Chafe protection

From Ocean Navigator #106
May/June 2000
Chafing gear is most often employed to prevent damage to anchor rodes and dock lines. However, there is a wide variety of locations on a voyaging boat that can benefit from a bit of chafe protection, both on deck and belowdecks.On deck

One of the most important areas of chafe protection should be on the anchor rode, since a rode failure could lead to the loss of your boat. Above, plastic or fabric sleeves can be used.
   Image Credit: Dick de Grasse

There is probably nothing more important to a voyager’s peace of mind when the wind pipes up and the boat starts horsing around than knowing adequate chafing gear is in place. Every line under tension that can rub on anythingbow pulpit, chocks, toe rail, pole ends, and other fixtures must be protected with chafing gear. Some boats have baggywrinkle on the aftermost shrouds to prevent sail chafe when running off the wind. Where sails rub on shrouds, spreaders, or standing rigging, some sailors mark the chafe spot and have chafe patches sewn in when the sails are off the spars.

Offshore, long-distance sailors are constantly on the lookout for chafe, particularly where lines run through chocks or D rings. Chafing gear is always high on a sailor’s things-to-do list. Lack of adequate chafing gear on anchor lines, mooring pendants, and sails has contributed to many tragedies.Standing rigging

Some sailors tape standing rigging turnbuckles and fittings, supposedly to prevent sail or sheet chafe. This is a questionable practice among offshore sailors since the tape traps moisture and the standing rigging hardware can’t be easily inspected or tensioned. Better to use plastic tubes to cover the turnbuckles on the outboard shrouds where sails or sheets might rub on the standing rigging. Unlike rigging tape, plastic tubes are not locked in place and can be raised from time to time to inspect the rigging hardware and tension the rig.

Water-repellant anhydrous lanolin (purchased at a local drug store) liberally coated on all standing rigging hardware will help reduce the effects of moisture. Concern about chafe or spags caused by cotter pin ends in the standing rigging can be eliminated by using short 6/32 bolts and shake-proof, nylon-center nuts rather than cotter pins.Permanent chafing gear

Chafing gear can be made permanent using leather sewn around the line, a piece of plastic hose lashed in place, or a sewn-in sail patch. Plastic hose is inexpensive and nearly indestructible. The line should pass through the hose easily. A small line run through a hole in each end of the hose can be used to keep the hose from sliding up and down the line. The hose should be 12 to 18 inches long; several times longer than the actual chafe point so when the line is under tension and hose wears in one spot it can be slid along the line to an unworn place without releasing the tensioned line.Temporary gearNon-permanent chafing gear must be able to be lashed in place when the line is under tension. It’s best to get the chafing gear in place before the line is tensioned otherwise it may be necessary to tie the chafing gear on while hanging over the side. A rolling hitch can be used to temporarily take the tension and create enough slack in the line to work the chafing gear around the line and lash it in place. Plastic hose split lengthwise has a tendency to separate and roll around the tensioned line, exposing the line inside to chafe. With clear hose lashed in place the line inside can be examined. Duct tape may look salty, but it makes poor chafing gear. When exposed to the sun duct tape disintegrates and leaves residue that is nearly impossible to remove. In a dying hurricane we did use duct tape to hold hand towels in place around a neighbor’s boat mooring and anchor lines when better chafing gear was not available. We avoid using duct tape except as a last resort.

There are several commercial brands of chafing gear that work well with lines under tension. One new brand uses tough synthetic cloth held in place with Velcro. One older brand is a 12-inch flexible rubber tube split lengthwise which overlaps around the line with holes in each end for lashing in place on the line. These are available for various-size lines. I simply carry three-inch line chafing gear since it works on smaller lines as well. Sailors should carry an assortment of both types of chafing gear.The dinghy

Some sailors cut a two-inch U in one side of their dinghy transom to guide the anchor chain and rode when setting a second anchor. The U needs to be no wider than the anchor chain, typically two inches, and should be lined to prevent transom chafe. A good solution is to line the U with the curved bottom half of a stainless steel or a nylon thimble and screw it in place. The second anchor chain and some rode is coiled in the dinghy with the anchor hung over the dinghy transom. The anchor is kept from dropping with a big cotter pin through the chain where it passes through the U, or I use my foot to hold the chain in place until I am ready to drop the anchor. While I am maneuvering to set the second anchor my mate is feeding rode from the boat.

I found a single nylon oarlock mounted on one side of the dinghy transom can be used to guide anchor chain and rode when setting a second anchor. I like the oarlock idea better than a U groove since the oarlock can be installed without cutting the transom and fabricating a thimble guide. (We hang the second anchor over the dinghy transom in the water with the chain and rode coiled up on the dinghy floor. I hold the anchor from dropping with my foot as I rownot motorover the anchoring spot as Kathy feeds out the rode.) The oarlock can be removed from the socket when carrying the dinghy inverted on deck.

Dinghies have been lost when the towing bridle chafes through either at anchor or when underway. Simply use plastic hose where the dinghy painter passes through the dinghy towing ring(s). If a dinghy painter eye splice is not practical, tie a bowline through the towing ring(s) with the clear hose in the ring(s). Whip the ends so the bowline can’t come untied.Engine room

Chafing gear on various hoses on our six-year-old, 30-hp Westerbeke has saved us from mid-voyage breakdowns on at least three occasions. The engine is compactly installed under the cabin settee in our vintage Tartan 34, making access easy but chafe more likely. Like all diesel engines, our engine vibrates when it’s running, and vibration causes hose chafing where hoses rub against something. Most voyagers don’t carry spare hoses for all hoses on the boat, so failures can be a voyage-ending problem. I have some spare hoses, but many engine hoses are special types and some have pre-formed bends. It’s best to protect the hoses already installed and still carry a few lengths of different hose sizes just in case. My engine dealer has made up a complete set of hoses that I plan to have on board for our next out-island cruise.

During routine inspections, even after six years of operation, I tighten hose clamps and at the same time run my hand the entire length of each hose, feeling for little nicks where it touches the engine, engine control cables, battery cables, another hose, or even the storm anchor in the bilge. Sure enough I have found several sharp hose bends and nicks that, if left alone, would sooner or later chafe through, causing loss of engine coolant or loss of cooling sea water, resulting in overheating. Nicks and bends in fuel hoses can cause fuel starvation or worse. When practical, I tie back the hose or wire to prevent chafe. Where a tieback is not possible, then some other means to prevent chafe is necessary.

Many boats heat hot water using engine coolant. Typically, the hot water tank is located some distance from the engine. Two heater hoses carry hot engine coolant to and from the hot water tank heat exchanger. Diesel engine coolant temperatures are typically 180° F, which means hoses carrying engine coolant can come in contact with ridged bilge pump hoses, other hoses, or insulated wires, for example, which soften or melt at 180° F. Where they come in contact with fuel hoses, wires, or anything else that could soften or melt at higher engine coolant temperatures, hot water hoses should be fitted with inexpensive foam-type household pipe insulation. This insulation is particularly important if the hot water hoses pass near the reefer or the refrigeration compressor. Uninsulated hot water hose near the reefer or the compressor makes it run more often. Pipe insulation should be held in place using stainless steel seizing wire or nylon wire ties.

I carry several feet of various lengths of clear plastic hose to use as chafing gear on the engine, dinghy painter, chain snubber and even high-use areas on teak handrails. The clear plastic hose is tough and resists chafe. Some plastic hoses soften at 180° F engine coolant temperatures, so I do not use it on hot water hoses. Without removing the less heat-sensitive hose to be protected, I cut a six-inch piece of one-inch clear plastic hose, cut the hose lengthwise, spread it open, and wrap it around engine hose where it touches machinery, cables or anything else that could cause chafe. With the clear plastic hose chafing gear in place, I then use two loops of stainless steel seizing wire or nylon wire ties to hold the hose in place.

Exhaust pipes and hoses get very hot and can cause burns and problems for adjacent equipment. I have found a supplier of superb high-temperature marine exhaust pipe insulation jackets, which can be fitted around pipes in place. They are formed around the pipe and wired with stainless steel seizing wire. Jackets come in various lengths and diameters and can be purchased with pre-formed bends. Jackets are available from Bob Jacobson, 207-633-5431.Electrical

Fellow voyaging sailors on a trip back from Bermuda described a total electrical failure caused by chafe and shorting of the positive battery cable that passed behind the engine and was hidden from view during routine maintenance. The cable rubbed against the rear of the engine, chafed through the insulation and shorted to the engine block. The grounded positive battery cable immediately welded itself to the engine block, causing the batteries to erupt and spew acid as they rapidly discharged. All the electrical equipment on the boat failed as well. The positive battery line was fused near the batteries using a 250-amp fuse. The fuse blew within a few seconds before a fire could start or all electrical equipment was ruined. Most main battery fuses are slow-blow; the time required to open the circuit depends on the short-circuit current.

When searching for possible hose chafe, running a hand along the main battery cables, particularly in hard-to-reach places, is time well spent. A slight nick in the positive cable where it rubs against the engine or any ground should be immediately protected either by tying the cable out of the way or covering it with split plastic hose taped in place. Electrical tape alone is not enough and is not good chafing gear.

Guarding against chafe is one of the most important preventative measures one can do on a boat, particularly in the engine room. During the next inspection with the engine stopped, run your hand along the entire length of each hose and feel for nicks, sharp bends (which restrict fluid flow), or areas where hot water hoses touch heat-sensitive materials. Assume serious problems can develop if the problem is left unresolved. Examine the exhaust pipe to see if heat is causing problems for nearby equipment. This also is a good time to retighten hose clamps.

It takes only a few minutes to inspect for and prevent chafe on deck and in the engine room, and the cost is small. Chafing gear can mean the difference between a pleasant voyage and a stressful one, particularly in areas where parts are simply not available.

By Ocean Navigator