Question: I row/am going to be rowing in salt water; what do I need to do differently to protect my equipment?
Having lived and rowed in Florida for many years, I can appreciate how every minute spent in salt water preventative maintenance is worth its weight in gold.
Most everyone knows and fears the issues their boats face being in salt water. It is even a question that is asked when a boat is sold to another program. How does one keep your program’s boats in the best working condition year in and year out when they are in salt water every day?
Water is already a catalyst for corrosion, but when you add salt water from splashing and it becomes a much more potent catalyst. Here in Florida, add in the daily heat and humidity and the conditions are very ripe for corrosion!
The error we often make is to think that, since the hardware in racing shells is typically comprised of stainless steel and aluminum with a few having other 'exotic' metals involved, we don't have to do anything. After all, it isn’t regular steel, it is stainless. And as for aluminum, it doesn’t rust! Everything else is carbon, Kevlar, wood, fiberglass and plastic. So what does one have to maintain?
We hear it all the time: "Well, we wash our boats every day! Isn’t that good enough?!"
Sure. Most programs and rowers wash their boats down when they get off the water. But what do they really wash? They wash the hull (which is usually paint or gelcoat over carbon or Kevlar) and maybe spritz the riggers. Good enough, right? Hardly!
Do your rowers wash or clean their tracks? Can you get the hose in to blast the wheels on every seat? No, we tend to overlook all that in the interest of time. Classes to go to, parents waiting, job starting soon - life occurs.
So, beyond simple rinsing after a salt water row, what is the secret to winning the battle against corrosion in vessels that see salt water on a regular basis?
1. Saltwater Prep:
2. Saltwater Maintenance
- Prepare your shell for saltwater BEFORE it ever hits the water.
The goal of saltwater-prepping a boat before it ever hits the water for the first time is to allow the coach or boatman to be able to move, loosen, change and undo parts later on. Otherwise, if the part is forgotten for a year, it usually is frozen in place due to salt corrosion. Cutting frozen parts off a boat can damage your hull, or be in such a place (track bolts, shoe bolts, etc) that it is nearly impossible to get to it. I won’t go into why things corrode or which ones corrode faster than others, but there are ways to mitigate or at least slow down the damaging effects of corrosion.
- Get the right anti-corrosion products for your boat maintenance arsenal.
There are many anti-corrosion products on the market that you can buy in any marine supply store. Which should you use? Some are much like grease and can create a big mess on you and your boat. Some are too thin and do little to help stave off corrosion. Some are thick, some are sprays, some are very expensive, and some are just very short term solutions. You need a material that is workable around the boat, does a good job of dealing with corrosion, and lasts long enough so when you go back to the part later in the year or even next year, it will come apart. Two materials I keep in my kit for treating boats are:
- Lanocote : The Lanocote comes in a tub and I apply it to any and all threaded parts of the boat. If you have Nylock nuts in some areas, it is less critical to lubricate those. Think about these: rigger bolts, track bolts, footstretcher bolts, shoe bolts (screws), wheel bolts, speaker mounting studs, and so on.
Another benefit of lubricating your threaded components, especially your rigger bolts and pin threads, is prevention of galling. Galling occurs most often on rigger bolts that are tightened and over tightened when there is no lubrication on the threads. Under a microscope, it would look like fish scales on the threads due to the friction, and it can cause nuts and bolts to seize completely. Lubricating the threads, whether in salt water or under any conditions, can prevent galling and the resulting nut/bolt failure. This also goes for the oarlock pins on both the top and bottom nuts as well as your backstay threaded components.
- CRC 6-56: CRC 6-56 comes in either a spray or liquid. Why CRC 6-56? Because this was one of the highest rated materials that could be used on wheel bearings. When investigating materials for this purpose, there were 15-20 materials tested for various conditions, with salt water conditions as one of the criteria. CRC 6-56 ranked 3rd overall for these purposes, ranking much higher than the popular BoeShield (expensive) and WD-40. The only materials tested higher than CRC 6-56 were inappropriate for lubricating wheel bearings.
You may have your favorites, and there are always new materials out there claiming to be the best, but I have personally found these to work the best. Remember when working around your shell, it's important to keep your boat, and yourself, as clean as possible.
Once I prep a shell for salt water, I am comfortable for the time-being. Later on, anytime I take apart rigger or any other boat part, I always check whether I need to re-apply again. These materials don’t last forever, so a watchful eye when working on your boats goes a long way to avoid the race day frustrations of a frozen or broken part that you cannot get undone.
For those times when the saltwater threatens to win the corrosion battle, I have two other products I keep in the arsenal:
- PB Blaster: I keep PB Blaster with me for loosening up frozen parts. You can find it in any marine or auto parts store.
- Salt X: For soaking and loosening salt-encrusted parts, I recommend Salt X. I've only been able to find it online, but it does a good job of dissolving packed-in salt if you can soak the parts.
Take care of your boats and they will serve you for a long time, cost you less in replacement parts, and make you and your crew happier on race days when things still move when you want them to!