James Stevens answers your Questions of Seamanship. This issue - how to deal with a sudden ingress of water
John and Phil have just purchased a Beneteau First 40.7 in Weymouth. The boat was owned by a charter company but is only five years old and looks in good condition so, rather than a full survey, they asked a mate who does some boat repairs to have a look at it in the water. It looked fine.
The boat came with sails and basic kit including a VHF radio, lifebelts and life jackets but no EPIRB, liferaft or dinghy.
John and Phil live in Guernsey, so the plan is to take the boat across there to purchase the liferaft and other safety kit where prices are much cheaper.
They know it’s a risk but the day they have chosen in March is clear with good visibility and no wind. It should be simple to motor about 70 miles across the channel – mostly in daylight.
It all goes well in calm conditions and a heavy swell until about 25 miles from Guernsey in the shipping lane, Phil goes below and notices there’s water above the floorboards. It’s sea water.
There is a single manual bilge pump which John immediately starts pumping but the water level continues to rise. Phil starts bailing with a bucket – hard work from below.
The water appears to be coming from around the keel area and is still rising.
It’s pretty serious – if the yacht sinks, John and Phil will be swimming in cold water in a shipping lane.
They have done the RYA Sea Survival course and know the dangers of cold water and that after a short time immersed, they will be incapacitated, even with a lifejacket.
As skipper, John sends a Mayday which to their relief, is picked up. They need to try to stay afloat until a lifeboat arrives. Is there anything else they can do?
John and Phil are worried for good reason.
Even though the Mayday has indicated their position, allowing the Coastguard to notify shipping, it is a dangerous place to be.
The sea water is cold in March, so even if they are not affected by cold shock on entry to the water, they will start becoming very weak within the first 30 minutes.
James Stevens answers your Questions of Seamanship. This issue - what to do if you run aground
James Stevens answers your Questions of Seamanship. This issue - how to come alongside without an engine in a sheltered…
While the engine is still running, the sea water cooling system can be used as a bilge pump.
The inlet pipe has to be disconnected or cut from the turned-off seacock – not easy on a sinking boat, and there’s always the danger that detritus from the bilge will clog the system.
It sounds improbable, but it has saved yachts from sinking.
Failing that, John and Phil need to gather everything that floats – fenders, washboard etc – to hang on to, dress warmly and inflate lifejackets.
Make the best seal possible at the cuffs, ankles and neck and enter the water slowly as late as is safely possible.
Ignite the orange smoke flares before becoming too weak to do so, stay still and keep believing they are going to survive.