A 36-footer in the first stage of construction is like a big skiff, and systems that will be unreachable in the finished boat are laid bare. Pitts first poked around under the stainless steel fuel tank, checking that it was supported at least 1/4 inch off the underlying surface, that the surface was self-draining, and that the supports would not soak up water. For a diesel-powered boat, this is per Standard H-33, “Diesel Fuel Systems.” A boat with gasoline engines has to meet the same requirements, but under Standard H-24, “Gasoline Fuel Systems.” Both standards have more than 40 points the inspector must check.
Pitts then turned to the bilge pump, ensuring it was on the NMMA Type Accepted list, meaning the association has approved an item beforehand. The number of the standard that applies—in this case H-22, “Electric Bilge Pump Systems”—is stamped on the item. Lots of the Silverton’s components fall into this category, which makes the inspector’s job easier: Rather than inspect the item, he simply looks for the stamp. (You can download the type-accepted list from the NMMA Web site; it’s a 141-page document.) But it’s still up to Pitts to ensure the pump is installed correctly, has its discharge above the waterline (or is fitted with a seacock and vented loop), is connected to a high-water alarm, and has a manual switch to override the automatic control. When he inspects the 12-volt panel, he checks that the pump’s fuse is correctly matched to its motor; that also falls under another standard, E-11, “A.C. & D.C. Electrical Systems” (44 items). “It’s important to match the fuse to the motor, not the conductor,” explains Pitts. “Using a 10-amp breaker instead of 8 amp doesn’t sound like much, but it’s 25 percent and could cause a fire.”
After giving the open hull a full inspection, Pitts moved to the next boat on the production line, and the next, until we stood aboard a finished vessel. He checked basically everything that wasn’t moving, including seacocks and through-hulls; the exhaust system and associated components, e.g., openings between gasoline engine spaces and accommodation spaces must be sealed; ventilation; the batteries, their holddowns and boxes; windows, hatches and portlights; ladders, rails, and handholds; the steering system, including ensuring the wheel and helm seats were type-accepted; the carbon-monoxide detection system; and even mundane items like the hull identification number and the horn. He stood at the helm to ensure visibility met the requirements of Standard H-1, “Visibility From the Helm” (eight points to check); he inspected the running lights, per Standard A-16, “Navigation Lights” (14 points). I have never looked at a boat so thoroughly, and Pitts inspected even more things while I was writing notes.
What if a boat fails? Newsome says, “The inspection isn’t looked at as pass/fail. The inspector sends the report to the NMMA, I review it and send [it] to the manufacturer, [who] must respond to every item on the variance report.” The variance report is a list of things that didn’t meet the standards; since Silverton has been voluntarily certifying its boats for years, the variance list for the 36 Convertible was short. Once the NMMA is satisfied that the variances have been corrected, the association grants certification to that model, for that year.
Does certification make for better boats? If all NMMA inspectors are as thorough and nitpicky as Pitts, I’d say yes. And Newsome agrees: “We see manufacturers have benefited greatly by certification [especially] in the areas of electrical, fuel, and exhaust systems. Oftentimes it only takes a few small steps for a manufacturer to become certified; sometimes it takes giant leaps—several manufacturers have made significant changes to their boats.” And from what I saw during my day with Pitts, I’d say these are changes for the better. So next time you look at that NMMA Certification plate, you’ll know it was earned, not just given away.
This article originally appeared in the April 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.