You've discovered water ingress on board after hitting an object in the water. Should you abandon ship or not? James Stevens answers your questions of seamanship

Should you abandon ship or not?

James Stevens answers your questions of seamanship


Alan is on passage back to Falmouth on board Free Flow, his Bavaria 37, which has been his home in the Mediterranean for the last year.

Alan is an experienced yachtsman and his four crew are all reasonably competent.

Free Flow is making good progress heading NNE across the Bay of Biscay, close reaching on port tack with one reef in the main.

They are 100 miles out from their last stop, La Coruna, in Northern Spain.

Their next port is Brest about 230 miles ahead.

It is now dark and Alan is badly in need of some rest.

The yacht is heeling over slightly more than is comfortable in the gusts.

He lies down on a main saloon berth leaving two crew on watch who he hopes can deal with any sail adjustments and the navigation for the next couple of hours.

Suddenly there is an almighty bang, Free Flow has clearly hit something and worse, he can hear water coming into the forecabin.

]He cannot see where the hole is because of the bunks and lockers.

What should he do now?

James Stevens answers:

This is obviously very serious.

All the crew must be on deck and prepared to abandon ship.

The damage is probably on the bow or the leeward side so tacking immediately into a heave-to will slow the boat and with luck lift the hole above the waterline.

Alan needs to assess fast whether this is a Mayday situation or a minor ingress of water.

He has to go below and investigate.

As he knows the boat well he can access under the bunks quickly.

If the yacht is clearly going to sink it’s time for a Mayday call and launching the liferaft.

Continues below…

He should then secure the door of the forecabin securely which might help the yacht stay afloat for a little longer allowing more time to gather warm clothes, water and supplies.

On the other hand it might be possible to stem the flow of water by using the yacht’s equipment to block the hole.

Knowing what’s on board is important now.

James Stevens

James Stevens, author of the Yachtmaster Handbook, spent 10 of his 23 years at the RYA as Training Manager and Yachtmaster Chief Examiner

Cushions, or even clothes, jammed against the hole with pieces of wood – a boat hook, deck brush, ensign staff or anything which will fit – can help slow the water ingress.

The coastguard should be notified if possible and the crew should continue to monitor the bilge level and keep pumping.

If the damage is on the starboard side and they can keep the water ingress under control the best course is probably back to Northern Spain given the freshening wind from the northwest.

Fortunately, in spite of the number of containers and other detritus discarded at sea along with other hazards such as whales, this type of accident is rare.

On ships it is said that 90% of damage control is accomplished by preparation before the collision and 10% after the ship has been hit.

It’s certainly a thought for skippers at sea.