Five Reasons Why Boats Sink in the Springtime and Commissioning Checklist

May 19th, 2010

It’s a sad fact: Every spring, shortly after being launched and commissioned for the season, boats sink while safely tied up at the dock, turning what should be a good time of the year into a real mess. BoatU.S.’ Seaworthy magazine , which combs through the BoatU.S. marine insurance claims files for important accident trends or lessons to learn, has identified the top five reasons for springtime sinkings, and created a free Spring Commissioning Checklist to help boaters start the season right.

The Top Five Reasons Why Boats Sink in the Springtime:

1. Missing or damaged hose clamps: These clamps are often removed in the fall to winterize the engine, and then forgotten about in the spring when the boat is launched. Tight spaces in engine compartments make it difficult to see some unsecured or deteriorated clamps.
2. Unsecured engine hoses: Over the winter, freezing water can lift hoses off seacocks (valves).
3. Spring rains: Combine heavy rains with leaking ports, deck hatches, cracked or improperly caulked fittings, chain plates and even scuppers clogged by leaves and your boat could be on the bottom soon.
4. Broken sea strainer: Glass, plastic and even bronze strainer bowls can be cracked or bent over the winter if not properly winterized, allowing water trickle in when the seawater intake seacock is in the open position.
5. Leaking stuffing box: If equipped, a steady drip from an improperly adjusted stuffing box (the “packing” around the prop shaft) has been known to swamp a boat.

The BoatU.S. Spring Commissioning Checklist:

Before You Launch:

1. Inspect and lubricate seacocks.
2. Hose clamps should be inspected and replaced as necessary. Double clamping hose connections with marine-rated stainless hose clamps, or keeping seacocks closed when you are away, are wise moves.
3. Inspect cooling hoses for stiffness, rot, leaks and cracking. Make sure they fit snugly.
4. Replace deteriorated sacrificial anodes.
5. Inspect prop(s) for dings, pitting and distortion. Make sure cotter pins are secure. Grip the prop and try moving the shaft – if it’s loose, the cutlass bearing (on inboard drive systems) may need to be replaced.
6. Check to make sure the rudderstock hasn’t been bent.
7. Inspect the hull for blisters, distortions and stress cracks.
8. Make sure your engine intake sea strainer is not cracked or bent from ice, is free of corrosion, clean and properly secured.
9. With inboards, check the engine shaft and rudder stuffing boxes for looseness. A stuffing box should only leak when the prop shaft is turning, and needs to be inspected routinely.
10. Use a garden hose to check for deck leaks at ports and hatches. Renew caulk or gaskets as necessary.
11. If equipped, ensure that the stern drain plug is installed.
12. After the boat is launched, be sure to check all through-hulls for leaks.

Engine Outdrives and Outboards:

1. Inspect rubber outdrive bellows for cracked, dried and/or deteriorated spots (look especially in the folds), and replace if suspect.
2. Check power steering and power trim oil levels.
3. Replace anodes that are more than half worn away.
4. Inspect outer jacket of control cables. Cracks or swelling indicate corrosion and mean that the cable must be replaced.

Engines and Fuel Systems:

1. Inspect fuel lines, including fill and vent hoses, for softness, brittleness or cracking. Check all joints for leaks and make sure all lines are well supported with non-combustible clips or straps with smooth edges.
2. Inspect fuel tanks, fuel pumps and filters for leaks. Clamps should be snug and free of rust. Clean or replace fuel filters. Owners of gasoline-powered boats with fiberglass fuel tanks should consult a marine professional to inspect for any ethanol-related issues.
3. Every few years, remove and inspect exhaust manifold for corrosion.
4. Clean and tighten electrical connections, especially both ends of battery cables. Wire-brush battery terminals and fill cells with distilled water (if applicable).
5. Inspect bilge blower hose for leaks.

Sailboat Rigging:

1. Inspect swage fittings for cracks and heavy rust (some discoloration is acceptable). Inspect wire halyards and running backstays for “fishhooks” and rust.
2. Remove tape on turnbuckles and lubricate threads, preferably with Teflon. Replace old tape with fresh tape.
3. If you suspect the core around the chainplate is damp, remove the chainplate to inspect and make repairs.


1. Inspect tire treads and sidewalls for cracks or lack of tread and replace as necessary. Check air pressure — don’t forget the spare.
2. Inspect wheel bearings and repack as necessary.
3. Test tail lights, back-up lights and winch to make sure they’re working properly. Inspect hitch chains.
4. Inspect trailer frame for rust. Sand and paint to prevent further deterioration.
5. Inspect brakes and brake fluid reservoir.


1. Check expiration dates on flares and fire extinguishers.
2. Check stove and remote tanks for loose fittings and leaking hoses.
3. Inspect bilge pump and float switch to make sure they’re working properly.
4. Inspect dock and anchor lines for chafing.
5. Check shore power cable connections for burns, which indicates the cable and/or the shore power inlet must be replaced.
6. Make sure your boating license and/or registration is up to date. Don’t forget your trailer tags.
7. Review your boat insurance policy and update coverage if needed.
8. Make sure you have properly sized and wearable life jackets in good condition for each passenger, including kids. Check inflatable life jacket cylinders.
9. Test smoke, carbon monoxide, fume and bilge alarms.
10. Be sure to get a free vessel safety check from the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or U.S. Power Squadrons.

Fresh Off the Boat at Crab Catchers

May 4th, 2010

'Eb & Flo's Steam Bar

Pull up a chair on the deck of Crab Catchers in Little River, and you’re likely to see Don Kettner’s kitchen crew filleting fish they’ve just bought from the boat that pulled in at the dock next door. You won’t find seafood fresher. “We buy locally as much as possible,” says Don. “Our catch of the day may change five times, depending on what comes in. I don’t like to freeze anything.”

Fried seafood is most popular at Crab Catchers, though you can also order it grilled or grill-blackened. Besides the usual seafood items, there are crab leg and oyster specials, along with homemade seafood gumbo and clam chowder. One thing you’re sure to remember is deep-fried corn on the cob – a creation of Don’s father, Jim. It’s battered and fried, then dipped in melted butter and garlic salt. Non-seafood lovers can find flatiron steaks, burgers and chicken sandwiches, and there also are special menus for kids and seniors. For dessert, there’s key lime pie, as well as cherry, blackberry and even pumpkin cheesecake, all supplied by a baker up the road in Calabash.

At 4474 Waterfront Ave., Crab Catchers offers two outside decks and inside dining areas, all overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. They’re open every day, with happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. The ambience is classic crab-shack casual, and there’s a friendly atmosphere in this family-run operation. It was a bar until 1996, when Don’s father and uncle bought it during a vacation from their native Wisconsin. While still in high school, Don spent summers working in the restaurant. Then after six years as a Marine, he and longtime bartender Justine Vaitas bought into the business when his uncle wanted to retire.

It’s clear the Crab Catchers folks like to have a good time. Come in on your birthday, and the price of your meal will be discounted by your age. And the menu will soon sport a “Wisconsin Seafood Platter” featuring beer-boiled bratwurst, sauerkraut and deep-fried Wisconsin cheddar cheese curds. “When you make cheese, everything that comes to the top is curds,” Don explains. “We take all that, batter it and fry it. You’d be surprised how good this is. We think our customers are going to love it.”

Donzi Boats: Pleasure Boats with the Soul of a Racer

May 4th, 2010

If you’re cruising one afternoon off the Grand Strand and a low-slung boat on the horizon catches your eye with its sports-car-like good looks, chances are it’s a Donzi.

Though style has been an important factor in Donzi’s success since its founding in the 60s, it’s only part of the story, says Josh Stickles, vice president of marketing for the Sarasota, Fla. company. “Performance is what we focus on.”

Donzi’s performance advantage, he says, is its ventilated stepped hull running surface, which creates air bubbles under the hull, reduces friction and improves handling. “Other boats have to become faster by taking weight off the hull, but since ours don’t, they perform better in heavy seas,” Stickles explains.

Unlike many boat manufacturers, Donzi is beginning to bounce back from the recession, says Stickles. “We’re very fortunate that we’re just the right size – big enough to sustain, but small enough to be flexible and adapt to the market that’s there.”

Though Donzi sells production models through a nationwide dealer network, it’s recently been offering to customize models to buyers’ specifications. “Many of our sales are now custom orders through dealers. Buyers can actually work with our designers to custom-configure the boat they want in ways that go way beyond just graphics,” he says. Stickles is pleased that Donzi has lately been able to call back some workers who had been laid off because of the economic downturn.

Donzi manufactures sport and fishing models ranging from 16 to 43 feet. Grand Strand boaters can find them at Marine Service Center in Longs, the only Donzi dealer in the Carolinas. Here’s a quick look at a few.

27ZR – Newly redesigned, this sleek 27-foot speedboat offers an affordable entry into the Donzi world with choice of a single Mercruiser engine from 425 to 525 hp. There’s ample storage for a day on the water, a self-draining in-dash cooler, stand-up bolster seats forward with a roomy aft bench, and a V-berth, concealed port-a-potty and freshwater shower inside.

43ZR – Donzi’s flagship at 43 feet, with 8’10” beam and 13,000 pounds of heft for a smooth ride. Twin Mercruisers can range from 525 to 1075 hp, or there’s an option for a triple package ranging from 425 to 700 hp each. Inside there’s a V-berth, complete galley, hanging locker and head, and topside there’s color GPS and just about any option you can imagine.

29ZF – A 29-foot center console with open or cuddy configuration and twin Mercruiser Verados from 225 to 275 hp. An easy size to handle and trailer, it’s no slouch in the fishing department, with insulated fish boxes, a 50-gallon illuminated livewell, and a dozen standard rod holders mounted in gunnels, helm seat and the aluminum T-top. There’s storage space for eight rods, plus a concealed head compartment.

A History of Speed

Performance is built into the DNA of every Donzi. The brand was begun in 1964 by legendary offshore racer Don Aronow, a handsome, swashbuckling daredevil who sometimes raced without a helmet or life jacket. He founded and sold Formula racing boats, then moved his office a few doors down on 188th St. N.E., Miami’s famed Thunderboat Row, which was home to almost every U.S. race boat maker. There he began building the boats that would bear his nickname. He soon introduced the Donzi Sweet 16, a sleek white 16-foot “ski sporter” that changed performance boat history. Most fiberglass “speed boats” at the time were large and cumbersome. Donzi was the first to introduce the sleek, high-performance fiberglass speedster.

Later that year, Donzis took three of the top eight spots in the Miami to Key West race in heavy seas. Jack Manson, who won in a 36-foot Allied Kamikaze, complained to interviewers about “those damned Donzis” that pursued him throughout the race. That tag caught on throughout the racing fraternity, and a photograph from the period shows at least one boat racing under the name “DAMDONZI.”

In 1965, Aronow set a speed record in the Miami to Nassau race in his 28-foot Donzi 007 with a newly designed V-hull. Orders were flooding in to the fledgling company – especially for the Sweet 16, which became the favorite boat of President Lyndon B. Johnson and the choice of the Israeli military for remotely operated live artillery boats. Two Sweet 16s were displayed in the window of Abercrombie & Fitch on Fifth Avenue in New York, labeled “the epitome of jet-set status.” Aronow sold Donzi to Teleflex, a large manufacturer of steering components and instrumentation, staying on as president for a year. He continued racing, that year winning the Houston Channel Derby, and later went on to found other famous raceboat companies Magnum, Cigarette, Squadron XII and USA Racing.

Though Aronow cut ties with his namesake boats after just a few years and three other ownership teams intervened before the company’s current parent, American Marine Holdings, took over in 1993, there’s still great reverence for him at Donzi Marine. His elegant early designs are replicated today in the 16-foot, 18-foot and 22-foot Classic models. Aronow’s racing records are enshrined on the company web site, where the mention of his inexplicable murder in 1987 is entitled “Farewell to the King.”

In February of that year, as Aronow left his 188th Street office at USA Racing in his white Mercedes roadster, a late-model blue Lincoln with tinted windows met his car in the street. Both drivers lowered their windows, some words were exchanged, and the driver of the Lincoln shot and killed Aronow with an automatic. The gunman quickly disappeared down 188th Street toward U.S. 1, though a witness tried to follow him.

Aronow led a life that reads like a whole season of Miami Vice. The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, he served in the merchant marine as a teenager in World War II, lettered in sports at Brooklyn College, and made millions building houses in New Jersey. In his early 30s, he abruptly moved to Florida and began racing powerboats.

Known for his lack of inhibition, he reportedly rode a horse into a formal banquet in Jamaica and once jumped his Donzi boat so high during a race that the deck clipped the skids of the press helicopter above. He was similarly freewheeling in his personal and business life, a notorious ladies’ man who sold his powerful boats to kings, drug dealers and the government drug enforcers who tried to catch them. His circle of contacts included the Shah of Iran, the Haitian despot Baby Doc Duvalier, King Juan Carlos of Spain, the Prince of Kuwait, Mafia financial adviser Meyer Lansky and then-vice president George H.W. Bush. In interviews with Sports Illustrated magazine in the 1970s, Aronow proudly confirmed that his Cigarette boats were the transport of choice for Latin American cocaine smugglers bringing their wares into South Florida. People on his payroll later reported that he sold boats to buyers who paid with large amounts of cash, as long as they didn’t tell him directly that they were drug dealers.

The official record suggests that his business dealings led to his death. Through his friendship with Bush, Aronow won a $2 million contract for his USA Racing to manufacture 13 Blue Thunder catamarans for the U.S. Customs Service to use in pursuit of drug smugglers. He then sold USA Racing to Apache Power Boats, partly owned by Ben Kramer, a convicted marijuana smuggler. When the government balked at doing business with Kramer, Aronow bought the company back. In 1996, Kramer, by then imprisoned for life without parole for drug smuggling, and career criminal Bobby Young, also serving a lengthy sentence for murder, pleaded no contest to second-degree murder in the Aronow case. By doing so, each stood to gain a shorter sentence or favorable treatment.

Though the case was closed, conspiracy theories still abound. Was Aronow killed by drug dealers angered by his double-dealing with Customs or afraid that his business records would help the IRS convict them for tax evasion? Did he have old business with Mafia leaders in New Jersey? Was he gunned down by a jealous husband? Was he, as some other speedboat racers later reported they were, involved in smuggling guns in and drugs out of Nicaragua during the Iran-Contra affair, and thus killed in a government cover-up? The truth, if not contained in the official story line, will probably never be known. But Aronow’s legacy lives on – that of a fearless rascal beloved by many, a two-time world champion and three-time U.S. champion racer.

Moving Beyond Racing

Today Donzi management has de-emphasized racing, says Stickles, partly because the splintering of offshore racing organizations has made winning in smaller fields of competitors less impressive. At the same time, company marketers believe they’re finding more of their customers at less competitive, more community-oriented poker run rallies. “We’re doing these types of events all around the country,” says Stickles. “That’s where the people are, and we’re finding out what our customers would like to see in future designs.”

Yet, he points out, it’s still the company’s racing heritage that makes discriminating boaters want a Donzi. “It’s style, it’s image, it’s performance. It’s the fact that we still make the classics that go back to Don Aronow’s designs in 1964. When you pull up to the dock, people will recognize your boat, and everyone knows there are no slow Donzis.”