Why Boats Sink

Why Boats SinkUPDATE – York River Yacht Haven moved quickly to remove the boat before any oil or fuel could leak into the water. Fellows at the marina yard think the bow went under in high winds and the bowrail got caught at low tide under a finger pier on G Dock. That drove the bow down and water flooded through the scuppers into the salon. “It’s totaled.” The owner hadn’t been down in years, but he showed up from Baltimore and declared he would salvage the boat. He spent weekends hauling everything out of the cabin and pledged to use an outboard to take it back to Maryland for further repairs. Men and their boats, go figure.

A neglected 30-foot Hunter sailboat dating from the 1980s quietly sank in its slip at York River Yacht Haven. My guess is that a thru-hull failed catastrophically. Note the floating coil installed by the yard to retain leaking oil and fuel. So far, none yet but you can smell fumes.

I’ve had my eye on this boat, named Job Site, for all of ten years that it has sat idle at G Dock. The owner hasn’t been seen for many seasons. He used to take good care of the boat, so much so that he once removed the emergency tiller to take it home to paint. Then he sailed from Maryland down the Chesapeake Bay, only to have the steering cable break early on. He went to his lazarette for the emergency tiller, but it wasn’t there. He had to jury rig a pipe wrench as the tiller using his feet to hold steady and turn. The lesson learned was to keep everything on board to remain ship shape.

Why Boats SinkStay Off the Rocks

Boats can sink for any number of reasons. In the photo at right, this one got took close to the rocks, which eventually holed the boat. It may have broken loose from a mooring or gotten tossed in a storm. Fortunately we don’t have many rocks along the York River, so this is rarely a problem.

Generally, two factors contribute to a boat sinking in the slip. The first is fire, often ignited from an electrical short at the dockside port or inside the boat near the batteries. The second factor is a failed thru hull, notably the speedometer or depth reader since both are at a low point on the forward hull and under significant water pressure from below.

Why Boats SinkThis photo at left depicts a smaller daysailer that appears to be swamped. No rocks are visible, so that’s not the culprit. Or successive rainstorms could have piled up enough water in the cockpit to fill it up. One problem with mooring a boat in a harbor is that it’s hard to visit periodically unless you have dinghy handy. Boats like this can be seen all over America floundering without rescue. Willoughby Bay in Norfolk used to have just such a boat sitting out there helplessly.

Plastic thru hulls for speed and depth fail because the attachments come loose over time or the fiberglass delminates. The irony here is that early Hunters had fiberglass hulls as much as an inch thick while today’s are barely a quarter-imch thick. Brass thru hulls are used for the flow of raw water. They rarely fail, but when they do the entire mechanism is torn loose from the aperature and the boat goes down in minutes.

Another killer is ice. The poignant video below shows a sailboat on the Mystic River surrounded by ice that eventually crushed the hull to the point of failure. The ice doesn’t look thick enough at first, but watch closely. At 55 seconds into the video you can see the ice is 6-8 inches. Part 2 of the video shows how to pull a sunken boat out of the water. They will have to do something similar to extracate Job Site. It will likely cost twice as much to execute as the $10,000 value of the boat. (why boats sink)

For more on why boats sink at the dock, click here. This entire exercise is an important lesson in routine observatory maintenance. Part of the skipper’s daily or weekly checklist should be to visually inspect all five or six thru hulls to make sure they are tight and not weeping any drops of water. That was clearly not done on Job Site since the owner hasn’t showed up for years. Sad. (why boats sink)

Let’s Learn Why Boats Sink

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