24 Feb Designing Boat Systems that Everyone Can Use
Most cruising couples and families end up with each person usually doing the same jobs on the boat.
I don’t want to call them pink and blue jobs because (a) I hate stereotyping jobs and (b) it often has nothing to do with gender, just who prefers to do what. Dave makes the bed 95% of the time. I do 95% of the electrical work. Not stereotypical, but still a division of labor.
Some jobs, however, do tend to be “assigned” by strength or other physical characteristics. Dave is stronger than I am and — perhaps more importantly — taller. He simply has better leverage or the necessary reach for certain tasks.
When we began cruising almost fifteen years ago, we made a conscious decision that we wanted every single system on the boat to be usable by both of us. I say that we made the decision, but it was Dave’s background in heavy industry that made him suggest it. In his words:
Systems have to be designed to be used by anyone.
No, it didn’t happen immediately. But as we made upgrades and improvements, it was a basic principle that we made sure to follow.
- When we added an outboard crane, we put extra purchase in the block and tackle so that I could hoist the motor if I ever had to.
- We added a low mast step so that I could hook the halyard to the main sail — I could not reach it from the deck.
- Previous owners had installed oversize sheet winches, which made it possible for me to sheet in the sails (and furl the genoa) even when it was windy.
- Before we bought a 15 HP outboard for the dinghy, we made sure I could start it.
On our current boat, we’ve done the same:
- We substantially modified our dinghy davits both to make them sturdier in general but also so that I can hoist the dinghy with the motor on. We changed the lifting lines to have additional purchase and to automatically cleat when hoisting.
- We added an outboard crane (again!) and once again used more purchase than what Dave alone would have needed.
- It came with an electric windlass but we would have added one had it not. While Dave can hoist our 35-pound Mantus without it, I would have a very difficult time. (We both think that an electric windlass is an important safety feature for other reasons, too.)
- We have a watermaker and use it daily. We both appreciate not having to lug jerry jugs of water . . . but the reality is that while Dave could transfer 4 or 5 gallon jerries from the dinghy to Barefoot Gal, I’d have to do it one or two gallons at a time.
- We have a siphon hose for filling both diesel and gas tanks . . . and we have 2 and 2-1/2 gallon gas cans. I’d have a hard time getting more diesel aboard if I filled the 5-gallon jerries full, but I can transfer their contents to the tank without a problem. Since the gas cans are smaller, I’d have no problem refilling them and getting them back aboard (and if I really needed more diesel and Dave couldn’t help, I could always just not fill the larger cans full).
Along with physically making sure we can both do everything on the boat, we also add little notes or cheat sheets: “fill to here” or “do this first.” On the dinghy davits and outboard crane, the lines are marked for the “all the way up” and “release to here to hook up” positions.
When we started cruising, we envisioned that some day one of us could be injured or ill and the other one need to essentially single-hand the boat. We all think about the horrific possibilities: heart attack, stroke, MOB. The reality is that even something like a broken finger can make certain tasks impossible to do.
This week, our prep paid off. Dave had surgery to hopefully cure the chronic prostate infection he’s been fighting for over a year. It was an outpatient procedure but until things heal a bit, he is forbidden to do much of anything other than sit or lie down. No starting the outboard. No starting the generator. No hoisting the dinghy. No filling the water tanks. No climbing out of the cockpit, even to hang up a towel. But all those things still need to be done (we’re on a mooring ball in Marathon, Florida).
And while I may not do “his” jobs as quickly and easily as Dave does, the fact is that I can do them. It bugs Dave that he can’t do what he normally does; he hates feeling useless. But I explain to him that he’s not useless — he’s the one who made sure I could do these things!