Fingertips are a superb wetness sensor, often
finding a leak that is impossible to see.
Pay attention to fittings above the waterline. The
crack in this plastic fitting means the boat need only
sink about an inch or two before it floods.
Inner liner mystery leaks: Water arrives via the
limber holes and collects in the bilge sump, but
where does it originate?
Finding a leaking keel bolt on sailboats
requires that the bilge or keel sump be
mopped perfectly dry so that the very first
drop of water welling up from under a
backing plate or, worse, from a crack can
be positively identified. Powerboats with
stern drives most commonly suffer from
leaks originating at the U-joint or the bel-
lows. These can be hard to see but look
for a slight trickle of water on the inside of
the transom below the transom assembly.
Many of the sources of the leaks described
only become apparent when the boat is
underway, “working,” so to speak. Seeing
them when the boat is quietly afloat in its
berth may be impossible. What happens if
all the below-the-waterline fittings on the
hull check out as dry but the bilge keeps
filling up with water? At this point, detec-
tive work is required, employing a logical
methodology to follow the clues.
First Clue: When Does
The Leak Occur?
If, for example, water in the bilge stops
rising at the same time the water tank is
found empty, it’s logical to conclude the
two are related. That’s an easy one. Is the
leak constant whether underway or at the
dock? If it only occurs underway, does it
happen at every outing, only in big sea
conditions, or only at certain speeds? Any
intermittent leak needs to be caught “in
the act,” requiring you to carry out testing
underway to duplicate the circumstances
under which the leak occurs. The water-
line of any boat moving at displacement
speeds peaks at the bow wave and the stern
quarter-wave. This can submerge thru-hulls
that are well above the waterline at rest.
Other intermittent leaks can originate at
the engine cooling system or running gear
and will only show up when the engine
is running. If a sailboat only leaks when
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