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Err on the side of caution: Bring lots of yacht spares and tools

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Part of my goal in writing these musings on crew/owner relations is to provide tools to both so they might enhance their mutual relationships and communications. Successful big boating is a combined owner/team team effort.

One of the challenges of boats is that their multiple and complex systems have a tendency to fail at exactly the wrong moment in time. This happens to new and old boats alike, no matter how elaborate the preventative maintenance program is on the boat. Ship happens.

To be prepared for the inevitable system or part failure, a smart crew has amassed an extensive and well inventoried system of spares and tools aboard. And they have fast access ashore to those spares they cannot or do not carry.

An owner’s wallet is needed to fund a proper spares and tools inventory. These can consume tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars; hopefully few of which will ever be used. But like insurance, it is required whether you use it or not. The real key though is resourceful, experienced crew members.

Our big adventure this week is on a borrowed boat in the Abacos. The captain and chef from our boat in Europe is here for the fun of being on a more cozy boat than they typically operate. We lured them over with the promise of sunshine as a break from the cold gray of Europe. Fortunately we also have a big tender with us.

Crossing from Ft. Lauderdale to the Bahamas, the tender (being driven by me, not towed) had a steering system failure of a structural part that no one would carry as a spare. The creative crew rigged up a temporary solution using makeshift parts. But once we reached the Abacos, the big boat decided it was time for its own steering system failure.

With no spare on board nor on the island, the frantic call was made to the U.S. to locate the part, and get it flown over as soon as possible. This is where you appreciate a great chandler who has the experience to find the part and get it through the freight forwarder/customs nightmares seamlessly. You pay more, but it’s worth it.

In this case, a certain global courier delivery service just could not help themselves; they lied again and managed to cause three days of dock bound inactivity for the big boat. (Tip Here: Don’t promise what you can’t deliver.) The tender, fortunately, was there to save the day(s), even in its jury rigged state, and we happily blasted around the Abacos and had a great trip.

While I don’t think it would be normal to carry a spare steering system heat exchanger, it leads to the topic of what spares do you carry, should you carry and can you carry? Depending on the boat and the cruising area and range, your spares inventory will vary widely. I suggest erring to the side of overkill.

I urge my crew to carry extensive spares and tools as it is not the cost of the part, but rather the lack of it that can ruin vacations. This requires an investment, but it is typically well worth it when coupled with a creative crew who can cobble together trip -saving solutions quickly. Many years ago, we travelled from Maine to Alaska on a boat that fortunately had many common generator and main engine parts. We even carried a spare engine head that would fit all four engines.

Somewhere in Southern Alaska we were really glad we had it and a great engineer. Our current captain sailed around the world solo on his own boat for 10 years. He has fixed most everything by now, I would guess.

If you have mechanical aptitude, I would be sure to note it on your resume. Whether it is with farm machinery, boats, planes, cars or whatever. The ability to find creative solutions to mechanical problems is a uniquely valuable trait in a crew member and sought out by employers.

Convince the owner to give you the budget to stock up on critical spares, even if you cruise close to shore. Then match your spares with an extensive tool inventory and a crew member or two with grease under their fingernails.

Bow west and high tide only!

Peter Herm is the pen name for a veteran yacht owner who is an entrepreneur based on the East Coast of the U.S. Contact him through www.the-triton.com/author/peter-herm.

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