Why is there a foot of water in the cabin?

Discussion in 'Ask All Sailors' started by Phil Herring, Sep 24, 2018. Add this thread to a FAQ

  1. Phil Herring

    Phil Herring Dethroned Admin

    Joined Mar 25, 1997
    4,406 posts, 343 likes
    Hunter 450
    US Bainbridge Island
    Fortunately, most of us will never have the moment of panic when we discover water rising above the cabin sole. Could be a hull breach, a busted through-hull, a disconnected hose, maybe even a port left open on a close-hauled tack.

    But if you have experienced flooding, what did you do? Tell us your tale and the aftermath.


    Simon Sexton likes this.
  2. Ken Cross

    Ken Cross

    Joined Oct 24, 2010
    1,970 posts, 320 likes
    Hunter 30
    US Everett, WA
    Not a foot, but one time about 4 inches. I came down to check on the boat after a week away and found it that way. The cockpit drain hose had a hole in it and there was no electric bilge pump. I bailed. It took a bit of time to locate the problem. Fortunately, it was raining so I was able to locate the problem. That boat used those cheap plastic corrugated hoses. I never did figure out how to run a bilge pump hose and wiring to that tiny bilge. I no longer have a San Juan 28.


  3. danstanford


    Joined Aug 2, 2010
    267 posts, 40 likes
    Beneteau 323
    CA Cobourg
    Wonderful evening with 15 kt steady breeze so we threw off the lines and headed out into Lake Ontario playing around to see how fast we could get her going. After about an hour of glorious fun my wife went below to get something and came up whitefaced to tell me water was over the salon sole. We were a long way from shore and I was concerned that if it was a big leak we would never make it back so I tacked and went below to figure out where it was coming from. I was fairly convinced it was siphoning into the galley sink somehow as we were on starboard and the galley sink was on the port side but of course by the time I got looking we had changed tacks. It turned out the bilge pump switch had cacked out and I figured the water was likely just below the sole when she was flat and level but the water was over the sole when heeled. First fixed the switch and then fixed the dripping shaft seal. Sure makes a good story!

  4. pateco


    Joined Aug 12, 2014
    2,201 posts, 643 likes
    Hunter 31 (1983)
    US Pompano Beach FL
    Busted hot water heater. Not a foot, but a couple of inches is still no fun, and bad for the sole.

  5. Don S/V ILLusion

    Don S/V ILLusion

    Joined Sep 25, 2008
    5,370 posts, 493 likes
    Alden 50
    US Sarasota, Florida
    Our first sailboat with a cabin was an Ericson 27. After a Thanksgiving dinner, we crowded 11 family on the boat (we had sufficient life preservers) and went for a sunset sail.

    My son went below for some reason and yelled up "dad, is there supposed to be water above the floor?".

    I panicked but he didn't. Rather, he looked around and said "I see daylight coming through the transom". He tossed up a wooden bung which I put into the empty through hull hole where the plastic scupper drain was, waited for the bilge pump to do its thing and went sailing.

    And the time, he was 11 years old. Panic never solved anything.

    Will Gilmore, Bob S and Parsons like this.
  6. Ben4195


    Joined Jul 5, 2005
    129 posts, 18 likes
    Beneteau 361
    US Sandusky Harbor Marina
    My first "big" sailboat, a Catalina 25. It was a swing keel configuration, and I had a "professional" do Catalina's wing keel retrofit. That professional didn't do a very good job. After launch I motored it over to my slip and then went to pick up some lunch. Found water over the floor. The newly installed keel dropped a bit, opening a seam, and allowing the water in. Only had the manual bilge pump, so started pumping. Motored back over to the ramp and lost 3 quarters of the sailing season before I got the boat back from a different, competent, keel guy.

  7. Jimski


    Joined May 20, 2015
    27 posts, 2 likes
    Catalina 30
    US Seabrook
    Went to the boat (Cat-30) to check on her during a bad storm to find angle deep water in the floor. The electric bilge pump float switch was floating at the top of the bilge.

    Source of the water:
    1) my windows are as water tight as a colander. We got about 8 inches of rain that day
    2) packing nut on the prop shaft needed to be tightened

  8. Charlie Jones s/v Tehani

    Charlie Jones s/v Tehani

    Joined Mar 1, 2012
    1,747 posts, 702 likes
    1961 Rhodes Meridian 25
    us Texas coast
    Seven miles offshore in the Gulf, running before about 18 knots, heading in to Matagorda Inlet. Wife goes below and finds 6 inches of water on sole!! No float switch on bilge pump at the time (there is now!!). Turns out my newly installed bilge pump outlet was below the water line when running, and was back siphoning, merrily filling the boat. I now empties into the cockpit, 4 inches over the large cockpit drain, and now has a loop installed.

    But it made for a very interesting few minutes :)

  9. Justin_NSA


    Joined Jul 7, 2004
    5,666 posts, 1,213 likes
    Hunter 30T
    US Cheney, KS
    This has been on my mind ever since I replaced my shaft seal with a dripless. It works great, but I sure wouldn't want to come out to the docks some day and see my mast sticking out of the water!
    Our Hunter has multiple,tiny, shallow connected bilges so I would want the pump to start pretty early. I'd like a warning buzzer but I don't have one. What's the best type of switch to use in this situation? It has a float at the deepest point, but even so the bilge is half full before it is high enough to kick the pump on.

  10. Warren Milberg

    Warren Milberg

    Joined Dec 1, 1999
    2,366 posts, 105 likes
    Hunter 28.5
    US Chesapeake Bay
    "Survey says..." Bought a beautiful mid-80s Catalina 27 many years ago and had it surveyed out of the water followed by a sea trial. Boat really did well on both counts. Since the boat was in the water, I decided to sail it to my home port marina about 25 miles away. Nice trip with no apparent problems as I got to know this boat. I tied her up, made sure all the seacocks and hatches were closed, and went home. I couldn't get back to the boat for about 2 weeks and when I did it found a couple of inches of water in the cabin. Gasp. Looked around but could find no apparent reason for the flood. Luckily, I could have the boat immediately hauled. Turned out stuffing box hose under the clamps was rotten and could not be seen by visual inspection. This was a great sailing boat which I owned for a total of 6 weeks as it was then totaled by Hurricane Isobel. Stuff, and stuffing boxes, happen no matter how careful you are.

  11. John T1594

    John T1594

    Joined Jun 4, 2004
    774 posts, 38 likes
    Hunter 340
    US Forked River, NJ H340
    Another story about water on the sole - not a flood but a fair amount. We had been motoring across the bay when the
    engine RPM started to drop off slightly and come back up accompanied by a unusual amount of black smoke from the exhaust. My wife was down below in the galley and yelled that there was a lot of water all over the floor. I went down below and opened the top of the engine cover and was greeted by a steady stream of water coming from the eninge vented loop which had broken. After a while and the vented loop taped and not leaking, the exhaust was clear and the RPM's normal. We slowly returned to the slip. No more black smoke ever back at slip with engine up to full throttle. I replaced the entire vented loop.

  12. Rick D

    Rick D

    Joined Jun 14, 2008
    6,723 posts, 227 likes
    Hunter Legend 40.5
    US Long Beach, Shoreline Marina, CA
    Wooden boat (26 T-Bird). Came in after a race. My newly installed bilge pump kicked on just as we were leaving. Shallow bilge. Turned out that I hit a timber (I think) and a seam opened. Boat hauled, repair done.

  13. Peggie Hall HeadMistress

    Peggie Hall HeadMistress

    Joined Dec 2, 1997
    7,262 posts, 762 likes
    - -
    US LIttle Rock
    Interestingly, none of you experienced the most common cause for boats sinking in their slips: thru-hulls left open when no one is aboard. More than one owner has learned the need for a vented loop in the toilet intake the hard way when sea water flooded and then overflowed the toilet bowl thru-hull an open inlet thru-hull, sinking the boat. But overflowing toilets aren't the only thing that can sink a boat. The average working life of any hose --not just sanitation hoses--is about 10 years because over time rubber and plastic dries out...the hoses become hard, brittle and prone to cracking and splitting. Really old hoses on any open below-waterline thru-hull can sink a boat.

    mnmpizza likes this.
  14. markwbird


    Joined Nov 26, 2012
    1,011 posts, 243 likes
    Hunter 34
    US Berkeley
    I have a good friend who sailed a Nacra 5.7. One beautiful summer day he launched the boat and realized shortly thereafter that he'd forgotten to put the hull plugs back in. The boat was sinking so he quickly turned it around, got the trailer in the water and under the boat and managed to haul it out of the water before it sank completely, Whew! Only one problem: The trailer was not built to carry a boat full of water. The trailer collapsed instantly as soon as the boat was up the ramp. It was sad thing to see. The steel structure went to the ground on both sides of the axle.

  15. Whatfiero1


    Joined Mar 29, 2017
    280 posts, 56 likes
    Hunter 30t
    US littlecreek
    Sailing the Chesapeake at night came apon roge wave felt more Like I fell off world and slammed into bottom of a trough. Maybe it was a submarine wave because I saw no ships around. But after I recovered in cockpit my son came up from sleeping in cabin to tell me all wet down below. The cushions were floating. And I saw I split the hull to deck joint and was sailing along with a big open mouth for front of boat

  16. Simon Sexton

    Simon Sexton

    Joined Nov 1, 2017
    547 posts, 250 likes
    Catalina 25 Tall Rig
    Valiant US Watergate Marina, Kemah, TX
    We had closed the boat up for the weekend after we first bought her. Part of our shut-down procedure is locking the pop-top down tight so the proper amount of pressure is applied to the gasket in between the roof and topside to keep the elements out of the cabin. Someone (probably my brother) had supposedly forgotten to lock the top down tight enough, and we had six inches of rain water covering the cabin floor the next weekend. Good times...

  17. TomY

    TomY Alden Forum Moderator

    Joined Jun 22, 2004
    1,750 posts, 1,738 likes
    Alden 38' Challenger yawl
    US Rockport Harbor
    I have experienced, flooding, and that, is unforgettable. It's an old story heard many times so I won't bore with the details.

    I'd go under Phil's 'hull breach' as hitting a submerged ledge gave us a hole below the cabin sole about the size of a size 7 shoe. Water was above the sole in a minute or two. But that's the hard part to remember, the time frame we experienced.

    I can still vividly remember the feeling: Time speeding up all around me. My family shocked (but not overly panicked), the water rising so fast down below, drifting free after the impact (we bounced over the submerged ledge), tic-toc-tic-toc-tic-toc,... There was simply no time to think, to plan. I felt like I mentally couldn't keep up with the situation speeding ahead of me.

    Fear, panic, shock, maybe all the above, I think we just reacted. We were all fairly calm, amazingly (shock I think, especially our young kids), but had no control over the situation. There simply wasn't enough time.

    I started the engine (we were under sail) and headed for the nearest land, an island about 1/4-1/2 mile away.

    Alls well that ends well. We saved Xmas (Cruising World 2004), patched her up and floated off at the next high tide. With a coast guard cutter following close behind, we got the boat into slings of the nearest travel lift, and we all finally exhaled...

    Here's my take away: In the event of a hull breach, a sheared thru hull or popped hose on a large diameter hose, except for pretty minor flooding events (head left on, cracked hose,...), there isn't a bilge pump or 'save your boat' article that is much help. They go down too fast!

  18. Jackdaw


    Joined Nov 8, 2010
    10,304 posts, 3,310 likes
    Beneteau First 36.7 & 260
    US Minneapolis MN & Bayfield WI
    The only time I've gotten appreciable water in in any of my boats was a few years ago, in BlueJ. I left the cabin windows open after a fun sail, and it rained the next three days. Normally the boat is perfect dry, and when I opened the companionway four days later (I did't see the windows!) I could smell the water and dampness. What a mess.

  19. TomY

    TomY Alden Forum Moderator

    Joined Jun 22, 2004
    1,750 posts, 1,738 likes
    Alden 38' Challenger yawl
    US Rockport Harbor
    I found water around the galley sink drain seacock. I thought the seacock was leaking but after running my hand around in back, I thought I felt cracks in the hose. Sure enough, the hose, no more than 10 years old(and high quality), had several cracks - invisible on the back side. It was leaking, but would in time, would open up more and maybe the pressure from a wave or wake would part it.

    I wasn't too alarmed because, except when we're on the boat, I close all the seacocks (except the cockpit scuppers-I check those hoses and clamps, continuously), upon leaving the boat.

    I had a fried tell me he leaves a few open all season. When I looked alarmed, he said he figures lots of people do when they are hard to get to.

    So: Is it true? Do you leave any seacocks open (cockpit scupper excepted), when the boat sits at dock or mooring for weeks at a time?

  20. Phil Herring

    Phil Herring Dethroned Admin

    Joined Mar 25, 1997
    4,406 posts, 343 likes
    Hunter 450
    US Bainbridge Island
    Also bad for the soul.

    Will Gilmore likes this.

Sail Trim Chart and Guide
When it comes to sailing, as basic as salt and pepper and just as indispensable!
Low prices, custom fit, no-wait estimates
Flexible steel chafe pads
Innovative new product made of flexible, laser cut stainless steel. Must see!
Gray ports and parts
The most popular port on boats built from the 70s into the 90s.