One main tip: Keep your boat afloat; don't sink out there. And if you do or must, there are steps to take when that happens to protect and preserve your safety.
The Boat Owners Association of the United States (BOATUS) recently surveyed boat insurance claims to identify the primary causes of boat sinkings. About two out of every three boats (69 percents) sink while docked or moored, with the remainder sinking while out on the water (31 percent).
For boat sinkings while on the water, the most common cause (43 percent) is hitting something -- a log, the bottom or colliding with another boat or dock. While some sinkings might be avoided with care and caution, others can only be chalked up to bad luck.
While there are safety checks and efforts you should take before leaving dock, some incidents cannot be avoided. If you find yourself on a sinking boat, you should take these measures, according to Esurance:
Get everyone a life jacket, which everyone should have as soon as they board your craft anyway.
Make a distress call. Use your emergency VHF radio or cell phone to make a Mayday call, giving location, boat name, injury situation, number of people aboard and an estimate on how long you can stay afloat. The U.S. Coast Guard's radio frequency is channel 16 if you're out on a Great Lake like Lake Michigan.
Be resourceful. Try plugging a leaking hole with items lying around, including clothing, towels, seat cushions or food bags. Also, move everyone aboard and gear to the other side of the watercraft to try to tilt the hole above water or, perhaps, slow down the flooding.
Pump the water. Use a bilge or any backup pump to help extract pooling water. In some cases, an engine can be used as an emergency pump by removing the raw-water intake hose and running the throttle in the pooling water. As water level drops, ease the throttle to keep the engine from overheating.
Beach the boat. It might be worth grounding the boat on a sand bar or other land cropping rather than sink as long as the location is not too rocky or dangerous.
Stay with the boat, if possible. Not only can you keep drier and warmer longer, but it will make it easier for rescue parties to locate ship.
If you decide to abandon the boat, take your supplies if at all possible. And, if the boat is completely sinking, it's definitely time to get off. However, do not leaving without taking some supplies as long as it's safe to do so. That means grabbing an emergency radio, phone, food, water and warm clothes and take those with you in a waterproof bag. Or, even better, have an emergency bag ready to go before you leave the dock.
Of all dock-mooring sinkings, 39 percent occur when a part gives out because of wear, tear and corrosion. This is a no-brainer because lack of maintenance is the factor.
Here are some preventative measures:
For inboard-outboard powered boats, inspect stern drive bellows annually and replace every three to five years. The shift bellows is usually the first to fail.
For inboard powered boats, check the stuffing box every time you're on the boat. Also, repack every spring instead of just tighten down the nut.
For engines with raw water hoses, replace them the moment they indicate wear, such as when small cracks appear or if they feel spongy when squeezed. Rusty hose clamps also should be replaced.
Replace the engine cooling system impeller every two to three years.
Inspect the boat’s cockpit and live-well plumbing. Check out hoses, clamps, and cracked or broken fittings. Make sure you can inspect all such plumbing. If you can't, install inspection ports to make the task easier.
Each season, take are hard look at all below-waterline fittings, hoses and clamps.
Don’t forget the drain plug. You knew that'd be on the list.
Keep a good lookout and ask guests to help keep their eyes peeled for deadheads. If you have grounded or hit something, consider a short haul to inspect the bottom or drive gear.
Always pull trailered boats from the water when storms are forecast. These boats generally have too little free board to stand up to any kind of wave action.
Dock-line management systems that keep the boat centered in its slip can prevent snags that sometimes lead to a sinking.
Since we're speaking about maintenance, here some inportant tips for overall watercraft care from GEICO that are always good to follow by boat owners:
Ensure all electronic equipment is operating properly.
Check safety items, such as life jackets and floatation devices, to make sure they are in working order and are in sufficient number.
Tune the engine and replace the oil and filters.
Check the coolant level and test for a proper mixture.
Make sure your carbon monoxide detector is working properly.
Inspect the general condition of the hull and apply a coat of wax.
Check all ignition and secondary wiring for wear.
Inspect all safety equipment and life vests.
Check mooring lines for wear.
Inspect all fuel system components for leaks.
Replace any anodes that show signs of wear.
Remember, please stay safe, be responsible and use common sense when boating.