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What to do if your inflatable boat start sinking?

Posted by   Eliot
10/08/2010

The idea of floating around on a cold and dark ocean full of creatures with teeth and tentacles in a boat that is little more than a bag of air can be a pretty scary thing. What about the danger of sinking? People unfamiliar with inflatable boats have a common phobia of the boat springing a leak and deflating. But in more than 20 years of messing around with rubber inflatable boats of all shapes and sizes, I've never even heard of one sinking. Sure they deflate, delaminate, disintegrate, swamp, and self-destruct, but they don't sink. Everything larger than a play boat has multiple air chambers, and it would be very unusual for more than one of them to be punctured at one time. Even should the unlikely occur, a completely deflated boat will retain enough flotation to keep the occupants afloat. So stop worrying about sinking; it just won't happen. But don't use this as an excuse not to wear your life jacket.

DEFLATION. While it is practically impossible for your inflatable boat to sink, it is possible to have a tube deflate and create a dangerous situation. For example, an iron spike protruding from a piece of flotsam (Boston Harbor is full of old dock timbers floating just below the surface) can rip a gash in a side tube in a flash. The tube will collapse in seconds and the boat will most likely swamp. Remember that inflatable boats (excluding play inflatable boats) have at least two and as many as six inflation chambers. They also have considerable reserve buoyancy even when deflated, so you aren't about to sink.

As with any marine emergency, the first thing to do is to get a hold on your emotions. Get your passengers under control, get everyone into life vests, and shut down the motor if there is one. The biggest danger is panic, and you don't want anyone trying to swim for it or otherwise indulging in hysterics.

If you are being blown offshore and you don't have an anchor, tie the outboard onto the painter and use it. If the painter is too short, use the lifelines to add length. You can even use the fuel line if you need it.

If you have a catastrophic side-tube collapse of inflatable dinghy in southern waters, it can be a good idea to get everyone out of the boat and into the water holding onto the lifelines, especially if there are a lot of people in the boat. This has the added effect of reducing windage if an unfavorable breeze is blowing, and even a nonswimmer can help kick the boat to shore. But even in warm waters this technique should be viewed as a last resort because hypothermia sets in very quickly.