Something is seriously wrong and you’re taking on water fast. Time is of the essence, so what do you do? The most important thing is to stay calm and not panic. Keep in mind these simple steps if your boat is sinking and you’ll give yourself the best chance possible.
1) Safety first
Make sure all crew know where the life jackets are and – as soon as you sense trouble – insist that they all put them on.
2) Make the call
It’s time to make a mayday call. Don’t be proud, this is serious stuff! Get hold of the coast guard on your VHF and let them know your exact location and that the boat is sinking. It’s also vital you tell them how many crew members are on board so no one gets left behind. Wait about 10 seconds for a reply. If you don’t get one by then, repeat your message.
3) Damage control
Now you need to find whatever is causing the leak. There are a few things you might be able to do to stop it. If you can try and wedge the hole with towels, cushions, clothing or even a sail! Whatever you have that could slow the sinking down.
4) Pump time
If you have an inboard or sterndrive you could try disconnecting the water intake hose and using it as a pump. Place it in the bilge and then monitor the water level carefully.
5) Trim the boat
If you’ve hit something then chances are the damage will be on the forward part of the boat near the waterline. In this case, trim the boat up to keep the hole out of the sea as much as possible. At the very least you’ll buy yourself more time. Make sure all the crew move too!
6) Aim for land
It might not be your planned destination but right now the important thing is that you make it to land before sinking completely. Intentionally grounding your vessel is far better than losing it, even if you do incur a little damage in the process. Try and find a safe spot, without sharp rocks or fierce waves.
7) Don’t abandon ship
Obviously, you will need to abandon ship in the very worst scenario but, if it’s safe, stay with your boat. You’ll have a higher chance of drawing attention to the situation and attracting help. Most boats will float even when capsized so don’t assume all is lost.
8) Always be prepared
That old chestnut! Keep an emergency bag somewhere safe that you’ll be able to grab if the boat is sinking. Ideally, you’ll want to keep in here a mobile phone, handheld radio, first aid kit, fresh water, food rations, warm clothes, a knife, torch and a couple of flares.
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