Monday, August 31, 2015

NauticEd - First impressions

I'm always looking for ways to increase my boating/sailing knowledge. I've enjoyed doing instructor led courses through the Canadian Power and Sail Squadron but they don't always have the course selection that I want and the timing isn't always convenient.

I happily stumbled upon NauticEd the other day. They have a variety of interesting looking courses available online. Some of the interesting looking modules include: Storm Tactics, Coastal Navigation and Weather.

They also have a certification program that will get you on your way to an RYA certification or a qualification cert for bareboat chartering. I'm not sold on the certification usefulness at this point but regardless I think there are some useful looking courses.

To try it out I did the free Navigation Rules Clinic. I was pleased with the course layout. It was easy to follow, the content was quality and it made a dry topic more palatable. They promised that everyone would take away something new from the course, even if you are experienced. I did!

The test at the end of the course was 30 questions of multiple choice. My only critique is that some of the questions are set up so that a couple of the possible answers are jokes so you only really have to consider 2 possible answers. This make the test a bit more fun to read but doesn't really challenge you to consider the possibilities.

I really like the graphics that they use on their course and test. They are clear and easy to interpret the situation. They have some video content but I wasn't as impressed by that. They preface each of their videos with canned marketing material that takes time and doesn't add value. The videos are also animated a little to fast so it isn't easy to follow what is happening without replaying them several times.

The cost for the payed courses is in line with an instructor led course and I think if they are the same quality then they are worth while.

I'm considering doing the Captains Rank course that provides most of the content for under $400. Not a bad price for a winter's worth of content. I'll post on my decision and results.

If you are looking at doing one of their courses, below is a promo code that gives $15 off. (FYI. They offer the promo code referral feature to anyone!)

Friday, August 28, 2015

Maritime VHF radio licensing in Canada

I recently went through the process of getting a new radio license and MMSI number for the new handheld radio I got for my boat. The process isn't really straight forward. So, for reference, here is the basic process.

Everyone needs a VHF license - Get your Maritime Radio license

It is law that everyone operating a VHF must have a Maritime Radio license. I've never been asked for my card but I truly think that it's a good idea anyways. How many times have we heard idiots on the VHF that don't know the protocol (or don't care?). Since VHF is an open/public medium, maintaining proper protocol is important.

Power and Sail Squadron - Maritime Radio Course

If you want to use DSC - Apply for an MMSI ID

Digital Selective Calling (DSC) is a mechanism for calling specific boats or groups of boats instead of using the standard Channel 16 calling. It also allows for nice features like automated distress signals. While it doesn't seem to be widely used yet, I imagine it will be once more people upgrade their radios and get used to using the system.

In order to use DSC your radio needs an MI or MMSI number (MI is for mobile VHF handsets).

The applications for a number are available here:

Be aware that once you program an MMSI number into a device it CANNOT be easily changed. It usually involves sending the radio back to the manufacturer. For this reason, make sure that you are assigning the ID to the right radio. You only have one shot at this or you will be applying for another ID.

If you are traveling to the US - Apply for a Maritime Mobile Radio Station Licence (ship license)

Here is my understanding from the nice people at Industry Canada...

You do not need a Ship license if you are from Canada and staying in Canada.

You do not need a Ship License if you are from the US and staying in the US.

However, you DO need a Ship License if you are going between the Canada and the US. Dumb...yes.

"Basic" over view of the application process:

Other info

If any of this is confusing or if you have any questions, the people at the Industry Canada regional offices are very friendly and helpful. This is also where you can find the email address to submit your forms

If you want to search for an existing MMSI number you can here:$search.formquery?Z_CHK=0

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Imperial March or ....the Game of Thrones

Keep the Star Wars Imperial March playing in your head...

It was at the end of a fibrous-food filled day, a groan escapes from the bowels of the boat. From below comes the shaky voice of our comrade, "Ummm....I think there's something wrong with the toilet." The dark force has awaken and it has stolen away my happiness. For, I know the implications.
Howdy Ho!

I obviously have a blockage somewhere in the system. Two things have conspired against me:
  1. Over zealous use of toilet paper - It is easy to forget that marine toilets don't like a lot of (any??) toilet paper. In the heat of the moment, the user just wants to get things done...using as many sheets as they feel required. The intricacies of toilet mechanics rarely come into people's minds. 
  2. Ultra plush toilet paper - Anyone who has repaired a marine head knows that it is imperative that only the worst toilet paper should be used in one of these things. The engineers apparently do not have access to 2-ply paper when they develop their models and plans for marine heads. The rule of thumb is that you should only use TP that is guaranteed to tear on first contact. We made the ultimate sin by attempting to use "ultra" TP. 
So, I tear reluctantly into the system. My preliminary research has shown me that the choker valve is a likely candidate. I start by disassembling the main cylinder...hunting for the valve. Eventually I work my way backwards through the system until I figure out that the problem is actually further up the line in the discharge hose. 

Luckily I was at our club pump-out station, so I used the pump-out to slurp out the clog from the discharge hose. Phew! Problem solved...right? Well, not so fast. 

When I removed the main cylinder I noticed that the gasket was missing or had rotted away. Now I had a new problem...a leaky toilet. This is at least as bad as a non-functional head since the leak on the cylinder is ...vigorous. Maybe I should just replace this damn thing with a new toilet, I think to myself. Research time...

Apparently my boat has been blessed with a Wilcox-Crittenden Imperial 51 head. According to the inter-webs, this throne is a "pearl beyond price, the pinnacle of the nautical plumber's art". I had no idea. 

From what I have read, I would be (at a minimum) ridiculed if I even think of getting rid of this head and replacing it with a $200 plastic atrocity. So, here I am, I need to fix it. 

Thanks again to the inter-webs, I have found a copy of the manual. The best thing about this manual is that the scanned copy actually has proof of its use stained on the cover. This brings a certain authenticity to the document. I feel the pain of the poor soul who put this poop laden paper into his scanner. 

From the manual I find out that there is a service kit available for the head and that a mere $169.95 will solve all of my woes. As per the recommendation of some helpful person on a forum somewhere, I removed the head and took it home for a revamp. A quick two day turnaround from Binnacle got me my parts. 


I started by disassembling the head and removing as many of the serviceable pieces as possible. If I'm going to do this, I'm going to replace as many parts as I can. 

As I was disassembling it I did my best to keep it straight which direction parts were oriented. The manual isn't really clear in this respect.

Putting the toilet back together was relatively straight forward. No major surprises.

The toilet now works [mostly] normally. I am fighting with an overly strong "Waste Valve Flap Spring" that is doing its job a little too well. More on that later....