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Old 05-03-2012, 18:20   #1
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Near Disaster with Brass Used in Below Waterline Plumbing

To my dismay, last weekend I discovered that either manufacturer (Lagoon) or previous owner (Sunsail - these guys really suck!) used what appears to be brass fittings for below waterline plumbing. The sink in a head was draining very slowly, so I decided to fix it. I had to cut the hose to remove wrong fitting used as a sink drain (main cause of slow draining). When I did that at the seacock tailpipe (at the other end of the hose), I discovered that hose barb was very thin, but initially was not very concerned. I slipped on a new hose and thought I was almost done, but when I tried to clamp the hose, the barb broke off with the rest of tailpipe inside of seacock (which is bronze). The hose barb portion of brass fitting that remained in the hose was as brittle as eggshell, when I lightly hit it with screwdriver it disintegrated into small pieces. When I tried to remove the other half of tailpipe that remained in seacock, it broke too and I was not able to remove what remained of it inside of the seacock. So after some deliberation (boat still in the water) I plugged the through-hull from outside and removed seacock that was attached to through-hull via an elbow. When I tried to screw new seacock in place, you guessed it, elbow broke as well, at the thread. At that point I stopped my attempts to fix this nightmare and plug now broken elbow with survival putty, connected a hose to it (used a lot of caulk and a clamp) as a temporary "sinking prevention device". Now, there are 12 of these through-hulls used on my boat, and I suspect that some or all of them need to be replaced as a precaution. BTW, boat is less than 10 years old. Any thoughts/experience with this kind of issues?
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Old 05-03-2012, 18:32   #2
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Re: Near disaster with brass used in below waterline plumbing

BambooSailor, there was a good article in Yachting Monthly recently, about the failure of brass fittings used on European built yachts complying to an ISO that only required a five year fitting lifetime. I've attached the article, if I were you I'd inspect every fitting.
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Old 05-03-2012, 18:34   #3
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Re: Near disaster with brass used in below waterline plumbing

Amazing how many people do not know the difference between common yellow brass and marine grades of bronze. Yellow brass (typical Home Depot parts) have zinc in the alloy. The zinc disappears and leaves the part pourous & brittle. Take one of these to West Marine and compare it to the typical Groco parts. You will see the marine parts are reddish in color. This is known as red brass oddly enough. It contains no appreciable zinc and is high in copper. I found a few hardware store valves in my plumbing and found one that could be dismembered by hand.

You could also have problems even with proper bronze if you have a galvanic or grounding problems. If you are in a marina and a neighbor has a ground fault you could suddenly turn out to be the cathodic protection for everyone else.
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Old 05-03-2012, 18:49   #4
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Re: Near disaster with brass used in below waterline plumbing

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"European built yachts complying to an ISO that only required a five year fitting lifetime"
Thanks Paul+Mimi, that explains the origin, though not the stupidity of such a poor decision. I guess it was a business decision: more yachts sink, more demand for new ones...
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Old 05-03-2012, 18:54   #5
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Re: Near disaster with brass used in below waterline plumbing

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Amazing how many people do not know the difference between common yellow brass and marine grades of bronze.
I agree, many people do not know the difference (I do, I recognized it as soon as barb broke off), but I think boat manufactures should know and should not put people's property and potentially life at risk for saving couple of hundred $$$...
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Old 05-03-2012, 18:55   #6
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While I agree that production builders only need brass to pass RCD certification. It's worth noting that there are 1000s and 1000s of such boats in marinas all over Europe, plugged into shore power, yet seemingly, despite the OPs views not sitting on the bottom.

Rapid loss of underwater fittings seems to be a predominantly US concern. Perhaps it's linked to poor onshore wiring practices or that infamous dc negative AC earth wire interconnection. I don't know, but I know the topic does not get discussed anything like so frequently this side of the Atlantic.

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Old 05-03-2012, 18:57   #7
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Re: Near disaster with brass used in below waterline plumbing

Banjo Valves and Fittings - Alsco Industrial Products, Inc.

I found several of these bolted body Banjo Valves on my boat. They are good equipment. The two on my wet exhaust show no issues of wear and operate easily. I did have to replace the bolts with SS on the existing valves. All new (spares) I bought I had furnished with SS bolts. You can have them with any combination of ends. BSP to NPT for example. I have 3 inch and 4 inch on the exhaust and 1 inch for AC outlets. All of my deep below the waterline valves are 1983 vintage heavy bronze. These also are in great shape.
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Old 05-03-2012, 18:57   #8
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Re: Near disaster with brass used in below waterline plumbing

It would be interesting to know how many of those nice looking "bronze" fittings you see really qualify as bronze from a chemical constituent standpoint. The barbed tailpiece in the scanned article above looks suspiciously like those sold as bronze. Maybe they are and they just machined too thin...? What are teh supposed to be anyway? Silicon bronze, manganese bronze..?
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Old 05-03-2012, 18:58   #9
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Before replacing anything, research the Groco flanged adapters. Search CF for the posts by MaineSail on the subject.

Replace everything.

ciao!
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Old 05-03-2012, 19:17   #10
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Re: Near disaster with brass used in below waterline plumbing

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Originally Posted by Cheechako View Post
It would be interesting to know how many of those nice looking "bronze" fittings you see really qualify as bronze from a chemical constituent standpoint. The barbed tailpiece in the scanned article above looks suspiciously like those sold as bronze. Maybe they are and they just machined too thin...? What are teh supposed to be anyway? Silicon bronze, manganese bronze..?

Bronz & Brass are generic terms like "steel". There are thousands of variations on the formulas of copper added to alloys and fairy dust. Silicon and manganese are added for making strong, non-sparking tools. Try searching Marine Bronze to get a better idea of what should be in it. I replaced all of my diesel pipes (1" BSP threaded). The old was iron pipe in 316 SS tanks with red marine brass gate valves. Needless to say, the iron looked pretty bad. Gate valves were like new but metal handles were crap. I researched the USCG sites for fuel pipe help and found not much. There is more advice (rules) if you look for raw water piping regulations. Most is noted for commercial or inspected vessels but I figgure its good for everyone.

I think we all can agree there are few more crtitical items on a boat than through hull fittings. I assume we all keep the correct wood plug near by.
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Old 05-03-2012, 19:32   #11
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Re: Near disaster with brass used in below waterline plumbing

"This is known as red brass oddly enough."
I think it was almost ten years ago that I made a real effort to locate a "proper" bronze throughhull. Looked at alloys, catalogues, called makers...Half say they use a proprietary secret alloy, the other half are just as likely to use something that references call "brass" as "bronze", there's a big overlap in alloys.

By the time I got done I had a much greater opinion of Marelon(R). Which isn't perfect but at least you don't have to ask what it REALLY is made of.

I think that's when I got out the drill and put hanging cords on two bags of wood plugs, and started tying them off next to plumbing parts so they'd be in the right place if they were needed. How come the folks who sell bags of plugs, never sell them with holes pre-drilled so you can tie a cord onto them?!
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Old 05-03-2012, 21:12   #12
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Re: Near disaster with brass used in below waterline plumbing

Proper below water bronze fittings on this side of the pond are generally made of 85-5-5-5 bronze. Groco, Spartan & Apolo/Conbraco all use 85-5-5-5 bronze.

You do not need shore power to have dezincification of yellow brass. I see it all the time on MOORING sailed boats that have not seen shore power in years..

Cheap yellow brass has no place below water on a boat and it can be VERY dangerous. Try to keep all parts the same brand or alloy and if in the US buy parts that have a Marine UL label. Apollo/Conbraco and Groco are good bets. Spartan are the Cadillac but you pay through the nose..

Marelon prevents corrosion issues but I would strongly suggest using a flanged Marelon "seacock" or the OEM series. Slapping a Marelon valve directly onto a thru-hull does not meet the minimum ABYC safety standards for strength in many sizes and can be about half as strong as the same set up in bronze, which in 3/4" at least also does not meet the minimum strength requirements of ABYC H-27......
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Old 06-03-2012, 09:40   #13
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Re: Near disaster with brass used in below waterline plumbing

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Originally Posted by Nicholson58 View Post
Bronz & Brass are generic terms like "steel". There are thousands of variations on the formulas of copper added to alloys and fairy dust. Silicon and manganese are added for making strong, non-sparking tools. Try searching Marine Bronze to get a better idea of what should be in it. I replaced all of my diesel pipes (1" BSP threaded). The old was iron pipe in 316 SS tanks with red marine brass gate valves. Needless to say, the iron looked pretty bad. Gate valves were like new but metal handles were crap. I researched the USCG sites for fuel pipe help and found not much. There is more advice (rules) if you look for raw water piping regulations. Most is noted for commercial or inspected vessels but I figgure its good for everyone.

I think we all can agree there are few more crtitical items on a boat than through hull fittings. I assume we all keep the correct wood plug near by.
Yeah, on one of the boats I built years ago I had some manganese bronze fittings cast. At that time, Cape Dory/Spartan was selling their fittings, portlites etc said to be silicon bronze. To my eye bronze definitely looks different than brass, but no way to tell where it lies in the brass...bronze spectrum I suppose. When Wilcox Crittendon started to shut down Groco became a bigger supplier.. however Groco is Taiwanese right?
Yeah Marelon wont corrode but you might as well put no valve in, because soon the marelon one wont work!
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Old 06-03-2012, 09:57   #14
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Re: Near disaster with brass used in below waterline plumbing

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When Wilcox Crittendon started to shut down Groco became a bigger supplier.. however Groco is Taiwanese right?
No, Hanover, Maryland USA. They make some stuff off-shore but are a US company with US individuals answering the phones and designing and specifying the products. Good folks...


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Yeah Marelon wont corrode but you might as well put no valve in, because soon the marelon one wont work!
The OEM model valves are quite reliable and they're redesigned the others and they're also more reliable than some of the older ones......
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Old 06-03-2012, 10:03   #15
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Re: Near disaster with brass used in below waterline plumbing

No, Hanover, Maryland USA. That's great to hear! I'm real surprised they are casting bronze in Maryland...
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