Major Systems Inspection at Sailboat Handover
This is a continuation of a series of blogs about items we wanted to take extra care to inspect at handover. After the hull inspection and the vessel is put in the water, this outlines what happens and what to look for in the electronic, batteries, power, air conditioning and plumbing.
Electronics and MMSI
We had to check all the Garmin functions and make sure all readings are calibrated and test all electronics. Since we were still learning the system the idea was to have the broker demonstrate how each item works, which in a normal non-COVID handover would have been great, but we didn’t get this little step. For some items, the boat needs to go out and be calibrated and tested, which happens later but the basic stuff can be done to walk through the electric panel, fuses, breakers, outlets, etc. However, as I said the navigation and electronics systems can’t really be checked until after they are calibrated which happens after splash when the electronics reseller calibrates and finishes setup of all the navigation systems, etc. (in our case Pochon in La Rochelle). We weren’t able to do all this until after the calibration happened, after our boat sat on the hard for a while due to COVID.
We also checked to be sure the AIS was working and validate the information and VHF was operational, etc.. Note that we did this check this early on but after handover, after inspection and after our shakedown sail, we discovered that our AIS wasn’t transmitting. It turns out we needed the MMSI number, which wasn’t anything we knew to get or anything our broker suggested we do. Same with the VHF and the EPIRB, the MMSI needs to be connected to all the devices. In all the drama with the boat handover, getting to France, commissioning steps and the COVID lockdown, flying back to the US, waiting three months, going back to France and restarting the whole process...we forgot about the MMSI.
Plan ahead to get your MMSI.
In for your AIS and EPIRB to work, your vessel MMSI number needs to be attached to your devices (which of course you need to buy), but in order to purchase an EPIRB you need to have a radio license, call sign and MMSI number that you apply for ahead of time in the country in which your boat is registered. This is done typically through a National Telecommunications Agency, in our case out of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) in the BVIs. But to apply for an MMSI number, in addition to proof of Radio Proficiency (make sure you have that test done ahead of your handover date), that agency needs to know what the serial number of your EPIRB, your license number and then the EPIRB reseller works with the federal regulating agency and assigns the MMSI and it comes with the EPRIB when you get it...even though you are applying through the telecommunications agency. Confused yet?
We went down to the local chandlery, Big Ships in La Rochelle, and with the help of Yvonnic there (who is awesome) he called and ordered us an EPIRB and knew the chicken or the egg drill. They sort of all know how to make this all work. Over the phone they gave me a serial number which I used to contact the BVI TRC, but he couldn’t officially sell it to me without the MMSI registration number so it was just put on hold until I had it.
We were stressing out because while Stephane had the Radio License training, our broker was now telling us it would take two weeks to get the MMSI processed! The next day we figured out he was speaking about the US process, not the BVI process which is different. PHEW. When we spoke to the TRC in the BVI’s they were saying they were short handed due to a storm so it may take a week, but after using some charm and wit and telling him the serial and ships radio registration number, I talked him into expediting it and I got confirmation the next day. It may have helped that I had an agent I used for the boat registration in the BVIs who also knew the guy and put in a call on our behalf. Then, however, I was told that the radio license registration and the MMSI number registration are two different forms so there was that.
But wait, there is more. We received the EPIRB but it arrived with a different MMSI than what we had received in process, so when we went to connect the systems we had two different numbers. It turns out the EPIRB supplier assumed because the BVI is under the UK that the UK country code was used and not the BVI country code. So we had to go back to the EPRIB supplier and the TRC and beg to get a new number assigned to us asap, which we did. Do not underestimate this process!
Solar & Batteries
We have five solar panels, five controllers, and six batteries and it all needed to be checked. We had heard stories of people trying to get and install extra batteries later and having problems getting them or having extra batteries installed that were supposed to be new, but they had someone else's name on them and looked used but no one could confirm they were new, used, discarded or what and just mis-labeled. We have also heard of batteries missing. Since the FP boats don’t come with a Lithium option, it’s possible people upgrade in commissioning and there would be brand new batteries laying around that could be perfectly fine but what’s concerning is you don’t know how long they have been sitting or whatnot and you did, after all, pay full price.
There was some discussion about where the extra batteries would be installed. We saw pictures from another owner with our boat showing that all six batteries could fit in one engine compartment. There are inefficiencies in splitting them out between the two so we wanted them all in one place. The commissioning agent didn’t agree that they would fit initially so there was some convincing to do, which we didn’t quite get because we understood that they had done it on the other boat we had the pictures for. Again, there is a difference between ‘can do’ and ‘want to do’ so if you feel strongly about something stick with it.
Regarding the solar install, while this technically is done by the commissioning agent after handover, the work happened during the handover process so we were able to inspect it right away. Good solar panel installations need to of course be solid/stable, but they also need to hide the wires. We’ve seen pictures of really bad installations (done well after commissioning) where the wires were flying all over the place since no one had taken the time to thread them properly. Their goal is to get the job done and make sure it’s functioning properly, not to make sure it looks beautiful. Our 5-panel solar install was the second with this many panels and a stainless steel frame so they were still in the process of getting this right. It looked really great and we had no issues.
In a previous post, we talked about how we found out our boat had the wrong generator before it was even out of the factory, so there’s that. We were so excited when we got pictures from our dealer about our boat after it became a boat in the factory, which is when the bottom part and the top part get connected together as one boat. We both looked at the picture and we were like, what kind of generator is that? We had ordered the Onan, but the Panda was installed.
We went with it because the concern was the factory installs the generator, and if it's replaced after the fact, then that work is done by the commissioning agent who has to remove the engine in order to replace the new generator. We thought doing this could cause all kinds of other issues. You have a brand new boat and you're already like moving the engine and then if something happens later on with the engine or there is some weird vibration, then neither Volvo or FP want to touch it with a ten foot pole.
Connections, Lights, Outlets
The interior basics are pretty straight forward; electric outlets, lights, fans for example, you need to check that those all work but if Uchimata then adds new ones on top of that, you have to go back and check those all later. What’s most critical is all the major power connections for batteries, generator, panel, controllers, etc. Then, shore power connections, navigation lights, anchor lights, all interior lights and sockets.
We discovered later that both our masthead navigation lights and deck level navigation lights went on at the same time, which is actually not legal. What apparently happens is the commissioning agent clips the line to deactivate one of them but this didn’t happen - to our luck. The ARC requires that you need backup navigation lights, so we opted to have the second option and installed a switch so we have the option of having two in case one fails.
We found one other issue with the underwater lights. While they had been installed, they weren't connected to the switch on the panel so we would use the switch to turn them on but nothing would happen. It seems whoever installed them, just didn't take it the last mile. Again, check everything. Overall, Uchimata did a great job for us but there are just a lot of moving parts and its our job to make sure we leave with the boat we bought.
Air Conditioning & Plumbing
What we had learned early on is that earlier versions of our boat didn’t have proper ventilation for the A/C and the system would freeze. We weren’t sure if this was fixed or not by the time our boat came out, so we definitely wanted to check for that. As it turned out, all that was fine but we had another problem later.
The A/C was working but there started to be some strange leak. All this happened after handover mind you. Loic, who joined us to help with the handover during COVID and also helped with post commissioning work, was trying to problem solve. He ended up finding the problem after crawling around every nook and cranny on the boat (and falling 6 feet from the panel behind the TV hitting his hip but avoiding bashing his brains in on the stairs). It turned out that when the commissioning agent installed the new fans, they accidentally drilled a hole in the A/C line, causing the leak. So they had to come back and reinstall new lines.
All the plumbing and toilets seemed to work right at first. Over the course of the next week the master toilet would only overfill after a flush. Someone from FP came and fixed the valve. After we left and on our passage the same toilet started not filling with water at all. Because we had spares, Loic replaced the switch, which seemed to help for a while, (see picture below, he makes everything look fun).
Doop de do, two months go by and we get to Porto Montenegro and it’s my job to clean the bilges (pink job??). I find about 5 big buckets of fresh water in the port bilge, same side as the cranky toilet and now it’s up to Stephane to troubleshoot the problem because it’s starting to get cold in Montenegro and I complain about having to march across to the other side to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. As it turns out, the original fresh water hose connecting the water tank to the toilet is just a teeny tiny bit too short, which pinches the hose and over time cracked the seal just enough to cause a small leak that just built up over time - thus the 5 buckets.
The point of all this is, do try to inspect every little thing you can find access to during the handover. Take pictures, wiggle hoses, test switches as much as you possibly can.