What happens when a boat sinks?

What steps should you take when your boat capsizes?

An accident in which a vessel sinks or capsizes is every boatowner’s nightmare. But it’s something that everyone who goes on the water should consider so that they know what to do if the worst happens.

Boating accidents can occur as a result of striking something – like floating debris or another vessel. They can be caused by bad weather, mechanical failure, poor maintenance, user error or simple bad luck.

Reduce the impact of a boating accident before you sail

The most important thing you can do to protect those you sail with is to insist on everyone wearing lifejackets (or personal floatation devices – PFDs) while on the water. Be sure to keep your PFDs in tip-top shape by checking them regularly, storing them well and replacing them as necessary. The RNLI has some helpful guidance about lifejackets.

Make sure your boat has the right level of insurance. Before you set sail think about whether the coverage you have is right for the activities you have planned. The right insurance policy will help with the costs of recovery and repair – but if you’ve got the wrong coverage, then you may find yourself paying for more than you otherwise might have. If you want to check your coverage with Velos, get in touch on +44 (0)20 7929 4058.

Keep your vessel in good repair. Take steps to maintain your watercraft to a good standard. This will reduce the chances of an accident.

Carry a communication device. Look into the different options, including handheld VHF; personal locator beacon; EPIRB; SART.

Talk with your passengers and crew about what to do when things go wrong. It might put a bit of a dampener on the launch – but it’s a conversation that could save lives.

What happens when a boat starts to sink?

A boat can start to sink very quickly once it starts to take on water. So, make sure everyone is wearing a lifejacket.

You will want to have your communication device and your ditch bag handy in case you need to evacuate.

Once everyone is as safe as they can be, call for help. The coastguard will want to know your location, boat name, number of people and situation. They may also ask how long you can stay afloat.

While you wait for help to arrive, start work on some self-help. It may be possible to plug a leak with anything soft like bags of food or bedding. Think about whether you can shift the weight in the boat to raise the leak above the water line. Use bilge pumps to remove the water, and think about whether beaching the boat is an option, as this will prevent the boat from sinking.

What should I do if my boat capsizes?

Stay with a capsized vessel. It is easier for rescuers to spot a vessel in open water than the head of a swimmer. You can also stay dryer and warmer for longer, even in a listing vessel.

What should I do if my boat collides with another vessel?

In the event of two boats colliding, you must stop and identify yourself, your vessel, your home port, your ports of origin and destination. You are obliged to help the people on board the other boat – as long as it’s safe to do so.

You will need to report the collision if there are extensive damages or the seaworthiness of the vessel is affected or if it’s resulted in death or injury that requires more than first aid.

If you are racing: protest the third party if they do not accept the penalty.

Finally, you should get witness statements and details from everyone involved.

What should I do once I’ve been rescued from a sinking yacht?

Once help arrives and you and your passengers are safe, you may be able to negotiate a tow if your boat is not completely sunk. Take steps to safeguard the vessel, then let your insurers know. They can advise on salvage and repairs and will tell you what estimates to get. Gather witness statements, and details of any other vessels involved.

At Velos, our claims are managed by trained, UK-based claims handlers who are experienced in marine insurance.

Contact Us

Tel: +44 (0)20 7929 4058
Fax: +44 (0)20 7933 9350
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Velos Insurance Services Limited
5th Floor, 81 Southwark St,
London SE1 0HX
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