Don’t get hosed

The invisible hose is the one that’s going to get you. Murphy’s Law dictates it will probably be at the worst possible time. Of course there’s no “good time” to have a hose fail.

Hoses are “invisible” because we walk by them every day, watch after watch, month after month, year after year. You stop looking at them. But if you wait too long, you have a geyser of water, fuel, oil or sewage. Sewage is bad. Trust me, it’s real bad.

What inspired me to write about this topic was a failed hose on my boat last week. You can never predict when a hose will burst. A hose has a life expectancy of its own. I was in the engine compartment doing a turbo cleaning with the engine running. All of the sudden a rainstorm hit, yet there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It turns out a cooling water hose to the exhaust mixing elbow had split. It’s the very first hose visible on the engine and yet I had ignored warning signs it was getting tired. It also was in such a location that it got leaned on and even stepped on at times. That didn’t help. Luckily, there was no damage. I just got wet and kicked myself for ignoring this critical maintenance.

I went over the entire engine and genset and looked at all the other hoses in the engine compartment, including the hydraulic steering hoses in the lazarette. I’m embarrassed to say some of these hoses were installed when Bill Clinton was president. I found coolant hoses cracked or chafed on an engine part. Some were petrified solid like a fossil. Some had been painted when the engine was new and I never realized there was a hose at that connection. At least the fuel hoses were in good shape. I’m now in the process of replacing rubber hoses foot by foot with new clamps everywhere. If you think this is expensive, it’s nothing when compared to the cost of finding your boat sitting on the bottom one day because a hose failed and the boat flooded.

In general, the rule of thumb is that hoses have a service life of up to five years. Some may have a shorter life depending on their material and application. Check equipment manufacturer guidance or the hose specifications usually found printed on the side of the hose.

First, find every hose you have onboard. There are hoses for fuel, lube oil, coolant, sea water, pressurized air, sewage, refrigerant, potable water, oily waste, bilge water, oil transfer and steering hoses if you have them. Look out for:

  • Cracks
  • Splits
  • Chafing
  • Holes
  • Hard or stiff rubber
  • Soft spots
  • Exposed wire or fiber reinforcements
  • Blisters
  • Kinks or hard bends
  • Weeping or leakage
  • Discolored
  • Collapsed or flattened
  • Missing or rusty couplings or clamps
  • Short lengths on nipples or barbs
  • Painted

If a hose looks bad, it is. Replace it with the proper hose, not just any old hose. Throw on new clamps and double them up. Label the date you replaced the hose and think about scheduling phased replacement over time.

I bet it won’t take you more than an hour to go through the boat and check all the hoses. It’s time well spent. You might as well check your car or truck too unless you are a physical fitness nut and like power walking. Don’t get hosed.

Sail safe.

About the author

Capt. Peter Squicciarini

Capt. Peter Squicciarini is a licensed master mariner and marine safety specialist at the U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area Command in Portsmouth, Va. He has worked on towing, passenger, and fishing vessels, and was a safety and compliance manager for an East Coast tug and barge company. He also served in the Navy as a surface ship officer and commanded several warships. He can be reached at pdsquicciarini@msn.com.

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