Many a diver’s best friend, the faithful RIB (rigid-hulled inflatable boat) reaches all those dive sites other boats are unable to access. For clubs throughout the UK, RIBs have expanded diving possibilities and are a key feature of most major diving expeditions around our shores.
Statistics suggest, however, that some of us overlook basic maintenance of our RIBs, leading to costly rescues by the emergency services. Boating and surface incidents featured as the third-largest category in the last national Diving Incidents Report compiled by BSAC. In 2007, 71 boat incidents involving divers were reported, and a staggering 54 per cent of these involved engine problems.
‘Many of the engine problems could have been prevented by better planning (to avoid running out of fuel) and correct servicing,’ said Brian Cumming, BSAC safety and incidents adviser.
While we put so much emphasis on checking our personal kit before diving, we often take it for granted that the boat is in good enough working order. For the past six years, the RNLI has been running its Sea Check initiative to help combat incidents that could easily be avoided. A call to the RNLI will bring a team out to do a quick health check of your RIB, and offer advice and a flare lesson for the club.
Keeping your RIB and trailer in good order, in and out of the water, lengthens its lifespan and prevents many expensive problems cropping up. BSAC national instructor Dave Sydenham says this is essential, particularly if you are planning a trip to remote locations.
‘I very nearly didn’t make it to my national instructor exam this year as I borrowed a friend’s boat for the exam – unfortunately, a wheel bearing went as I was towing it through to Kyle of Lochalsh from Stonehaven,’ explains Dave. ‘When I jacked the trailer up, the wheel came off in my hand – there was nothing holding it onto the axle! Fortunately, I was able to replace the bearing at the roadside and continue my journey. However, I did arrive at Kyle towing a different boat to the one I had started off with due to a ‘minor’ issue with the brakes, which was not so easily sorted out. Somehow, I still managed to pass the exam though.’
Here's dave's pRE-SEASON CHECKS
The boat should be checked and maintained thoroughly before the first dive of the season. It is worth having the boat, engine and trailer serviced by a qualified marine mechanic. Checks include:
• Check fuel lines and primer builds for deterioration or splits and replace as necessary.
• Replace fuel and oil filters.
• Make sure there are no oil leaks within the engine area. Also, look out for any signs of water in the oil.
• Check the propeller for any signs of damage.
• Replace spark plugs.
• Lubricate all greasing points on the boat, engine and trailer.
• Check that flares on board are in date and are still dry and sealed.
• Check the battery has enough charge. Always take a passage plan for the journey on the boat. Before you head off, make sure all essential equipment is on board.
• Oil level needs to be monitored (four-stroke engines will usually have a dipstick to check level).
• You must have sufficient fuel for the journey you are planning, plus a suitable reserve. Remember, fuel consumption may significantly increase when heading into the wind or against the tide, or if sea conditions deteriorate while you are at sea. Carry a reserve tank if possible.
• Make sure all electronics, such as VHF radios, GPS and sounders, are working properly and are well charged.
• Check that the RIB’s tubes are pumped up with no signs of leaks.
• As part of the SOLAS V regulations, radar reflectors should be fitted to all RIBs if practicable. This is attached to the highest part of the boat in a vertical position.
• If you have a spare engine, test it. Ensure it gets regular use so you know it is working before you need to rely on it in an emergency.
Never run the engine out of the water without allowing it to cool first, as serious damage can occur. After each dive, wash down the boat with fresh water to remove any salt water and other contaminants such as spilt fuel. The engine should be flushed using either a tank of fresh water or by using a hose fitted with protectors over the engine water intakes. Salt deposits can build up inside the cooling system of the engine, which will greatly reduce its efficiency. I have witnessed a shaft of an outboard being sheared in half by the build-up of salt water within the engine’s cooling system. The oil will need to be topped up.
When storing the RIB for long periods, it is best to pick a dry, well-ventilated area. If possible, store it in a vertical position to allow the water to drain completely and to prevent damage caused by freezing over the winter. Avoid storing fuel for long periods. Petrol–oil mixtures tend to separate, leading to a lack of lubrication for two-stroke engines. Condensation may also form in the fuel tank. Ensure you complete the following steps when storing the RIB:
• Flush the engine to remove any saltwater.
• While using freshwater for cooling, drain the fuel by disconnecting the fuel line when the engine is still running.
• Disconnect the battery.
• Check the hull for any damage and touch up the gel coat if required.
• Store the trailer with the handbrake off and the wheels chocked (using blocks of wood or bricks to prevent wheel from moving). This will prevent the brakes from seizing in an ‘on’ position.
Trailers with a laden weight of more than 750kg – or where the laden weight exceeds half of the weight of the towing vehicle – must be braked. Salt water can cause serious damage to brakes, so it’s particularly important to wash them down after every use and regularly check they are in good working order. Also, always ensure the breakaway cable is in place and not frayed or damaged, as this is required to pull the trailer’s brakes on if it becomes separated from the towing vehicle. Replace break pads when necessary.
During pre-season, it is a good idea to change the wheel bearings on the trailer. Ensure these are well greased to prevent water ingress. All lights on trailers much be checked and bulbs replaced regularly. A spot of lubricant, such as WD-40, on the connectors often works.
IN THE BOAT TOOLKIT
Spare torch batteries