Are Sailboats Unsinkable? (What’s The Truth?)

Anytime I see a boat that has sunk, I feel a bit of sadness inside. That boat was once filled with joy and now it sits at the bottom of the ocean. Just think at one point that boat was new and in perfect condition and now it is trashed. It’s a very sad sight indeed. When it comes to sailboats, there is a lot of concern about safety and sinking. If your sailboat was taking on water what would you do?

As a general rule consider all sailboats sinkable for safety reasons. There have been a few sailboats designed by Etap that are unsinkable but the majority of all sailboats can sink. Check with your boat’s manufacturer for more information on the build of your vessel.

When it comes to safety always be prepared when your boat is taking on water. Even if you think your boat can’t sink, be prepared if it does. Remember the Titanic?

This article will talk about sailboats and what to do if your boat starts to sink. I will also talk about my personal experience when my Catalina 22 took on a lot of water and almost sank. Let’s talk about that first.

My Experience With A Sinking Sailboat – True Story

I bought my first sailboat back in Idaho, read about it here, about 8 years ago. It was 22 feet and amazing. I didn’t have much experience with sailing or sailboats but I did have a few lessons about sailing before I purchased it.

I spent the early months of the year getting it ready for its slip on the lake in Idaho. Around April, I decided to put it into the water and start my summer sailing. This was a great day, at least at the beginning it was.

I had a couple of friends joining me as well to help celebrate this joyous occasion.

When you put your sailboat in the water there are quite a few things you need to check and one of those things is checking for leaks. I did not do this because I was young and stupid. I did not do enough research about sailboats and how to manage them and this set me up for panic.

We put the boat in the water and motored over to the docks. Everything was going great. Once we got to the docks, we noticed the outboard motor was not spitting out water. Unable to get a good internet connection to research this, we asked other sailors on the dock for help.

People around the sailing marina were extremely friendly and happy to help.

After looking at the engine they decided it was probably a problem down in the prop area that pulls water up into the engine. They suggested driving over to another marina and seeing if they could take a look at it. While we were troubleshooting this engine and from the moment we put the boat in the water, there was a major leak happening that we still had not realized.

I continued to check out the engine because I felt like the problem was something else, something that the previous owner told me about but I forgot. After looking at the hole where the water comes out for some time, I noticed something. There was no hole for the water to come out of. It had a small rubber plug stopping the water. I believe the previous owner put it in when the boat was in storage to keep bugs out. After removing this plug the motor ran great!

But that is when everything started to go into panic mode. After fixing the engine situation, I finally went below deck to organize everything and found the leak. In my Catalina 22, there is a step into the cabin that has a removable wood panel. This is where the battery box sits in the hull of the boat. When I took off that panel the water was already at the top of the opening.

PANIC! The boat was sinking or at least about to sink. I yelled at my friends to drive over to the ramp and get the trailer in the water, I was going to make a run for it in the boat. Thankfully the engine started right up and had decent speed. It was only about 100 yards to the boat ramp but I felt like the boat would go under any second.

Thankfully we were able to get it on the trailer before it went under.

Turns out, the bilge pump had become detached from the hose that dumps over the keel. The force of the water when putting the boat in must have forced it off. It could have been a quick fix if I had just checked when we first got it in the water. Live and learn or just better prepare next time.

I did eventually get the boat leak corrected and back to its slip before the sun went down, but it was a very long day in the end.

What would I have done if it did sink?

How Do You Salvage A Sunken Boat?

There are two ways to salvage a sunken boat, hire a professional or do it yourself. A professional will charge you based on the location and size of your boat, which could cost up to $5000 and beyond. If you do it yourself, you will have to rent or buy the necessary equipment to do it.

Anytime I see a boat that has sunk, I feel a bit of sadness inside. That boat was once filled with a bunch of people having a great time and now it sits at the bottom of the ocean. Just think at one point that boat was new and in perfect condition and now it is trashed. It’s a very sad sight indeed.

If your boat has sunk, time is of the essence. The longer the boat is fully submerged in water the more damage it will take. You need to get it afloat and back to shore as soon as possible.

The first thing you should do is call your insurance company. If you plan on hiring a salvage yard to retrieve your boat, maybe your insurance will help with the cost and be able to recommend a company in the area.

If you want to do it yourself, there is risk involved. The risks involved are safety and more damage to your boat. Since you are not a professional and have probably never retrieved a sunken boat, there is a good chance you could hurt yourself or break the boat even worse. Don’t do this unless you are confident you know what you are doing.

Follow the steps in the next section to retrieve your sunken vessel.

5 Steps To Retreive A Sunken Boat

These steps are a recommendation only and have no guarantee of any kind. Your boat and safety are your responsibility.

Step 1

You will need a rope or chain to attach the recovery vessel to the sunken vessel. Attach these lines to the strongest parts of the boat to help avoid damage.

Step 2

Next, you will need some type of flotation device to attach to the sunken boat. Make sure you have multiple floatations to attach to your vessel. Once they are attached you will need to fill them with air. See about bringing an air compressor to fill these underwater. Once they are filled, the boat will rise some.

Step 3

If at all possible, see if you can do any sort of repairs to the leak/ hole in the boat. This will help new water from entering once it is afloat.

Step 4

Once the boat is high enough in the water, add pump-out lines to the vessel to start pumping out water. The pumps should be strong enough to pump out enough water (before more gets in) to make the boat reach the surface.

Step 5

When the boat has reached the surface and seems to be buoyant again, safely and very carefully tow it to shore.

These steps are general and a good starting point if you plan to do it yourself, but please consult an expert if possible.

In Conclusion

This article discussed sailboats and if they are unsinkable. As a general rule, treat all boats as sinkable. Even if the manufacturer says it is not. This will help keep things and people safe when sailing. If your boat does sink, they are a couple of ways to retrieve it, hire a professional or do it yourself. If you plan to do it yourself, please be careful! Cheers!


Boatlifehq owner and author/editor of this article.

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