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


6. Inspect all below waterline fittings at the beginning of each season.

Photo of a transducer fixed with epoxy

While you're at it, take a good look at all below-waterline thru-hulls, hoses and hose clamps inside the boat, paying particular attention to transducers and sensors. These penetrate the hull well below the waterline, and unlike most below waterline fittings, they do not have a seacock. Any sort of a failure will bring water into the boat. If you see dampness around a transducer, use epoxy only for a temporary fix. Water may have intruded into the hull itself, resulting in saturation or delamination. Haul the boat and deal with the leak as soon as possible.

7. Don't forget the drain plug.

Photo of a drain plug next to drain-hole

OK, so it sounds like something you would never do. But you can be fairly certain that's what the people who forgot to put in the drain plug before launching thought too — until they did it. We all make mistakes, some are just more embarrassing than others. The drain plug in the photo was found right where you see it when the boat was raised. To make sure you never have to 'fess up to sinking your own boat, figure out a way that will keep you from ever forgetting. One option is to keep the drain plug on your boat key ring or, better yet, on the stern tie-down strap.

8. Keep a proper lookout and know where you are at all times when underway.

Photo of boat collision damage

About 15 percent of the sinking claims in 2012 were the result of hitting something while underway. But in many cases, the sinking did not occur until later, in some cases hours, and in others, days. Sterndrives are particularly vulnerable to a minor grounding or to hitting something floating just below the surface of the water. If you have any doubt about whether your boat is still watertight after you hear a thud, bump, or crunch, do a short haul and check everything below the waterline. In most cases, your BoatUS insurance policy will cover it, but check in with the claims deparment first.

9. Remove trailerable boats from the water when storms
are forecast.

Photo of a swamped boat at the dock

While a few boats were swamped underway, usually by waves in shallow water, most cases involved trailerable boats left tied to a dock with the stern open to the fetch. If the forecast calls for strong winds and your dock is not well-protected, the best course of action is to put the boat on its trailer. If that's not feasible, then tie the boat with the bow facing open water and put the cover on it. Make sure the batteries are charged and the bilge pump is working.

10. Use a line management system to keep the boat centered
in its slip.

Photo of a ring on piling crop

It seems like if there is a way for a boat to find its way under a dock, it will do so. When boats are refloated and no source of water intrusion can be found, investigators start looking for scratches and dinged gunwales, indications the boat got wedged under the dock as the tide came back in. In several cases, one or more docklines were tied to a ring meant to slide up and down a metal pole attached to a piling as the tide rose and fell. The ring got caught at the top or bottom of the pole, and the boat was left unable to move with the tide. A line management system like TideMinders can remedy this situation, allowing you to keep your lines relatively taut and letting the movement up and down the piling deal with the tide. Long spring lines can also help keep the boat centered while allowing it to rise and fall with changes in the water level.End of story marker

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