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Tips for a Sinking Boat

One of the worst things that can happen during a boat outing is your vessel taking on water or worse, capsizing. So many things can go wrong on the water and at some point during your boating career you may be faced with the hard truth of a sinking boat. Maybe you hit a large wave, resulting in water crashing in or you’ve sprung a leak somewhere. Regardless of why your boat is taking on water, it’s important to know what to do and how to handle the situation. Here are some life-saving tips that can help you deal with a sinking boat.

Get Everyone Into a Life Jacket   

If you don’t already have your life jacket on, make sure that yours is secure and ensure that everyone else does the same. It’s important to make sure that you put your jacket on first before you help anyone else. Make sure that your boat has enough life jackets and ones that fit appropriately. If there are children on board, be sure that they have properly fitting life jackets.

Put in a Distress Call

handheld VHF emgergency radio for a boat

Every boat should be equipped with an emergency VHF radio. They’re inexpensive and should be a requirement for any safe boater. When making your distress call, speak clearly and slowly. Be sure to announce the name of your vessel along with your coordinance, and a description of the emergency. It’s a good idea to give a description of your watercraft as well for when help arrives. Wait 10 seconds for a reply before repeating your distress.

Once you have made the radio distress call, you need to send up visual distress signals if possible. All boats are required to carry visual distress flares that can be seen at night.

Find the Leak

If you're sinking boat isn’t caused by a crashing wave, there is likely a leak. Use old towels, seat cushions, or extra clothes aboard to plug a leak in the hull. Depending on what kind of boat you have and which side the leak is on, you can try to tilt the hole above the water by moving everything and everyone to the opposite side. This can slow or even prevent additional flooding.

If you discover a burst hose, check to see if you are able to close the seacock to prevent additional water from flooding the deck.

Use Bilge and Crash Pumps

Your last line of defense when your boat is taking on water is to disconnect the engine’s intake hose and drop it in the bilge, causing the water levels to drop. Be sure to throttle back so you do not overheat the engine. Make sure you have thoroughly read your owner's manual before heading out on the water.

Head Back to Shore

Regardless of how far offshore you are, start heading back to land. Get as close to shore as possible, avoiding high surf and large jagged rocks that could make things worse. If possible, it’s better to beach your boat than allowing it to completely sink.

Take Necessary Supplies

When it’s time to call it quits and sinking is inevitable, don’t forget to take some important supplies with you. If possible, grab the emergency radio, a cell phone, food, and water. Keep waterproof bags aboard to help protect your supplies.

Tips for Preventing Leaks

It’s important to know that no matter how much you prepare, accidents happen and situations can get out of control quickly. However, to prevent leaks and cracks in the hull, it’s important to perform regular maintenance on your boat. Properly store your boat out of the water on a boat lift when not in use. During off season months or period of prolonged inactivity, winterize and store your boat indoors. Be sure to check the hull regularly for any corrosion or possible cracks that can be quickly taken care of.

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