Five emergencies on board and how to solve them

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emergencies on board
Emergencies on board are always lurking. If you need to be towed, for example, do you know how to do it?

There are situations that no one would ever want to get into, from the simplest and most mundane to the most dangerous. That is why one must always be ready to solve different emergencies on board. Preparing thoroughly before setting sail is already a good starting point to avoid problems: but, you know, Luck is blind and misfortune sees very well! Here’s how to solve five emergencies on board. (image source: RNLI/Eyemouth)

Five emergencies on board


1. Running out of fuel

Always keep a canister on board and refueling is easier

What to do: You simply need two rubber hoses and a cloth or rag. Hold the canister higher than the tank to take advantage of the principle of communicating vessels, and thread a hose through the canister and into the tank. The second tube, on the other hand, only in the canister with one end free.

Cap the canister as best you can, with cloth or rag so as to let out as little air as possible, and blow into the tube left free. Doing so will increase the pressure inside the canister and “push” the fuel, through the other tube, directly into the tank. Now remove the cloth to allow air to enter and wait for the communicating vessels to do the rest. You will thus get a clean, fast job with no annoying fuel drink.

2. Outboard falls into the water!

All is not always lost, with a couple of mechanic’s notions it can start again

What to do: Okay, the tender’s outboard went into the water but do not despair, nothing is lost. Try to drain all sea water and rinse with fresh water. If you can’t do it right away better to let it soak, the drying salt is more harmful. Once recovered remove the spark plugs and dry the engine assembly with compressed air. If you do not have it on board, you can easily find it in the harbor at the gas station. Alternatively, use a cloth. Disassemble the gasoline filter and pump. Clean them and dry them carefully.emergencies on board

Access the carburetor, disassemble it, and access the jet bowl. Dry the whole circuit vigorously being careful not to damage the floats during disassembly and reassembly. With some water-repellent spray and lubricant, spray the entire engine, so that especially the electrical contacts and coils are well cleaned. Reassemble the spark plugs, new of course, and try using the starter cord to rotate the crankshaft slightly; if you feel the movement is not smooth, better call a mechanic. If all goes well, try starting it and letting the engine idle let the oil lubricate the mechanics.

3. Emergencies on board: anchor chain not coming up.

Is the anchor windlass broken or is the chain stuck? Here is how you need to operate

What to do: One of the most common on-board emergencies. You are leaving the roadstead. Everything is ready, you at the helm and your wife at the windlass. Start the winch but the chain does not come up. If the reason is that the windlass is not working, check that the batteries are sufficiently charged. If they are grounded, and not in parallel, try bridging a charged accumulator. Otherwise, if by hand you cannot retrieve it, you can use the mooring winch you have at the stern.

Release the chain stop shackle and bring it aft. Cover the winch so that it does not get damaged and use it as an aid to pull up the calumo. If this solution is too risky, it is better to leave everything at sea and tie a signal fender to the chain so that divers or yourself can retrieve it once the problem is solved. If, on the other hand, the problem is in the embedded anchor and you have not mounted a gripper to dispatch it, follow the advice as in the drawing on the left.

4. Weather changes and you have to leave the roadstead

With the double anchor you can spend the night in the bay without any problems even when the wind strengthens

What to do: There should always be two anchors aboard a boat: the main one, such as the classic CQR, Danforth, Delta, etc., and a smaller one, for mooring bow and stern at the same time or for dropping two anchors at the bow. The latter operation is performed when particularly bad weather conditions are feared. It can be carried out in two ways: with the two anchors either affored or hung.

emergencies on board

In the first case both are given bottom at the right distance from the boat, arranged so that the two moorings form an angle of at least 45 degrees with each other, which is preferred if a sudden wind shift is feared. To encourage the flukes to sink into the seabed, you can retrieve about ten meters of both cables (leaving them tied to the bollards) and then let go at the same time: the boat will pick up enough speed by moving backward, so that when the cables are tensioned there will be more force on the anchors.

At the end of the maneuver, one can tell if an anchor plows by placing a hand on the chain: if so, small jerks are clearly felt, an unmistakable sign that the entire maneuver needs to be repeated. By contrast, with the brushed anchors (i.e., linked together one after the other with a few feet of separating chain so that the first, usually the smaller one, strengthens the hold of the second) you have an excellent system for preventing the main anchor from plowing.

5. Emergencies on board: how to get towed without damage

If you need assistance be careful not to make the situation worse by towing dangerously

What to do: If you are in protected waters use a mooring rope that is elastic enough and long enough so that the towed boat does not overtake. To avoid tugging and “dabbing,” maintain a divergent course. If you also have to maneuver you can leave the cable under tension but be careful not to tug too hard. If, on the other hand, you are out at sea, the mooring rope should never be under tension, for in this situation even small waves can cause dangerous tugging.

For this reason it is best to use a very long line to which an anchor or heavy object is attached, halfway through, so that the line sinks completely and the weight can cushion the tugs. Some recommend using the anchor chain. To figure out the distance between boats check the sea state, take wave measurements, and make sure the boats are on the crest or in the hollow of a wave at the same time.

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