Taking on water
Don't let your boat go down without a fight
A sinking boat is every boater’s nightmare. Although prevention and preparedness are key, have an abandon ship kit at the ready. At minimum, the kit should contain a handheld VHF radio, GPS, signaling devices, water and rations.
Water can get into the boat in two ways: holes below the waterline and swamping. You can prevent swamping, where water comes in over the side or stern, by not overloading the boat and by keeping the bow pointed into the waves.
What to do when your boat takes on water
- Get everyone into life jackets if they’re not already.
- Notify the Coast Guard or other authorities on the VHF marine radio so assistance begins moving to you.
- Ensure that all the bilge pumps are working.
- Start corrective action.
Too often, skippers and crew get so busy trying to fix things that they forget to call for help until just before the boat begins sinking. Most bilge pumps can operate at 400 to 2,000 gallons per hour. Using an engine water pump rigged as an emergency bilge pump can move 2,000 to 4,000 gph, but in emergencies, the Coast Guard can deliver 400 gallons-per-minute pumps by boat or airdrop.
For more information on boat handling and on-the-water emergencies, take our Seamanship course.
All boats are equipped with scuppers through which water in the cockpit or on deck can drain out. Make sure they are not plugged, and clear them if they are. Small boats take water on deck from rain, spray, wave action or failed bait wells and holding tanks. When this water doesn’t drain down into the hull where the bilge pumps are located, you must use hand pumps, buckets or anything else that will hold water to bail out the boat. If enough water gets in this way, the scuppers may become submerged and need to be plugged to prevent more water from entering.