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

Here's what you can do to reduce the odds that your boat will be part of a future sinking analysis.

Photo of a sunken powerboat at dock

When faced with a year's worth of sinking claims, the first question to answer is, "What exactly do we mean by sinking?" Is a trawler sinking when sitting at the dock with water leaking in through the stuffing box at a rate the bilge pump can keep up with? Is it sinking if the bilge pump can no longer keep up? Is it sinking if the bilge pump fails? How about a ski boat that gets swamped by waves? Or a boat with positive flotation awash to the gunwales?

From an insurance perspective, a boat is sinking if it must be actively pumped out to remain afloat and undamaged.

This definition highlights two key issues. First, a sinking boat is not watertight. There is always a source of water that must be located and stopped to keep the boat floating. The second is that well-designed boats do not sink due to failed bilge pumps. A boat should stay afloat in the conditions for which it was designed without water having to be pumped out of it — even in heavy rain and big seas (relative to the size of the boat).

That's not to say that adequately sized, functioning bilge pumps are not important. In addition to removing nuisance water, they can keep your boat afloat long enough for you to find a leak and fix it. But that time should be measured in minutes and hours, not days and weeks. When it comes to gradual leaks due to slowly failing parts, too many of the boats in our claim files existed in a zombie state somewhere between floating and sinking, completely dependent upon the bilge pump to keep them on the water instead of below it. The bilge pump merely postponed the sinking until it failed, lost power, or was overwhelmed by the volume of water. Had someone fixed the leak in those days, weeks, or months, that boat would not have become part of these statistics.

| 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | Next


Seaworthy, the damage-avoidance newsletter, is brought to you by the BoatUS Marine Insurance Program. For an insurance quote, please call 1-800-283-2883 or apply online at


To comment on this article, please contact