Major Leak – Sinking

The first rule of seamanship – Keep the water on the outside of the boat…

Possibly every sailors worst nightmare…?! Although many of the other scenarios I have researched in the safety section also sound equally non-appealing.

There are lots of different things that could be the cause, but if you find you have got a whole lot of water inside the boat that you weren’t expecting to be there, you had better do something about it fast!

Possible Causes:

  • Collision – hole in the hull
  • Broken engine hose
  • Marine toilet
  • Stern gland
  • Rubber gland
  • Seacocks


  • Inspect all sea-cocks and hull through fittings on a regular basis
  • Ensure the soft wooden plugs are secured in place near the sea cocks
  • Maintain a good look-out – although I doubt that anyone would ever see a half submerged container at night…?
  • Keep an eye on the chart and depth sounder and plot a course accordingly
  • Check the bilge on a regular basis
  • Ensure the bilge pumps are working


  • Soft wood bungs secured beside the sea-cocks
  • Truplug – a bigger rubber plug
  • Bilge pumps – electric and manual – and handle located nearby
  • Buckets
  • Stay Afloat or Epoxy that sets underwater – this looks like an amazing product which can be used to stop leaks in pipes or through fittings. I am going to try and get some of this.
  • Emergency Hull Seal – push it through the hole and then it seals on the outside – hopefully!


  • If you hit something or notice the floor boards are awash…
  • Heave to
  • Start pumping the bilge – turn on all bilge pumps and operate the manual pump – use a bucket.
  • Find the leak! This may mean you have to rip out furniture to access the source.
  • Check the sea cocks first
  • Pull up all the floor boards
  • Wedge something in the hole – plug, towel, cushion, carrot – use anything available to block the hole.
  • Tack the boat to have the hole on the high side
  • Keep pumping the bilge and also use buckets to get rid of the water
  • Find a more permanent solution to the leak. Options include using a brace like an oar, fender, other wood or pipe.
  • If necessary prepare life raft and grab bag.
  • Make emergency call on VHF before water causes the power to cut out.
  • A board (even better if it has some padding over it – with a hole drilled and a line inserted – can be dropped over the side and thread the line through the hole and tie it off inside or you can try a tarp or a sail
  • Have some quick setting epoxy and fibreglass mat on board to be able to rig a more permanent solution
  • Assess the situation – is the water coming in faster than you can pump it out? If so, how long have you got? Can you make it to port? Is there any help nearby? If necessary, commence abandonment procedures.

Sea Survival 050


6 thoughts on “Major Leak – Sinking

  1. Pingback: Ocean Yachtmaster | Astrolabe Sailing

  2. Once again, great advice, Viki. A few years ago, one of the fittings on a seacock gave out (aft head discharge if I remember right) and whenever we recount the story, you wouldn’t believe how many people say, ” You tie a wooden plug to all of your seacocks? What a great idea.” With the amount of water that comes rushing in, you wouldn’t want it any other way.

    Stephanie @ SV CAMBRIA

    Liked by 1 person

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