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Old 20-08-2009, 20:34   #1
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What Sinks Boats?

Many times on this and other sailing forums I've heard the question asked which boats are really blue water boats. Invariably the answer is given that the boat will be tougher than the sailor, or some other non-answer which doesn't really address the question. Or maybe I'm just not getting it. I am also searching for my first boat and in discussions with my wife the first criteria on our list is safety. We understand that education, experience and planning are paramount to a succesful voyage; however, it seems that the first consideration would be, can this boat survive a worst case scenario without sinking. I am concerned with this issue especially because we keep hearing comments like "I wouldn't even consider taking an Oday across the Atlantic" or "I wouldn't consider a catalina for a circumnavigation." I understand your frustration with having the same questions asked by novice sailors such as myself and I hope you'll forgive me for presenting you with one more. But please understand my frustration. We simply are hoping to be emotionally secure in our boat and confident that our boat can take a pounding.

What qualities should I look for in a boat that is expected to encounter severe storm conditions at sea? what will be the greatest danger to a boat in that situation? Assume for a minute that I am perfect and will make no errors during this encounter. What about the boat is most likely to kill me? And what boats are least likely to suffer these problems? What boat would you choose to cross the north atlantic at it's worst? Are there particular brands of boats that have earned a reputation for being safe boats and why?
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Old 20-08-2009, 21:12   #2
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A boat usually sinks due to a combination of negative factors rather than just one catastrophic failure due to wave interaction.

In reality, most of the negative factors are user based decisions over regular inspection and maintenance or heavy weather solutions, but in this discussion we will ignore them.

Obviously structural integrity achieved during the build and outfitting will determine any boats resilience.

Here is an incomplete list of what can go wrong:

  • Material Choice
  • Scantlings and execution (Material Thickness)
  • Access to thru hulls and salt water hoses
  • Deck penetrations… Hatches/Windows/Portholes can all be failure points to allow water in
  • Size and Quality of Rigging attachments if poorly done can compromise integrity.
  • Keel and Rudder attachments/ Shaft failure

The bottom line to choosing a boat for offshore use is researching builder’s reputation and inspecting each potential purchase as if it was there first build pre-owned by an idiot.
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Old 20-08-2009, 21:56   #3
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Most boats sink at the dock, and for simple things like a hose clamp or hose break- or is filled with rain, or if offshore hitting something hard,
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Old 20-08-2009, 22:10   #4
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My boat of choice for the North Atlantic in winter would be a nuclear submarine. If your number one priority is safety, stay home and never drive anything smaller than a Suburban.
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Old 20-08-2009, 22:20   #5
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What Sinks Boats?
Usually the skipper and crew.
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Old 21-08-2009, 00:38   #6
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If you study maritime disasters, its usually a sequence of three or more things that go wrong. Rarely is it one thing. There really is a pattern. It means that if one things goes wrong, be on guard and do not push your luck. Disaster may be two bad events away. I know that sounds borderline superstitious but there really is a lot of truth to it if you study disasters. Most of the time it is a direct or closely related succession of human mistakes. In cases where the first problem is mechanical, the second and third problems are often bad choices or failing to act on time or both. When one bad things happens, you have been warned that things can get much worse.
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Old 21-08-2009, 02:21   #7
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From BoatUS “Seaworthy Magazine”
Why Boats Sink
And How to Keep Them Afloat


“... Modern boats sink for a variety of reasons, which is the point of this discussion. According to the BoatU.S. Marine Insurance claim files, for every boat that sinks underway, four boats sink in their slips ...”

Why Boats Sink On Open Water
30% Taking Water Over the Gunwales (mostly outboard powered)
18% Leaks at Thru-hulls
12% Leaks at Raw water Cooling System/Exhaust
12% Drain Plug Missing
10% Navigation Error (Grounding)
6% Boat Construction (Hull Split Open):
4% Leaks at Outdrive Boots
4% Struck Floating Debris
4% Other

More ➥ BoatUS.com - Seaworthy Magazine

and ➥ Boat US - Online Boating Safety Study Guide

Sinking Underway

According to several other sources (who quote BoatUS)
Note the discrepancy, which I cannot explain.
ie ➥ Sail World - Powerboat-world: Sail and sailing, cruising, boating news

Struck submerged object 40%
Prop shaft or strut 16%
Below waterline fitting 16%
Grounding 8%
Stuffing box leak 8%
Storm/knockdowns 8%
Above waterline fitting 4%
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Old 21-08-2009, 03:37   #8
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VB : I understand your need to have a bullet proof boat capable of handling every eventuality. In practice, this is a requirement which is impossible to meet.

As Ex-Calif says - It is the crew who keep it afloat.

Here's a partial list of some weird and abnormal things which can put a hole in your day and which you can do very little about.

- running into floating shipping containers at 8+ kts
- being run down by a big ship
- lightning strike
- icebergs
- whales and orca's
- uncharted reefs
- 100 year storms
- And last but not least, Jules Verne's Giant Octopus.

VB : Your mindset of wanting to "Be Prepared" already goes 99% of the way to making your boat of choice as unsinkable as possible. Read all the disaster and survival at sea books. Do read "Seaworthiness: The Forgotten Factor" by C.A. Marchaj, ISBN 1888671092.
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Old 21-08-2009, 03:51   #9
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How prevalent are floating containers and whales? Just how many containers are there in the oceans, and is there any evidence that whales might active or passivly involved in collisions/sinkings
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Old 21-08-2009, 04:39   #10
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There's speculation that Steve Callahan ("Adrift") was holed by a whale as were the Robertson family ("Survive the Savage Sea") which they say was attacked by Orca's. Both are wonderful books to read on how to survive.

As for shipping containers - I know of someone who narrowly missed one in PNG waters in broad daylight, it was floating with just inches of freeboard, and the only reason he saw it was that there were lots of birds perched on it. His boat was a lightweight plywood cat and would have come off second best.

ps... Before anyone else takes me to task, the list was titled "weird and abnormal". I'm not claiming they're common place. The intention was to illustrate that its impossible to have a truly 100% guarantee of safety. One can only do one's best to move the odds in one's favour, and mostly that is plenty good enough.

pps..and neither can I actually vouch for a Giant Octopus. But theres got be some large and creepy denizons of the deep just waiting to feed innocent yachties to their young. No, no, I don't mean brokers.
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Old 21-08-2009, 05:01   #11
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Well, that's a lot of information and I understand now why the "non-answers" were the correct answers. Such great info! I guess that sometime in the future when I've many years and thousands of miles under my cruising belt, my answer to that novice cruiser who asks me the question "What will sink my boat" will be "you will!"
Thank you all for some great and clarifying answers. I am going to check some through hulls now. See ya later...lol! Eric
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Old 21-08-2009, 05:14   #12
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There's nothing like doing your own research on suitable boats for offshore sailing. It seems confusing now, but at some point in the process you'll actually have enough knowledge that the list of potential choices will be manageable. If you want to fast-track, you could hire a knowledgeable professional like John Neal or Bob Perry to help you find the "perfect boat".
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Old 21-08-2009, 08:44   #13
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Originally Posted by virginia boy View Post
..... Invariably the answer is given that the boat will be tougher than the sailor, or some other non-answer which doesn't really address the question. Or maybe I'm just not getting it. ..... What boat would you choose to cross the north atlantic at it's worst? Are there particular brands of boats that have earned a reputation for being safe boats and why?
The submarine was the best answer. None of us would choose to cross the North Atlantic at its worst: so you are not getting it, yet. Oh. Lots of replies overnight and you do get it now. Great.

Fire would sink boats — so we keep fire inside our stoves.

Water would sink boats — so we keep it out.

Air sinks boats — when it moves too fast as in Hurricane Bill.

Finally earth sinks boats — in the form of rock.

So I'd really go sailing, soon, with a crew that are trustworthy: and get rid of some of these fears that sink boats. Then you'll have time for the real fears and take care of them.
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Old 21-08-2009, 09:09   #14
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What sinks boats the most is land not open water. That means it's the crew. Weather and waves also being a factor. But as noted again in another post, often the boat will survive a storm even when left alone and abandoned at sea.
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Old 21-08-2009, 10:10   #15
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Just need to follow the cardinal rules of sailing and you will be just fine:

1) Keep the people on the inside

2) Keep the water on the outside

3) Keep the large pole upright

That's all you need to know. LOL.
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