tips from the big cloud


various stuff from the internet...

Another good set of Tips for Tacking:


Swim Ladder Line

Attach 15 ft or more of floating line to the bottom rung of your swim ladder. Use a floating line like Blue Water Ropes 1/2" rescue rope rather than ski rope. The Blue Water line is much more comfortable in the hand and will hold up better over time. This will not only give you something to grab to pull up your swim ladder, but it will also give swimmers something to hang on to.

Good link to radio etiquette:


Throwing a heaving line:

At first blush, an article about the correct way to throw a heaving line seems silly.  I mean, how hard could it be?  Well, no less an esteemed sailor than Robin Knox-Johnson thinks that few yachtsmen are adept these day at the under-rated skill of throwong heaving lines these days.  So if Mr. Knox-Johnson thinks it’s important, then that is good en
ough for me!  These tips are culled from his excellent article in the October 2007 edition of Yachting World.  Read on and learn!

“The secret to getting a heaving line safely to its intended destination is having the right heaving line and preparing to throw it properly.  Any rope (did he just say rope??) can be thrown and made to cover quite a distance if it is prepared and thrown correctly, but a proper heaving line will enable contact to be made at a greater distance.  The secret to throwing a line is to ensure that line is clear to run and the impetus is given to the throwing end of the line in the right direction.”

The right heaving line:

  1. 90-100 ft of light line, about 8 mm in diameter.

  2. Make a monkey’s fist in the heaving end.  Use a golf ball or something similar to make a small dense ball.  A decent page on making a monkey’s fist can be found here.  I’ve seen a heaving knot that also looks good for this purpose.

  3. Alternatively, a heaving ball can be attached to the heaving line, as shown in the photo to the right.

Preparing to throw it properly:
  1. Start at the non-throwing end and just flake it on to the deck until you come to the end you want to throw.

  2. Then start making a small coil, perhaps four or five turns of no more than 18 inches.

  3. Now make another coil of the same size about 3-4 ft behind the first coil.

  4. Smaller coils means the line is less likely to tangle and easier to throw.

  5. TIP - make sure that the inner end of the line is attached to something, perhaps a heavier line that is to be sent across, but anything secure like a cleat or stanchion - you’d look pretty stupid if you throw a heaving line and the whole lot goes across!

To throw - pick up the two coils, one in each hand, make sure they are lying clear and not tangled, and that you have good swinging room.  Try your swing first to make sure that it is comfortable (and that you won’t smack anything), then swing back ahd hurl the line.  The out end is aimed at the destination and the inner coil is flung out as well so that the line has the least possible drag.

Mr. Knox-Johnson recommends that you practice, so that the chances of things going wrong are decreased.  Of course, he says it more articulately than I just did!  Happy Heaving!

Single handed anchoring system:

by Brennan

part 1 - a single-handed anchoring concept

part 2 - Deploying the andhor ball and retrieving the anchor

Two-block tackle and their names:

The figure shows schematically the most common arrangements of two-block tackles, and their names, from a great series om articles that can be found here.

Mainsail Jackline Info:


The purpose for the mainsail jackline on my boat is purely for reefing. There is a sail stop in the mast above the mast gate to prevent the sail slides from falling out of the mast track when the main halyard is eased. This stop prevents the reefing cringle from being able to be secured near the boom. The jackline actually connects the fittings on the sail luff to their respective sail slides in the mast track. When the jackline is released, it allows the luff of the main to pull away from the mast track and lets the reefing cringle come all the way down to the boom to be secured.

Understanding Apparent Wind:


Foresail Downhaul Discusson:


A Concise Heaving-to Explanation:

This is how I do it: I slowly bring the boat up into the wind and, once I have slowed to less then 1.5 knots, I tack the boat without releasing the jib sheet. I let the main run out all the way and secure the tiller to leeward. With a little tiller tweaking the boat will zigzag and drift downwind at a very slow rate (maybe .5-1.5 knots). The ride is very stable.

Clues about jib clews:

I am responding to something in the October 2007 newsletter, which was responding to something in the magazine. These things probably never stop. For many years, I attached my jibsheets to the sail with bowlines. This worked just fine, but one of the first things I learned was that you have to do it the right way. When you tie on the starboard sheet, you start by sticking the working end through the clew of the jib from the port side (and vice versa for the other sheet). That way when you tie the bowline, the “lumpy” part of the knot will be on the outboard side. If you tie it the other way, the knot will sometimes (always at the worst time) hang up on the shrouds. Quick, easy, and cheap . . . but you have to do it the right way.

- Gene Bjerke

Tiller locks and self steering:


Leading Control Lines Aft:

Great article.

Sail Cradle/Lazy Jack

By now, you've probably received several suggestions from your request in the December newsletter for furling your mainsail. I can only tell you what I did.  For a couple of years, I fretted over the same problems you have recognized. I sail a Cal-27 single-handed on Lake Michigan and needed some way to keep the main under control as it was lowered. Like you, I wasn't interested in modifying my sail or cutting up my sail cover.

My solution was to find lazy-jacks that could be retracted out of the way against the mast when not being actively used. It was the Sail Cradle made by Sail Care ($125 from Sailnet). It uses long shock cords for the actual cradle, which I slip over hooks about half way back on both sides of the boom. The sail drops right into it on top of the boom. I do the flaking on top of the boom before I secure the sail with a made up shock cord system that lies along the bottom of the boom. It has four straps on it that fasten around the flaked sail to hold it neatly in place. When the sail is secure on the boom, I unhook the lazy jacks from the boom and fasten them to stowing hooks on the mast where they remain until I lower the sail the next time.

Another advantage to this system is that the retracted lazy jacks do not interfere with the shape of the sail when underway. This is especially important in light air. The only modification I made to the lazy-jacks was to use cheek blocks at the top rather than the supplied eye straps. This allows me to adjust the tension of the shock cord cradle and provides me the option of replacing the shock cords with Dacron line when they age. So far, they are still in good shape after two seasons and one winter. I hope you find a solution that suits you and enjoy your next sailing season even more.

The July/August 2006 issue of Good Old Boat (Issue 49) has instructions on how to build your own cradle.

Spectra loop splice:

Click here

Useful Knots for Sailing:

Click here

Traveler Upgrades:

Single Sheave, Track-mount Control End w/ Becket & Cam Cleat:
  1. For 2-1 purchase systems.

  2. Formed SS ends (3 1/2" long) slide onto track and are held in place with a SS screw that fits into any existing stop hole, or a new one can be drilled, if necessary, for maximum outboard placement.

  3. Control line dead-ends on becket/eye strap, goes through a sheave mounted on the car, and comes back around Control End sheave and through cam cleat.

  4. approximately $140 each (two needed) from

Halyard Organizaer at base of mast:

Halyard Organizer Plate: K-1374HP:

  1. Halyard Organizer Plate is designed to fit under the K-1374 Mast Hinge Assembly, using the same deck bolts.

  2. Formed SS Plate has a total of ten (10) 1/2" holes on 4 sides for attaching halyard turning blocks, boom vang, and halyard shackles.

  3. Base is 7 1/2" long x 4" wide and mounts with (4) 5/16" bolts on 4 1/4" x 2 3/4" hole centers.

  4. Plate measures 8 1/2" x 5 3/4" overall and can also be drilled for use with any mast step casting up to 4" wide.

  5. $79 from

A Jiffy Furling Idea:

Parts Needed:

•three eye straps

•two hooks

•shock cord


Fasten eye straps:

•side of the boom

•one at each end

•one in the middle

Install the two hooks:

•on opposite side from eye straps

•midway between the eye straps

Shock cord:

•Ties from one end eye strap, through center eye strap, to other end eye strap

To use:

•Sail is lowered

•pull shock cord over and hook


Using Lazy Jacks:

The most common problem encountered when using lazy jacks on a mainsail is fouling the headboard and battens while hoisting the main.

One cure for this problem is to slack off the lee side lazy jacks, or both lazy jacks, and carry them forward to the shrouds or the mast while hoisting. For example: If the main halyard leads down the starboard side as it does on most boats, slack the port lazy jack and hook it on a cleat on the port side of the mast. Then head the boat so that the wind is from about 10 to 20 degrees, an the starboard bow and start hoisting the mainsail. By keeping the wind on the starboard bow as the main goes up you will also keep the sail off of the person pulling on the halyard and keep the boom away from the crew in the middle of t
he, cockpit..

Once the main is set, the lazy jacks left forward out of the vay an they cannot chafe the mainr or simply left set up at the predetermined correct tension. The correct tension is: when the lazy jacks become taut when the main sail is lowered and the weight of the boom is taken by the topping left and slack enough not to cut into the sail when the mainsail is hoisted all the way.,

When lowering the mainsail, the lazy jacks should present no problems. The leech of the sail will not fall all the way down by itself To help it down, once the luff is pulled all the way down, pull on the leech and the sail will lay neatly between the lazy jacks.


Numbers below refer to numbers on drawing.

1. Lazy Jack lines of low stretch dacron. Use 1/4 on a thirty foot sloop and 3/8" on a fifty foot sloop.

The Lazy Jack lines should be arranged approximately as shown.

2. Seize on or splice in tightly; bulls eyes or round (sail) thimbles of brass or stainless steel. These should have an inside diameter about twice the diameter of the lazy jack lines

3. Strap eyes on boom beginning 15% forward of the clew and then evenly spaced. The lazy jacks may be secured with snap hooks if you plan to tie your lazy jacks forward, out of the way, for bending on your sailcover or hoisting sail etc...

4. hang a small block from your mast, 50% to 60% up.

5. Cleat to secure the fall of your lazy hacks. The lazy jacks may also be adjusted on the boom, but this is not as convenient when the sail is lowered.

Fuel Gauge:

West Marine catalogue page 311, Tempo gauges. We replaced both water and fue
l two years ago. Simple job, replacements work fine.

Air Conditioning:

Regarding air conditioning, we have no generator, and thus the only time we can use it is if we are at a land base. I make a temporary companionway board out of 3/4" plywood, with a hole cut out to accommodate the smallest, cheapest available household window A/C unit. Even 5,000 BTU's is enough to freeze down the whole boat in hot, stifling conditions, like August in the Florida Keys. We plug in to shore power, and we're away. The unit drips down in to the cockpit sole and drains out happily. It's a bit unwieldy climbing over it to get in and out, but well worth the dry, cool, highly comfortable interior when we're tied up somewhere in civilization with little or no breeze, and high heat and humidity.


What recommends:

Trophy Braid Trophy Braid features a soft-spun polyester cover which makes it easy on the hands and your winch drums, too. Easy to hold, wet or dry, it holds well in cleats and maintains a solid grip on winches. Trophy isn't the lightest cordage we offer and it is a bit more prone to stretch than others, but you'll love how it functions on the deck.

LS Braid A good general purpose line for all applications, LS has good strength characteristics, low stretch, and excellent resistance to abrasion.

XLS Braid Less stretch than LS, with a heavier cover for outstanding abrasion resistance. The highest strength polyester rope in the Samson product line. Provides superior performance with a significantly higher price.

Two Line Reefing System:

  1. 1.Release your boomvang from its cleat

  2. 2.Harden the aft (clew) reefline that should go from a tie on one side of the boom, through the aft grommet on the sail, into a pulley on the otherside of the boom, and then to a cleat. Cleat it off.  The rear (aft) end of the boom will now be cocked upwards at a crazy angle. Don''t worry about that, you''re not done.

  3. 3.Ease the main halyard so the front edge of the sail (luff) slides down the mast slot so the forward grommet on the reef point is even with the boom. There should be a line that again passes from a tieoff on one side of the Mast, through that forward grommet, to a cleat on the otherside of the mast. Harden and cleat.

  4. 4.Tighten up the main halyard again and cleat it off.

  5. 5.Tighten up the boomvang.

  6. 6.Those extra grommets in the middle of the sail along the reefline: pass short ties through them and tie them off around the boom with (of course) reef knots.

Single vs. Double Line Reefing:

Just keep in mind that each block introduces friction. With single line reefing, there's a lot of line to pull in and it goes a fair distance. It may be difficult to get good tension on the clew end of the line. On my boat, I have two line reefing. I've replaced the hook on the boom with a padeye on the mast. With a line, I go from the padeye to the reef tack cringle to a block at the base of the mast to the cockpit. To reef, I drop the main to the appropriate spot (pre-marked on the main halyard), tighten on the tack reefing line, tighten the main halyard and then tighten the leech reefing line. By having two lines I reduce friction and the amount of line that has to be pulled in. Either way you're good though... and if you run it back to the cockpit along with your halyard, you don't have to go forward to reef.

Great reefing discussion here.


1. What is "Heaving to"?

When a sailboat is set in a heaving to position, she slows down considerably and keeps moving forward at about 1 to 2 kts, but with a significant amount of drift. The drift creates some turbulence on the water, and that disturbance decreases significantly the sea aggressiveness. The pounding felt when going upwind in strong seas almost miraculously disappears and the boat does not heel as much. This is MUCH more comfortable. It's a little bit like "parking" the boat on idle speed. The limitations of this technique are: a)you need enough sea room because of the important drift; and b) beyond a certain level of wind, other measures need to be taken (we won't get into this here since not too many charterers get caught in 50kts winds. Hopefully!)

2. How To Do It

Let's say you've been beating hard upwind for quite a while on a port tack in 4 to 6ft. seas, no reef on your sails, the wind is about 16kts. You're the only one on board to be able to steer and you want to take a break. Or you're hit by a squall with 30kts wind gusts, and you would be more comfortable waiting until it passes. Here is what to do:

Sheet in the main sail tight. You're already going upwind so you may just have to give the main sheet a few turns on the winch.

Tack the boat but do not touch anything on your head sail, jib or genoa (I know, this is the weird part.) It is a good idea (unless you know exactly what you are doing) to make the initial tack very slowly: head into the wind until the speed has really come down before finishing the tack.

When you finish the tack, you're now on a starboard tack, your main has switched side (normal) but your headsail is now in a position you have not seen before: the head sail is set against the wind with its clew is to windward instead of leeward as usual, meaning that even though you're now on a starboard tack, the clew is on the starboard side of the boat.

Note: If you do not know what a clew or a starboard tack are, do yourself a favor, take on roller skating and forget sailing :-)

Lastly, turn your steering wheel all the way to windward and lock it. To make things clear, since you are now on a starboard tack, turn your wheel all the way to starboard. If your boat has a tiller, push the tiller all the way toward your main sail and lash it.

You now notice an uncanny change in the boat attitude (obviously!): the pounding against the waves has stopped and the boat is slowly moving and drifting in a smooth and comfortable behavior, at about 45°off the wind. Isn't this the greatest thing since sliced bread?

Now, one bit of caution: not all boats react the same way to a heave to position. So if you intend to use this technique, we suggest you try it in smooth waters with moderate winds.

3. Some Other Ideas for Use of This Technique

Heaving to can be useful for reefing (or dropping) the main. In fact, if conditions are rough or you don't have an autopilot, heaving to whilst reefing comes in pretty handy.

When you want to have lunch in more peace & quiet, and you are not up against a particular schedule, heaving to can be very pleasant, and lets the helmsman enjoy the meal as well.

It can be also used it when rendezvous-ing with the dinghy (if you are single handed sailing whilst crew were ashore in dinghy) - it made getting the crew back on board a snap. For this you obviously have to have enough sea room clear of a lee shore and the conditions need to be settled or you may lose some of the crew!

4. How to Get Out of It

When you are ready to resume your normal course, do this:

  1. Unlock your wheel or unlash your tiller.

  2. Turn it all the way to the other side (it was locked to starboard, so turn it all the way to port.)

  3. The boat will turn almost to a complete 360° and you will find yourself back on the port tack you were on before the beginning of the maneuver.

This is not rocket science. It is a very simple maneuver, which every self-respecting sailor should know for his/her safety and comfort.


Battery Switch Discussion:

Yes, the house battery switch in the "both" positions works well. Mine has been in this configuration for many years. However, be SURE you have very good clean and tight connections and that all cabling is LARGE.

The Iota's are the best buy on the market. They are serious technology from folks who make chargers for many other suppliers.

When you add a separate starting battery, you'll need a way to charge it when at the dock. Batteries go bad chiefly because of failure to keep them FULLY charged at all times. Have a look at the EchoCharge's good technology and well worth the money. There's another very similar device...I forget the name...which also has a good track record.

Your alternator should be connected to the HOUSE bank, not the starting bank. Starting batteries require very little charging...they put out a lot of amps but only for a few seconds, with a total AH draw which is usually very small....alternators are typically way underused. The work for the first few minutes restoring the amps used for motor starting, then idle along the rest of the time. Makes much more sense on a cruising boat to use the alternator for charging the house batteries (especially with an external smart regulator which will get the most from your alternator), and use just a bit of the charging capacity to maintain the starting battery via an EchoCharge-like device.


Tips for Extended Absences from the boat:

When I am away I have a guy that looks after my boat, but here is what I would do..

1)Disconnect the main power supply

2)Switch all electric off (leave bilg pumps on, as they should be wired to batteries bypassing the switches)

3) Close all windows and hatches

4) double the ties and ropes

5) tie halyards and all ropes away from mast so they don't schaffe

6) lock rudder

7) close all valves and thru hulls except bilges

8) Now its pretty warm, but in the winter leave anti humidity gel boxes inside


When I go away for extended periods (more than a week) here is what I do:

   1. Close all seacocks except bilge and cockpit drains

   2. Turn off all power (batteries and shore)

   3. Leave Electric Bilge to Auto - It is wired directly to battery

   4. Take Main Halyard and wrap around the furlered head sail 7 or 8 times. Tie off on bow cleat or bottom of furler

   5. Take another line and wrap around mainsail/sail cover

   6. Remove all stuff from cockpit cubbies and store below

   7. Notify marina or someone that you trust that you'll be away and have them periodically check on the boat.

   8. Provide emergency phone number and extra key/lock combo to the boat in case the responsible person needs to do something to the boat in your absence

   9. Leave a detailed set of instructions on the workings of your boat if the marina or your friend don't know. I.e. A note as to what is turned off and where to locate them to turn on.

  10. I have a mooring, so I double check the mooring lines and put a loose safety line from the mooring buoy to the mast through the bow chock. The goal here is to provide a back-up to the back-up in case one of the mooring lines breaks during a unexpected storm.

  11. Everytime I moor my boat I do this, but I bungie all the mast rigged lines to the mast stays to elimnate them from rubbing against the mast.


Dual Battery Banks:

There is a very good reason for having a starting battery and house batteries and that is if you run the house batteries down you can still start the engine I would not ever be conected to the starting battery if you are not running or about to run the engine there are voltage regulating relays on the market that will cut power at a set voltage but I do not know as I would trust them on a long trip when it is so easy to flip a switch but they are a good backup plan as for starting off of deep cycle batteries some will produce enough amps to start your engine but are not desined for that also low amperage is hard an startes as it can cause arcing between the brushes and comutator if sufficant amiture speed is not produced.


If you are only sailing for a few hours at a time, it really doesn't matter. Unless you're running some big loads while sailing, a deep cycle or combination battery should not be run down from sailing for a few hours.

Run the blower and start off battery 1, leave it online to charge while the engine is running to take you out. Leave #1 on line while you're sailing to run instruments, etc. Use the same battery to run the blower and start the engine to bring you back in. Battery 2 is always in reserve on the outside chance that #1 gets run down.

Next time out, run on #2, keeping #1 in reserve.

You're charging with shore power also, right?

Now, when your aspirations to cruise start taking you away over night or for weekends , it might be time to look at what SD suggested.

I put in an ACR (60A) and dual circuit plus switch like shown here: with engine charging the starting battery (1100 MCA). A (50A) shore powered charger is connected to the house bank (450 Ah).

It makes battery management much simpler, turn the switch ON when I'm on the boat, turn it OFF when I leave. The set-up connects the house bank to the starting battery when charging, isolates them when they are discharging.


f you get a battery combiner, like the BlueSea ACR, you can use a single charger to charge both banks. The second can charge two separate banks without a battery combiner IIRC.


Multiple Battery Connection:

The easiest way to make sure you are hooked up correctly is to measure the voltage on both batteries as you are charging and switched to "both". You should measure 13.3 to 14.5 volts, depending on the battery charger and battery type. If you measure less then 13 volts you have something hooked up wrong. If you are using a "smart" charger that calculates amp-hours out vs. amp-hours in you will get an incorrect "full" indication.

Lead acid batteries take 12 to 18 hours to charge to their full capacity after they reach their float voltage level. As long as your charger is maintaining the voltage at the correct level you will charge your batteries. If the voltage drops after the charger indicates full, you have a problem. There are so many different types of chargers out their it is difficult to know what it does without a full specification or operating characteristic.


Battery combiner vs battery isolator:

They are actually entirely different devices, though both can be wired to be able to charge multiple battery banks. Check out Calder''s book to get details.

On the combiner, whenever the combiner senses charging voltage, it combines two banks (say the engine-start battery and the house bank) and charges both.

On the isolator, it is really a set of diodes (like a one-way valve) that allow the current to flow to both banks without the banks discharging into each other.

The isolator disadvantage is complex, but the diode has about a 0.7V voltage drop in it, which causes the charging source to rev up to higher voltage to achieve the same result. And the sense wire on a multi-stage charge regulator needs to see the higher voltage, so should also be wired through an equivalent diode, or else the battery banks will be perennially undercharged. Advantage is that charging is automatic, and if one bank dies (like an open cell), it does not hurt the other bank.

Disadvantage of the combiner is that it is automatic that the two banks are joined. Personally I don''t like the automatic nature of it.

I chose the isolator route for my two house banks and one engine bank, wired per Calder. However, in retrospect, I would probably have given the edge to having a two-output alternator, combiner for the engine charge bank and manually-switched sense wire. But you pays your money and takes your choice......


Battery Charging Tips:

  1. To keep batteries charged during winter storage or when you are off the boat, a 1 - 5 amp (at 12 volts), regulated trickle charger with automatic shutoff is sufficient.

  2. For sailors with modest electrical loads and occasional access to dockside power, 5 to 10 amp (at 12 volts) 3-step chargers are adequate.

  3. Cruising sailors with larger battery capacity typically need more charging current. A 3-step charger with 20 to 40 amp (at 12 volts) or higher output is more appropriate.

  4. Choose a model capable of supplying all DC loads plus charging batteries during an overnight stay at a dock.

  5. High output current is more important when using a battery charger with a generator since the goal is to charge the batteries as completely as possible whenever the generator is operating.

  6. If an inverter is on board to provide AC power when away from the dock, choose a model that can also offer high-current charging.

  7. Inexpensive automotive-style chargers are often unregulated, and even some regulated chargers have trickle charge logic so they never fully shut off. Both of these types can harm batteries if not closely monitored.

  8. For best performance and long battery life, sailors should choose fully regulated chargers that incorporate a 3-step "smart" charging sequence and automatically shut off completely when the batteries are full.


Whenever my boat is docked for about a week with the battery charger plugged into shore power, one of the two batteries will systematically dry up, forcing me to add more distilled water. What could be causing this?

Tom Wood responds:

I would first suspect the charger. A small voltmeter, preferably digital, should be used to test the voltage output of the charger at the battery terminals—it should read between 14.1 and 14.3 for wet cells in the first, bulk-charging phase. This test can only be accomplished if the batteries are used (without charging) for a short time. The measurement is then taken over the first 10 or 15 minutes that the charger is turned back on. This voltage should step down to a float charge of about 13 volts when the charging cycle is near the end. If the voltage is too high, or does not taper down, you have an overcharging problem.

The second place I would look is the battery. It may be damaged or defective, and this may only be apparent with a load test at a battery dealer. If the charger is working OK, but the battery has a shorted cell or other internal resistance, the charger energy is simply blown off.


You really can't use your voltmeter to accurately determine a state of charge while your battery is still being charged. To determine your battery bank's state of charge with your voltmeter, you first need to make sure that your battery has not been charged or discharged for at least 15 minutes, and preferably several hours. To help, we've included a table below showing the correlation between state of charge and battery voltage.

Open Circuit Voltage Level of Charge:

12.6 or more 100 percent

12.4 - 12.6  75 to 100 percent

12.2 - 12.4  50 to 75 percent

12.0 - 12.2  25 to 50 percent

11.7 - 12.0  0 to 25 percent

11.7 or less  dead battery


Bypassing the Electrical Panel:

I recently read that it isn’t necessary to run all electrical connections through the boat’s electrical panel when adding equipment that has its own internal switch. Thus stereos and VHF radios, for instance, might be connected in a way that bypasses the battery switch so that the appliances are always available and controlled solely by their internal switch. Do you agree, and if so, should that connection be made directly at the battery or through a bus bar that is always live?

Don Casey responds:

As a general rule, connecting any circuit directly to your battery is a bad idea. There are exceptions. The starting circuit, for example, is nearly always connected directly to the battery. (This circuit, by the way, is usually defused, but a high-amp fuse in the positive side—now readily available—makes for a safer boat.) The automatic bilge pump is typically connected directly, with a fuse in the positive leg near the battery. Some electronics, particularly Loran, are sometimes connected directly (with a fuse) to minimize interference. And SSB radios may also be connected directly with large cables to maximize the available current for long-range transmission.

Despite these exceptions, I strongly urge you to refrain from using the battery terminals as the power source for additional equipment or circuits. The power to all onboard circuits should originate downstream of the main switch so that in the event of a short or a fire you can disconnect everything with a single switch. A bus bar that is always live represents unnecessary exposure.

If your distribution panel is maxed out, it is a simple matter to install a supplemental panel, located wherever it is convenient. Breaker panels start at around $100, or you can buy a six-circuit switched-fuse panel for about $25. If you don't need switches, a simple enclosed fuse block will serve the purpose. But in all cases, pick up the supply power from the output side of the main battery switch, or better yet downstream of the main breaker if your boat has one, but not from the battery terminal.


Davis Mega-light:

The first time we saw the Davis Mega-Light, we bought three after cursing ourselves for not having perfected and patented our low-draw cockpit light—we were obviously years ahead of our time. Granted, the Mega-Light looks a lot better than ours ever did—and it has a lot more features too. The best thing about it is the power consumption. At 0.074 amps (about 0.9 watts), the Mega-Light can run 12 hours on about one amp-hour of 12-volt power. And because of its waterproof Fresnel lens, this little light can be seen for up to two miles.

The Davis Mega-Light has more subtle features too. The top of the lens is clear so that when it is hung upside-down, a small circle of better light is available for reading. The bulb is easily replaceable, and the 15-foot long cord has a cigarette-lighter plug at the end that incorporates a standard automotive fuse. All of our lights came with a little triangular hanging bracket that we seem to have misplaced, but they are so lightweight that a clothespin hangs them just fine under the bimini top.

But I saved the best feature for last. The Davis Mega-Light has a photo sensor that turns the light on and off automatically—on at dusk, off at dawn. So now we can hang one in the cockpit before we leave the boat, and it comes on of its own volition when the sun gets low. We like this from a security standpoint as it makes it appear as if someone is on the boat. And it saves power.

The Mega-Light actually comes in three versions. The original model, now called a "Utility," has no provision for mounting. The identical light with an L-shaped stainless steel bracket and a 12-inch pigtail for wiring directly into the ship’s power instead of a portable cord is named the "Masthead." Although Davis claims a two-mile visibility, which would be legal as an anchor light on most vessels, the Mega-Light is nowhere near as bright as a standard anchor light. We have a Masthead model mounted in the interior as a security light at our stairway with a switch to turn it off when it is not wanted.

The third version is called the "Ultimate Cockpit Light" and it is indeed the ultimate in nautical gadgetry. It has the standard 15-foot cord, cigarette-lighter plug, and triangular hanger, but the Ultimate has two bulbs, a red LED, a yellow LED, and switches for six different lighting modes. Choices include one steady white light at the standard 0.074 amp draw or two bulbs at double the power consumption and light output, a steady red light, a blinking red, a steady or blinking yellow, and alternating red and yellow blinkers.

I suppose that in a harbor full of other boats with Davis Ultimate Cockpit lights, we could tailor our blinking pattern so that we could always find our boat in the dark—one white with a yellow blinker means it’s Tuesday. But until they become that popular, we’ll probably just stick with the plain-vanilla $35 Utility model.