Sprung a LEAK!
Our first sail of the 2016 season was an "EXCITING" one! My wife, daughter and I went out with friends and their son back in May and were having a good time. My wife went down below to get something and an alarm was going off. She turned around and asked me what that alarm was. My response was that "it isn't good news because the only alarm that we have on the boat is a bilge alarm". I asked her to look in the bilge to see how much water was there and her response was that there was quite a bit of water in the bilge. I had my daughter take the wheel to sail the boat and I immediately went down below and we started looking for the source of the water. While we were looking around, I asked my friend's son to start pumping the manual bilge pump from the cockpit. So while we were looking for the source of the water, he was pumping water out of the boat using the manual bilge pump.
This spring I replaced one of our thru-hulls because the backing wood was getting a bit soft. My first thought was that this thru-hull might be leaking. I opened up the compartment where this thru-hull is located and found much to my relief that the compartment was totally dry. So I knew that the water was coming in someplace else. My wife and I continued to look for the leak. At one point my wife said that she found a stream of water flowing by the engine compartment. At that point, I knew that the leak must be somewhere on the transom. I looked into the engine compartment and behind the engine and finally spotted the source of the flowing water.
We had a one and a half inch hole on the back of the transom where the water was coming in. I knew that we have four thru-hulls on the back of our transom and the water was coming in one of those thru-hulls. Boy, a lot of water can flow in through a one and a half inch hole when it is under water. I did not know which hose was supposed to be connected to that thru-hull yet.
We carry solid wood plugs on our boat near all of our under-water thru-hulls and we have spares just in case. I grabbed one of those spare wood plugs and inserted it into the hole from the outside of the transom. This stopped the flow of water into our boat. Our friend's son continued to pump the manual bilge pump which helped reduce the amount of water that was in our boat. Now that I knew what the source of the water flow was, I was in a much better "State of Mind" after having found the hole and plugged it temporarily.
As we headed back to the mooring I was looking to see which hose should have been connected to that thru-hull. It turns out that thru-hull was for our automatic bilge pump hose. So our automatic bilge pump was basically pumping water in a circle. The water was going from the bilge to the back of our boat near the transom and then flowing back into the bilge because the hose was no longer connected to the transom through-hull.
Once we got back to our mooring, we continued to pump the water out of the bilge with the manual bilge pump. When our boat is not moving, the back of our transom is no longer underwater so there was no danger of any more water flowing into the boat through the hole.
I have to admit that once we discovered that we were taking on water, I was a bit "nervous" until we found the source of the problem. I was trying to stay calm on the exterior but on the inside, I was running through all of the possible scenarios. I didn't want to make our guests nervous and wanted to keep everyone calm. By staying calm, we were able to find the problem and then temporarily fix the problem and avoided what could have been a bad situation.
When we bought our boat over 10 years ago we had our boat surveyed. Our surveyor recommended several things that we should do to our boat. Two of the things he recommended was to install a bilge alarm and to have wooden plugs for all the thru-hulls. I am so glad that I listened to him and added the bilge alarm and had wooden plugs on-board. The bilge alarm gave us an early warning that we had a problem and the wooden plugs allowed us to solve the problem temporarily by stopping the flow of water into the boat. Another thing that helped us was we store the handle for our manual bilge pump in a small compartment in our cockpit. We knew exactly where the pump handle was and it was located near the pump so we didn't have to waste time looking for the handle when we needed it.
The thru-hull fitting that broke was a plastic fitting. I have replaced this automatic bilge pump thru-hull fitting with a stainless steel fitting. We have three other thru-hull fittings on our transom that are also plastic. I will be replacing all three of these plastic fittings this winter with stainless steel fittings while the boat is on the hard.
Good Things/Planning ahead:
- Bilge Alarm
- Wooden Plugs
- Manual Bilge Pump Handle Located Near the Pump
- Plastic thru-hull fitting on the transom
What could have been a bad situation turned out to be an okay situation due to being prepared and having an early warning of the problem. If you don't currently have a bilge alarm, I would highly recommend that you install one. Our bilge alarm is installed at a level that is slightly higher than our bilge pump so if the bilge pump is not keeping up with the rising water, we are alerted to the problem. Some people have an alarm built into their secondary bilge pump and the secondary bilge pump is installed at a higher level than their primary bilge pump. Either way, if rising water is a problem, you get alerted to the problem early on and can try and find the problem and resolve it before the water is above your cabin sole. I would also recommend having wood plugs on your boat. If you ever have a leak, you will have these handy to plug or slow down the flow of water into your boat.
When boating it is always a good thing to stay calm when a problem or crisis arises. It helps to have a clear head to think through the problem. It is also important to stay calm so your crew stays calm. You don't want anyone to panic since you may need them to help out with the situation and lend a helping hand.
Written by: Steve Charlebois
owner Sea Dog Boating Solutions, LLC - Unique Boating Accessories + Boating Services