How to prevent your boat from sinking

14th September 2021 Jack O'Rourke

How to prevent your boat from sinking

Even the most experienced sailors can encounter emergency situations, whether it is dangerous conditions at sea, large waves, or freak weather events, and a sinking boat is a scary situation. 

However, In most cases the fault lies with the boat owner neglecting simple maintenance and operational steps that lead to a vessel sinking. The good news is, there are a few things you can do to ensure your boat will not sink. 

Why boats sink 

Modern boats sink for a variety of reasons, and according to BoatUS a majority of these accidents occur in the dock. Boats tend to spend a lot of time at a marina or mooring, and are not checked regularly.

Most dockside sinkings occur when water leaks through fittings into the bilge. Leaks are commonly found in stuffing boxes on shafts, hoses, clamps and drain plugs. Leaks can also occur from valves, screwing holes, and window seams. In some cases more than one fitting had been leaking.

Interestingly, a lot of sinkings can occur simply from excess rain (or snow) falling into your boat and leaking throughout the vessel. 

While underway, there are a number of reasons why your boat cloud sink. The main perpetrator is floating debris or hidden hazards which damage the hull. Negligent navigation or attempting to operate through murky waters can lead to catastrophic collisions and flooding. Even taking on waves and weather beyond the boat’s capabilities can cause damage and leads to sinking. 

Operator oversight is a major cause of a boat sinking. Failing to check or monitor the condition of the bilge, drains and scuppers can create a dangerous situation, as flooding will occur out of sight under the boards, and hundreds of gallons of water can fill a boat before it is noticed. Skippers should not rely solely on bilge pumps to bail them out because pumps can fail. 

A boat with a leak takes on water quickly, and flooding will accelerate depending on how far below the waterline the damage is. It is essential to have a plan to immediately stop the flow. 

Before leaving dock

Check your boat regularly 

Develop a schedule to inspect your boat frequently. Along with general maintenance, we recommend that at least twice a season you should be inspecting major fittings above and below the waterline to see if there is any water leaking into the boat. 

If you find any issues, no matter how small you may perceive them, address the problem as soon as possible before going out on the water again. If there is a reason you can’t visit your boat consistently, consider asking someone to check in or install a webcam.

Maintain safe docking systems

Keep your dock lines in good condition and store the ropes correctly to avoid any entanglement and prevent snags. Damaged or loose lines can cause your boat to break free, with the possibility of running into another boat or capsizing. 

Don’t exceed your limits 

If you see that weather conditions are particularly rough or the marine forecast is predicting strong wind and waves, consider whether your boat can handle the trip. Especially older boats that have wear and tear, or have had repairs before, are susceptible to sinking if they encounter lashing rain and powerful waves, as the integrity of the boat becomes vulnerable. 

While out on the water 

Keep excess weight to a minimum 

Be careful not to overload the boat with excess gear and extra modifications that weigh the boat down. It is also important to remember there is a passenger and weight limit for a reason, as this can lead to sinking. 

Monitor areas of concern 

Keep an eye on drains and scuppers in places close to the waterline. Scuppers can quickly become submerged and allow water in the boat instead of draining it out. This can often make the boat sink faster. Boats with outboard engines can take on water through the transom if it is exposed to high seas or wake from other boats. Cockpits can also be swamped with water and overwhelm the drains and bilge pumps. 

Avoid collisions 

Being involved in a collision is the main reason boats sink. To prevent a crash, be sure to keep a lookout for dangers while boating. Your ability to stay out of harm’s way takes training and experience, and looking away for even a second can result in a collision with a submerged object or another boat.  

Even though you may enjoy having a cold beer on a boating trip, it is best to stay sober if you are operating a vessel, as alcohol can impair judgment and navigation ability.

Emergencies can happen, so if you are out on the water and suspect your boat is leaking or taking on water, do not hesitate to contact marine authorities. Sinking can happen quickly and sometimes without warning. We at Deckee recommend you wear your life jacket at all times while underway. If your vessel capsizes, the life jacket could make the difference between surviving the accident until assistance arrives.