It’s 2:00 AM. You’re 200 nm Offshore and Your Floorboards Are Floating!
For years while on long distance passage, others on the crew and I discussed a wide range of “what if scenarios” while sitting on the rail. Some had a basis in our respective pasts. Others were merely hypothetical. All provided us with some insights and options if and when we were ever faced with similar problems. Confronting floating floorboards in the middle of the night is merely one of many situations we’ve considered, faced and overcome.
Initially, one has to stop the problem from getting worse. Get the pumps working. Tasting the water will then help you to determine if the water is fresh or salt – assuming you’re offshore in saltwater. If saltwater is the source of the problem, you need to determine how the water is getting in. Is there a leak in the raw water intake? Is the sink or toilet back-siphoning? Is one of the through-hulls cracked, or is the stuffing box leaking excessively? Some of these problem sources can be identified by locating the general area from which the water is coming, but if the water is already deep or limber holes are clogged, you may need to check each area and potential source one by one. Having a schematic drawing of the through-hull locations will help in an emergency. Of course, there is also the possibility that you have an actual hole in the boat, creating a different sort of problem.
In two separate cases, we have discovered that the prop-strut that supports the prop shaft had vibrated over an extended time and the resultant fatigue had ripped a hole in the bottom of the boat, directly under the engine. We were unable to get a collision blanket (piece of canvas or sail) under the bottom of the hull to slow the water ingress. Without a roving crash pump, we had to close and disconnect the raw water intake through-hull and cobble together a hose and connect it to the engine, running the other end of the hose to the deepest part of the bilge, using the engine to pump out the bilge while cooling the engine with the water from the bilge. The scheme relied on a clean bilge not fouling the engine, and throttling the engine up or down to maintain a constant supply of cooling water from the bilge. It was a risky and somewhat desperate attempt, but it kept us afloat for 3 days.
Keeping all of your pumps in working order, thoroughly understanding your through-hull locations, having access to dry softwood bungs and knowing how to use them, as well as having a good roving automatic crash pump will go a long way in helping you solve a wide variety of floating floorboard problems you may encounter. What would you have done?
Bill Biewenga has sailed more than 400,000 miles offshore. He has been our Blue Water Sailing Offshore columnist since 2001.