Avoiding that sinking feeling

We want all boaters and their boats to stay safe, so here are some of the common causes of sinking boats on our canals and rivers, together with a few pointers about how to prevent it happening to you.

Two boats in Deep Lock in Bath Deep Lock, Bath

Cause and effect

One of the most common causes of sinking boats on the inland waterways is a problem with the weed hatch. Most often when it hasn't been secured properly to prevent ingress of water into the engine bay. When water comes through your weed hatch your boat can sink remarkably quickly.

Another really common cause of sinking is getting 'hung up' in a lock, either by 'cilling' the boat (the stern resting on the cill and tipping the boat) or getting something trapped in the gate, such as the rudder. 

A less common cause of hang-ups has been navigating locks with fenders dangling down the side, or forward and aft fenders either being in poor condition or not suitable for the purpose.

More sinking hazards

Other hazards which could lead to sinking include navigating in flood conditions (red boards), which is never recommended, and ignoring danger signs, especially 'Don’t moor here' danger signs, which are usually placed in front of underwater obstructions, ledges and sluice intakes.

In a collision, either with another boat or waterway infrastructure, plastic and wooden craft are more prone to sinking, but some metal boats may have very thin hulls too. 

Prevention is better than cure

Constant vigilance and making sure your crew is properly briefed, using our Boater's Handbook, is key to preventing your boat from sinking. Most importantly:

  • Check the weed hatch is properly closed every time you go boating and every time you clear the propeller.
  • Keep your boat well away from the cill when working through a lock and keep an eye out for fenders or anything else getting wedged as you ascend and descend. Make sure your crew are ready to jump into action, closing paddles quickly if things start to go wrong.
  • Don’t navigate in dangerous conditions or at high speeds, as both are likely to end in a collision with either another boat or a structure such as a bridge.
  • Never ignore warning signs about weirs and underwater obstructions.

Lock Cill Safety Sign

What happens if my boat sinks?

Should your boat unfortunately sink, it’s your responsibility to salvage it, not ours. Your first priority should be making sure everyone in your crew is safe. The second thing to do is to contact your insurance company and then to contact us.

Our local teams will go out to the boat’s location to ensure that any pollution is contained and that the boat is secured in a way that isn’t causing a hazard to navigation.

Your insurance company will arrange with a specialist recovery company to salvage your boat, if that is included in your insurance. If it’s not included, or for any reason you have invalidated your policy (such as renting your boat out without the correct type of licence), we have two pre-approved contractors who can salvage your craft, but you will need to arrange that directly with them and pay for the recovery yourself. If you’re not going to use one of our pre-approved contractors to salvage your boat, the company undertaking the work will need our authorisation first before starting work to rescue your boat.

Check your insurance policy carefully

It’s always worth paying for the most comprehensive insurance cover you can afford, as salvage costs can be very expensive. Always read the small print of your policy carefully, and be aware that if you choose a 'Third Party, Fire and Theft' policy, it is normally just that and won’t cover salvage if your boat sinks.

Stay safe, be careful out there and hopefully a sinking will be something that never happens to you.

Last date edited: 28 January 2021

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The boating team blog

Our boating team bring you news of their work across our network, as well as the stories of boaters they meet

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