Musings on Living Aboard - Lessons Learned from Condensation, Mold and Rot.
14 April 2016 | Herrington harbour South, Chesapeake Beach, MD
After 2 years, the Admiral and I have pretty much adapted to living aboard. We've now experienced a wide range of climactic conditions that gives one a different perspective when looking at it from the boat as our home. The BIG lessons learned orbit around a few root issues - Moisture, Electricity, Sun and Motion. I'll cover moisture in this post and move on to the rest over time.
Musings on moisture: Condensation is the ENEMY down below! Moisture begets corrosion, mold and rot. There are any preventive strategies out there (google is your best friend) to avoid destructive impacts of the above but attention to three basic behaviors really help. The point of my musing on "condensation" is an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. By reading further below, we've clearly invested in prevention and it has paid for itself in terms of repair/refurbishment time for us. There are economical ways to combat moisture but they are labor intensive. We have traded work up front for better living/quality of life aboard.
- Ventilation: Routinely move (or stimulate air flow) air in all spaces. We have a small 12V fan in every berth, a 12V muffin fan in every storage space (at or below the waterline where condensation is most often to occur) and all cabinets/lockers have louvered doors. We use Hypervent under all cushions and mattresses and we employ some very small "cube-like" 1 pint de-humidifiers in below deck areas that go unused for longer periods of time. I have installed several Golden Rods (on cheap hardware store wireless remote switches to allow me to switch on/of without opening deep compartments within compartments) in hull/bilge spaces prone to condensation and we have "arranged" our temporal routines to activate a few of these devices (seasonally) throughout the week/month for a few hours at a time. We are currently dock dwellers so we can afford to be power hogs (for now) but those that do not have an abundance of power can simply "air out the boat" on a regular schedule by flipping/washing linens, re-packing cupboards, wiping down deep, dark spaces that are petri-dishes for vectors and condensation. Simply running your vacuum to collect the dust-turds will stimulate air-flow - that vacuum wand is great for "stimulating" tight spaces.
I double up my weekly/monthly cleaning/inspection "exercise" with an inventory/thru-hull exercise/bilge pump/hose clamp check plan cycled monthly so I can keep track of what is were and what condition it is in. This routine helps your location memory (routinely seeing spares & less often used items) and allows your partner/s (that help) to learn the deep, dark recesses of the boat.
Some of the things I've noticed in a single season:
* If its not enclosed in seal-able plastic - it will trap and hold moisture!
* If it sits against the exposed hull - condensation will form on it!
* If its not stainless - it will corrode!
* If it can't breathe - it will mold.
- Stand-off: An air-space between things (cushions, mattress, containers, gear...etc) really helps. The biggest culprits are mattresses and large cushions. The Hypervent material is expensive but a great investment long term. We've really seen it make a difference.
- Cleanliness: Keep the air moving routinely around things plus keeping them clean is key. We use white vinegar to wipe things down and dryer sheets to de-oderize.
We do have some advantages aboard SV Take Me There! Our big hatches are fitted with 12V electric openers and wireless remotes - opening them to get flow-thru is a breeze since the Admiral is too short to reach them. Our bilge heater/fan (winter) is thermostatically activated and controlled by our on-board home automation system (Iris by Lowes - yes...it works on boats too). We installed a 4 inch diameter air-circulation/return duct circuit (which doubles as our back-up electric heat distribution system) with a 12V high CFM squirrel-cage fan that circulates air from the Salon to the master aft cabin and return (pretty cool setup for around $300.00 that includes 2 x inline auxiliary duct heater elements (called Hotpods - again...Google it).
OK...I'll admit it now - we are a 50 Amp service boat and pack a 16KW Diesel Genny that can power the marina! Hell, we even have a 220V welding circuit on-board (yes, a welder too).
Closing on this particular musing - you can't scrimp on battling moisture (both above and below decks). Its' a time consuming effort - if not fought bravely and routinely - will ruin your gear and age your boat. There are "gadgets" and cool ideas from other live-aboards out there that will fit any budget. Simple elbow grease (and a plan), for the particularly frugal, is the economic alternative...just remember to do it routinely or prepare for the "repair" within the definition of BOAT - Bring On Another Thousand!