On the Job

Tell-Tale Signs of Issues on Deck

3 July 2021 By Capt. Mx
yacht deck

Still pushing water, having enjoyed and excelled aboard square riggers, Whitbread Maxis, the world cup circuit when there were only 7 boats, America’s Cuppers, 12M, modern classics, real classics, salvage, racing, passage, refits, builds and more, for 38 years, 54 Atlantic crossings, 48 world championships, and a few stories more. I enjoy the serenity and clarity that a life between the blues offers, washed by wind and waves, where all that remains is the simple truth of all things, questions for all things technical, and acceptance of all things magic. 

Commonly referring to the thin strands of yarn or sailcloth attached to sails and used to better gauge the proper trim of a sail, “tell-tales” is a term that may also be applied to a plethora of other indicators, including all of the common occurrences that abound on your deck due to simple neglect, damage, or wear and tear. You, as any super deckie dude or dame would be, should be aware and recognize them all immediately. Prompt recognition and attention usually help to reduce negative effects, such as costs, damages, and downtime, as well as your eventual efforts.

Be it the first drop of oil on the rim of a hydraulic winch indicating a probable leak under the drum, a drop on deck below the tender’s outboard engine, or a dusting on a block from a line too long in the sun perhaps, you must be able to recognize the tell-tales. Remember that everything on deck is important, and everything means something, so if you do not know what it means, apply your curiosity by asking, opening, touching, and finding out ASAP.

If you step on a teak strip and bubbles or fluid come up and out the sides of the strip, if you see a loose piece of caulking come out of the deck or from the edge of a window or port hole, if you see a strip of sealant falling off, or smell something chemical or mildewed as you open your lockers, take note. All of these apparently innocuous details are critically important, and you need to investigate promptly — source the cause, confirm the problem’s extent, and report it to your superior. If you need help, ask. It would behoove you to have a plan prepared to address and resolve the issues before you present them to your skipper or mate, so that after lunch you can get on it, sorting it out, making it right, and adding value as you go.

Consider the elements on deck, the wear that traffic and usage provoke, and prepare for the things you wish to avoid. The very best way is to perform critical and detailed inspections on a regular basis, as well as being aware throughout the days on board. Touch everything, sense the shape, temperature, vibration, sound, humidity, and more. Notice changes. Take notes of things that may happen, advise other crewmembers should they need to be aware, and ask them to let you know if they notice anything suspicious or different (e.g. a noise, temperature, vibration, the consistency, or any other variable).

It is essential we care for our boats, as the owners demand it and we live there. The magnificent results should be a source of pride. It would be a shame should a frayed line, a fender askew, or a broken light tarnish your reputation. On deck, the truth is visible to all with a discerning eye.

You cannot hide anything, as eventually it all comes to light. Be meticulous when washing down, chamoising, or performing a myriad other duties on deck. Know your workplace and be aware of the minutiae that determines the whole — and that notify you of issues before they develop further. Recognizing these tell-tales may save the day, a life, and maybe your job one day.

This column is originally ran in the October 2020 issue of Dockwalk.


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