Help! My boat is taking on water
A sinking boat is every boater’s nightmare. Although prevention and preparedness are key to keeping your boat afloat after taking on water, you should have an abandon ship kit, or ditch bag, at the ready. At minimum, the kit should contain a handheld VHF radio, GPS, signaling devices, drinking water and rations.
Water gets into boats from 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 is taking on water
- Make sure everyone is wearing a life jacket.
- Request assistance from the Coast Guard or other authorities.
- Ensure that your bilge pumps are working.
- Then, take action to remove the accumulating water.
Too often, skippers and crew get so busy trying to fix the situation that they forget to check the bilge pumps and call for help until the boat begins to sink.
Most bilge pumps can operate at 400 to 2,000 gallons per hour. Using an engine water pump rigged as an emergency bilge pump, you can move 2,000 to 4,000 gph. The Coast Guard can deliver high-capacity pumps by boat or airdrop in an emergency.
Scuppers drain water from a boat’s cockpit or deck. Always make sure scuppers are clear of debris. On small boats, rain, spray, wave action, and failed bait wells and holding tanks can cause water to collect on deck. If this water doesn’t drain down into the hull where the bilge pumps are located, you must bail the boat using hand pumps, buckets or anything else that holds water. If enough water collects on deck, the scuppers can become submerged and will need to be plugged to prevent more water from entering.
When to abandon ship
Abandoning ship should be a last resort. If your boat is rapidly sinking, it might be time to abandon your vessel.
- Make sure you and your crew are wearing your life jackets.
- Place a distress call on your VHF radio, and use any visual distress signals you have. (Save at least one flare for when you actually see a potential rescuer.)
- Launch your life raft and board it from your boat with your ditch bag and any other supplies.
- If you don’t have a life raft or any other means of support, then you may have to tread water or simply float until help arrives. In cold water, you should float, huddled together if possible, rather than tread water to reduce the possibility of hypothermia.