How to Protect Your Boat from Sinking


Q&A with Louis Gosselin, Marine Surveyor
By Perrine Mertens

This year we’ve seen a jump in the number of boats sinking. So we asked an expert to share some tips for avoiding this unfortunate event, along with what to do if your boat starts taking on water.


When and why do boats sink?

Sinking is more of an issue with motor boats because it’s quite rare for a sailboat to sink. In 75% of cases, boats sink due to inadequate mainte-nance. The rest of the time, it’s because the boat hit the bottom or ran into a problem while being launched.

When do boats require maintenance and what do you need to do to maintain them?

Boat maintenance needs to be done each year. Ideally, in the spring before the start of the boating season, although some marinas will also do fall maintenance before wintering. What’s important is that the boat is maintained each year.

One thing to always check is the shift cable bellow, which creates a watertight seal with the hull. It needs to be in good condition because over time, this small rubber part can dry out and lose elasticity, causing it to crack. As a rule, you should have the bellow changed every 300 hours of navigation. If the seal is no longer watertight, water can seep in through the bellows, fill the hull, and sink your boat in no time. You’d be amazed at the number of boats that sink this way.

It may be a small part, but it costs about $2,500 to replace due to the labour involved.

How do you prevent your boat from sinking when launching?

Always take your time when you launch your boat, and espe-cially during the first launch of the season. Open the engine panel and check for water infiltration. Also check the valves and piping to the through-hull fittings below the waterline. Make sure the drain plug is securely in place.

Remember that any remaining water in the valves before winterizing your boat will turn to ice as soon as the tempe-rature drops, which can cause the valves to crack. “A bit of dampness” can quickly turn into “big problems.”

Here’s another easy trick for spotting water infiltration: Before releasing the boat in the water, open the engine panel and don’t just take a look; listen carefully. You can often hear a leak.

How do you keep your boat afloat once you’re on the water?

A good way to avoid catastrophe is to ensure the battery is fully charged and the automatic bilge pump is working properly while the boat is still moored to the dock. Having a charger on board can be another smart precaution, especially if you regularly leave your boat sitting idle at the cottage for a week or more.

If you hit a rock or shoal, take the time to stop and examine the extent of the damage. Check carefully for any signs of water infiltration before moving on. If it was a strong impact, take your boat out of the water to inspect it if possible. It may seem obvious, but it’s important.

At the end of the day, check your boat before leaving it at the marina for the night. If it’s hooked up to city water, be sure to also shut off the tap on the dock before you leave. A change in pressure in the hose could create an undetected leak and cause your boat to sink during your absence.

What if your boat actually starts sinking? What should you do?

If you notice early enough, use external pumps to remove the water and try to get your boat back to shore if you can. Then immediately call a repair person to minimize the damage. He or she will drain the water from the engine and restart it, do several oil changes, and remove all the water from the system. This is crucial.

If the boat is already at the bottom of the water, things aren’t quite so urgent. All the same, call your usual repair person, or the nearest one, depending on where the boat is.

Any final words of wisdom for Club APRIL Marine members?

Boaters are one big community. If you’re walking along the water’s edge and happen to notice a boat that seems to be taking on water, contact the marina right away. This small gesture can help save a boat, and a lot of trouble for a fellow boater. There’s no mistaking a sinking boat!