At some point or another, most of us have had to deal with having a small leak in our home or business. A window or even a roof dripping a bit during a flooding spell in springtime is cause for a check up and a few buckets, but not any real concern for most people. Not so on a boat. A primal fear is awakened when you find yourself on a leaking boat in bad weather, even if you clearly are in no danger of sinking or drowning or in fact any horrible fate at all other than a few sopping beach towels lying around and some wrinkled book pages.
Our first big rainstorm on the boat happened just a week or so after moving aboard. Dan was working and I was attempting to turn a very foreign space into our home. As the heavy rain started to fall and the boat began to sway on our dock lines, I started to hear the tell-tale sound of dripping, something I had (naively) never considered when moving aboard. My heart started to beat faster but I decided that the most logical thing to do was to find the leak and write it down so that I could tell Dan about it when he got home in an hour or two. And thus began the hunt, me with my flashlight and notebook scouring every inch of cabinet, hatch and window, all the while becoming more and more panicked as 1 leak become 2, and then 3, and then 10. After my final count of around 15 of so separate dripping areas, I finally sat down on our settee with my face in my hands and sobbed. What had I gotten myself into?
Luckily, Dan had no such fears of our leaking boat and went immediately to work checking out the problem once he had assured me that our boat was, of course, not in danger of sinking. Nearly 6 months later, I’m quite dry while writing this post during a lovely wet spell to say that we’ve finally located and eliminated all of those leaks (for now at least), though we weren’t able to completely accomplish that feat until just a week or two ago. It is amazing how difficult it can be to locate the source of a leak on a rolling object, especially one in which you can rarely see the direct underside of the deck. Now that we are leak free however, the boat feels like a totally different place in a storm; a cozy refuge for our family rather than a derelict tent.
A few things that we have learned through the process of finding our many water intrusions:
- Start with any leaks that are at risk of affecting the integrity of your hull or decks. Luckily we didn’t have any majors so we moved onto the leaks that were easily assessed and fixed, followed closely by those that were the most negatively affecting our comfort. A small leak in the galley is a lot easier to live with than one directly above your bed or bookcase.
- Many times 1 leak can manifest in many different areas of the boat. One of the first and easiest fixes that we found was intrusion where a cable/phone hookup had been removed and not properly covered again. A couple of pieces of duct tape (and replacing the hook-up a few days later) completely eliminated at least 4 different spots that I had marked in one shot.
- Check which way your boat is leaning. To go along with #2, one of our leaks would find its way port or starboard depending on which way the wind was coming from, causing us to think we had separate leaks to fix when there was really only one.
- If you are having trouble locating a leak, you can try using a hose directly on suspected spots. Always check for leaks from the highest point first and make your way down. We started with the cockpit hardware mountings, then moved to the cabin top, etc. before finally getting down to the deck. A word of warning though: make sure that you give enough time for the water to potentially get through before moving on and test it with your boat leaning in different ways otherwise you could miss your leaks if the water is pooling somewhere first (see #3).
- Finally, make sure that when you do find the leak, you fix it properly to avoid any (further) damage, especially in the case of cored decks or hulls. You do not want your leaky hatch bedding turning into a soggy deck!
Hopefully, you’ll find that you look forward to getting out of the rain when you get home, rather than spending the night in it!