By: Bill Jennings
It was forecast to be a warm summer weekend and my plan was to enjoy most of it in my boat. As I entered the boathouse, it was clear that something was wrong. The dock lines ran down into the water and no boat was visible. Yep -- my boat was on the bottom.
This hard lesson took me completely by surprise, yet insurance statistics list this type of accident as one of the most common. Surprisingly, for every boat that sinks in open water, four boats sink at the dock.
Here is a quick look at how boats sink and what you can do to prevent it. Most boaters nose into their boat slip to position their propeller as far from shallow water at the shoreline as possible. This leaves the heavy, flat, stern of the boat pointing outwards, towards open water. Outboard powered boats, with their deep cut-out motor wells, are most susceptible to waves and boat wakes. If the water depth where you dock is four feet deep or more, consider docking bow out.
When you tie up your boat, use strong lines and tie them tightly, leaving enough slack to allow for movement, but not enough for the boat to slip below the waterline. Heavy rains and high water can rip boats from their moorings where they can quickly sink. Anticipate what weather can do to your boat and take the necessary precautions. If a small amount of water washes over the transom, the electric bilge pump should take care of it, but be sure your pump is wired to operate even when the battery is turned off.
Be sure to periodically examine any through hull fittings, at or below the waterline. The hoses connected to them can slip off, permitting direct water entry. You should replace these hose clamps every couple of years.The flexible rubber bellows that seal sterndrives at the transom also need to be examined regularly as they deteriorate over time, allowing serious leaks.
If your boat has a self-draining cockpit, check after every cruise that water can pass through the drains easily, because leaves and dirt will reduce the flow factor. Inboard boats usually have a ‘stuffing box’ where the driveshaft passes through the hull. A few drips per minute will lubricate the bearing (which is good), but a ‘trickle’will signal the need to tighten the connection immediately.
If your boat is kept outdoors with a canvas cover or Bimini, a can of canvas sealer spray will improve your waterproof factor.When you plan to be away from your boat for longer periods of time, ask a neighbour or marina worker to periodically check that your boat is still on the surface and report on any water in the bilge.
For greatest peace of mind, consider a boat lift. These are becoming a common boathouse addition and there are many types available. Of course, you can always store your boat on its trailer. This will surely prevent sinking, but then somebody might steal it.