One of  the worst emergencies at sea is a leak below the waterline. A boat can sink in just 2 or 3 minutes with a major leak. Thus, quick action is needed to assess the damage and take appropriate action. Additionally, big leaks often start out as small ones: therefore, it is essential to check the bilges daily, when at anchor, and when underway. That way, a small leak will be identified early on--hopefully in time to prevent it becoming a big one.

NOTE: This checklist reflect the fact that Enchantress has too many thru-hulls (15 water/waste inlet/outlets below the waterline)--the main weakness in an otherwise extremely safe offshore sailboat. Because of this weakness, we will check hoses, clamps and seacocks every three months and before a major passage. We will review this list and assign responsibilities. Everyone must be fully familiar with their assigned tasks.

  1. Before a major passage, ensure the emergency kit includes, the headlight, a hammer, spare bungs, wire, a pair of wire-cutting pliers and self-sealing tape.
  2. If water is found in the bilge decide whether:
    • We have collided with something and holed the boat (container, log, submarine, whale, rock, etc.). If any of these has happened, we will probably know it.
    • It is from the propellor shaft, the PSS seal has sprung a leak–e.g. a line has wrapped round the shaft, or some fishing gear–are we in an area known to be fished? If the engine was on, and you hear a change in sound–immediately go into neutral.
    • It is from the rudder shaft. Is it slow or has the stuffing box loosened.
    • It is a thru-hull – there has been no thump or bump. In this case is it a fast leak or a slow leak?
    • Or it is from a leak in the fresh water tank or hoses. Taste it (yuk)--is it salty or not?
  3. Helmsman alerts all crew and turns on electric bilge pump and starts pumping the cockpit bilge pump.
  4. If it is known which side of the boat the leak is coming from, helmsman turns the boat immediately to bring that side "up hill".
  5. If shaft is suspect, crew member puts on headlight and grabs hammer and goes into electrics room, pulls off the square that closes off the propeller shaft, and:
    • Check the propeller shaft for leakage. If engine is on, tell helmsman to go into neutral and turn the engine off, then into gear. If leaking, check to see if the PSS seal ring has slipped along the shaft (most likely cause). If it has then push the ring back towards the rubber bellows using hammer, then get allen keys to tighten ring in position.
  6. If thru-hull is suspect, crew member puts on headlight and grabs hammer, bungs and:
    • Check both Heads seacocks (toilet inlet & outlet and sink outlet).
    • Check Galley sink outlet, fridge inlet/outlet & sea water inlet (under Galley sink).
    • Check engine intake and sea water inlet - at front of engine, calling to helmsman to turn off the engine first.
    • Check Generator intake and sea water inlet (under bed in master cabin).
    • Check cockpit drain (in mains electricity cupboard)
  7. Do not give up searching for a leak until the water level in the saloon drives you out.
  8. If the bow is stove in, close the V-berth door to make a semi-watertight compartment and gain time.
  9. Depending on the results of the assessment, begin damage control procedures.
  10. Damage control can include:
    • Driving a wooden bung through a broken skin fitting.
    • Driving cushions, mattresses, towels into a hole from the inside and buttressing them in place with poles, rods, doors, etc.
    • Filling a hole with Marine Tex quick-acting epoxy.
    • Wrapping a split hose with self sealing tape or stretched bicycle inner tube.
    • Rigging a sail or tarpaulin outside the boat to hold it over a hole in the hull.
  11. Use 2-3 people with buckets, chain-gang like, to help the bilge pumps (if manpower permits). Apparently buckets can move water faster than bilge pumps.
  12. Keep an eye on the water level and batteries so as to be able to transmit a May Day or Pan Pan while you are still afloat and have electricity.
  13. If, and in that case as soon as, it becomes apparent that the damage control procedures are not working, immediately begin abandon ship routine

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This page was last modified on: January 31, 2013