Marine Seacocks -"Gates-to-the-Sea".

Engines, sinks and marine toilets operate with sea water. Manufacturers drill holes into the hull and install sea cocks, which are valves that open and close. Make sure everyone aboard knows how to open and shut a sea cock. Then show them these five safety tips to prevent flooding.

1.  Sticky Marine Toilet Valves.

Look at the pump on the right side of any marine toilet. To operate the pump, you first open a marine seacock; then open a small valve on the toilet. The valve fails after a lot of use and results in a leaking toilet. If left open, the bowl fills, overflows and floods the boat.

Close the marine seacock after you use the head. Make this a habit to avoid this problem. Post a small sign in the head area to remind your sailing crew to do this.

2.  Off Center-line Galley Sink Installation.

Is the sink in your galley installed on one side or the other, or on the centerline? If installed off center, water could back up into the sink and overflow when the boat heels on that side. For example, a sink installed off center to port might overflow with the boat heels to the port side.

Close the seacock after each use. When you install the sink, loop the seacock intake hose to lift it above the water when heeled. Install the sink nearer the centerline.

3.  Worn Packing in Stuffing Box (or Packing Gland).

Your engine propeller shaft exits the boat through a hole in the hull. A stuffing box (also called packing gland), clamps over the shaft and compresses a plug made of flax or rubber. As the propeller shaft turns, you will see 1-2 drops of water every minute, necessary for shaft lubrication. More than this indicates worn or missing packing. If left unattended, the boat could flood.

Use a flashlight to check the stuffing box before, during and after your cruise.      Tighten the stuffing box with oversized wrenches. Hire a mechanic if uncertain how to do this. Ask him or her to show you the procedure.  Replace the packing if leak is still excessive. Note: some shafts use a dripless seal packing gland. You will not see any drip from these types of glands.

4.   Marine Seacock Failure.

Without exercise, seacock handles corrode and will not budge when pushed. If the hose or hose clamps fail, water floods into the boat.

Test each seacock before casting off. Move the handle back and forth. Tap frozen handles with a mallet or hammer (light pressure only).  Attach a soft wood plug to the seacock base in case of emergency. Disassemble all seacocks when you haul your boat. Lubricate with waterproof grease.

5.   Keel Bolt and Transducer Leaks.

Grounding, heavy seas or age result in stress on external bolted-on keels. Instrument transducers, such as those used for knotmeters or depth sounders, could loosen upon impact from grounding.

Inspect the bilges before, during and after sailing. If testing a boat for purchase, check the bilge for leaks on each tack.  Haul the boat right away and have the boat surveyed.

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