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Water Ingress – Are We Sinking? What should I do?


When you, as a skipper or as an inexperienced crew, discover that the water is sloshing inside the ship, the big shock comes first – are we going under now?

To put your mind at ease, it should be said that the vast majority of cases are harmless:

the water spilled over from the bilge at Lage, the water was not pumped out properly when showering, a water hose in the water tank has come loose or is broken.

It is even worse if you forget to close the hatches on the hull side of the hull or if they are not tight.

A lot of water shoots in there during sailing and lay, and it can take a while to be noticed when all the crew members are on deck …

Even if you notice it soon, the annoyance and the loss of comfort remain, because the interior, which is soaked in salt water, dries very poorly, upholstery and clothing must be rinsed with fresh water, otherwise it will no longer dry.

But even if you have so much water ingress that the ship can no longer be pumped dry, you can say that yachts are often half-sunk, sometimes found after weeks or months, but not completely sunk. Some yachts are designed as “unsinkable”, so they have a lot of buoyancy filling material in the hull, for this reason catamarans do not actually sink at all, they continue to swim overturned! Some also have inflatable floats that you can then deploy.

Therefore – you should definitely remember: even if you are sitting in the life raft, you should always maintain the connection to the ship for as long as possible and only really get into the moment when you see that the yacht is definitely “drowning” , cut the connection cord (but then quickly …)

As above, yachts often go down in harbors, mostly because of a storm or, above all, negligence in maintenance, a hose that has not been properly attached, for example – the yacht is aground the next morning. THAT, too, can be very dangerous if someone sleeps in the ship and cannot find the exit anymore. Not least because of this, the experienced skipper makes sure that the ship has sufficiently large escape hatches.

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Check list in case of water ingress

  • is it salt water or fresh water?
  • Repair or maintenance errors?
  • Grounding occurred?
  • collision e.g. with a floating container?
  • all hatches tight?
  • all sea valves closed and tight?
  • WC valves tight or lever on closed?
  • Water supply of the cooling system – Hoses tight?
  • Is the bilge pump lever ready?
  • Electric bilge pumps ready and in operation?
  • how high is the water already? Increasing?

Salt water or fresh water?

Anyone who sails in the sea can find out here whether the sloshing water comes from within (e.g. a leak in the fresh water tank) or from the sea.

The very first measure is to somehow pump the water out – usually the automatic bilge pump is already running, here you can assist with the bath bilge pump (put the hose out) or help with a manual pump, simply pump outboard through the next hatch, if that Water is not contaminated with diesel or otherwise!

Then it comes to the analysis of the possible causes

Could the hull have a hole in it?

Was there a grounding or a collision with another ship, a container, another floating debris, e.g. a tree trunk?

Has the hull got a hole? How can you seal that?

The wooden plugs often used in the past are largely ineffective on plastic yachts.

There are some plastic variants of emergency plugs (at Sailtec). English and Dutch distributors also offer a type of modeling clay that seals leaks.

Classically, in the case of larger leaks, you can also put a tarpaulin on the outside of the hole and tie it down – the water ingress is not complete, but the amount drastically reduces.

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Repair or maintenance failure?

The most important through hulls are:

  • the water supply to the engine (cooling water intake and hose)
  • Toilet water intake and holding tank outlet
  • Intake socket for the pantry’s hand pump
  • Possibly air conditioning intake manifold?
  • Exhaust
  • Shaft passage – stuffing box
  • Log and sounder

This is where you can start when looking for leaks.

Was something done there?

If yes, what? Is everything there – as far as is still visible – or is that the leak?

First of all, the log is suspected:

these are often removed and then reinstalled because they clog quickly and then block.

when inserting it is essential to ensure that the rubber seal is inserted correctly and not squashed, otherwise water will penetrate. The experienced skipper always has a few spare rubber seals on hand.

If you remove the log, you should immediately close the passage with the blind plug.

After cleaning, pay attention to the sealing rubber ring and when you have tightened, dry everything and watch for a few minutes whether it is tight.

You can also take a quick look at the toilet

It is expressly pointed out and also expressly warned on the toilets to always lock the water supply lever in the correct position, otherwise water can penetrate. If this goes unnoticed for a long time, the ship can also sink, especially since a suction effect can develop there due to negative pressure, so the water not only runs in, it is pumped in with pressure!

At the same time, the electric bilge pumps – if they still work – are switched on and the manual bilge pump lever – usually at the top of the cockpit – laid out or pumped in turns!

It is particularly important to observe whether the water level can ideally be lowered or at least maintained – if the water continues to rise, further emergency measures such as outboarding and getting the life raft ready, as well as transferring unneeded crew members to the life raft, are essential.

The ship continues to take water, sinking deeper and deeper?

Then all that remains is damage minimization. If possible, look for a shallow place, a bay or a beach, and walk there in a targeted manner.

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