At sea, the safest place is often the biggest thing that floats

When facing the unsettling scenario of a sinking yacht, quick decision-making is crucial.

If your yacht is plummeting like a rock, the priority is to get everyone into the life raft.

However, if the situation allows, taking a moment to assess and remember a fundamental principle can make a difference.

If your yacht is expected to stay afloat for another hour, remaining aboard while awaiting help becomes a reasonable strategy

Broadly speaking, the two main culprits behind vessel sinking are water ingress and fire.

Water Ingress

Water ingress, or the unwanted entry can occur through various means, such as

  • leaks
  • hull damage
  • open hatches (during rough weather conditions)

In the face of water ingress, the decision to transmit a Mayday distress call (see below) is contingent on the gravity of the situation.

The safety of individuals on board is always the paramount concern.

Here are some key steps to take:

  • Locate the Source
    Quickly identify the point of water entry.
    This could be a leak, hull breach, or an open hatch.
  • Immediate Response
    Act promptly to mitigate the situation.
    Use available materials like clothing, blankets, or even a wedge to block the entry point.
    If the breach is small, attempt to seal it temporarily until further action can be taken.
  • Bilge Pump and Emergency Equipment
    Ensure that the bilge pump is operational and use it to remove excess water.
    In addition, manual pumps and buckets should be on hand to assist in water extraction.
  • Head Toward the Nearest Shore
    If the situation persists and cannot be resolved onboard, navigate towards the nearest shore.
    Prioritize the safety of everyone on board.


Another significant threat leading to boat sinking is fire.

Given the confined spaces and the presence of flammable materials on many vessels, fires can escalate rapidly and become life-threatening.

Electrical malfunctions, engine issues, or even human error (e.g while cooking) can spark a blaze that endangers the lives of everyone on board.

In the event of a boat fire, focus on eliminating one of the three components of the fire triangle using fire extinguishers or fire blankets.

Do not use water, as it may exacerbate the situation.

In the case of a serious crew member injury, you would transmit a "PanPan" call.

The "PanPan" signal is used to announce an emergency situation that is urgent but not an immediate threat to life.

On the other hand, the "Mayday" call is reserved for situations involving an immediate threat to life.
In the event of a severe injury where the danger to life is apparent, using the "Mayday" call would be more appropriate.


This call is reserved for situations of grave and imminent danger to life or the vessel/aircraft.
It is the highest level of distress call and is used when immediate assistance is required.

Examples of situations warranting a MAYDAY call include a severe medical emergency, a fire on board, a sinking vessel, or an aircraft facing imminent crash or critical systems failure.


- Tune your VHF radio to Channel 16, which is the international hailing and distress frequency
- Press and hold the microphone button on your VHF radio to activate the transmission.
- This is sailing vessel: . . . . . . . . . . .
- Our position is : . . . . . . . . . . .
- We are experiencing : . . . . . . . . . . . (e.g., taking on water, fire on board)
- There are  . . . . . . people on board
- We require : . . . . . . . . . . .  (e.g., immediate evacuation, medical assistance)


Instances have occurred where abandoned boats were found unmanned, leading to tragic consequences, so:

Staying onboard is the priority until all other options are exhausted