Know What To Do Before The Flood
For me, the words damage control conjure claustrophobic scenes from the 1981 German U-boat film Das Boot. Begrimed men, stripped to the waist in rising water, struggling to plug gushing pipes that depth charges ruptured, all while the prying ocean tries to entomb them in their fragile biosphere. Admittedly, this article takes a rather less epic view of flooding because, thankfully, most of us only encounter the more humdrum elements of prevention and preparation. Serious hull breaches from grounding, collision or naval gunnery are special cases for another day. (But I do recommend the movie if you haven’t seen it.)
Flooding is always a serious matter, but one reason it belongs in the pantheon of “things that went wrong that should not have surprised me” is that most boats are full of holes. Count ’em: propeller shaft, cooling water for the main engine, possibly for a generator, as well. Discharge regulations notwithstanding, a saltwater head functions on water coming and going through holes in the boat. How about a depth sounder? Another hole. A speed log needs a hole, and so does a mechanical bilge pump. Many boats have a saltwater hose for rinsing down. Where does that water come from? A hole. Some rudder arrangements involve a hull penetration near the waterline. Should your vessel be more extravagantly equipped, there may be intakes for refrigeration and a watermaker. Am I forgetting something? Probably, but you get the idea: Even on a good day, each of these holes represents a potential point of ingress. Just ask a marine insurance claims adjuster.
Many holes are fitted with seacocks that can be closed in the event of a hose failure, so long as you can grab the handle before it submerges. This particular line of defense against flooding raises several points: 1. Know the exact location and purpose of each seacock, and be sure there’s quick access to them. 2. Maintain seacocks so that they are fully operational in time of need. 3. Use at least two high- quality hose clamps at each end of a hose, and snug them up on a regular basis. (Actuaries really know about this one.) 4. Replace hoses on a schedule, whether you think they need it or not. Hoses have a service life. They can deteriorate over time, with no outward sign of compromise. 5. Consider closing seacocks when leaving the boat unattended. The only hazard here is that you remember to open them before starting machinery.
For some of these measures to be effective, they must be logged. This level of meticulousness may be all too reminiscent of the very day jobs we seek to escape on a boat, but if you are old enough to own a boat, you are old enough to know that your memory isn’t what it used to be, if it ever was. If a task isn’t written down, you won’t remember it.
Not all hull apertures can be fitted with seacocks. Examples include the prop shaft, transducers for sounders and speed logs. Since these are all well below the waterline, the incoming pressure can be considerable. What do you do if one of these lets go? I wish I had an easy answer. The only time I had a transducer fail, there was a Travelift handy to scoop the boat out of the water.
The axiom about an ounce of prevention is especially apropos when it comes to taking on water.