Living afloat
The story of the Luxe Motor Watergeus, the Groningse snik Hornblower, the klipperaak Aquarel, the lemmeraak 'Op Hoop van Zegen' and how to convert a Dutch barge into a houseboat.
MS Watergeus
The Watergeus is my home. It's an old Dutch Luxe Motor, built in 1929. She was about to be scrapped when we bought her...
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Living Afloat
(and old stuff - outdated)
Living Afloat
Living Afloat gives you free ideas on what you need to know about barges, how to buy them, how to convert them, etc..
Recognize a barge
Buying a barge
Converting a barge
Barge to the yard
Safety on a barge
Converted barges
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MS Aquarel
The Aquarel is an authentic klipperaak from 1916 converted for exhibitions and with a permanent small museum of maritime artifacts.
MY Op Hoop van Zegen
Op Hoop van Zegen
The 'Op Hoop van Zegen' is a lemmeraak from 1916. She is being converted into a classic looking yacht.
I spent most of my time in or around boats. Read what I'm doing!
MS Hornblower
The Hornblower was a project of converting a snik into a yacht. I sold her in 2014 to start another project.
HomeSafety aboard a boat • Leakage

Safety aboard a boat - Leakage

One of the biggest fears aboard a boat is sinking. It is also a risk you don't have with any other kind of living such as a house, caravan, ...

Two ex-minesweepers sunk in Ostend

There can be many causes for sinking and there are at least as many solutions to prevent it.


The main reason for sinking is neglecting. A leak in a bad maintained hull is often the cause. Therefore it is good to always have a well maintained hull.
A metal one needs rust cleaning and painting, welding in the worst. When doing a hull survey they will mention on a riveted ship to weld some of the rivets. They often cause small leaks. When a rivet falls of the leak gets quit big.
A wooden ship needs to be filled between the wooden planks. If not, water starts entering and the wood starts to rot.

Another cause for sinking is a whole or a (broken) window in the boat just above the waterline. For one reason or anther the boat gets heavier, goes deeper in the water and water enters through the whole/window. I have seen it happening twice, once on a hotel barge and once on cat refugee centre. They got free food, a few tons, loaded in the boat and the next day the boat was nearly sank.

Other examples of neglecting are for example a hose. People pump out water of the boat, but leave the hose in the water. If the other part o the hose is deeper then the one in the water, water starts to get in. And believe me, it goes quick, very quick! It doesn't take half a day to let a boat sink that way.

Pipes, valves or cooling systems in engine rooms that are connected to the water of the canal can break. If they break water gets in the boat very quickly. Causes for this can be a damaged valve, water in a pipe that was frozen, the melted and broke the pipe, ...

I can easily go on telling what other causes can make a boat sink, but how to avoid it.


Make always sure your hull is well maintained and protected. of your boat is moored against a concrete quay, put tiers between it.

Pumps are handy when you have a problem. A small leak is no problem, but after a while the more water gets in the quicker the boat goes down. While trying to close the leak a pump can suck out as much water as possible. In Belgium (and most likely everywhere) you need to have a pump aboard that has a capacity to keep your boat afloat. In most cases, the bilge pump in the engine room is enough. but believe me when you have a leak,, it is most cases no good to have that pump. If the leak is in the front of the boat, you can't reach the leak since there are bulkheads.

Therefore a ###pump is better. Unfortunately these pumps work on 220v. So I do recommend having a small generator aboard in a working condition, not one you need a few hours to get it running. By that time you can leave your ship in some cases. also make sure your hose is long enough to go outside. Depending on the size of the leak you can close it on several ways.

  • Put cement or concrete on the whole
  • Put a piece of clothes in the hole and some heavy weight on top
  • Put a cover or blanket from the outside on the whole. Water will push it through the whole, so it will slow down water entering

I do recommend after having a leak to go to a shipyard and dry-dock the boat. If you know the cause of the leak repair it, if you don't do a hull survey and then repair where necessary.

What if it's to late

Don't panic. If there is a small leak, you have enough time to figure out how to solve it. Always try to close the whole, so water can't enter anymore.

if the leak is bigger use a pump to keep your ship afloat. If there is no power aboard call for hep, for example tot eh fire brigade, a ship moored next to you, etc...

Raising a boat

Raising a boat is a sad and expensive expericence. Depending on the size boat you need one to two cranes, divers, and some heavy pumps. While pumping out the boat more oil will get free and creating a bigger mess.

Raising the Angelus in Ghent, once a converted wooden trawler

When you sink oil will get free from the boat and float around. If you can't make an oil protection around your boat ask the fire brigade to do so. Cleaning the canal is expensive!

After the boat is raised, continue pumping till most water is out. Stay there for at least a few days to see if the boat goes deeper again. Depending on the damage you plan to repair or scrap her. In the ast case, the article ends here. In the other case, a lot of cleaning will needs to happen. Try to heat as much as you can on the boat, so water dries out more quickly.

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Last updated on: Tuesday, 20 September, 2016 11:00 PM
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