By Dick - 6 May 2015
PLANNING FOR AND DEALING WITH A SINKING SHIP
Submitted: Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy 6 Feb. 2014
This article outlines a strategy for managing a flooding situation on board your vessel. By flooding I mean any ingress of water which is unable to be stemmed by pumps: i.e. you are sinking. A planned and practiced strategy is crucial as flooding calls for specific directed actions, quickly executed.
I am primarily addressing the typical cruising boat, a husband/wife team on any size boat, although much of the planning can easily be considered for fully crewed vessels. Even if you often have guests, they are unlikely to be helpful in a situation where quick, practised action is necessary.
The Synopsis of this Strategy
The bottom line in a flooding situation is the need to find the flooding and find it fast. As water rises it covers the leak making what was, at first, an easy visual inspection, turn quickly into one done by Braille: by feeling around. Clearly, visual inspection is far quicker and surer. Most of what I suggest is to allow the leak to be found fast.
As a general rule, most of us get less competent in emergencies. Obvious alternatives are not thought of in the anxiety of the moment. Planning ahead, making diagrams and, most important, practicing will mitigate this tendency.
1. Set up your boat to allow you to quickly find and respond to leaks.
a. Anticipate vulnerabilities: First, know your boat and try to anticipate all possible areas of vulnerability to flooding. Make a diagram with salient points highlighted.
i. Make sure all seacocks are accessible and able to be worked by your least strong crew. If there is a seacock which is largely inaccessible, say only by taking apart woodwork or by emptying a locker, consider access cutouts or re-thinking your storage. Relocating that seacock is not an unreasonable choice.
1. Labelling seacock locations on cabinet/hatch/floorboards can help, especially those vessels with many thru hulls.
ii. Include rudder, drive shaft, and transducers as areas for flooding potential as well.
iii. Track all your hoses, especially those from seacocks. You will find chafe points you can protect, and you can anticipate vulnerable areas such as distribution manifolds.
iv. You cannot do much about your vessel’s sump, but one should keep in mind that the less sump you have, the less warning you will receive and the more quickly water will cover and obscure wide areas.
v. The same goes for structural “pans” which obscure hull inspection and direct water in difficult to predict pathways.
b. Early notice: high water alarms* are absolutely essential as they can give immediate warning of any unusual water accumulation. They must be able to be heard in the cockpit of a closed up boat with the engine running. Many a crew has first found flooding by discovering their floorboards afloat. If we have heard the story told, the crew was very lucky. I suspect many who found their floorboards afloat never found it possible to tell anyone their story.
i. One option is an alarm which sounds every time the electric bilge pump operates from its float switch. We have a dry boat so pump activation is always motivation for bilge inspection.
ii. Another option (and there is no reason not to do both) is a dedicated high water alarm ready to go off when water gets just a scooch higher than the level where your bilge pump activates.
iii. If you have two (or more) bilges it helps when the alarm sounds are distinct for each bilge so as to have an early indication for a search area.
c. Floorboards: the crucial floorboards for inspection must be able to be removed quickly by the weakest member of the crew.
i. After a period of high humidity, make sure your floorboards are not too swollen to remove. Shave them if necessary.
ii. Review all floorboards that need to be lifted for a complete flooding inspection. If screwed down, refit to a floorboard lock that is quickly released (a distant second best, store a charged electric screwdriver ready at hand).
d. Speed: the quicker that the leak can be isolated, the narrower the search area.
i. Some boats have the engine area bilges separated from the living area bilges. A quick look determines which area is flooding and narrows the search area.
1. Make separate diagrams as to which seacocks, transducers etc. drain into which bilge area. This is not always obvious, especially with structural pans. One way to clarify is to pour a glass of water near a seacock and track where the water goes.
ii. If you have a “one bilge” boat, consider a dam at a strategic point. It does not have to be high or strong: just a water stopper. Water can and should spill over, but make it high enough to allow alarming it to narrow the search area. **
e. Pumps: the more water that can be removed from the boat automatically, the more time to find the leak when it is most easily found.
i. This means electric bilge pumps for most of us.
1. Pumps benefit from clean bilges, flushed regularly.
2. They also benefit from good voltage and unrestricted amperage. Review, check and/or upgrade your wiring.
ii. It also means that manual bilge pumps have no place in this strategy:***
1. They are a dangerous distraction from the main goal of finding the leak and finding it fast.
2. Most cockpit mounted pumps (with their short 12 inch handle) move only a moderate amount of water and are hard to sustain energetically.
3. A big pump like an Edson with a 3 foot handle is a wonderful piece of kit, but is still not a wise use of manpower. You do not want 50% of your search capacity (2 person crew) pumping when that pumping is quite unlikely to keep up with sustained flooding and the goal is to find the flooding fast. Two people should be searching for the leak.
2. Refine the strategy for your boat:
a. The alarm indicates flooding. This is one alarm that should get immediate action and the action should be previously thought through and practiced: this is not a time to be spontaneous. One or two floorboard lifts should indicate whether there is a worry and where to initially concentrate your search.
b. From here each vessel’s detailed flooding procedure plan will start to be unique to its own particular design. I am including Alchemy’s flooding plan (shown below) as a way to address the details, the compromises, and some ancillary considerations for this serious event. The following will show how we have taken the above strategy and made an operating procedure for our vessel. Each vessel will differ in the details, but generally the principles will pertain.
a. There is no way to emphasis this enough. You cannot just write a plan. You must practice using it to make sure your plan works and you can work the plan.
*Easily obtained high water alarms can be had very inexpensively by any vendor who sell household products. These self contained units are often powered by 9v batteries so they are independent of ship’s power grid. They should be tested at regular intervals.
**Often, a natural area for a small dam is where the engine room bilge meets the living area bilge. As said, the dam does not have to be high, but an added benefit is that small inevitable spills of oil, diesel, coolant, etc. stay contained and are easier to clean and less likely to be pumped overboard. They also give quick notice of engine drips/leaks.
***Often articles in magazines reflexively mention manual bilge pumps. I have worried that many boat owners believe going to their manual bilge pumps is a first response to flooding. A casual survey of boat owners seems to confirm this.
Flooding plan for Alchemy:
A. Procedures to be thought through and practiced in advance.
IS THE BOAT ACTUALLY FLOODING?
1. Flooding should be first brought to attention by a high water alarm or bilge pump alarm.
a. Which high water alarm is sounding should differentiate whether the forward or aft section of the bilge is flooding [the bilges are separated and water must reach the floorboards to fall/flow to the other bilge]. If unsure, raise floorboards where engine bilge meets forward bilge (next to galley sink) and see which side is full and/or which way the flow is going. This determines search area.
2. Test water for salinity; if fresh water, breathe easier (unless sailing in fresh water). Make sure it is not diesel.
IF IT IS FLOODING, then Ginger and Dick work previously determined areas of inspection.
1. IN GENERAL:
a. Locating the leak takes precedence over most everything because as the water level rises finding the leak becomes more difficult.
b. If extra crew, set them up in cockpit with manual pump-handle in bottom step.
c. THINK! Ask ourselves what has just been done/happened (heard a bump, tacked, started genset, filled water tanks etc.)
d. Watch footing for holes left exposed by floorboard removal. Not a time for injury.
e. At some point, earlier rather than later, consider donning life jackets/vests or ensuring they are ready at hand.
f. At some point, again earlier rather than later, reach out to make contact. This could include:
i. Calling out a Pan Pan Pan and making a report of vessel’s location and the nature of distress.
ii. Hitting the VHF distress call button (DSC button) and hold for 5 seconds--we can always cancel later.
g. Consider same with EPIRB.
h. Consider heading the boat toward a grounding place, a beach preferably, and put on speed. (It is likely we will be on autopilot and this will entail only a quick turn of a dial.)
i. Consider starting the engine as electric bilge pumps will pump more water with increased voltage.
2. Consider setting up high capacity electric bilge pump (one automatic medium capacity pump is always available). Attach hose (stored in forepeak starboard side under) with quick attachment and put out portlight or cockpit. Tie in place. [Note: a plan is in the works for this to be made automatic as this interferes with the primary task of finding the leak.]
IF FLOODING IS IN AFT BILGE AREA:
1. Check aft of engine (if clear, then rudder assembly, genset and thru-hulls aft are ok; go to #3), if water is flowing, then:
a. Turn genset off if it is on, then turn off water for GS at manifold.
b. If flow stopped, the genset was the problem, if still flowing, then:
2. Check rudder shaft area.
a. Remove starboard lazarette.
b. Rudder shaft, 4 cockpit drains, genset exhaust & propane locker drain should be visible. [On ALCHEMY, there are a number of thru-hulls at or just above the waterline that have no valves (such as the cockpit drains). I consider this a design compromise I am not happy with, but have decided to live with.]
3. Two areas to check midships aft (that go into aft bilge area).
a. Three seacocks are under head sink. Turn all off after inspection.
a. In wet locker and head are 3 thru-hulls just above waterline (electric bilge, scupper, shower sump).
b. Port side locker has scupper discharge and a no longer used, now plugged, refrigeration outlet
b. Check engine area for leaks, especially shaft area.
a. Check engine exhaust and manual bilge pump discharge thru-hulls outboard in engine room.
IF FLOODING IS IN FORWARD BILGE AREA
1. Check bilge at most forward floorboard for water flow
a. If Yes, then:
i. Check and turn off deck wash seacock.
ii. Check depth and speed transducers.
iii. Next is hull integrity.
b. If No:
i. Check main seacocks (two, near mast step).
ii. Check distribution manifold (close genset seacock if not in use).
iii. If all ok consider starting engine for mobility and for good voltage for pumps.
iv. Check likely hose lengths for breaks.
c. Check galley seacock and turn off.
d. Hanging lockers either side may drain either side of bilge barrier.
i. Port side also has old refrigeration thru-hull, plugged.
IF NO SUCCESS, CONSIDER:
1. Checking keel bolts (just one in aft bilge area).
2. Checking for siphon action: bilge pumps, engines, toilet, galley sink, PSS Shaft Seal bleeding hose, etc.
3. Checking hull integrity around best guess for ingress.
a. Tack over to get opposite side out of water.
4. Checking to see if water level is decreasing with seacocks closed; if so breathe easier as leak is in a hose (and with seacocks closed should stop) and we now have time to find. If not….
5. Bailing is an option!
6. Do not stop looking for leak and bailing until water drives you out. The best chance of survival is to keep the boat afloat.
7. At some point, prepare life raft, grab bags, etc. for abandoning ship, then return to searching.
B. Hull holing equipment and LOCATIONS
1. Bungs of various sizes in red bag in bottom step of companionway ladder. (I differ from many by not liking bungs attached to each seacock, although they do have to be very accessible. First, in a flood they may be difficult to untie, see and/or work with if tied to the seacock. They also collect dirt, grime & mold and are continually damp which undermines the swelling expected once banged in place.)
2. Collision mat in forepeak forward
3. Emergency Hull Repair Kit with waterproof epoxy near water heater.
4. 1\\4” plywood 14”x 3’ under starboard settee cushion with many other various options.
5. 5200 (2 fresh caulking gun size tubes) and sheet rock screws near water heater.
6. A quite creative suggestion (I suspect from the “old salts” manual) is a lead sheet, pre-perforated, with sheet rock screws.
C. Seacock and thru-hull locations (The bag of bungs is in the bottom companionway step). (In our safety manual, in addition to the above text, there are 2 pages of diagrams, port and starboard side, giving visual indications of where the thru-hulls exist.)
1. Hull openings below waterline: 7 seacocks (listed below) plus propeller shaft and two sending units for instruments (under floorboards forward of table).
a. Two seacocks under floorboards in front of mast.
b. One in the port side forepeak bilge locker under cushion in middle.
c. One under floorboards near galley sink.
d. Three under head sink.
2. Numerous hull openings just above the waterline, again see diagrams.
By Dick - 6 May 2015
I apologize for the formatting, but did not have any idea of how to remedy. I believe all the important information is clear enough, but do come back with questions/comments etc.
This article is part of the Cruising Club of America 's Safety at Sea section of their web site and also was published by Steve D 'Antonio in his ongoing series of articles on his web site.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy, Lerwick, Shetland, Scotland
By DariaBlackwell - 6 May 2015
On our delivery trip to Long Island Sound after purchasing Aleria in Oxford, MD on the Chesapeake, we went the long way around out of the Chesapeake and offshore to stretch her legs. We had several test sails in the Chesapeake before that without any issues. About half way up the coast, we started taking on water. We didn 't notice until it began sloshing up through the floorboards when we heeled. We quickly took to the emergency pumps and managed to get the flooding under control.
It turned out to be a dried out packing gland which gave way slowly. We were able to see the leak once the water was below the shaft. We merrily pumped our way up the coast through the night and anchored off the CG station off Sandy Hook to tighten the seal and make repairs before heading up the East River.
After that we made a detailed diagram of all potential water ingress spots and replaced the packing gland and through hulls when we hauled out.
Very good detailed paper, Dick. Excellent advice for short-handed crews, too. Thanks for sharing.
By Dick - 7 May 2015
Daria and everyone,
Your email and a personal one from another OCC member who found their floorboards awash yesterday underline for me the importance of the alarms I mention in the article. Both of you had shaft leaks from shaft seal and glands. That is a relatively easy leak to find in many vessels. When floorboards get wet, many vessels thru hulls would be underwater making a leak in those areas much more difficult to locate. Early warning alarms, low in the bilge, give often crucial extra minutes to find the leak, not to mention the items/equipment etc. that get salt water wet when the floorboards start to float.
By bbalme - 8 May 2015
Useful account Dick - thanks. Shall be installing a float switch and alarm in the near future.
By neilm - 14 May 2015
Dick 's suggestions are great. One point to add
If the water gets above the cabin sole, and the hatches are not fixed down, they float away and it becomes VERY difficult to move around the cabins. I met the skipper of a 70 foot. Oat he lost because of that.
Hatches must be easily opened. As Dick says, having them screwed down is a bad idea.
Our hatches are all hinged, and when closed they fasten automatically, just as all doors do when slammed shut.
I feel this is an essential safety feature of boat design.
We made our hatches large, which is all the safer. Over 90% of Milvina 's cabin sole consists of hinged hatches.
It would be a lot of work to change many boats to this condition, but it is not too hard to add hinges and catches to most hatches in cabin sole
By Dick - 14 May 2015
Excellent suggestions. I have never come across hinged floorboards, but they make a lot of sense and could make for a good winter project. Many boats, I believe, would lend themselves to hinges and a latch of some sort rather than pins and a locking device.
When floorboards start to float, moving about in most boats would be very likely to lead to a broken leg or worse. If floorboards are floating, it is probably time to focus efforts on abandoning ship, or at least the preparations for doing so, as finding a leak in deep water would be quite unlikely. When prepared to abandon ship, continue looking for the leak and "step up" to the liferaft.
With alarms one should never find one 's floorboards floating. To me, bilge alarms should be required on every vessel when built: well installed by the manufacturer. They are a very easy installation, however, something within every boat owner 's capacity.
Thanks for your thoughts, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
By Scottkuhner - 9 Aug 2015
Dick, Last spring, we were heading offshore from Wightsville Beach, NC to Beaufort, NC, when a half hour after we left, I reved the engine hard to make Beaufort before dark. fifteen minutes later I noticed water over the floor boards. I quickly jumped below and tasted the water. It was salty so we were taking on water. Next I checked the shaft seal and saw we were taking on water through it. I immediately cut the engine back and the inflow stopped. When we got back to Wrightsville Beach I had a mechanic come and check it for me. He tightened that shaft seal and said that often the bellows on the Last Drop Shaft loose flexibility and when you push the engine hard the prop pushes the shaft forward and when you have a V-Dive, as we do, the shaft may actually move slightly forward as it pushes the V-Drive up just enough to allow water to come in. Lesson learned, always check your shaft seal and tighten it periodically and or replace it(as we just did)
By Dick - 9 Aug 2015
Glad it was such a happy ending although I suspect there was some yucky clean up and that some items below the floorboards were not happy.
This occurrence is a good argument for, at least once a season, putting your propulsion engine through its paces. For me, I run it WOT (wide open throttle) under load for 5 minutes (Your diesel should be fine with this, but, if uncomfortable, go at 80% throttle). Also do some aggressive stops and starts such as might occur in an emergency drill in a marina where things go pear shaped. I also have a hose clamp just outside the "collar" of my Shaft Seal so it could only slip minutely if the worst happens. A sacrificial zinc so placed would do the same job.
My best, Dick
By snelem - 1 Oct 2015
I have also experienced flooding above the floor boards, on my first yacht. Motor sailing between shoals, single handed. Luckily I was able to find the leak almost right away, it turned out the engine water inlet hose was torn. So I learned the lesson the hard way and now have a plan as well, although not as extensive as yours.
I have one addition to your plan: I find my electric bilge pumps do not have the kind of capacity needed for a bad flooding situation. I therefore have a normal household submersible pump with much more capacity, running on 230v. So, after switching on the bilge pumps, my plan includes starting the engine, switching on the DC-AC converter and shoving the submersible pump where it does most good. This almost triples my pump capacity! It might be a good idea to switch on the engine anyway: bilge pumps use quite some amps, so keeping the batteries full is important. Also, starting the engine once the some parts are flooded may be difficult, whereas keeping a a diesel engine running in wet condition is no problem at all.
By Dick - 2 Oct 2015
Thanks for your thoughts and contributions. I am sorry you experienced water over the floorboards and glad it worked out for you. With the self-contained water detectors available nowadays there should be no reason to have water detection accomplished by a wet foot.
I think you are wise to start your engine to charge your batteries at the initial sign of flooding. The voltage drop can be impressive under bilge pump load and the volume of water moved out of the boat will decrease markedly with voltage drop.
I did not address in much detail de-watering a boat as it can be a complicated, boat dependent topic worthy of an article (book?) on its own. I have thought deeply about this on our 40 foot sailboat and have followed others in their explorations and believe there to be no definitive method that can be generally applied: all are compromises, some significant. There is no vessel I know of which emerges from the factory floor which is even close to being prepared to deal with a flooding situation.
I have followed the efforts of a number of skippers who have attempted to make an AC sump/trash submersible pump work. Some misgivings I have about the method you describe for your boat include the time necessary to get your submersible pump out of storage, get the discharge hose out where it goes overboard and tie it down or it will flail about, plug the unit in and start the inverter (the DC to AC converter). That alone could take a bit of time and time is of the essence in the event of flooding. Every second of a significant leak makes the leak more difficult to find and finding the leak is the first priority as no pumps (on our recreational vessels) will keep up with a significant leak.
My other hesitation revolves around the need for you to be close at hand to 220 AC in a chaotic situation where you will be wet and sticking body parts in wet places to find the leak. I would urge you, at minimum, to make an AC pump a permanent install, hose permanently installed overboard and the electrical inspected by a marine electrician.
Better, in my mind, to stick with DC pumps, again permanently installed. Rule makes some big pumps that move a lot of water. If room, install 2. The idea being that you are buying time to find the leak. More volume is certainly better, but having something you just flick a switch to start the pump(s) and then quickly begininspecting for the leak seems to maximize the chances of finding of the leak.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy, Harwich, England
By snelem - 2 Oct 2015
Good thoughts. My bilge is very shallow, so I cannot install the pump permanently, it just wouldn 't fit. So this is indeed a 2nd best option. I do however have the pump including hose fopr grabs ready dor use.
Same goes for the bigger Rule pumps, they do not fit under the floor...
I guess it would be possible to find another 12V high capacity pump that would fit, with a hose in the bilge and the pump in another place.
Erik Snel, sy Dutch Rose - Lemmer, NL
By bbalme - 2 Oct 2015
Toodle-oo! is equipped with a large DC bilge pump and two manual pumps. It 's a good start perhaps.
We also have aboard a pretty large capacity watermaker that runs on 110V (possibly 220V). The pumps are large! I 'm thinking it might be possible to utilize the low pressure pump in the event of a flooding - with a couple of Y valves, I could redirect water to suck from the bilge and expel through one of the existing bilge pump hoses...
I 'd rather have a second use for a pump that 's already aboard than add a dedicated pump that I hope I never have to use.
What do you think?
By Dick - 2 Oct 2015
We just finished an overnight from Ijmuiden to Harwich and sailed past Lemmer a couple of weeks ago. This was our second visit to your country by sail and I must say, it very much grows on you. We had a terrific time.
Yes, shallow bilges do make for difficult installations for bilge pumps. An alternative is a hose to a strum box placed in the deepest section of the bilge and then the pump can be positioned in a locker or some other convenient spot, as you suggest. This would not work for most AC sump/trash pumps as their design is for the water to come in from the bottom, but it would work for a number of pump designs.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
By Dick - 2 Oct 2015
Please see the article for the details on my thoughts on manual bilge pumps, but basically, time is better spent finding the leak than crew using a manual pump. Finding the leak fast is primary. So I would not touch a manual pump in a flooding situation unless you have a lot of crew.
Possible ancillary emergency bilge pumps, such as your watermaker pump and the more commonly considered raw water propulsion engine pump, can move some, often not a lot, of water, but I prefer dedicated bilge pumps that can be started with a flick of a switch. Both pumps mentioned above are likely to get ruined if used with bilge water in a flooding situation unless strainers/filters are such that flow would get compromised and installation would be a headache. And I consider the propulsion engine a mission critical system to my cruising, so I am loath to ask it to do tasks more than move the boat and charge batteries while doing so.
Much better and easier, I think, to find room for an extra DC bilge pump permanently set up and hope that, in the long run, it is a waste of money and effort (except for the peace of mind it brings) as you will only use it a few times a year in test situations.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
By juanona - 1 Sep 2019
This is an excellent article - thanks Dick.
Before we headed across the Atlantic I installed a high capacity emergency DC bilge pump, along with a circuit breaker prominently marked “Emergency Bilge Pump.” But we don’t have a high water alarm which I will rectify this winter. In looking at available options I am intrigued by the wireless Aqualarm high water alarm as it requires minimal wiring/installation. Being wireless makes me a tad nervous (too fancy/prone to problems?) but I have the Aqualarm engine overheat alarm which is a nice piece of kit. If anyone has experience with the wireless device I would be interested. I may also install a Water Witch alarm to notify is when our regular Bilge pump comes on, which uses a Water Witch sensor that has performed well for us.
Like you, we have all underwater through hulls and fittings diagramed and reviewed from time to time. We shut some of them when leaving the boat for extended periods, and test all of them for opening/closing periodically. We will review our flooding procedures with your article in mind.
Thanks again for calling attention to an often overlooked aspect of seamanship.
By Dick - 1 Sep 2019
The following was first printed in the OCC Bulletin.
This Safety at Sea message is a bit of a tease as I can merely introduce the subject but, follow up is easy.
Very few recreational boat bilge pump systems can do more than deal with small incidental leaks: it does not take much of a problem to start a “flooding” situation (where incoming water exceeds bilge pump capacity). A real problem: a break in a 1.5-inch raw water line say, and you have a fast-emerging emergency where sinking is on the near horizon.
So, you hear your bilge pumps get activated: the next step is…?
If your answer was to operate the manual bilge pump(s), I would suggest you think otherwise. De-watering must play second fiddle to finding the leak, repeat: Find and Stop the Leak. This is not the time to sit down and devise a plan over a cup of tea. Quick action, planned well ahead of time and practiced is required and the inspection areas should already be designated. Locating the leak is far more easily accomplished at the onset of flooding. Early, the leak’s location is easy to discern. You can still see. Later, higher water obscures and the chances of finding the leak diminishes rapidly.
Prior preparation, early warning (high water alarms), knowing where all sea cocks reside, and an inspection plan are among the essential ingredients. A complete article on the above can be found on the OCC’s Forum under “Strategies for a Flooding Vessel”.
Please come back with questions, comments, thoughts.
Safe sailing, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
By Dick - 1 Sep 2019
Thanks for the kind words and glad that you found the article helpful. I agree, this is an often-overlooked aspect of seamanship.
I have been using high water alarms for a couple of decades and when I started, the only options were the household “basement/sump pump” models mentioned in the article. Being a creature of habit and not finding anything to “fix” I have continued using these inexpensive and battery operated alarms. They are obnoxiously loud (a good thing) and I like that they are separate from the ship’s battery/wiring system as they live in the bilge. The 9v battery lasts a season and they have not failed me.
That said, more recently, there have come on the market marine high-water alarms, but I have no experience with them. I would assume they would be more expensive and possibly more adaptable to a boat’s specific demands which are more complex than monitoring a basement.
As you collect data on these new products, please share your researches and tell us what changes/additions you plan.
I very much support your having an alarm telling you when your bilge pump is activated. Our boats are generally water-tight enough now so that it is worthwhile knowing when the bilge pump works and taking a quick look in the bilge for anything untoward.
I also agree that it is a very good habit to work your seacocks regularly (on Alchemy, we do this every month).
And, finally, reviewing the through hulls and fittings diagram from time to time is also wise (and again, often forgotten about). Lots of this “seamanship” thing is just doing the work ahead of time and covering your bases: I think it was Amundsen who said something like (to paraphrase wildly): “Good preparation makes for little drama”.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
By Dick - 18 Sep 2019
A comment came my way privately and I thought it worth sharing with Forum readers with my response:
Re your article on Flooding. My last, and final, boat had the ability to change the the source of engine cooling water from the normal situation to draw cooling water from the bilge. I never had cause to test this but it was simply a case of turning the handle on a Y valve. Maybe this is quite common but I personally have never come across it anywhere else. Assuming the engine will work this would shift a lot of water in a short time.
In a de-watering situation, plumbing one’s engine raw water circulation system with a diverter/Y valve so that it draws water from the bilge instead of through the seacock is certainly an option and fairly simple to execute. I personally do not recommend it as turns a “Mission Critical” piece of equipment, the propulsion engine, into a bilge pump. It seems to me far too easy for the engine to get damaged: debris in the sump being sucked into the engine, overheating etc. And, although I do not have the figures with me from when I did the research in this area, actual water flow is not as great as might be first thought.
Now all this might be acceptable were the boat to be saved by the engine being turned into a bilge pump, but there is an alternative about as easy to execute: get the highest volume 12v bilge pump you can find and plumb that in to a discharge hole you drill in your topsides well above heeled waterline. It will move far more water than any engine will, especially if the engine is on and the voltage coming to the pumps is high. And the engine will not be compromised.
Please come back with questions, thoughts etc.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy, Glovertown, Newfoundland, Canada
By David.Tyler - 18 Sep 2019
Once again, and as usual, I'm out of step with the majority of sailors (or is it that I'm the only one in step!).
I attack the causes of flooding, rather than try to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted. I was appalled, some years ago, to read that Arthur Beiser, the author of The Proper Yacht, had sunk his new boat because it had 34 seacocks and they couldn't find the one that was leaking. That, in my view, was a most improper yacht. I was appalled, when I visited one of the Beneteau factories, to see how they installed a seacock at one end of the boat, ran a hose from it to the other end of the boat, and then made the hose inaccessible by fixing an internal lining on top of it. My current boat, Weaverbird, and my previous two boats, Tystie and Ivory Gull, have no seacocks. Instead, I use seatubes or standpipes (same thing). I take some copper tube, of a suitable size, and roll it up in glass cloth and resin such that the lower end is equal in thickness with the hull and the upper end is of a diameter to accept the hose. Then I make a hole in the hull and fillet and glass in the tube so that its upper end is above the waterline at all reasonable angles of heel. For 1 1/2" hose, the copper tube is 32mm ID, 35mm OD. No valve is necessary, and would simply add complication. KISS.
On Weaverbird, I have only an intake for saltwater to the galley (10mm copper tube with glass cloth added to make it fit into a 1/2" hose). The upper end of the seatube is as high as possible, close under the deck. The galley sink is a loose bowl, emptied overside. When I bought her, I took out the pumped heads, along with its seized and dangerous gate valve seacocks, and installed a composting heads using components from the Little House Company (no longer available, unfortunately). I took out the defunct transducers for the sounder and log, filled the holes and installed a sounder transducer bonded internally. I did not put in a new log transducer. I have an outboard for auxiliary power, so there is no shaft log. A previous owner had installed a ventilator in the bulkhead between anchor well and forepeak, and this caused severe flooding in wind against tide conditions - I soon sealed up that hole. So that now, I am as sure as I can be that I won't have water over the floorboards.
On Tystie, I initially tried an intake seatube manifold supplying the engine, the heads and the galley. I found this unsatisfactory. Each needs a non return valve, to avoid sucking air back through the others, and I found that even the slightest piece of debris getting through the strainer and lodging in the non return valve would permit air leakage. I replaced the Lavac pumped heads with an Airhead composting heads. The galley and heads sinks were high enough above the waterline that there was no surging of water up the seatube outlet, but where the sink has to be set low in the boat, a seatube with a high upper end can be combined with a small diaphragm hand pump. Unfortunately, there's no answer to the shaft log, for an inboard engine, except perhaps a high coffer dam.
Where a through hull transducer must be used, I've heard of the coffer dam principle being used, with a large tube being bonded in around the transducer and its cable, extending above the waterline, but have never used this myself.
By Dick - 18 Sep 2019
As usual, many wise thoughts and suggestions: certainly thought provoking to any sailor thinking about the integrity of his/her vessel. And your portrayal of the foolishness of some designs is important in that it wisely warns not to blindly trust experts or established builders to provide safe designs.
Were I to be starting over (and designing/building a boat), I would be incorporating many or most of what you suggest, especially doing away with seacocks in favor of a standpipe. Some are do-able in any boat (glassed in depth finder for ex.), while othersuggestions are a much bigger project.
I am writing for the vast majority of vessels plying the waters who may not have thought much about flooding. Your contribution is appreciated.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
By Alan.King - 23 Oct 2019
Hi Dick. youintro to flooding in the “1st of the September” OCC Newsletter caught myeye … and I have one thought ....
Whyare the size of emergency bilge pumps inversely proportional to the size ofboat?
Ourfirst boat – a Jeanneau 29.2 – would have sunk without trace after taking onboard ? 500 ? gallons of seawater but came with a pathetically low capacityRule bilge pump installed by the manufacturer. Our third boat – a Hylas 46 – came with a similar sized “bilge” pumpfor emptying the bucket sized sump (into which rainwater collected afterdraining through the keel stepped mast) whilst the BILGE pump has a ratedcapacity of 2,900 imperial gallons per hour. 500 gallons sloshing about inside the Hylas would barely wet thesoleboards.
Iguess it is all about money and you can spend more on a bigger boat but themarine industry seems to have very odd ideas when it comes to risk managementwhich, to my mind, calls into question the validity of any of the standards bywhich boats leave the factory.
SY Musetta of Hamble
Hylas 46 (#37)
By Dick - 25 Oct 2019
Good to hear from you and appreciate your observations. I agree.
I believe that there are very few boats that arrive from the factory to their new owners in a shape necessary for safe coastal cruising, let alone going offshore. And I do not mean sails and instrumentation. I am referring to basic safety gear, most of which would cost very little if installed at the factory.
Pertaining to the article in question would be the installation of high-water alarms and an alarm that sounds when the automatic bilge pump is activated. And you correctly point out the inadequacy of de-watering bilge pumps that are standard on boats regardless of their size. Most are sized only to respond to small accumulations.
There are a handful of safety items that are sometimes very hard to grapple with later. One huge challenge after the build that would be so very easy to do prior is a fuel polishing pick-up tube that gets down to the deepest corner of the tank. Another area, luckily more easily retro-fitted, are smoke detectors strategically placed.
I would venture to suggest that these habits of boat builders will not change until we, the buyers, start asking about these issues when purchasing the boat. The activist side of me would suggest that all those who go to boat shows should make a point, when on the new and shiny boats on display to ask about these basic safety items: perhaps the idea will spread.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy