Emergency Repairs: What to Do When Your Boat is Sinking

Sinking is, without question, the worst nightmare of any boater. When your boat’s taking on water, however, there are some emergency measures you can take to keep it afloat. And when water starts rushing into the bilge, you’d better know to:

1. Plug the hole. Yes, this sounds obvious and if you can shove something into the hole, great. But in many cases the hole won’t be accessible from inside the boat. How do you get underwater to plug it? You don’t. Instead, grab a piece of canvass or heavy cloth (Bimini tops and t-top canvass are some ideal examples). Tie rope to all four corners. Then one person holds one side’s ropes off the starboard side of the bow as another holds the other side’s ropes off the port side. Allow the canvass to float in the water in front of the boat, and use the ropes to pull it under the hull. When you reach the hole, suction created by water rushing in will suck in the canvass. Then, use all four ropes to secure the canvass in place.

2. De-water the boat. Again, this sounds obvious but there’s more to it than simple bailing. Take advantage of all of your boat’s pumps, as well. If you have a raw water washdown, for example, take the nozzle off the end and drop the hose over the side of the boat. Then close the seacock at the raw water intake, and pull the intake hose off the end. Drop it into the bilge, turn on the pump, and it’ll start sending water through the hose and over the side. You can accomplish the same thing with livewell pumps, though you may need to get creative with the plumbing to flush the water overboard, instead of just feeding the well. If your boat has a freshwater tank, also pump it dry, to lighten the load.

3. Shift weight. In some cases, it may be possible to shift gear and people from one side to the other, forward, or aft, to raise the hole out of the water until you can get it patched. In other circumstances you may want to shift as much weight as possible forward, to keep your powerhead from dipping below the surface. And if your boat is swamping, distribute weight (usually in the form of people) to keep it as level in the water as possible, so it doesn’t roll.

Finally, always remember: whatever happens, stay with the boat. Virtually all modern boats are foam-filled and will float to some degree even when full of water, and SAR personnel will have a much easier time spotting the boat than they will spotting an individual.

boat near rocks

Rocks like these can do a number on a fiberglass boat. If you end up with a hole in yours, will you know what to do?

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