Hole below the waterline

This is one of the worst situations of all to resolve.

You will not necessarily lose the boat if this happens. Keep a cool head and remember what we have written here.

Firstly, make sure everyone who should be aboard is aboard. Make sure they are out of danger and are safe. If there are any major injuries have someone attend to them, but you need at least two of you to save the boat. Your first thought should be, “Can we get this boat to a harbour or beach very quickly?”



If on an island or the coast, and it is safe to do so, get some of the crew on the shore as quickly as possible. Do not do this if it is more dangerous than staying aboard.

Is the automatic bilge pump coping? If yes, get off the rocks. Use your engine and try to manoeuvre to safety. Get to a shallow, safer place and if possible run the boat aground on a sandy bottom.

If not, get someone on the manual bilge pump asap and get them pumping.   

If you are stuck or are sinking quickly, you will need to call for help on VHF (MAYDAY) immediately and only if safe enough, get provisions and dry clothing onto the shore.

Obviously if this is a sandy beach with a bar and there are a dozen other boats about then don’t react as if you’re completely alone. Get other crews involved to resolve this.


If at sea, get the boat away from whatever put the hole in it. This might be a shipping container or another vessel.

Is the automatic bilge pump preventing the water level from climbing? If yes, make a dash for a beach or harbour and run the yacht aground. Make a ‘Securite’ call on the VHF and say you have been holed and need urgent help.

If the bilge pump isn’t keeping you afloat, have someone on the cockpit manual bilge pump immediately, and send out a MAYDAY call on the VHF. Get the handheld VHF on deck and ensure everyone is wearing a lifejacket. Launch the life raft and tie it to the stern. Do not get in the life raft until you are certain the yacht will sink imminently.

Are you within a short dash to a sandy beach? If so, get the yacht up the beach as quickly as possible – run aground as hard as you can.

Are you too far away from a beach? Get the engine running but in neutral.


Your aim is to stay afloat for as long as possible – preferably until you get into a marina or onto a beach.

Check the location of the hole.
Pull up deck boards to find it as necessary – make sure someone knows exactly where it is.


In a first instance, if the hole is forward or aft of the keel (but not if beside or near the propeller), try to patch the hole with a sail:

    1. Find a sail below. If none are available, drop the roller furling jib.
    2. If the hole is forward of the keel, get a crew member either side of the forestay on the bow. If it is aft of the keel, get them either side of the cockpit. The foot of the sail should be on the side of the hole on the hull.
      Drop the sail into the water and draw it toward the location of the hole.
    3. Stretch the luff tight.
    4. Stretch the foot and clew tight
    5. Water pressure should push the sail into the hole and stop the flow. Lash the clew, head and tack tight so the sail is flat against the hull.


If the hole is beside the keel or prop shaft and you cannot get the sail to lie flat against the hole, you need a deck board (or cupboard door), a drill, a light line of at least 3 metres in length, and a wire coat hanger.

    1. Drill a hole in the deck board with a small bit – ideally the same size as the line you will put through it.
    2. Insert the line and tie a very big stopper knot in the end. Try a ‘surgeon’s knot’.
    3. Bend the coat hanger into a small hook
    4. Send someone below to insert the hook through the hull.
    5. Someone else needs to go on deck, and with a boat hook lower the light line you have tied to the deck board to the coat hanger. The person below needs to grab the line and haul this through. Don’t be afraid to shout and swear at each other – communicate, communicate, communicate!
    6. The person below, having grabbed the line through the hole should haul the deck board to the hole and fix it tight against the hull. As with the sail the water pressure outside should hold it in.

Motor to the nearest port or beach. When you do so, motor very slowly – no more than 2-3 knots. This is counterintuitive as you are obviously in a survival situation but the ‘bandage’ or ‘patch’ you have put on may well slip off if you go too quickly.

If you make it into port, beach the boat, call Kavas Yachting via our emergency number and we will do everything we can to resolve the issue.

The crew will need beer and the skipper a beer or six, but hold off until you are certain everyone is safe in a hotel and have spoken to the insurance company, coast guard and / or police – this might take another 24 hours.


SAFETY FIRST – ensure any life threatening injuries are dealt with as you resolve the holed hull.

NEVER use the life raft if the boat is likely to stay afloat while you can get to a safe place near the coast. As a rule, the biggest boat you can be in is the safest.

ALWAYS run the boat aground as a first measure.