So the unthinkable has happened: you’re testing out your new duck or mono hull – or maybe you’re going out to sea for the umpteenth time, without any previous incident – and lo and behold, the hull is taking on water. What do you do when your boat is sinking?
Before anything else happens: don’t panic (easier said than done, we know).
We’re assuming you’re not a seasoned skipper or you wouldn’t be reading this. So if the skipper is still aboard, as we hope he/she is, listen to what they have to say and follow every instruction to the letter.
Seriously, if you are heading out on a boat soon, you’re not sure what to do in an emergency and you won’t have a seasoned skipper aboard, here are the basic steps you should follow:
Everyone on board should have put these on before you launched but there’s almost always one person, isn’t there? So just double check.
If the boat is still in motion, kill the engines immediately and come to a stop. This lowers the water pressure against the hull, slowing the rate at which water enters the boat. Just make sure you’re not in the way of other boats.
Then start bailing out the water. You can do this manually or with a bilge pump or, if you disconnect your raw water hose, you can use your engine as a crash pump.
While you or other crew members are doing this, you can take care of the most vital step.
Maybe a hose has burst, or maybe the drain hole wasn’t sealed properly. These are two things you can check for. If it’s a hose, try and close its seacock. If it’s the hull drain, you should keep plugs on board that you can use to plug it up. With any hole in the hull, plug it up as quickly as you can, with whatever you can find – towels, clothing, whatever suitable items you may have to hand.
Once you locate the leak, trim the boatload, i.e. move crew, passengers and anything you may be carrying to the side of the boat opposite to where the leak is.
Call for help, either to surrounding boats or the port authority using VHF channel 16 if you are equipped with a two-way radio.
Plugging the leaks buys you time but you need to get to safety as soon as possible. Head to shore as soon as you can. It’s better to beach than be stuck in open water as your boat goes down.
However, if your boat is too far gone to reach the shore and you are too far out to swim to dry land, it is best to stay with the boat – even if it capsizes. Climb on and wait for help.
A good quality, well-maintained boat should stay safely afloat for years. Contact us to discuss the maintenance of your boat, or if you are looking for the perfect new or pre-owned vessel.