Seacock Emergency Bungs

A hole in the bottom of a boat is a scary thing. Whenever I had to pull out the speed log for cleaning my stress levels increased, for a small amount of time the water that entered the boat and the pressure behind it was concerning. I often wondered what would happen if I couldn’t get the plug to go back in – who could I call for help when singlehanded? would I end up like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke? I solved the issue by removing the speed log and blanking off the the hole permanently.

A hole in the bottom of the boat that is not planned is scary plus. As we know scary events at sea usually occur a couple of hours after midnight, designed to catch us off guard and cause panic to the unprepared. We also know that good practice is to carry bungs (damage control plugs) on board to plug broken seacocks and small holes in the hull. I have always carried a selection of plugs on Truce, in a bag that lives in a locker on the companionway steps. They are handy to reach, I know exactly where they are and easily locatable in the dark. However, any crew on board cant be relied on to remember this and therefore it is recommended that the correct sized bungs should be available adjacent to the seacocks.

I have observed that common practice is to tie the bungs to the seacock with a short length of line. There they often sit neglected for years, rolling around in the bilge, collecting dirt and crud, out of sight and forgotten. The problem with this scenario is that at two in the morning with water coming into the boat fumbling around in the bilge for a bung is going to be a hit and miss exercise. Rapidly rising water coupled with an increasing sense of urgency will not help the situation. When water is entering the boat the source needs to be found fast.

For this reason I decided to put the bungs on display and clearly labelled adjacent to and above the relevant seacocks. There the crew can readily see them and they are easily accessible in the event of an emergency.

Being a bit obsessive I Have given the bungs a coat of varnish to help keep them clean. The varnish would quickly disappear if they were hammered with good force into a through hull. Of course I still keep a selection of bungs available in the bag by the companionway steps.

Carrying bungs for emergency use on seacocks and small holes in the hull, fuel or water tanks is only a small part of what should be a comprehensive strategy for managing flooding on the vessel. The first priority when water is entering the vessel is to reduce, as quickly as possible, the incoming flow by whatever means possible to a manageable level. When shorthanded this will require clear thinking and prioritising tasks to achieve the best outcome. The first priority is to save the boat, the second priority is to save life, this sounds back to front but without a boat chances of survival diminish quickly.

Uncontrolled flooding is a severe emergency. Getting to the point of water ingress is a priority and the use of brutal means, axe, hammer and violence on any impeding furniture or fittings is justified.

On board Truce we have a Whale 30 gallons per minute manual bilge pump. This is an awesome machine, pumps a crazy amount of water and is untroubled by small debris in the line. But, if I am pumping there is nothing else I can do, I am dedicated to the pump. Also, pumping thirty gallons per minute is only sustainable for a short period of time, it would require a couple of Olympic athletes in rotation to keep going at full rate for any length of time. The electric bilge pump would have to work in the background to free me up for other tasks in an emergency. So, its important that water level never reaches a level where the engine or batteries are in danger of being put out of action. When installing a bilge pump go for high capacity, there is no point in saving $$$ here.

So, in an emergency the engine is started, this will provide power for batteries, lights, bilge pump, radio etc. Also the raw water intake hose can be disconnected from the seacock and will pull water from the bilge to cool the engine and discharge overboard, it all helps.

Early warning of water ingress is also very important. A high level bilge alarm should be fitted so a warning is given before the floorboards start floating around. All boats are different and have differing bilge arrangements. On Truce we have a dry bilge and the electric bilge pump is in a box above the lowest point of the bilge. This prevents accidental discharge overboard of dirty bilgewater but also means that any water in the bilge would have to rise a few inches before the bilge pump box was flooded. An alarm gives an early warning of any water ingress before the bilge pump is automatically activated. The bilge alarm is wired on the non switched side of electrical distribution, same as the bilge pump.

Knowledge and training is vital when responding to any emergency. Regular familiarisation, closing and opening seacocks will aid the fast location and action to meet any seacock breach. If crew are onboard get them to open and close seacocks when arriving and departing from port. On all vessels there should be an operating manual with a seacock plan included. This manual can be as simple or comprehensive as you like, on Truce its quite comprehensive and a good source of information on equipment, spares, safety equipment, medical supplies etc.

Extract from Operations Manual showing through hull openings

On Truce we have a large tool kit and a range of cordless power tools to assist dealing with any emergency repairs. In addition we carry at least the following: –

Duct Tape, plywood sheets, timber, nails, screws, 3m 5200 sealant, steel epoxy, underwater epoxy, premixed glass fibre epoxy, rescue tape, rubber sheet, hacksaws, rags, Axe, lump hammer etc. Every boat is different, what you carry for a steel or plastic boat will be different to a wooden boat. One boat I was on went around for weeks with a biscuit tin cement box inside the hull.

A search online will harvest a number of well written emergency flooding and response plans. Reference to these should help with prompting thought and developing a plan specific to a particular boat. It is a really good idea to have a plan and strategy when water starts to rise inside the boat.