14 months, it seemed the perfect mountain to ascend. That is, it seemed like the perfect challenge in March, with a Scotch in hand, fire in hearth and dog at my feet leading to my household proclamation: “This year, I paint the boat.” I recall the ladies nodding in disinterest and I might’ve overheard subsequent blasphemy about the benefits of a newish powerboat. The dog was unmoved as he doesn’t like boating – an opinion he holds dear with profuse shedding and dry-heaving the moment his paws touch a floating dock.
The whine of the rotary sander acoustically assassinates anything playing in my earbuds, leaving me adrift in (dreadful) personal contemplation. I’ve kept myself distracted by creating a condensate of important maritime legal considerations prudent mariners should keep in mind which I’m happy to share.
Pay attention. I worry the crisscrossing squadrons of weekenders madly pushing to this port and that anchorage aren’t focused on the voyage. An errant wake that tosses passengers or a collision that sours seaworthiness can ruin more than a summer’s day.
With so much new floating fiberglass, the newbies (and you, too) should take care to understand what your marina expects of you. From recycling to the transom-mounted BBQ, most marinas have rules governing your use of their prime realty. In addition, marina contracts tend to have specific statements about your responsibility for third-party vendors and your family and friends. Give that stuff a read and avoid a situation where what you’re doing isn’t consistent with how you’ve agreed to act.
New boats aren’t new cars. You will have issues, from drips and shorts to cracks and squeaks. Hopefully most of them will be sorted without much fuss. For more serious (voyage-ending) items, consider keeping detailed notes recording when the problem was identified, when and who you spoke with at the manufacturer, what was done in response, etc. These notes may help you decipher a situation that’s gone off the rails (and may require an admiralty attorney’s help) from one that’s just taking a little longer than expected to resolve. Salt, sun and flip-flops tend to do weird things to time and expectation, and some note-taking might help with the dead reckoning.
Consider frequenting your local chandlery instead of the big box. The local shop actually knows something about boating, and the owner might point you in the direction of a mooring or slip you’ve been hunting. Plus, the local store usually smells of oil and varnish and cordage whereas what wafts around the big box is the odor of plastic injection molded products. And here’s something – you can actually buy a lifejacket or a pail and even a cooler from a local shop that’s not branded with the big box name!) And this “go-local” mindset shouldn’t be limited to supplies. Drop the national magazine that promotes marlin fishing (really?) and subscribe to the myriad smaller boating magazines that actually write good stuff about boating.
Don’t think the insurance company’s surveyor is your friend. He or she isn’t necessarily there to help you. Fact is, in my opinion, a surveyor’s first order of business is to look at your claim and identify any facts which might upend coverage. Always consider hiring your own surveyor to perform a joint survey – at least then you might have something to counter whatever assertion the insurer’s surveyor promotes.
I don’t know. I have more, but I’m out of time. The day is getting ahead of me and the boating season is underway and making way while I leap and spring around an elevated plank twirling sandpaper and putty knives. Think of me out there. Underway and making way.
This article is provided for your general information, is not legal opinion and should not be relied upon. Always seek legal counsel to understand your rights and remedies. ■
John K. Fulweiler, Esq. is a Proctor-in-Admiralty representing individuals and small businesses in maritime matters including personal injury claims throughout the East and Gulf Coasts and with his office in Newport, Rhode Island. He can be reached at 1-800-383-MAYDAY (6293) or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his website at saltwaterlaw.com.