Avoiding leaks and flooding

Prevention is better than cure

Prevention is better than cure - in the case of avoiding leaks and flooding, diligence being aware of the things that could cause potential issues and carrying out regular checks and inspections, immediate and in the future, could ultimately be a lifesaver. 

There are many reasons a boat can be overwhelmed by water, creating a potentially hazardous, often unexpected situation. However, the majority of  such scenarios can be prevented if you take a bit of time to carry out regular checks and conduct regular maintenance.

Various images of InBrief November 2021

So, what should you be looking for? 

What causes flooding?

Taking water on board can come from a relatively slow, undetected leak or a significant one-off impact.

Getting grounded on Ryde Sands during the Round the Island Race, for example, may be a funny story for the bar afterwards - but did you give serious thought to the damage your hull, keel or keel to hull attachment might have sustained?

Repeat groundings, or even a ‘light’ grounding, as on mud or sand, can still cause major yet undetected damage to a hull and/or keel. In recent years the cumulative effect of multiple light groundings has become better understood and has been proven to have the potential for catastrophic damage to the keel to hull attachment.  Bonding can break down resulting in a weakening of the overall structure, which could cause a keel to become loose or even lead to a catastrophic keel detachment later on.  A keel detachment without warning will in most cases cause an immediate capsize with a high likelihood of severe consequences. 

Similarly, heavy ‘impact’ incidents, such as hitting a submerged object or another vessel, or grounding on hard surfaces like rock and coral, risk damaging the hull and causing ingress of water. Even leaving a hatch open at sea can result in flooding as waves break over the deck or in a following sea. 

Other factors including seized skin fittings due to infrequent operation, toilet pump failure, lack of servicing and general wear and tear are all potential risks that could lead to a much bigger issue if not dealt with early. It is often said that a boat deteriorates much faster in the event that it is not used. This is particularly true of seacocks that are not opened and closed on a regular basis. 

Regular checks of your bilge, both at the mooring and whilst at sea, will provide you with early warning of a problem that may be developing. 

Preventing flooding

When it comes to ‘slow burner’ issues, you should regularly check your hull and fittings to make sure everything is there and functions as it should. You should have a softwood bung of the correct size attached to each skin fitting ready to use in the event of a failure. You don’t want to be rattling around every locker trying to find a bung in the dead of night if something fails unexpectedly.  If you spot something looking worn replace it early to stop it becoming a bigger problem.

Regular checks also mean you become increasingly familiar with what looks ‘right’ so will be able to spot smaller defects earlier.

Inspect the hull and internal structure for early signs of possible keel detachment. Check for leaks around the toilet, keel bolts, pipes fitted to a skin fitting and skin fittings themselves. To prevent skin fitting seizure open and close at least monthly and get the skin fitting serviced annually. Check and service the bilge pumps too.

One area that is sometimes overlooked is the risk of water ingress around the engine – either through the prop shaft or sail drive, or even the raw water cooling system. 

In terms of ‘impact’ damage, not getting into that situation in the first place is the best prevention through good navigation, keeping a proper lookout and thorough passage planning. Know, not just what is around you, but also underneath you. Weather forecasting is crucial too. 

If you do run aground, even if it is a soft grounding, don’t laugh it off. Get your boat inspected thoroughly by a reliable surveyor. Things like breakdown of the bond between keel and hull or between hull and structural matrix of the boat can be difficult to detect, even to the most trained eye, but they will be able to advise on possible structural weaknesses and suggest appropriate action to ensure your vessel is seaworthy. 

Of course, accidents do still happen so being able to send an alert and abandon to a liferaft is essential if flooding occurs and you should ensure all on board know how to use all safety equipment. 

Get trained

Whether you’re looking to improve your boat handling or to brush up on your navigation skills, there’s an RYA course to help. Find out more about RYA training at www.rya.org.uk/training .