Keeping Your Boat Afloat

An analysis of a year's worth of sinking files reveals the 10 most common reasons that boats end up under the water.

By Beth Leonard
Published: April 2014

Photo of a sinking boat tied to a dock
Based on an analysis of a year of sinking claims, boats sink at the dock more than
twice as often as they sink underway.

Three decades ago, Max Fletcher, then in his 20s, was getting ready to captain a Westsail 32 from New Zealand back to the East Coast of the United States by way of the Southern Ocean and Cape Horn. He happened to meet up with sailing legend Eric Hiscock who had completed three circumnavigations of the globe with his wife Susan, the first in the early 1950s. When Fletcher asked for advice about his upcoming voyage, Hiscock replied, "Keep the water out!"

Indeed, boats — and boaters — are in a constant battle with the water all around them, and more often than we would like, the water wins. Hurricanes aside, sinking is the costliest source of claims for the BoatUS Marine Insurance program, so we undertook a thorough analysis of a year's worth of claims to see what lessons we might find for our readers. Because we expanded our net to look at boats that sank as a result of some previous incident — a collision or grounding, for instance — our findings are somewhat different than in 2006 when we last took a hard look at sinking. But they are not inconsistent. As was the case then, more than one-third of sinkings happened when some small part, most often below the waterline, gave up its fight with the water due to age or fatigue.

Photo of wreck removal from reef of Nantucket

Those sinkings might have been prevented with good maintenance, and another third might have been avoided with some care while underway and docking.

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