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Go Back   SailNet Community > Skills and Seamanship > Seamanship & Navigation
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Seamanship & Navigation Forum devoted to seamanship and navigation topics, including paper and electronic charting tools.


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Old 07-18-2007
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Open ocean, hole in the hull

You are out on the ocean single-handed and you are taking a cat nap when suddenly you wake up to a bang. You've hit something! You jump up and run out to see what it was and you don't see anything out there. Immediately you look down into the boat and your heart sinks, there is some water in the bilge that wasn't there last time you looked.

What do you do ?

I mean what do you REALLY do ?

If you determine that there really is a hole of indeterminate size in the hull and you are taking on water, what do you do ?

I have been wondering about this. I see all these wooden plugs and various other things at the marine stores, in catalogs, etc, and I have read a few different thoughts on plugging up holes and that kind of thing. But really, what would YOU do ? Have you ever experienced something like this and had to make repairs out on the water to your hull ?

One reason I ask this is because I really have no idea what I would actually do in a situation like that. I am completely unprepared for this possibility. In fact, on my own boat I think I would have to go over the side to even figure out where a hole was if I had a hole in the hull. Reason being that my little boat has an outside hull and an inside fiberglass "something", I don't even know what you call it, interior, that makes it basically impossible to see the entire hull from the inside. Assuming the hole was in the front of the boat I could probably see that part of the hull, but then what ? Just start jamming stuff in the hole and start pumping the bilge ? Another reason I ask about this is that I would think that the boat would slip under the waves in a relatively short period of time with even a small hole in it, so whatever is going to be done would have to be quick I think. What do you do ?

Last edited by wind_magic; 07-18-2007 at 10:38 AM.
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This scenario is probably the second worst nightmare of most sailors (I would think fire is the worst). I'm sure you'll get lots of different suggestions, but I would be thinking about the possibilities (thinking very fast!):
1) Ensure my bilge pump is pumping (though most can't keep up with a decent sized hole, but better than nothing)
2) Try to determine location of water coming in, including checking seacocks if time permits, depending on how much water is coming in; this is harder if you have an interior hull liner as you noted, but if necessary, use tools to break it apart to get at the holed area.
3) If possible, try to stuff cushions, blankets, sleeping bag, etc. into the hole to stem the flow, perhaps reinforcing it with a wooden board (locker top) wedged against it
4) I would try to run my smallest sail under the boat in the area of the hole (ie. probably under the bow in your scenario), tied off to either side to stem the flow into the boat
5) If the water is still rising, I might undo the engine water intake from the seacock, start the engine and have the engine suck water from in the boat
6) Depending on the situation, I would at some point have radioed for help; if I wasn't at immediate risk of sinking, I would likely delay this a bit to try other options first, so I would know what kind of help I might need.
7) I would ensure that my safety gear is at hand--life raft, life jacket, EPIRB, handheld radio
8) Time permitting, I would have wallet and valuable papers at the ready to take with me, if I have to leave the boat
9) If I have the situation under control, I would then think about more permanent fix--epoxy patch, etc.

These are just my initial thoughts, so I'll be interested in what others would do. Good question.

Frank.
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Old 07-18-2007
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First thing I'd do is attach the pump handle to the emergency, manual bilge pump to be ready for supplementing the automatic pump. I would then locate the source of water entry and attempt plugging from the interior with the most appropriate material at hand.

We keep wood plugs at each through-hull, but for a larger gash, I would choose wrappping material around the plug - perhaps onboard PFDs, bedding, or a carpet. Using wood bilge access panels or cabinet doors are also options - secured with screws hammered or power-driven to the hull with my DC driver.

Very large holes could be wrapped from the exterior with a headsail or spinaker, to slow down water entry - secured by lines attached at it's three points and lashed around the deck. I don't know how I'd attempt this, other than tethering myself to the boat and jumping overboard.

One thing's for certain, I would fight 'till the water entry is stopped, successfully overcome by pumps . . . or I need to man the lifeboat.
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Old 07-18-2007
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Stuff a sock in it! lol, no really, bilge pumps cannot keep up with even the smallest hole. A one inch hole will gush 25 gallons per minute into you boat, you need to slow it down, and fast. I've got a couple of stories, but for know let's just say, two strapping young men with 5 gallon buckets, cannot keep up with a 6" long, 2" wide gash; even with four socks, two t-shirts, and one pair of shorts stuffed in it.
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Old 07-18-2007
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It depends on what boat you're in...

For instance, on my boat, I'd check the amas to see if they were taking on water... if not... would try and get a patch over whatever was letting the water in... but wouldn't be all that worried about it, because if the amas aren't filling, there really isn't any way for the main hull to fill up with more than a foot of water or sink.

I do recommend that you get the hole sealed as well as possible, since even a small hole lets in far more water than most bilge pumps can deal with. The deeper in the water the hole, the faster it will let water in, and the harder it will be to seal off.

On some modern boats, the hull is constructed with a fiberglass liner, which has much of the interior molded into it and acts to stiffen the hull...however it makes getting to the interior of the hull much more difficult.

One of my friends keeps several plumber bowl waxes on hand on her boat... since they're very useful for stuffing into irregularly shaped holes...and then put a piece of wood across the backside and screw the wood or prop the wood in place, and most smaller hole can be sealed fairly thoroughly that way.

The crash blanket idea that TB has mentioned is a good one, but not of much use to most people, as it does require you to practice deploying it.
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Last edited by sailingdog; 07-18-2007 at 11:54 AM.
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Old 07-18-2007
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Well as they said in one movie: You pick the man with the biggest buns and have him sit on it. But kidding aside, this is why you do carry some scrap pieces of wood, canvas along with wedges and plugs. Plus plugs next to all through hull fittings also. Good maintenance means that you would never need them. But you never know.
Then you have all the jetsam & flotsam out there and coming down the rivers You can never be sure of what you may run into. From a tree to a steel container box.
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Old 07-18-2007
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Quote:
One of my friends keeps several plumber bowl waxes on hand on her boat... since they're very useful for stuffing into irregularly shaped holes...and then put a piece of wood across the backside and screw the wood or prop the wood in place, and most smaller hole can be sealed fairly thoroughly that way.
You mean those toilet flange wax rings? I had never thought of that - great idea.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sailingdog

One of my friends keeps several plumber bowl waxes on hand on her boat... since they're very useful for stuffing into irregularly shaped holes...and then put a piece of wood across the backside and screw the wood or prop the wood in place, and most smaller hole can be sealed fairly thoroughly that way.
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That's a really good idea.
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One other thing is that you can take a spare sail or a sail bag and lash it to the outside of the hull covering the hole. This will slow the water down and give you time to come up with a better solution in plugging that hole.
The sail does have cringles which you can use to lash the sail tightly to the hull and thus slowing the ingress of water. Then your pumps may be able to keep up with that influx of H2O. And now with the influx reduced you can come up with a patching solution for that probmatic hole in the hull.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Boasun
One other thing is that you can take a spare sail or a sail bag and lash it to the outside of the hull covering the hole. This will slow the water down and give you time to come up with a better solution in plugging that hole.
The sail does have cringles which you can use to lash the sail tightly to the hull and thus slowing the ingress of water.
There seems to be an echo in here . .
Quote:
Originally Posted by TrueBlue
Very large holes could be wrapped from the exterior with a headsail or spinaker, to slow down water entry - secured by lines attached at it's three points and lashed around the deck.
Quote:
Originally Posted by FrankLanger
4) I would try to run my smallest sail under the boat in the area of the hole (ie. probably under the bow in your scenario), tied off to either side to stem the flow into the boat.
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