Ed Sherman is senior instructor and curriculum developer for the American Boat and Yacht Council, an advisory group that develops, reviews and publishes manufacturing and service standards for the boating industry. In the mid-1990s as a consultant, he helped ABYC develop its first technician certification programs.
Sherman, 60, has a diverse boating background. He’s an avid sailor, powerboater, fly-fisherman and big-game angler. He caught the boating bug as a child and built his first boat at age 15. He began his marine career as a diesel technician and went on to run his own marine service business before becoming chairman of Rhode Island’s Marine Technology Department at New England Institute of Technology. Sherman specializes in electronics and electrical systems, and he has written several books, including “The Powerboater’s Guide to Electrical Systems,” “Outboard Engines” and “Advanced Marine Electrics and Electronics Troubleshooting.”
Sherman, who lives with his wife and son in Wickford, R.I., runs a 16-foot Stur-Dee Amesbury skiff around Narragansett Bay. He maintains Ed's Boat Tips, contributes to Boatermouth, and has been published in various marine journals.
Q: What’s important to boaters in the areas of safety, electronics and electrical equipment?
A: I think the boater’s primary concern is reliability. They like to know where they are, how deep the water is —that’s pretty much where electronics come into play. They want to make sure their electrical is going to be reliable. From a safety point, my fear is that they are relying too much on electronics these days. The average boater’s appetite for amperes is really way up there. They want all the conveniences they have at home, and this has presented a real design challenge for boat manufacturers. It has really changed the way small and medium-sized boats are built. A boat today has to have outlets for the various toys — flat-screen TVs and the works.
Q: Is it safe to say that many boaters don’t know a lot about the electrical systems on their boats?
A: That’s increasingly true because the systems are getting increasingly complex.
Q: What are some of your safety concerns for boaters?
A: My greatest concern right now is what I call the convergence of traditional marine electrical systems with electronic systems and an over-reliance on electronics. I’ve written about it in several articles. The total reliance on electronics to control everything on the boat is pretty risky, because the systems are vulnerable to lightning strikes [and] transient voltage, which may spike on the boat and damage the equipment. We need to think long and hard about get-home capability in the event one of these things shuts down the engines and electronics.
Q: What is the solution?
A: Part of the solution, which [ABYC] is pretty much categorically recommending on the design side, is that you consider “mission-critical circuitry”—which would certainly be engine controls and perhaps navigation lights, bilge pumps, things of that nature — and you isolate those circuits from the pure electronic controls so they are less vulnerable. This bypass circuitry allows you to switch from electronics to the mission-critical electrical control of the circuitry to get yourself home safely. It’s really a very complex design, but I can tell you that some of the high-end builders I’m working with are absolutely adhering to that philosophy and that’s the way they’re doing it no matter what the buyer wants.
Q: What is the most overlooked safety aspect in boating?
A: I would have to say shore power. Shorepower systems are potentially lethal. People really don’t understand it, and they ignore some of the potential hazards.
Q: What are the potential hazards?
A: It’s not shore power itself; it’s actually the appliances on the boat that over time can develop low-level electrical leakage, which can get diverted into the grounding system on the boat, which is there to protect people. One of the things we’ve learned is some of that current will end up in the water around the boat, so if you have a swimmer in the water they can be at risk. I have to emphasize that all of our data to date indicates that this is only problematic in fresh water. The leakage can occur in the saltwater environment, but it dissipates very quickly because of the conductivity of the water versus fresh water. Effective July 31, new boats, if they want to comply with ABYC standards, will have a ground-fault device that will shut off power to the boat in the event the leakage reaches a certain level, and [the manufacturers] are going to be forced to fix whatever the faulty appliance is. … It’s a very important safety issue. I would encourage owners of older boats to consult with their marine electricians and get their boats upgraded.
Q: What should the consumer know about the ABYC?
A: We are really a standards-writing body with educational programming that is geared toward our standards and knowledge of our standards as it applies to both the building and servicing of boats. To that extent, we really would like consumers to reach a point where they recognize our certification as a valid credential. I will be quite happy when I hear boaters ask to have their boats repaired and serviced by ABYC-certified technicians. That’s really the goal.
Q: What is your role with the ABYC?
A: My primary function is the development of the ABYC educational program offerings, which are really targeting technical people working within the industry, although we do get a fair number of what I call “techno boaters” attending classes — boaters who come from a technical background and have a pretty strong technical interest. In addition, we have delivered some consumer-targeted programs over the last few years and are intending to do some more this year. In terms of reaching the boater, we have a lot further to go to really [promote] the ABYC brand so the average boater is familiar with who we are and what we do. I don’t think we’ve really done a great job with that to date.
Q: You have cruised extensively. Where are some of the places you’ve been?
A: I’m based in Narragansett Bay here in Rhode Island, but I also travel quite a bit with my work. I’m one of those people who like both power- and sailboats. I’ve cruised in eastern Australia, the United Kingdom, the Bahamas, the Caribbean and most of the East Coast. The West Coast, from Los Angeles to the Baja Peninsula. The San Juan Islands — I go there sailing every few years. I’ve been to Costa Rica. I enjoy sailing, but I also enjoy big-game fishing, so my trip to Australia was for marlin and my trip to Costa Rica was for Pacific sails — and they were both very successful trips. I get around.
Q: How did you catch the boating bug?
A: I caught it at a very young age. We lived in an area that was near the water here in Rhode Island and I always wanted to get on the water. I built my first boat at 15 out of necessity because my father wouldn’t buy me a boat. He said he would pay for the materials, but I’d have to build it myself.
Q: What are some of the boats you’ve owned over the years?
A: I have owned Herreshoff catboats, a C&C-designed Newport 28 I’ve sailed for many years, a Wellcraft Sportsman I fished from for many years. I ran a Grand Banks 42. It was a training boat, actually. On the traditional side, my current boat is an Amesbury skiff I use for fly-fishing. It’s a 16-foot Amesbury side console, fiberglass, with a lot of mahogany brightwork trim on it. It’s a very traditional, classic-looking boat, lapstrake hull.
Q: How is it powered?
A: A 20-hp 4-stroke outboard. It doesn’t need much. The thing will travel at 24 knots.
Q: What are some of your favorite power- and sailboats?
A: In the price-is-no-object category, I think Morris Yachts is one of my favorite sail boat builders. I like Sabre; I think they do a great job. On the value side, I think Catalina does a great job. On the overseas side, some of the newer Dufours I’ve sailed are really impressive. On the powerboat side, I’m a real fan of Tiara. I like Vikings. And I really like some of the new Chris-Crafts[with] the retro styling. It’s very appealing to me. Although modern, it is timeless, and that’s an example of a new powerboat with pretty sleek styling, but I consider it to be more timeless in nature.
Q: Can you pick a favorite sailboat and powerboat?
A: Probably a Morris 42 or so would be just about right on the sail side and on the power side I’d be quite content with a 30- to 35-foot Tiara.
Q: Does it matter whether it’s powered by an outboard, inboard or sterndrive?
A: I’m not a fan of sterndrives. My Wellcraft was a sterndrive, and, frankly, it was pretty problematic for a lot of reasons, including salt water. I am of the opinion that the newer outboards have become so well-built and reliable that I would certainly go with an outboard over an I/O any day of the week. With a bigger boat, I would clearly go inboard diesel.
Q: Describe the Boatermouth site and what you’re trying to accomplish through it.
A: Boatermouth.com came into existence this past February. It’s a consortium of 12 marine writers who have been around for quite a few years. We have different areas of interest and expertise. We are doing a blog three to four times a week, each of us, in the areas we’re interested in and are good at. My role is pretty much engines and systems and do-it-yourself. I’m trying to share more than 40 years of boating experience and knowledge.
Q: What are some of the topics you’ve written about?
A: I’m working on a piece about repainting an inboard/outboard drive. I introduce some products that I think are useful to boaters. One of them is a solar battery charger — the PulseTech unit [www.pulsetech.com]. I’ve tested them and they can extend your battery life two or three times. I set up a YouTube channel that will be linked from that site. I will have how-to videos — or maybe some of them will be how-not-to videos.
Chris Landry is a staff writer for Soundings Magazine. This article originally appeared in the June 2010 issue.