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 

Water coming into a yacht

What would you do if you saw this on your boat? Credit: Graham Snook/Yachting Monthly

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 

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.

Continues below…

Marina with boats with engine

How do we sail into this berth?

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.

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

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.