You Like the Ocean; Your Electronics Don't

Cap'n Fatty Goodlander details the preventive measures he has taken to protect his SSB radio from its unremitting enemy-- water. Supplement to "Pactor Babe's Got Her Ears On," from our March 2007 issue

Most people carefully install an SSB radio for convenience of use. We go about it differently. Dryness is our primary concern. I grew up aboard an old wooden schooner that had more leaks than the White House. Thus, my childhood was a war against dampness. Perhaps I'm a bit extreme, but I think water is perverse and actually wants to ruin stuff. In any event, I do everything possible to keep my precious shipboard radio as dry as possible.

My first defense is mounting the radio where it won't get splashed by a boarding sea. This happens more than I care to admit. I figure that about once a decade, every square inch of my interior will have the equivalent of a galvy bucket of water thrown at it hard. Consequently, I mount my SSB under my cockpit bridgedeck in such a manner that 99 percent of the water that fire hoses itself below will be traveling away from it.

For the remaining 1 percent sloshing toward it, I have a waterproof fabric cover that droops loosely down in front of our SSB unit, so that it can't be splashed. When I installed this cover I believed it would never be needed; it has saved the radio at least three times in the last 70,000 ocean miles. (Note: transmitters need ventilation so be careful your cover doesn't inhibit cooling airflow around the radio).

Wild Card is relatively watertight. In fact, I'd say she's drier than 98 percent of the offshore vessels afloat today. However, she occasionally develops deck leaks. Every boat does-especially during a severe gale. Thus, we plan on having drips directly above our electronics, knowing that, if we sail long enough and hard enough, we eventually will.

To prevent these leaks from ruining our equipment, we mount above it a completely watertight "water shed" that has a considerably larger footprint than our gear. It's important that this umbrellalike device have no holes so it can't leak. We made our water shed out of epoxied plywood and about two and a half inches bigger than our radio. Thus, any deck leaks would drip at least that far from the unit.

So, we're done, right? I mean, large waves won't hit our SSB, small splashes are stopped by the fabric, and deck leaks can't leak down upon it. Everyhting's 100 percent safe, right?

No. Unfortunately, sailboats heel. A lot. Thus water, via deck leaks, will run long distances almost sideways to the unit and then leak on it at an angle! Damn it! To prevent this, we have water "fences" installed to "trip and drip" that water before it gets anywhere close to our unit. These fences consists of small pieces of wood trim or, in some cases where appearance isn't important, glue-soaked pieces of small cord. (I'm cheap; I can't waste too much money on stuff like this.)

One more thing: We turn on and use each piece of electronics and electrics aboard at least once a week to dry it out and self-lubricate it.

Isn't this a lot of work? You betcha. But our electronics are precious. They represent a sizable investment, and if we had to replace them, we'd have to spend more than a year's worth of cruising funds. Because of this, we carefully install every piece of our electronic gear. So far, they stay bone dry even when we're soaking wet.