A boat leak can rapidly become a very dangerous situation. Even a small hole under the waterline can leak hundreds of litres a minute. When your boat springs a leak, it’s important to act fast to ensure everyone’s safety and try to find and correct the problem before the craft sinks.
Being well prepared will help you stay calm and take the appropriate action in an emergency situation, so read on to find out exactly what to do in the event of a boat leak!
When taking on water, the very first thing you need to do is make sure that everyone on board is safe. Have everyone put on personal flotation devices if they aren’t already wearing them. If the leak occurs following a boat collision or running aground, check for injuries before proceeding.
Start bailing the water out of your boat using a bailer, manual water pump or bilge pump. If bailing manually, have passengers help so that you can look for the source of the leak. Bailing the water out will buy you time and may help you determine where the water is coming from.
Some common causes of boat leaks include:
Make sure to check these potential sources when conducting your search!
Whether or not you can stop the leak will depend on the source, the location of the breach if there is one, and the repair materials you have on board. A breach under the waterline will be difficult to fix without removing the vessel from the water.
If you can, plug or seal the leak with whatever you have on hand. Even if it isn’t completely watertight, it will slow the flow of water. Pleasure craft operators should always keep tools and materials on hand to repair a hull leak (wooden or form-fitting emergency plugs, mouldable polymer, epoxy emergency repair kit, etc.).
If you manage to fix the leak temporarily, the next step is to bail out the rest of the water that has accumulated in the boat. If the fix seems likely to hold long enough to get you safely to land, keep a close eye on it and head for shore.
If you can’t staunch the flow of water and are close to the shallows, consider intentionally grounding your craft—while not ideal, it’s better than losing the boat altogether. Try to find a safe spot without sharp rocks or strong waves.
If your boat is too damaged to get to land or continues to take on water, you’ll need to call for help. If you’re equipped with a VHF marine radio, call “MAYDAY” or “PAN PAN” on channel 16, depending on the severity of the situation. Otherwise, you can use distress flares to call for aid.
It’s important to know how to react during a boating emergency. That is one of many reasons why the Canadian government requires recreational boaters to hold a pleasure craft operator card. The card is proof that they have taken an accredited boating safety course and passed the corresponding exam. Register for Drive a Boat Canada’s boating safety course today!