Marine Surveyor Thom Morand Makes Moisture ‘Walk the Plank'

Marine Surveyor Thom Morand Makes Moisture ‘Walk the Plank'

Marine Surveyor Thom Morand Makes Moisture ‘Walk the Plank'

Walk the Plank



By Tony Morgan
 
“The worst thing you can do to a boat is to get it wet,” declares Marine Surveyor Thom Morand, “and I’m not joking. That’s because moisture does more damage to a boat than most people realize.”
 
Working out of Windsor, Ontario, Morand started Thomas R. Morand Marine Services in 2002. Since then, he has conducted countless marine surveys of pleasure craft and even some commercial fishing/charter boats. The reason for this is to determine their true condition and fair market value, and to document any potentially dangerous deficiencies. He knows firsthand how moisture can put a boat at risk.
 
“Let’s say you have a core bottom on a 22-foot boat, typically balsa wood sandwiched between fiberglass, and it’s taking on water. It could be carrying 800 pounds of water and possibly leak or split open if not soon discovered,” he says.
 
Morand checks boats with a Wagner MMC210 moisture meter from top to bottom, stem to stern. He says he’s likely to find moisture in any number of places, including encapsulated stringers, bulkheads, framing, bow decks, and transoms. 
 
When moisture is left undiscovered and unchecked, it can cause bacteria or fungus infections in the wood resulting in staining, black mold, and eventual deterioration of the structure.
 
“Once water gets inside wood that’s encapsulated, bacteria start to reproduce, giving out carbon dioxide and water. Now you’ve got a closed ecosystem eating that structure causing it to deteriorate,” he adds.
 
Water can enter a boat’s structure in various ways. The most obvious is by way of the various fasteners located at the stanchions, windshield bolts, deck fittings, through hull fittings, cleats etc. Sometimes finding a leak’s source is difficult, especially when water enters at one place and shows up several feet away.
 
Repairing causes of moisture molecule migration, wet deteriorated core materials, and leaks may not be an inexpensive or simple matter. Access to leaks are often restricted and require tearing out a portion of the interior. Repairing water damaged stringers and transoms usually require removing the engines and transmissions.
 
Morand notes that many times problems start at the factory. Manufacturers intentionally put holes in the framing which allows shipped water to move through the framing to get to the bilge pumps. Since these holes are not always properly sealed, if there’s water sitting in the bilge, the water can wick up the wooden stringer or bulkhead core. 
 
He adds that one of the biggest boat sellers in the U.S. and Canada often has problems with their bow decks.
 
“Their vessels frequently get water in the balsa core of the boat deck. What I discovered was that it usually comes from the windshields – either because they weren’t caulked or the caulking wore out. In either case, water gets in there,” he says.
 
Moisture Detection Tools
 
When it comes to locating leaks or finding hidden pockets of water, Morand uses two tools, which he claims are indispensable: the Wagner MMC210 moisture meter and a hard nylon-tipped hammer.
 
He uses the moisture meter to help him locate suspicious areas. If the meter tells him moisture levels are high, he then “sounds” the area with his hammer. With his experienced ear, he can determine if a hull, deck, stringer, or some other part of the vessel harbors entrapped moisture.
 
“If I get a really hard, clink sound, the area is still clearly solid and serviceable. But if I get a hollow, flat sound, one of two things is usually happening: the wood is deteriorated and is no longer serviceable, or the fiberglass has moved away from the wood,” he says. 
 
When the meter and the hammer each agree, he’s 99% certain that there’s a problem. But if there’s ever any doubt, he brings in a repair technician to take a core sample swag to confirm his findings.
 
Using his meter has helped Morand find many unsuspecting problem areas. He recalls using it recently on a boat built by a quality builder with a great reputation.
 
“My son Erik put the meter on one 3-foot square spot on the bottom that wasn’t painted and the meter just jumped straight up, which shouldn’t have happened, particularly on this boat. So he took the hammer and tapped on it and it sounded like a bass drum.
 
“It was a factory flaw that you would never have expected from this company. Of course, it had to be repaired. But it was the meter that put him on to the problem,” he adds.
 
Morand’s use of the Wagner meter goes back to when he opened his business. Knowing he needed a moisture meter, he sought the advice of a reputable boat supply store. After doing some research, the store’s owner recommended the Wagner moisture meter.
 
To better familiarize himself with how to best use the meter on marine craft, he went to a boatyard where he was given permission to test the meter on several derelict boats.
 
“I would take a different section of these boats, for instance an isolation bulkhead. I would test it, drill into it or peel back the fiberglass that was over the wood to see what I could find,” he notes.
 
This gave him a very good indication of what the numbers on his meter meant. After that, he added the hammer to provide him with a highly reliable one-two means of surveying boats.
 
Boat Moisture Meter Ideal in Tight Places
 
While Morand extols the meter’s accuracy, he also lauds its Press and Hold button and rugged durability.
 
“Sometimes those engine compartments are so congested you’re literally hanging at a stupid angle to take a reading in places you can’t see, like behind a stringer under an engine mount. I can get my hand under there, but there’s no possible way I can see the meter’s screen.
 
“But with the meter’s Hold button, I just touch it, pull it out, and it shows me the reading. Then I follow that up with my hammer to confirm the reading,” he remarks.
 
He also says he can change the meter’s density setting on the spot. So if he’s checking a laminate material with no wood beneath it or if he’s looking for wood behind fiberglass, he can easily change the density. The relative scale should be used to test laminate materials with no wood beneath.
 
During some of Morand’s inspections in tight engine rooms where he virtually becomes a contortionist to get readings, he’s had his meter slip out of his hand and drop into oily bilge water.
 
“It may sit there a good amount of time until I’m able to rescue it. Each time that happened, I let the meter dry in the sun, changed the battery, and it went right back to work. It’s never failed me even after sitting in that gunk for the time it took me to retrieve it,” he says.
 
He adds that it’s also fallen off boats numerous times onto hard surfaces and crushed stone, yet continues to perform.
 
Saves Money and Lives
 
Although he can’t provide exact figures, Morand estimates that using his meter and hammer have saved his clients hundreds of thousands of dollars in costly repairs.
 
For example, a poorly caulked windshield that allows water to seep into the balsa core of a bow deck on a 32-footer can result in a $25,000 repair down the road.
 
Or, a leaking stanchion that supports a boat’s handrail can cause water to get into the balsa core and run down the gunnels, which Morand says will make that $25,000 repair seem like kid stuff.
 
Besides saving money, he also believes he’s saved lives.
 
“If the isolation bulkhead in front of the engines goes bad, hydrogen gas is given off when the batteries are being charged. There are other toxic gases which go to the bottom of the bilge. The isolation bulkhead separates those gases from the people in the cabin.
 
“With my meter and hammer down at the bottom of the bulkhead, I can find out if there’s a void or deterioration in the isolation bulkhead which would allow the toxic gases to escape,” he remarks.
 
“I couldn’t do my job without my moisture meter and hammer.
 
“It’s an unbeatable combination which I believe has helped me save dollars and, more importantly, many lives.”