A frightened man, a bucket and a pack of butter

Keeping a yacht afloat is getting harder. A modern yacht often has more of everything. Several through hulls, more intakes for generators and watermakers, more seacocks, outlets, perhaps twin rudder posts, keel to hull joints, fittings and more windows and hatches for that airy feeling and comfortable living.

You will never miss a wet sleeping berth

Even bigger masts, more chainplates and several more holes in the boat for electronics can all lead to that one thing hated more than anything onboard: water. Ask any sailor after a long journey at sea: They will absolutely not miss the wet sleeping berth.

 Water. Photo by Daniel Novello

Water. Photo by Daniel Novello

Many causes - not always an easy fix

Causes of water ingress are many, but if you are beyond trowing paper towels at the problem, you most likely need a proper pump. Most, if not all production yachts are required to have pumps onboard. Paper towels are indeed a great trick locating smaller leaks. Lay paper towels along the hull, behind the benches and inside the cabinets and see if it gets wet. Deducting the dry towels, this method is cheap and simple. 

When your yacht develops a serious leak you better have your plumbing in order.

A dry ship is a happy ship

A dry boat is also a healthy boat. Reducing mold, corrosion and that ever so often problem in older boats, rotten bulkheads and rusty engine mounts and keel bolts. It helps the boat smelling fresh also increasing hope for bringing a partner onboard.

Maintenance free does not exist

The pumps are naturally placed where maintenance and proper care are at its most difficult. Water will flow down into the bilge area, along with oil and other discharges such as a collection of screws and bolts. Though, coins are getting rarer after credit cards and mobile payment. Moving the floorboards and crawling under the motor is not fun, but may save your life one day.

Do not believe the phrase "maintenance free". In a marine environment anything will corrode and brake. Particularly bilge pumps. Clogging is common, so is electrical failure and problems with gaskets, hoses and internals in the pump itself. Therefore always test your bilge pumps regularly. We suggest using fresh water for the exercise. We also call upon the industry to specify maintenance routines more carefully for the consumers. We belive such a strategy would lead to more business, not less.

Manual pumps and frightened sailors

Risk management is redundancy in theory and practice. The adage on the frightened man may work well onboard an open boat where there is room to swing the bucket. But most yachts are cramped when it comes to emergency bailing. A manual pump, adequately placed with the pump arm fixed in a position where you can change position is highly recommended. A US company called Edson Pumps have been making fantastic manual pumps for over 158 years. Considered a lifetime investment by its owners.

 Edson Compact Manual Lever-Action Vertical Mount Pump - Bronze. Photo by Edson Pumps.

Edson Compact Manual Lever-Action Vertical Mount Pump - Bronze. Photo by Edson Pumps.

In case of emergency 

Pumps are naturally placed at the lowest point, though many also have a secondary emergency high capacity pump placed higher up. This should be connected directly to the battery with a float switch of sorts. An alarm is also often fitted and the on/off switch should be placed in the cockpit for easy access. 

Back to water ingress. As levels rise, more and more electronics will shut off and fuses go off. As water rises, the engine eventually stops. Those who have a high capacity pump connected to the engines flywheel or have disconnected the raw water intake are now running out of options. Rather than fetching the old bucket, it is perhaps wise to invest in a portable pump kit.

 Portable Pump Kit from Edson. Photo by Edson.

Portable Pump Kit from Edson. Photo by Edson.

The Americans call these manual pumps "The Hail Mary Pump" and is considered the last thing you let go of before stepping on to the life raft. The pumps are practical. You can take them closer inside the hull to where the boat is leaking. Or drop the hose down a hatch and stand freely on deck while you pump. They are also nice to bring along in the dinghy or stepping in to help others in trouble either at sea or in the marina.

 Erys Rescue Lifeboat sailing under main in Norway. Photo by Daniel Novello

Erys Rescue Lifeboat sailing under main in Norway. Photo by Daniel Novello

Stop or reduce the leak with butter 

My father always kept a big pack of butter onboard. This, I believe, was an old sailors trick. Butter is a cheap and readily available sealing agent. It will stick to wet surfaces and hold off the water. You can jump overboard and jam the butter into the hole and do the same inside. This will buy time to alert rescue services and let you asses the situation while bailing.

 Butter and Barometer from Weems & Plath- Photo by Daniel Novello

Butter and Barometer from Weems & Plath- Photo by Daniel Novello

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