How to Avoid that “Sinking Feeling”

Have you ever had a problem on your boat that was the result of leaving it unattended for a few weeks or more? There are a few things that could go wrong, given the proper circumstances.

It is fairly easy to avoid the occasional disaster that could befall our lonely boat while we’re away. Let’s start by listing a few unwelcome outcomes, along with some preventive measures. Some problems that come to mind include sinking from various causes, and damage from docks & pilings.

When it comes to sinking, we usually think about the prospect of hitting a submerged object, damage resulting from going aground, or some such event. We don’t often think about other ways in which water can infiltrate our boat while dockside. Rainfall, dockside freshwater connections, or poorly maintained hoses connected to “through-hull” fittings are some of the causes.

Whether you own a sailboat or a sport fishing boat, your cockpit drains are an important piece of the puzzle. They keep your cockpit from filling with rainwater and overflowing into your cabin. Drains are installed in the deck of your cockpit. They collect the rainwater and carry it over the side. That is, if they are working properly.

Cockpit drains can become clogged by leaves, other natural debris, or from onboard trash. Once a drain is partially blocked, an even smaller piece of foreign matter can block the remaining opening. Even if your drains are not completely blocked, a heavy rain can outpace them and fill your cockpit. After that, the next stop is to flood your cabin. It pays to check those drains out regularly.

We rely on seawater to cool equipment such as our engines, generators and air-conditioning systems. That water enters our boat through valves connected to “through-hull” fittings. The valves should be closed when the equipment is not in use. If not, a weak or deteriorated hose could spring a leak, and attempt to fill our boat with water.

Another and more powerful source of water is a “dockside water connection.” These hose fittings allow us to connect pressurized water from the dock to supply domestic water to sinks and other plumbing fixtures. You may be away when a hose in the interior of your boat gives out. Water can fill your boat at whatever the dockside water pressure and volume will supply. Not many bilge pumps can compete with that. It is wise to disconnect the dockside water when it is not in use.

When left unattended, your boat’s dock lines must deal with rising and falling tides, wind and other sources of stress. If you leave your boat on tidal water, be sure to adjust your dock lines to be effective at the highest high tide and the lowest low tide. Remember that tidal activity varies, primarily based on the phases of the moon. If your dock lines will not accommodate the full range of tides, they may chafe through and expose you to damage.

The bottom line is that we should maintain those critical areas with care, especially when we leave our boats for any extended periods of time. It is a good idea to make a checklist of potential problem items and check them out periodically. You’ll be glad you did!

Until next time, we wish you clear skies, fair winds and calm seas!


World Wide Marine Training, LLC, is a U.S. Coast Guard Approved facility authorized to give examinations for captain’s licenses up to Master 200 Tons, Able Seaman up to Unlimited, STCW Basic Training, Radar, ARPA and other Endorsements. Please visit or call toll-free 866-249-2135.