What To Do if Your Boat Sinks

Boating offers a lot of enjoyment and recreational opportunities. There’s no better feeling than being out on the open water with your family and friends. Unfortunately, problems arise that can turn a fun day on the boat into a nightmare.

One of the scariest hazards of boat ownership is when a boat sinks. An unexpected storm, accident, or lack of maintenance can result in catastrophic loss. But knowing what to do and how to handle the damage can make all the difference.

Life-saving safety tips for when a boat sinks

There are many reasons a boat may begin to take on water. Hitting rocks or debris can cause a sudden leak. A strong crashing wave can overtake a vessel without warning. Unintentional boating accidents are also common in crowded waterways.

Regardless of the reason, it’s imperative to know what to do in case of an emergency. According to JetDock, the most important thing is to make sure everyone is wearing a properly fitting flotation device. Make sure to put your life jacket on first before attempting to help others. Most fatalities at sea occur when people fail to follow standard safety procedures.

The next step is to put out a Mayday call using a VHF radio that should be on the boat at all times, the BoatUS Foundation says. The U.S. Coast Guard recommends using Channel 16 on your radio or dialing 911 on your cell phone. Use this distress signal only when the boat requires assistance and is in imminent or grave danger. Speak slowly and clearly. Let the dispatcher know your position, what your boat looks like, and how many people are on board. Also, be sure to relay any life-threatening injuries.

If the damage is not severe but you still need assistance, send out a pan-pan distress call. If possible, start heading back to land immediately. Be careful to avoid rocks, waves, or anything that could cause more damage.

When a boat takes on water, there’s a strong chance it will capsize. If sinking is inevitable, advise everyone to remain calm before entering the water. Grab emergency supplies, including an emergency radio and cell phone, preferably placed into a waterproof bag. Also, bring food and water if available.

How to stop a leak

If you suspect a leak, move everyone to the opposite side of the damaged area and try to tilt the hole above the water. Use seat cushions, towels, or clothing to attempt to plug the leak. Your goal is to slow or prevent the water from entering the hull.

Understand the mechanisms of your bilge and crash pumps before getting out on the water. It could make the difference between life and death. If you find a ruptured hose, close the seacock to stop the water from flooding the deck. Disconnecting the engine’s intake hose is another possible solution. Dropping the hose into the bilge can cause the water levels to lower. Make sure you throttle back to prevent engine overheating.

To prevent leaks from happening in the first place, make sure you perform regular maintenance. Safely winterize and store your boat in the off-season, and check the hull regularly for any cracks or corrosion.

What to do after a boat sinks


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No matter how much you prepare, unforeseen accidents still happen. Staying calm and following these lifesaving tips might could everyone gets off the boat safely.

Once you regain your composure and everyone is on dry land, contact your insurance company. Be prepared to give them a detailed accounting of what happened. If you have homeowners insurance, electronics and other personal property should also be covered.

If the boat wasn’t insured, immediately contact a professional marine salvage company. They can recover your vessel if it’s completely submerged. The boat will then be taken to a boatyard, where damage to the motor, hull, and mechanical parts can be assessed.