These Sailing Tips Could Save Your Life

Learn how to sail like a pro when you know the sailing tips you need for survival at sea. Not many things put fear into a sailor like water flooding into a boat. Unless you can find the source of the leak fast, your small sailboat could capsize and sink like a stone to the sea bottom. Read on for the steps you need to take to keep your sailboat and sailing crew safe and sound.

It’s been a long, quiet watch as you make your way below–ready to his the pit. When all of a sudden, you slip off the last companionway step and plunge into ankle-deep cold water. It’s pouring in, but from where?

The typical production boat has six to eight holes drilled below her waterline, with average diameters of 1/2″, 1″ or 2″. These “through hulls” accommodate engine raw water intake, sink and shower drains, cockpit scupper drains and instrument impellers.

Each gallon of seawater flowing into your hull adds about 8½ pounds to your displacement. For a real eye-opener, multiply this by the flow rate per hour. With enough water or liquid sloshing fore and aft or left to right, you can capsize.

Big ships have this problem unless they keep liquid cargo tanks filled. You need to have an attack plan in place before a flooding emergency strikes.

Use the easy step-by-step battle-plan described below–called M.A.T.E.–to get your boat and sailing crew ready to handle the unexpected…

“M” is for Mapping from a Bird’s Eye View

Make a simple drawing of every through hull in your boat, showing locations of seacocks, ball valves and exhaust vents. Start forward and work your way aft; remove every inspection cover or port. Look inside lockers and beneath berths and settee seats. Follow the water and head hose lines from entry to exit points.

“A” is for Attack Preparation

Make every piece of flood fighting equipment accessible and keep it in good working order. Brief your crew on the location and hold mini demos on how to use it.

Seacock Handle Throw

Test every fitting with a seacock monthly. Test common fittings like head, sink and engine raw water intake more frequently. Move the handle the full 90° from the open to closed position several times. A light tap with a hammer usually frees up frozen handles. Disassemble and repack every seacock during your annual haulout.

Mechanical Pumps

Install the largest capacity mechanical pump possible. With two mechanical pumps in the same bilge, mount the large capacity pump on a shelf over the smaller one. Test all float switches before and after getting underway.

Manual Bilge Pumps

Fixed, Mounted Pumps — Sailing vessels and small open powerboats, install a large capacity manual whale gusher-type bilge pump in the cockpit. Choose one with 20 or 30 gallon per minute capacity. Before installing, test the handle clearance to make sure that it doesn’t interfere with the helm or sheets. Keep two to three handles aboard, mounted on deck and below. Before you cast off, point their location out to your crew.

Portable Pumps

Invest in at least two portable pumps with 6 to 15 gallon per minute capacity. The rigid pump body should be 2-3 feet and the flexible hose 4 to six feet. Screen the intake side to keep the pump from clogging. Use nylon mesh screening, double clamped to the end.

Two or More Big Buckets

Keep two buckets aboard with strong bails and line attached. Keep one down below and one in the cockpit. The damage-control crew below bails and passes up the filled bucket to the crew on deck. The deck crew passes a fresh bucket back down to the damage control crew.

Soft Wooden Plugs

Lash a wooden plug with light line to the body of each seacock. Be sure the line will break with a good tug. Softer woods, such as teak, swell up when wet, forming a better seal around the hole.

Cotton Rags

For holes with jagged edges, you’ll need filler to block the space around the perimeter of the plug. Stow a bag of cotton rags in a fishnet bag in the forward and main cabin areas.

Pounding Tool

Mount a hammer or mallet in the forward and main cabin. Install it in brackets outside of a tool box. Paint the handle a bright or day-glow color. Better still, cut thin strips of reflective tape and stick onto the handle.

Lights and Batteries

Have at least half a dozen waterproof flashlights aboard. Keep one lantern available with battery replacements in waterproof bags. Headband type lights free up your hands and pinpoint the damage location. Purchase the Calume type, “break-‘n-shake” lights from camping stores. They’re bright, waterproof and illuminate a small area for several hours.

“T” is for Testing Preparations and Train the Crew

Get your crew together and show them your illustration. Explain actions to take and demonstrate how to use the equipment. Do they easily understand your drawing and action plan? If not, revise the plan to make it clear enough for all hands to follow.

“E” is for Execute and Evaluate

In an emergency put your plan into action. Afterwards, determine the cause of the problem and think of ways to improve things. Do you need to shorten preventative maintenance intervals? How did your equipment work out?

Follow these vital sailing tips to keep your small sailboat and sailing crew safe and sound. You will gain the confidence and skills you need for safety at sea–wherever in the world you choose to cruise.