Wecome To RVs and OHVs

This blog is all about RVs (recreational vehicles) and OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles), camping, and survival
and how they work together to provide wholesome family fun and great learning opportunities.
Many posts are intended to familiarize novice campers and RVers with RV systems and basic camping and survival
skills. But even experienced RVers and campers will enjoy the anecdotes and may even benefit from a new
perspective. Comments, questions, and suggestions are encouraged.

Friday, March 23, 2018

OHV Tips for Riding Hills

Most of the off road trails you will ride on or in your OHV will include hills you will have to negotiate.   Climbing, descending, or crossing hills (slopes)  requires specific skills that are different from what you need for traveling on level ground.

Climbing hills.  For climbing hills with any type of OHV, the first thing you need to do is determine if the hill you are facing is within the capabilities of you and your machine.  If not, find a way around or turn around and go back.  Next, most people will try to get a little run at the hill, but be sure not to go so fast that you are uncomfortable or being to lose control.  Sooner or later you are likely to encounter a hill you cannot get over the top of.  When that happens, you need to know how to safely get back down.   How you do that will depend on what kind of OHV you are operating.  For a dirt bike, shut off the engine, put the transmission in 1st gear.  Then get off the bike and gently turn the front wheel, release the clutch to let the bike roll until it is approximately cross ways from you original hill climbing direction.  Then turn the wheel downhill, carefully remount the bike, and ride back down the  hill.  You may want to release the clutch and let the engine start and you can then use engine braking to help control the speed of your descent.  If you are riding an ATV you will want to set the parking brake, dismount, and drag the front of of the ATV around until it is angled downhill.  Then remount, release the brake, and ride down the hill.  As with a dirt bike, let the engine start and use engine braking to help control your downhill speed.  Side-by-sides are incredibly difficult to turn around when climbing a hill so it is usually best to simply back down slowly, carefully watching behind you (over your shoulder or via mirrors).

Descending hills.  A common problem for all OHVs when descending hills is going to fast as gravity pulls you and your ride down the slope.  The first defense is to downshift to increase engine braking to reduce speed.  Then use your brakes judiciously.  Overuse of the front brake on dirt bikes or ATVs may cause the machine to flip over the  handlebars so use the front brake sparingly if at all.  Once you reach the bottom of the hill and begin to level out you can use both brakes to continue to slow down or stop as desired.

Crossing Hills.  Crossing hills on a dirt bike is fairly straightforward, as long as you keep the bike balanced and keep enough forward momentum.  You don't want to stop where you can't put your foot down to stabilize your bike!  If you encounter a problem crossing a hill that requires you to slow or stop, lean uphill and put that foot down for stabilization.  Crossing hills with ATVs and side-by-sides is generally not a good idea.  You might be able to do it if the slope isn't too steep, but all too often, by the time you can make that determination, it is too late and your machine is already starting to roll over.  Sometimes you can help keep an ATV stable crossing a slope by leaning uphill to help counter the pull of gravity that is trying to make it roll over.  Since you can't shift your weight in a side-by-side to assist crossing  hills, it is better not to try it at all!

Have a hill of a time  -- and stay safe!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Using Electronic Devices When Camping

Wait a minute!  Aren't camping and other outdoor activities a way to escape our dependence on electronic devices?  Absolutely!  Yet there may be times, if we are carefully selective, when electronic devices may actually enhance our fun.

Our modern world is highly dependent on electronic devices.  We rely on our computers, cell phones, GPSs and (at least for teens) hand-held video games.  While we often go camping to escape some of the electronic tethers that tend to control our lives,  there are also times we will want or even need to use them.  All of these are marvelous inventions that provide wonderful capabilities, but they also require support, most importantly power and often cell tower or Internet access.  Both electrical power and cell tower or Internet access are often scare in a camping environment.  If you are car camping or in an RV you should have ready access to 12-volt battery power.  Many RVs also have 120-volt generators. Inverters can convert 12 volt DC power from the battery in your car or RV to 120 volt power to run electronic gadgets.  If you take your portable devices with you out on the trails, you may need to bring along some kind of auxiliary battery or charger to recharge them.  Solar chargers are especially well-suited for camping and other off road endeavors.

One of the most useful devices for campers is a GPS system or a cell phone with GPS.  Being able to get turn-by-turn directions to where you’re going saves a lot of unintended detours and can avoid a lot of bad roads, traffic, and construction.  Some GPS systems are even appropriate for off-road use, tracking your exact route and allowing you to reverse the route to get back to camp should you get disoriented or encounter poor visibility that would prevent you from using landmarks to find your way back.  

CB radios and FMRS/GMRS walkie talkies can provide excellent short-range communications between vehicles in a convoy or between riders or hikers out on a trail.   FMRS radios do not require a license.  GMRS radios have some higher output channels that give you greater range but do required an FCC license.  Some of the FMRS/GMRS channels overlap CB channels so you can use your CB base station in camp to monitor communications among members of your group out on the trail.  That might be particularly important if someone needs assistance, such as mechanical problems or a medical emergency.

Laptops, tablets, and smart phones give us highly portable computer power we can use almost anywhere we go.  If you happen to be within range of a cell tower, you may even be able to access the Internet from your phone or tablet.  That can be helpful if you need help with an emergency repair or just to look up some bit of information relevant to your situation.

Portable electronic devices depend on reliable battery power.  Hand-held CBs and walkie talkies may have rechargeable or replaceable batteries.  You can usually remove rechargeable battery packs and replace them with ordinary batteries in a  pinch.  Always carry a good supply of replacement batteries for all your hand-held devices.  Cell phones and GPSs usually have only rechargeable batteries so you will need a way to recharge them in camp.  Many such devices these days use a USB charge cable that can be connected to a computer or 12-volt or 120-volt charger.  12-volt chargers plug into the cigarette lighter or 12-volt power receptacle on your vehicle or battery power pack.  You can purchase pocket-sized auxiliary batter packs with USB connectors to recharge most GPSs, cell phones, etc if you need or want to carry extra power with you out on the trail.  In camp you can use the 12-volt charger plugged into your vehicle.  We have noticed that our cell phones charge faster using the 120-volt wall charger than with the 12-volt car charger so we usually use a small inverter plugged into the cigarette lighter to power the wall charger to charge our portable devices.   One advantage to the car chargers are that they are fairly inexpensive.  You can even get them at Dollar Tree, along with standard sync cables for Android phones (Lighting cables for iPhones are harder to find and more expensive).  Be aware that although the car chargers may look the same they may not always act the same and deliver the same performance as the OEM chargers from your phone manufacturer.  In some cases, using an unapproved charger may even void your warranty!  However, in my experience, the only problems I have encountered have more to do with reliability and longevity.  I have also discovered that all 12-volt chargers usually take longer to charge my phone than a wall charger.  So we usually use a small inverter that plugs into the cigarette lighter in the car and then run the wall charger off that instead of using a 12-volt charger. 

Using high-quality replaceable batteries will usually give you the best performance and they will usually last longer than cheaper batteries.  Alkaline batteries are usually better than standard batteries and newer lithium ion batteries can deliver even better performance, but in each case you pay for what you get.  Because my backup batteries often sit around in my camp kit or motorhome for some time before getting used I tend to avoid buying high priced batteries that may be dead by the time I need them.  instead, I stock up on inexpensive batteries at Dollar Tree or get them on coupon sales at Harbor Freight so I always have plenty on hand.

Portable power packs (rechargeable batteries) can be used to power or recharge cell phones and other small hand-held devices on the go.  A attractive alternative that provides free power (one you pay for the charger!) is a solar battery charger.  These use solar panels to charge your batteries using only sunlight.  The only problems I’ve found with them are that 1) they tend to be a little pricey and 2) the are usually somewhat awkward to carry conveninently when hiking or trail riding.  However, both the cost and the effort to bring them along may be well worth it to be able to recharge your devices in remote areas.

Because our excursions away from camp are usually measured in hours, not days, I don’t usually carry spare batteries with me out on the trail.  I just check them before each outing and replace any that are getting low before we take off.  If you are going to be back-packing or engaging in some other activity where you will be away from your base camp for more than a few hours you may want to carry spare batteries for your flashlights, lanterns, and your electronic devices.  Solar LED lanterns are becoming a viable option for remote camping.  Some even have USB  ports to charge your cell phones or other small electronic devices.  They are kind of the best of both worlds:  efficient portable light that can be recharged for free anywhere you have sunlight.  I wouldn’t recommend them for spelunking or cave diving!   Just remember to take them out of your tent and put them out in the sun every day to recharge.  LEDs low power demand means you get the most out of each charge.  I've seen an LED lantern still bright for months after being left on in the barn all night.  Do that with an ordinary incandescant type light and the battery would have been long dead way before morning!


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Water Sports

Being in and around water is a good way to stay cool on a hot summer day.  That is one reason many campers and RVers seek out destinations near the ocean, lakes, or streams.  Such locations are often already cooler than surrounding hot, dry areas, but they also usually offer the opportunity for recreational pursuits in the water where you can really cool off while having fun.  

We recently acquired a 24’ sailboat.  I have always had an interest in sailing and had done a little in the past.  I was pleasantly surprised to see how much of what I’ve learned about RVs and camping could be applied to our new recreational opportunity.   Many of the storage, equipment, and conservation aspects of RVing translate directly to boating.  However, there are also significant differences you will need to pay attention to if you are a boater.  

Boats and water sports have their own unique safety requirements.  Some are not only logical and meaningful needs, but are also legal requirements.  There is specific safety equipment you must carry on a boat. Not only is for your safety and the safety of your passengers, but for the safety of other boaters.  Failing to have it onboard could be disastrous if you encounter a situation where it is needed and can be very inconvenient and quite expensive if you happen to be inspected by law enforcement.  

Personal and equipment safety are the first things that come to my mind.  Every person on a boat should wear a personal flotation device (life jacket).  In many jurisdictions it is required by law, especially for children. But it is always a good idea for adults to wear their life jackets at all times when on the water.  You just never know when something might happen and you end up unexpectedly in the drink!  It doesn’t matter how good a swimmer you are, if you are unconscious or injured, you’re going to need all the help you can get.  Life jackets should be of a proper size for each person and the straps should be adjusted so they fit comfortably but correctly so they will keep even an unconscious person’s face out of the water.  Boats over 16 feet (except kayaks and canoes) are also required to carry at least one throwable flotation device.  An iconic example is a live preserver, but for convenience there are throwable flotation devices that serve as cockpit cushions until needed.  For man overboard rescues you will also need an appropriate length of floating rope.  You don’t have to be able to swim in order to enjoy boating, but it is certainly a VERY good idea to know how.  Sooner or later you will probably fall or get knocked off your boat or the dock -- or on a hot day you might just feel like jumping in!  And even if YOU don’t someone in your party might and you might need to go into the water to help rescue them.

There are several different categories of boats and boating activities.  The main groups are sail boats and power boats.  Power boats may include ski boats, fishing boats, cruisers, and personal watercraft.  Also, a sailboat under auxillary power is considered to be a power boat. Typical activities are cruising, water skiing, wake boarding, fishing, and racing.  No matter what you chose, you will want to make sure you understand the advantages and disadvantages as well as the rules and regulations for what you want to do.  The type of activities you choose will determine the kind of vessel you need to get, what kinds of personal protective equipment you’ll need, and the type and amount of training you will need.  If you are interested in racing you will need far more training and in some cases licensing than you’ll need for recreational cruising.   In most jurisdictions you will need at least a valid driver’s license to operate a power boat.

Boating has its own set of signals you will need to be aware of.  They don’t have turn signals or use hand signals like cars.  Audio signals (horns or whistles) are used to communicate the intentions of boats approaching each other on the water and for warnings.  A single short blast (about 1 second or less) indicates “I want to pass you on the port side”; two short blasts means “I want to pass you on the starboard side”.  A hint for remembering the signals is that "port" has only one sylable; starboard has two.  You indicate your recognition and acceptance of the other boats intentions by repeating the signal.  If you don’t understand or you disagree (for example, you have someone in the water or you are aware of some danger on the intended course), reply with five short blasts.  Longer blasts of around 6 seconds every two minutes are used when there is poor visibility such as fog or going around a blind corner.   Power boats use just the long blast; sailboats use the long blast followed by two short ones.  By the way, unpowered boats (canoes, kayaks, row boats, and sailboats) always have the right of way over power boats.  That makes good sense when you think about it:  power boats are lot more maneuverable and it is easier for them to slow, stop, or change direction than for unpowered boats.  Calling boats without motors ‘unpowered’ is kind of a misnomer.  Each has its own source of power, whether it be human or wind.  By the way, a sailboat using an auxiliary motor is considered to be a power boat and must follow the rules for power boats.  

Boats are required to have navigation lights when operated at night:  a red light visible from the port (left) side; a green light visible from the starboard (right) side; and a white light visible from the stern (rear).  You’ve probably observed the same kind of navigation lights on airplanes flying overhead at night.  There are specific rules for the angles and distances at which the lights can be seen so navigation lights must be of an approved design.  Fortunately, these days there are inexpensive battery powered LED navigation lights available in case your boat doesn’t have any and you want to use it at night.

Boat wiring is often very similar to RV wiring, sometimes having both 12 volt and 120 volt systems.  Some boats may have 24-volt electrical systems.  Marine-grade wire is different from automotive or residential wire.  Marine wire usually has more (and smaller) strands for a given gauge and each copper strand is tinned to avoid corrosion.  I’ve seen the affect of using other types of wire on boats.  Someone had wired the cabin lights with ordinary zip wire (like flat lamp cord).  I’m sure it worked just fine when they installed it, but a few years later when I got the boat it had to be replaced because all the exposed copper connections were badly corroded.  Marine wire is, of course, more expensive, but in the long run it is well worth it, not only for longevity, but for performance and safety.  Corroded connections can impair performance and could easily start a fire!

Just as with RVs and OHVs, tools and onboard supplies and spare parts are needed to keep everything, well “ship shape”.  What you have onboard needs to be customized to the specific needs of you and your vessel.  What you will need will depend mostly on the type of vessel (sail or power boat) and the equipment on board.  For example, a sailboat will need things like sail repair tape and a hand awl for repairing torn sails.  A power boat will probably need a more compete set of hand tools to be able to tend to the motor and drive system.    Some basic electrical tools and supplies will be applicable in most applications (other than canoes and kayaks), but you may need more extensive coverage if your boat is equipped with a lot of electronic equipment, such as depth finders, fish finders, and radio equipment.  However, the most elaborate and complete set of tools and spare parts won’t do you any good if you don’t know how to use them or how to diagnose problems and make appropriate repairs.  It is well worth spending a little time to become familiar with what can go wrong and what you can do about it.  You may find good advise on Web sites for your particular boat, venue, or style of sailing.  You can also learn a lot from fellow boaters.

Long term boat living doesn’t get as much media attention as full time RVing, but it is a viable option and there are many people who do live on their boats.  Even weekend sailors may stay overnight on their boats from time to time.  Sleeping accommodations on large yachts can be as comfortable as a hotel room, but on smaller craft things are going to be a bit restrictive.  The area under the bow of many cabin cruisers serves and other boats under 30’ serves as a ‘V-berth’ which is usually the main bed.  Shoulder room here is usually very generous, but your feet will be shoved into the point of the bow.  If you and  your bunk mate aren't already friends, you will be by morning -- or bitter enemies!  Other options include convertible dinettes and bunks under the cockpit.  In many cases, such as the V-berth in particular, the headroom is much like that of a truck camper.   You don’t want to sit up suddenly!  Once you become accustomed to the features of your boat you will be able to thoroughly enjoy it.  A modest sized cabin cruiser or sailboat with a cabin can provide a great deal of creature comfort for a weekend on the water.  The cabin will provide protection from sun, wind, and rain, give you a place to prepare and eat meals, and a comfortable place to sleep.  Sleeping on a boat may take a little getting used to.  Most of us haven’t been rocked to sleep since we were infants, but unless the water is unusually calm, there will be some motion.  The rocking can be very soothing, but for some people it causes sea sickness, whether you are trying to sleep or up and about.  You might want to bring along a little Dramamine to treat sea sickness just in case.  Sanitation on boats can be similar to that in land based RVs, sometimes having residential style fixtures.  On smaller boats you are more likely to find only a portable toilet, but that can be quite adequate for weekend needs. 

Personal Watercraft, like Jet Skis and SkiDoos, are as much fun on the water as dirt bikes and ATVs are on the trails.  They are even ridden in a similar manner, straddling the seat and using handlebars for steering.  Again, I can’t over emphasize the need for appropriate personal protective gear.  Same goes for proper training.  Even though they are similar to dirt bikes, ATVs, and snowmobiles, the will behave differently.  Traction for acceleration, braking, and turning is very different on water than on dirt or sand or even snow.  It is annoying when a fellow rider roosts you out on the trails but the wake from other vessels can be a serious hazard for personal water craft, especially the wake from larger vessels moving at high speeds (like a ski boat or a harbor tour boat).  I was once towing a water skier when he was hit by a large wake from a harbor tour boat and it nearly yanked his arm off when the tip of his ski caught in the wake and flipped him over.

Any kind of water based recreation is likely to offer opportunities for cooling down that you won’t get with land based vehicles.  You can usually avail yourself of some kind of access to spray or even submersion to cool down as needed where on land cooling water sources are likely to be few and far between.  However, it also comes with increased potential for sunburn from the rays reflected off the water so you may need to shield yourself from reflections as well as direct sunlight.  You may also need to apply sunblock more frequently, even if you use “waterproof” products.   Sunglasses with good UV rating are a must, not just for comfort and fashion but also to protect your eyes against UV radiation that can literally be blinding.   We all know not to look directly at the Sun, but looking at the reflection on water can be almost as bad.  Because the reflection is so bright you will probably avoid looking at it, but many people tend to ignore the reflected rays until they are already sun burned by them well beyond the comfort level.

Boats don’t leave tracks the way land-based motorized recreation does, but there are still environmental considerations you need to be aware of.  You should never pollute the water.  Avoid spilling fuel or oil, keep your trash in your boat, do not dump trash or sanitary waste into the water.  In some locations that serve as reservoirs for community water supplies, you might find you are not even allowed to put your body in the water.  Boats can be a danger to aquatic life,  You need to watch out for and take action to avoid hitting water fowl and other aquatic animals.  After all, they were here before we were!  There may be areas where boating is restricted or prohibited to protect wildlife; watch for warning signs and buoys.  There will always be speed restrictions near boat ramps, docks and other moorage areas, designated swimming areas and near dams and bridges.  

As we began our journey to become sailors I found many good resources on the internet.  You will likely find several youtube videos about the kinds of boats, places to go, and types of outings that interest you.  One of the very best resources I have found for sailboaters is stingysailor.com — and its free!  The author gives very practical advice based on real life situations.  Another good, although a little more pricey, resource is practical sailor.com.

Let’s get wet!


Normally we   to avoid discussions of personal sanitation, but it can be a vital subject for campers, boaters, and RVers.  For self contained RVs or RVs in developed campgrounds, it is pretty well covered by standard on board features or facilities provided at the campground.  But for remote camping, especially if you are not in a self-contained RV, you need alternatives.  Tent campers and backpackers are probably already familiar with how to dig and use latrines in the wilderness so we won't go over that here.  Instead here we will focus on portable toilets known as porta-pottis that can add a great deal of comfort and convenience to your camping experience.

A Porta-potti is a handy addition for tent camping and boats and RVs that are not self-contained.  They can also be useful if your RV toilet is broken or your holding tank is full.  Porta-pottis will be particularly appreciated by the ladies in your group.  They can be used inside a tent or you might set up a shower enclosure to provide privacy.  They vary in size but are typically about 18” square and a little shorter for comfort so they take up little room in your vehicle.

You will need to monitor the level of waste and empty it long before it gets completely full.  In fact, you will probably want to empty it when it gets about half full so it won’t be so heavy to carry or to lift to empty. They can be emptied into an RV dump station or carefully emptied into a flush toilet.   You may encounter restrictions against dumping them in some vault toilets in remote campgrounds.  A word of caution:  be careful how you carry the holding tank of your porta potti.  The flush handle can get caught on something and release the foul contents prematurely.  If that "something" happens to be your leg you'll have a soaked  pant let and a shoe full of sewage.  Keeping the flush valve on the outside avoids this problem, but you still need to be careful to avoid getting it caught on other obstacles or you'll have a nasty mess to clean up!
You need to use the same kind of chemicals in a porta-potti that you use in RV black water tanks, but because of the small size, you won’t need nearly as much per dose.  Be sure to check the directions on the box, pouch, or bottle to make sure you are using the right amount.  If you use too little,  it won’t work well.  You’ll likely have excess odors and the solids won’t break down.  If you use too much you’re just wasting product — and money.  Higher doses don’t work any better than proper doses and, in some cases, may actually interfere with the intended action.  However, you may need to use more during hot weather.  Most modern chemicals are reasonably environmentally friendly and shouldn’t harm septic systems.  If you will be dumping yours into a septic system (or the vault toilets in a campground) try to use chemicals that say they are OK for septic systems.  Some of the older chemical formulas included formaldehyde, which was definitely not environmentally nor septic friendly.

Chemicals are available in liquid and powdered form.  The powdered stuff may be in a foil pouch or configured as a drop in packet a little large than a golf ball.  The liquid is probably the easiest to measure if you need to used less than a full bottle per dose.   You can probably measure out powdered chemicals as well, but if you use drop in packets about all you can do is control the number of packets you use.  The chemicals are intended to serve two functions:  odor control and liquification of solid wastes including toilet paper, which is one reason you should only use RV friendly toilet paper in porta-pottis and RV toilets.  Want to now if your toilet paper is OK to use?  Put a couple of sheets in a quart jar of water and shake it up.  It if disintegrates quickly as you shake it, it is OK to use.  If it doesn’t it probably won’t break down in your toilet or holding tank.  Try doing the test with a facial tissue and you’ll see the way “bad” toilet paper will fail the test.

Porta-pottis are self contained.  They have a fresh water supply tank with a bellows type pump to dispense water into the bowl.  The waste is collected in a separate bottom tank.  The two tanks can be separated.  You can carry just the top to a campground faucet to fill or just the bottom to a dump station or toilet to empty it so it isn’t so heavy.  Remember, water weights 8 lbs per gallon.  A typical porta-potti can easily contain 5 gallons between the two tanks, making  it around 40 lbs when full.  When carrying the waste tank, be sure to hold it so the bottom of the tank, not the part with the flush valve, is next to your leg.  This will avoid any dripping any left-over liquid from on top of the valve onto you or your clothing.  It also keeps the valve away from your leg  If it is toward your leg you run the risk of bumping it and perhaps releasing a flood of foul waste  onto your foot!  Believe me, it will make a big mess and you don’t want a shoe full of sewage!

Porta-pottis are a convenient and inexpensive solution to sanitation when camping, RVing, or boating and can provide a temporary solution at home during emergencies when the plumbing may be compromised.

Now, that’s a relief!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Find Hidden Storage in Your RV

No matter how big or luxurious your RV is, you may still need more storage.  There always seems to be more stuff than there are places to put it.   If you have large items, your only option may be to add a roof pod or hitch-mounted trunk -- or get a trailer to haul it.  You may be able to find "hidden" spaces within your RV for smaller items.  

Many RVs have small cavities under or behind existing features.  You have probably already discovered and made use of the space under the dinette cushions or under the sofa or the bed.  But sometimes there are other, less obvious places you might make use of.  I once found a large amount of wasted space under the night stand in one of my RVs.  Why they didn't put a door on it and make it into a cabinet in the first place is beyond me.  I utilized it in a rather unique way.  I wanted a place to carry an air compressor strong enough to handle the big RV tires.  The wasted space I found was big enough to accommodate a 3-gallon "pancake" compressor.  I was able to remove the counter top for the night stand and install the compressor in the space below and made the counter top easily removable so I didn't even have to do any finish carpentry to add a cabinet door.

In most of our RVs I've found it convenient to store my "inside" tool box on the floor behind one of the lounge chairs next to the entry door where it is out of the way and easy to access.  I screwed a piece or two of angel iron to the floor to keep the tool box from sliding around during travel.  I mounted one of those self-contained LED light switches on the wall above it to compensate for the shadow the chair makes from the overhead lights.  The light also provides quick and easy illumination for entering the RV after dark that is more convenient than the original 12 volt light switches.

Some out-of-the-way spots will only be good for storing items you don't need to get to often, but they can give you a way of binging along some extra things and free up more accessible space for things you need to get to.  Look for space behind drawers that are shorter than the cabinets that house them or for places where the builders may have "squared off" an area for convenience or cosmetic purposes that might have some hidden space inside, like over fender wells.  The odd shapes created by the shape of the original van body on some Class B’s or in the fiberglass front or rear caps of Class A’s sometimes contain cavities you can re-purpose for extra storage.  Make sure your alternations don’t nullify insulating qualities or create a path for drafts.

My wife came up with an ingenious way of carrying files and other paperwork we sometimes need access to without giving up any precious cabinet space.  She slips the file folders behind the backrests on the dinette.  That won't work if you have extremely thick files, but for mail to be sorted, bills to pay, travel/tax receipts, etc, the thin folders fit nicely.  They are safe and easy to get to when needed without sacrificing any standard storage space.  

Another idea I have to credit to my wife is a handy place to store the log lighter we use to light the burners on the range in the galley.  The microwave sticks out a half an inch or so from the cabinet face.  She put the lighter on that little lip and secured it with a Velcro tab so it doesn’t fall off when traveling.  Not only does it save valuable space in the kitchen drawers, it is in a really convenient place when we need it.

While I’m crediting her for her excellent ideas. let me share one more:  store baked goods (bread, rolls, donuts etc) in the microwave.  Let the oven cool after using before putting baked goods in or it will promote the bread to dry out and/or mold faster.  Storing it in the microwave makes it easily accessible when needed and the light weight isn’t harmful to the microwave.  If your RV is equipped with a gas oven it too could be used to store similar items.  I would avoid putting things like potato chips in the oven.  Many ovens have a pilot light that could ignite the packaging.

I picked up a handy tip from the “Quick Tips” feature in Motorhome Magazine for storing shoes near the entry door.  There is a few inches between the back of the dinette and the pit for the entry steps.  Using brackets for a towel rack I fastened a rod across the bottom of the dinette that lets us slide the toes of our shoes behind it.  Since the dinette is upholstered in cloth, I put a piece of FRP (fiberglass reinforced plastic) like is used for waterproof kitchen and bathroom walls to protect the fabric.  This turned otherwise unused space into convenient storage.

The pickup truck we often tow our enclosed motorcycle trailer with has a place under the hood for a second battery (usually used to supply power for a camper).   Since we don't have camper on it, it makes a convenient place to carry extra bottles of oil, antifreeze, and/or windshield washer solvent.

One bit of caution:  when seeking out unused spaces in an RV NEVER attempt to alter or store things in the compartments for the furnace, water heater, refrigerator, or even the converter or inverter.  Doing so may create a fire hazard or, at the very least, modify the ventilation for the appliance which could affect performance and longevity as well as risking a fire.

You will be surprised how much extra storage space you can drum up with a little creativity.

Tuck it away!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Refinishing Formica tables and countertops

Many RVs, especially older ones, have Formica tables and countertops.  While there is some appeal to upgrading to more modern and luxurious materials, such as granite or composite solid surface, these are usually cost prohibitive for the average RVer.

If you have faded Formica, you may have gotten discouraged looking for solutions to restore the color and shine on the Internet.  Mostly what I found in my initial search was that it could not be restored, but had to be sanded and painted.  Some folks recommended various waxes and furniture polishes, but in my own attempts, none of them worked.  A good aerosol furniture polish made it look good while it was wet, but as soon as it dried it was back to its old dull, faded color.

Then my wife suggested trying the SC-1 detail spray we use on our dirt bikes.  And wa-la! Instant success!  We had a badly faded walnut grain Formica table in our nearly 50 year old sailboat.  I thought I was going to have to paint it or get a new one.  But the SC-1 brought it back to like new condition!

A second trick for restoring old table tops is to replace missing or damaged edge trim.  It is easier than you might think.  The edge trim was long gone from our boat table.  I bought some iron-on walnut edge tape at my local home center, sanded the old edge, and ironed on the tape,  trimmed it with a razor knife, then sealed it with a good clear coat and now instead of ugly old exposed plywood the edge is a nicely finished walnut that matches the restored Formica table top.  You can also get iron on edge tape in the form of white Melmac for edging shelves.

Of course, if you want or need to change the color of a table or countertop or if they surface has been physically damaged by scraping or badly stained beyond redemption, you can still paint.  Sand the old surface to remove any contaminants and smooth out imperfections, then clean it with rubbing alcohol or acetone, the paint according to the paint manufacturer's instructions.  A gloss paint will be easier to clean but a semi-gloss will hide imperfections better.

There is no need to live with ugly tables or countertops.  With a little creative effort they can be restored to give new life to your RV.

Happy restoring!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Alternate Hot Weather Activities

When the hot summer weather arrives, camping and dirt biking in dry, desert or even mountain environments gets to be a little be uncomfortable.  Water activities usually provide opportunities for cooler recreation -- swimming, boating, or just lying around the beach (and taking advantage of the water to cool off now and then).  For that reason, and because I've always liked sailing, we have recently acquired a 24' Venture sailboat, complete with outboard motor for windless days and a trailer to get it to and from the lake.  It is small enough to trailer and for two of us to comfortably sail but has a large enough cabin to provide protection from sudden squalls and room to stay overnight in a remote cove.

Yes, I know, it is said that a boat is merely "a hole in the water into which you throw money".   But, like any other recreational pursuit, it will be what you make of it.  Just like RVs and OHVs, you can spend a lot of money on boats and related equipment and accessories, but you don't have to.  For example, we got our 24' Venture for free! There is even a web site that specializes in free or low cost boats:  http://www.free-boat.com/.  I was surprised at the number and variety of boats I saw there.  I have also seen inexpensive boats on ebay.  Some are offered by an organization that solicits donations and then sells them to fund their charitable operations.  I recently saw 25' sailboat in seaworthy condition go for $611 on ebay!  But, if you find a good deal, be aware there will be title and registration fees to be paid and, if the boat is in a marina, you may have proof of insurance and have to pay moorage fees.  If it comes with at trailer there will be DMV fees for the trailer.  So, even a free boat will not be entirely with some up front costs.  And then there are the costs of renovation and/or restoration, if you choose to go that route. 

In some ways, our sailboat is like a floating RV and many of the lessons learned while RVing can be directly applied to "living" on a sailboat, for example, limited and scale down resources, and water and power conservation.  However, there are unique safety and operating procedures we all need to become familiar with before be embark on any maritime activities.  You can often get started with a free online instruction, then augment it with hands on training classes or guidance from experienced sailors.

Unlike RVs, which usually have standup headroom in even the smallest campers and tent trailers,  the cabins on many boats may be considerably shorter, except in larger yatcths.  You can stand up somewhat bent over enough to move around inside the cabin of our little 24' sailboat and it isn't too uncomfortable to cook on the camp stove inside and very comfortable to eat at the dinette or sleep in the berths, but we always have to walk bent over and be sure to duck our heads!  Sleeping in the v-berth (in the bow of the boat) has the headroom limitations of a truck camper with the added narrowing at the bow that pushes our feet together.

Our sailboat is a 1970 MacGregor Venture 24.  It is structurally sound but shows some signs of nearly 5 decades in the sun and water.  The gel coat on the deck is crazed and will need to be sanded and painted.  The once lovely teak trim had weathered to a dull uniform grey.  The nice walnut grained Formica table in the cabin was faded until near the center edge it was about the color of hot chocolate powder and the edging was gone, exposing raw, rough plywood.  A few feet of iron-on walnut edging tape painted with clear coat quickly solved the edging problem.  I was pleasantly surprised at how easy and effective the iron-on tape was.  As for the Formica, my attempt to find a suitable solution on the Internet resulted in a few, ineffective suggestions:  furniture polish or wax.  I tried a variety of products and while some made it look nice while it was still wet, it returned to its dull, dingy color when it tried.  Then my wife suggested using the same SC-1 Clear Coat detailing spray I use on my dirt bikes and in just minutes, we had a table that looked like new!  You can usually buy SC-1 at your local off road bike shop but if they don't have it they can probably order it.  It is made by Maxima, who produces a number of products most bike shops regularly carry.    SC-1's tag line on the can reads "New bike in a can" and you will be surprised how well it works.   Fun to find cross-over skills between our RV/OHV lifestyle and our new maritime addition.

As you might imagine, our nearly 50-year old sailboat needed some TLC, both the make her look better and to prevent further deterioration.  The paint inside the cabin was chalky and peeling.  It took some scraping and sanding to get rid of the damage.  A coat of Kilz is then a good idea as a primer and to reduce the possibility of mildew.  Marine grade paints can be quite expensive.  However, the small area involved may help keep the cost down and they may provide longer life than house paints.  I've heard of people using ordinary interior house paint inside their boats, but I would prefer to use and exterior acrylic latex or at least a paint rated for kitchens and bathrooms since the inside of a boat will by its nature be exposed to a lot of humidity.

Outside, the teak trim was barely recognizable as it had weathered to a dull, uniform grey color.  I was delighted to find it can be cleaned with oxaclic acid to bleach out they grey, then a coating or two of teak oil to restore the luster and depth of the color gets it ready for a suitable clear coat like polyurethane to protect it from the element and give it a deep, rich shine that both looks good and is comfortable to touch -- especially nice for hand rails.

Most boats, even sailboats, will have some 12-volt wiring for lights.  Lights may include convenience lights in the cabin and cockpit and required navigational lights for night time cruising. Wiring on a boat may not appear too different from wiring on an automobile or an RV, although some larger boats may have 24 volt systems instead of 12 volt systems.   However, be aware that marine wire is different than automotive wire.  The same gauge wire will be made up of many more smaller diameter strands and each strand is tinned to prevent corrosion.  Yes, it will be a lot more expensive than ordinary primary wire for automotive or RV use, but it is necessary to ensure long life and good connections in the marine environment.   You don't want your navigation lights to fail due to corroded connections while you're out on the water at night and even losing cabin lighting could be more than just inconvenient.  I found some cabin lights in our Venture had been wired using ordinary 2-conductor zip wire.  I'm sure it was cheap and convenient for whoever did it, but now all the connections are a badly corroded to a dull green and I'll need to replace the wiring to ensure safety, reliability, and performance.

If you decide to explore boating opportunities to augment your regular camping and OHV outings, be sure to get proper training on how to operate your boat or personal watercraft.  Also make sure you wear proper safety gear.  Personal Floatation Devices are required for every person on a boat or personal watercraft and larger boats (over 16') must have at least one throwable floatation device.  This could be a life saver ring or simply an appropriately configured cockpit cushion. 

There are also signals you need to be aware of to indicate to other boaters your intentions and for them to indicate theirs to you.  Boat horns have much more specific meanings than car horns.  When approaching another boat, a short single toot of your horn indicates you want to pass them on your port (left) side.  Two short toots means passing on the starboard side.  A hint for remembering which is which:  port has one syllable and one toot, starboardhas two syllables and two toots.  Three toots mean backing up.  Five toots mean danger!  Or that you don't understand or disagree with the other boat's intentions.  For example, if they indicate passing you on the port side and there is a swimmer or an obstacle there they can't see, you would respond with five toots of your horn.  In poor visibility (e.g., fog) use one long blast when coming around a blind corner if you're in a power boat or one long and two short blasts for a sail boat, repeated about every two minutes.  You need to know these signals so you can recognize them when you hear them and be able to use them when necessary.  Short blasts or toots are about 1 second in duration.  Long blasts are about 4-6 seconds in duration.

Being near or out on the water means you are going to be exposed to a lot of sunlight and will need to pay attention to proper UV protection.  The sunlight reflecting off the water can burn as quickly and as badly as direct sunlight from above.   Sometimes you won't notice you're burning because of the cooling affect of the breeze and/or spray, but don't let that fool you.

Personal watercraft, such as jet skies and SkiDoos, have a particular appeal to folks who usually ride dirt bikes or snowmobiles.  In fact, jet skis are sometimes called 'wet bikes' and are ridden much like a motorcycle.  SkiDoos are a lot like snowmobiles for the water.   However, just because the conformation and controls are familiar doesn't mean you don't need to take time learn how to ride them!  Taking a little time to get familiar with and learn proper use of any kind of motorized recreational equipment is essential and will pay back dividends in safety and fun for years to come.

Canoes and kayaks are popular vessels for personal use and use by small groups.  Since they have no motors or sails, there is a lot less that could go wrong or require maintenance.  They are economical to use, being powered either by hand or water currents, and are usually small enough and light enough to be easily transported from your home to various venues -- or around obstacles you might encounter on a river (like dams and falls).  About the only downside to these craft are that they ride very low in the water, are somewhat unstable and can be easily capsized if you aren't careful.  There are very few Boy Scouts who haven't gotten dunked in a canoe at summer camp!

Sailboats have a kind of nostalgic aura and there is a certain feeling of accomplishment and connection with the sea (or lake) that comes with operating them.  They may be as simple as a sabot (about 8' long with a single sail) or as complex as the Black Pearl, Captain Jack Sparrow's pirate ship in Pirates of the Carribean.  Most popular are boats in the 20-30 foot range, with a single mast (known as sloops) and with a small cabin that provides basic creature comforts out on the water and in port.

Power or motor boats appeal to a lot of people.  The controls for a power boat are similar to those in a car, except that there is no brake!  To stop a power boat you have to reverse the rotation of the propeller.  They are mostly steered using a wheel like a car although some with outboard motors have a tiller more like a small sailboat connected to the motor.  They come in many sizes and shapes from sleek, high-powered racing boats and water-ski boats, to huge yachts that are like floating palaces.  A popular mid-sized boat is a cabin cruiser.  These luxurious vessels provide a lot of creature comforts on the water and at anchor.

If you take up water skiing, there will be additional safety measures and signals you will need to know and, even if you don't water ski, you should become familiar with some of these signals any time you are on the water since you are likely to be sharing the space with water skiers and ski boats.  One of the most important signals is the flag that indicates there is a skier in the water.  This is a bright, hunter orange flat about 12" square and is used when the skier is down.  When you see this, slow down and exercise extra caution around that boat to avoid running over the person in the water.

Most states offer boating safety courses to help you get acquainted with rules and proper practices.  In some cases, proof of having completed such a course are required before you can operate a vessel in that state.

Boats with cabins usually have some kind of sanitation facilities.  On larger boats there will be holding tanks like those on on RV.  Unless you take the boat out of the water and have a way to drain the holding tanks, they will have to be pumped regularly to empty them.  Most marinas where you can rent moorage offer these services.  On smaller vessels you may have a portapotti which you can remove and empty yourself into a suitable dump station or maybe even into your own toilet at home.  In either case these will require the same kind of care and treatment as a black water tank on an RV.  Use only RV-safe toilet paper and never put facial tissue, sanitary napkins, wet wipes (not even those designated flushable), or paper towels into a toilet on a boat.  And, of course, keep an eye on the level of waste in the holding tank, including the little one on your portapotti!  Be sure to empty them BEFORE they get completely full.

If you get a boat with a cabin and plan to sleep in it, either docked in the harbor or at anchor in a remote cove, be sure to try it out where you have a way to easily escape if you find it unsuitable.  For example, we plan to aclimatize ourselves by sleeping in our boat a few times while it is still on the trailer at home before we add the strangeness of the sounds and feeling of being on the water.   Larger boats may have comfortable staterooms equipped with very good beds.  In smaller boats, like our 24 footer, the berths are under the bow (v-berth), in the converted dinette (much like the bed on a truck camper but with thinner cushions) or along the port (left) side under the cockpit.  Sleeping in the V-berth in the bow is a little like sleeping in a truck camper with limited headroom but with your feet jammed together into the narrow prow of the boat.  It isn't as uncomfortable as it sounds, but it may take some adjustment.  Be aware that even when tied up at a dock (and even more so when at anchor) a boat is going to rock.  Wake from passing boats, waves in the water, and even a gentle breeze blowing against the boat may cause it to move.  For some people it is soothing, like being rocked in a cradle.  But for other people this can be disquieting, even to the point of getting seasick.

Speaking of getting seasick, it is not uncommon for people to get ill from the movement of a boat, especially until they get used to it.  There is popular commercial product to treat seasickness.  It is called Dramamine®. You can get it an just about any pharmacy without a prescription.  If you know or even suspect you are susceptible, be sure to pick some up before your first aquatic outing.  Some people even need it when traveling by car, train, or plane too.

Aquatic activities can provide a welcome respite from summer heat and a pleasant alternative to hot, dry, land-locked excursions.  As with any kind of camping and motorized recreation, boating is a great way to create quality family time and create family bonding.

Ahoy mate!