A patch in time saves lives
The amount of time a boat operator has to respond to sudden, uncontrolled flooding strongly depends on the size of the hole and its location below the waterline—the lower the hole, the greater the incoming pressure. A 1-inch hole in the hull 1 foot below the surface floods at a rate of about 20 gallons a minute. That same small hole 6 feet below the surface floods at nearly two and a half times that rate.
Adding flood damage control to your vessel’s emergency kit needn’t be expensive. You probably have most of the supplies and tools already at hand.
For recreational boats, a flood damage-control kit starts with an assortment of the following:
Plugs and patching material: wooden wedges and tapered wooden plugs in a variety of sizes to match the boat’s through-hull fittings; an assortment of rubber sheets and gasket material; rags, waterproof putty, and other filler for stuffing in and around patches for a better seal
Fasteners to hold the patch in place: hose clamps, nylon ties, twine, grease tape, fiberglass tape and duct tape
Tools to make it happen: screwdrivers, a hacksaw, an adjustable wrench, pipe wrench, nut driver and a hammer. Besides being useful to help patch a hole, these tools can help close watertight doors and hatches, shut down machinery that could make a flooded area hazardous, and close off drains and discharges that can siphon water into the boat if they sink below the waterline. And since bilge pumps aren’t designed to handle large volumes of water from a hole, a dewatering pump is recommended.
Put these supplies in a clearly marked container kept close at hand. Attach a flashlight to the handle in case an accident happens at night, and make sure everyone on board knows where the emergency kit is located.
Careful maintenance and regular inspection of pipes, gaskets, valves, and fittings can greatly reduce the chance that mechanical failure will lead to flooding. Boating education and knowledge of navigation rules and local conditions will minimize collisions, allisions (hitting fixed objects) and hard groundings. Vessel damage control training is widely available through the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and other boating groups; once you are trained, hold a monthly drill to practice quick action in an emergency.
Notify the Coast Guard and other boaters in the area if your boat is taking on water, and make sure you and all passengers are wearing life jackets. Saving your boat is important, but if flooding can’t be brought under control, the priority is saving lives.