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Emergency Plugs

Text and Photographs by Paul Clayton

A Proper Through Hull and Seacock. Don Casey, This Old Boat, Second Edition.

In a bad situation, all sorts of things can be stuffed into a hole in the boat to slow down the water - rags, a wad of tape, a monkey's fist, or even a potato or the shirt off your back. Anything that will start to fit and can be pounded in with a mallet (or a shoe, a frying pan, you get the idea). But the time-tested solution is a tapered plug made out of some kind of soft wood.

Best practice is to have a properly sized plug hung on or next to each through-hull. A mallet should be kept in an easily accessible location. Everyone is aware of the engine cooling intake and the through hulls associated with the retention head, but the depth gauge and speed transducers probably have them as well. So might the air conditioning. The newer the boat, the more likely it has multiple through hulls to service the amenities. Of course, all below water level through hulls have proper bronze or marelon seacocks - right? - that are maintained and exercised regularly - right? - not gate valves, or no valves - right?. Read this short article by Rod Collins at Compass Marine for an illustration as to why every boat should have an assortment of varying sized tapered plugs aboard.

Pilots and delivery crewmen might want to keep an emergency plug in their seabag. When you step aboard another person's boat, you really don't know how well maintained or equiped it is. Case in point - I once agreed to help a woman and her adult son, both novice sailors, move their boat from Matthews Point to Morehead City. Somewhere in the Adams Creek Canal, the son glanced into the port cockpit locker and announced that it was full of water. I told him to check below deck, and he reported no water on the cabin sole, so very unusually this boat's lockers didn't drain into the bilge (more likely, the drain hole was blocked). The woman asked if we should get out the liferaft but I told her we could run the boat into the shallows along the side of the canal if it started going down. The son and I got a couple of pots out of the galley and tediously bailed out the locker while the woman steered down the canal. I suggested that we put in at Bock Marine overnight and get Kenny to look things over in the morning.

Soft Pine Plugs.

Once we got the water level down, we could see a broken hose leading to an ostensibly above-water through hull in the transom. With the boat loaded down for their trip onward to Southport and a temporary outboard cantilevered off the stern to replace the out of commission diesel, water was periodically squirting in through the the broken hose. We taped the hose up as best we could, but a plug stuffed into the through-hull would have been a better solution. When we arrived at Bock Marine, we tied up, I called a friend from Matthews Point for a ride, and I strongly advised that they not continue southbound unless Kenny Bock felt it was safe. In the morning, Kenny fixed the hose, inspected the boat and gave them the green light to proceed. My friend in Southport who put me up to this later reported they made it to Wrightsville Beach before the engine failed.

Emergency plugs can be bought at just about any marine parts outlet, either modern plastic ones or traditional wooden ones. But if you have access to a lathe, it is quick and easy to turn an assortment. Soft wood, gradual taper and several different sizes make for a good set. And make a few extra to give to friends or keep in your seabag.

Text and Photographs by Paul Clayton.
Posted 10/12/21.

Copyright © 2021 Paul M. Clayton