sinking boats: 7 things you should do

The speed, the waves, the names … They're all part of boating's unique qualities. However, there's one distinctive aspect to this activity that's not so carefree: the threat of a sinking boat.

why boats sink (and how to prevent it)

Broadly speaking, boats sink for 2 primary reasons: either taking on water up top or springing a leak.

The majority of incidents actually results from the former. Whether the bilge pump malfunctions, a cooling-system hose slips out of place, or a heavy storm hits, boats take on more water than they can handle and they submerge.

As for leaking boats, holes in the vessel can develop from a variety of causes:

  • Hitting floating debris
  • Splitting open going over a high wave
  • Going through low water areas
  • Poor construction
  • Missing equipment (such as a drain plug)

Preventing a boat sinking

There are several simple things you can do to help ensure your watercraft avoids a sinking issue to begin with, such as:

  • Drive responsibly
  • Keep the boat up to code on required parts and construction
  • Inspect the cooling system periodically for loose fittings, split hoses, and other signs of future scuttle
  • Keep the cockpit covered to protect the drains
  • Visit your boat during the winter for inspections (and companionship, of course)
  • Tie down the boat with long lines so it can rise with the tide
  • Dock on the downwind side
  • Test boat for leaks by spraying inside with a hose (while docked)

7 steps to follow if your boat sinks

Despite pre-boarding safety checks you should take, some incidents simply can't be avoided. And as shocking as it is to see your boat taking on water, it's even more shocking how quickly it can capsize if you don't spring into action.

If you find yourself on a sinking boat, you should:

1. Get everyone a life jacket

Hopefully everyone was wearing theirs already. But if not, donning a life jacket is the first step when you encounter trouble. In case the worst happens and you end up in the water, the odds of drowning are about 6 times less with a life jacket than without.

2. Make a distress call

Use your emergency VHF radio to make a Mayday call, giving your location, boat name, injury situation, number of people on board, and estimated time you can stay afloat. The U.S. Coast Guard radio frequency is channel 16.

3. Be resourceful

If you have a leaking boat, you may be able to plug the hole with items lying around, such as clothing, towels, seat cushions, or food bags.

And, as primitive as it sounds, moving all gear and people to the opposite side of the leak can tilt the hole above water (or at least higher up so the flooding is slower).

4. Pump the water

Get your bilge pump working (and any backup pumps) to help remove the pooling water. In some cases, you can even use the engine as an emergency pump by removing the raw-water intake hose and running the throttle in the flooding water. As the water level drops, ease the throttle so the engine doesn't overheat.

5. Beach the boat

It may be preferable to ground the boat on a sand bar or other piece of land than to completely sink, provided the area isn't too rocky or dangerous.

6. Stay with the boat (if you can)

It's only natural to distance yourself from danger. Fire starts in your home, go outside. Coyote walks into your hiking path, head the other way. Boat starts to sink, get the heck off.

Yet in the case of a sinking boat, staying on board is often best. Not only can you stay drier and warmer for longer, but you'll be a larger target for rescue parties.

7. Abandon ship … but not supplies

Of course, if the boat sinks completely, it's time to get off. But, if it's safe to do so, don't leave without taking some supplies.

Gather helpful items such as an emergency radio, phone, food, water, and warm clothes and take them with you in a waterproof bag. Even better — have the bag ready to go beforehand.

wreckage removal coverage on your boat insurance

Having your boat sink is hard enough — the last thing you need is the added cost of getting it out. Thankfully, your boat insurance can help make a really frustrating time a little more bearable.

With wreckage removal coverage, you can get reimbursed for any reasonable costs you incur when raising and removing your boat from the water. What's more, this coverage is automatically included with comprehensive and collision protection.

Start your free boat insurance quote through Esurance today to secure wreckage removal and other amazing coverages for your watercraft.

How to operate a boat safely
Boating is a great way to unwind — if you know how to operate a boat responsibly.

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