Despite pre-boarding safety checks you should take, some incidents simply can’t be avoided. And as shocking as it is to see your boat taking on water, it’s even more shocking how quickly it can capsize if you don’t spring into action.
If you find yourself on a sinking boat, you should:
1. Get everyone a life jacket
Hopefully everyone was wearing theirs already. But if not, donning a life jacket is the first step when you encounter trouble. In case the worst happens and you end up in the water, the odds of drowning are about 6 times less with a life jacket than without.
2. Make a distress call
Use your emergency VHF radio to make a Mayday call, giving your location, boat name, injury situation, number of people on board, and estimated time you can stay afloat.
3. Be resourceful
If you have a leaking boat, you may be able to plug the hole with items lying around, such as clothing, towels, seat cushions, or food bags. And, as primitive as it sounds, moving all gear and people to the opposite side of the leak can tilt the hole above water (or at least higher up so the flooding is slower).
4. Pump the water
Get your bilge pump working (and any backup pumps) to help remove the pooling water. In some cases, you can even use the engine as an emergency pump by removing the raw-water intake hose and running the throttle in the flooding water. As the water level drops, ease the throttle so the engine doesn’t overheat.
5. Beach the boat
It may be preferable to ground the boat on a sand bar or other piece of land than to completely sink, provided the area isn’t too rocky or dangerous.
6. Stay with the boat (if you can)
It’s only natural to distance yourself from danger. Fire starts in your home, go outside. Coyote walks into your hiking path, head the other way. Boat starts to sink, get the heck off. Yet in the case of a sinking boat, staying on board is often best. Not only can you stay drier and warmer for longer, but you’ll be a larger target for rescue parties.
7. Abandon ship … but not supplies
Of course, if the boat sinks completely, it’s time to get off. But, if it’s safe to do so, don’t leave without taking some supplies.
Gather helpful items such as an emergency radio, phone, food, water, and warm clothes and take them with you in a waterproof bag. Even better — have the bag ready to go beforehand.