Father’s Day Near Tragedy

going-fishingAh Father’s Day… if you’re like us on Lake Simcoe, it was a bright sunny day with warm temperatures. I decided to stop the work on repairing our cottage deck, and get the fishing boat – a 15 foot long Princecraft with a 20HP Yamaha 4 stroke, out for a ‘run’ and maybe some fishing.

My son, daughter in law and grandson had just safely returned the week before from the boat’s first outing of the year, the annual Orillia Perch Festival.

When I uncovered the boat, I noticed that it had a good deal of water in it, from all the rain we had… or so I thought.

Tim is a boater on Lake Simcoe where he enjoys his 30′ Doral Prestancia and his 15′ Fishing Boat.  He has been a long time subscriber and has sent us a boating story to share with other boaters. Thanks Tim.

bilge-waterStepping into the boat, I had just enough weight to force the stern down into the water, so that one of the rear drain ‘scuppers’ just dropped below the surface allowing a cascade of water to come INTO the fishing boat. I jumped out quickly and reached over to turn on the electric bilge pump, vowing to loose some weight if the boat didn’t sink entirely. (On this boat, it’s not an automatic bilge which would have drained the boat…and the battery, when we’re not there.) Within a few minutes, we were ‘ship shape again’ – or so I thought.

or-so-i-thoughtAh, a quick ten minute meander out to the entrance of Lake Simcoe, and I truly enjoyed the peacefulness of watching the cottages go drifting by. I switched on the bilge pump from time to time, and checked the water level. I noticed a curious bit of water again, but felt that when accelerating, the bow had elevated a bit, causing some remaining water to move from the bow to the stern to collect and be pumped out – or so I thought.

Slowing down I noticed the water level drop as the boat repositioned itself back to level, and I glanced at the drain plug at the bottom of the transom. Just by chance, a couple of bubbles came out from the drain plug under an inch of water. It had me wondering for a moment, until I remembered I had one of those ‘self bailing’ drain plug types. You know, the new ones which release excess water back into the lake, or so I thought… You plug it in, turn the little tab like a car’s ignition key, to the right, until the washer on the outside of the rubber plug pulls in, and fattens up the fitting against the hull, to completely lock out water…then you pull the tab down to lock it into place…. Well, I kept going. After a few minutes of wondering, (and getting closer to the MUCH larger open water), it had me wondering… . should the plug’s locking tab be sticking out and pointing like a finger toward the bow, or should it be positioned downward and toward the bottom of the boat? I reached down and felt it with my fingers. It seemed tight enough, and I didn’t ‘feel’ any water coming in…  

After what seemed to be forever, I decided (begrudgingly) to turn the boat around and return to the cottage, rather than run the risk of adjusting the plug, and having it fail altogether. Hey, it felt fine.

smart-phoneGetting back, I used my smartphone at the dock and consulted my neighbour who had far more experience than myself on boating in general. Last season, I remember seeing a visitor at their dock actually change the bellows on their older 30 foot cabin cruiser, while it was still IN the water….is that even possible?drain-plug

“Ah, there’s nothing to it drain plugs, just take it out, look at it, and plug it back in…maybe it’s just not tight enough.’ An interesting plan of attack, but when I returned to the boat and looked down, I found that the interior ‘tab’ that you would turn to the right to fatten and tighten the plug,

HAD ACTUALLY FALLEN OUT, and was lying (under water) at the bottom of the boat.

needle-nose-pliersI went to the cottage for a pair of needle nosed pliers and like McGiver, tried for a while to carefully ‘thread’ the lock tab back onto the interior screw, which secures the plug. No good. I think you’d need a pair of jewellers glasses to make that happen.

Returning to my neighbour, we discussed the ‘pros and cons’ of leaving it alone – as it didn’t appear to be taking on water, and visiting the marina the very next day – Monday for a replacement vs. being more aggressive and inspecting it now. “Hey, you can use the plug from my paddle boat; it looks exactly like the one you’ve got;’ and I was handed a dodgy looking plug, which had a cracked black rubber outer ring, and frankly looked older than my neighbour.

I didn’t really relish the thought of taking what was a fairly ‘static’ situation, and risking sinking the boat altogether. “Just make sure your lines are really tight to the dock and if things go bad, it won’t sink…at least too far…’ Famous last words.

I hesitantly returned and got into the fishing boat, with paddle boat drain plug in hand, and noticed the neighbors across from me, starting to take an interest as they continued to sip their ‘drinkie poos’ on their decks.

Looking at the plug, I was still debating whether to do anything when all of a sudden the plug failed altogether and water began to stream in. I put my finger over the plug to stop the flow of incoming water, and I fumbled quickly for the paddle boat plug. Well, there’s NO option now, stop being a wiener and take the chance, I thought. I confidently removed the old plug altogether, and the water REALLY rushed in, and I jammed the paddle boat drain plug into the hole…that’ll do it, or so I thought.

It was way too small, and this time, the water was gushing in from all around the loose fitting plug.

I quickly pulled it out and feeling around the bottom of the boat, I located the old plug, and returned it to the opening. It may have closed off the torrent of water, but it only slowed it down to a steady smaller stream.

finger-in-dykeJust like the boy that stuck his finger in the dyke, I temporarily stopped the flow of water; by placing a finger over the centre hole. (I remembered that the story is told to children to teach them that if they act quickly and in time, even they with their limited strength and resources, can avert disasters). Famous last words.

Great, now I’m in the back of the boat, hunched over, with my finger over a faulty drain plug, with no replacement and curious onlookers across the way.  

No matter, hey I’ll just use my smartphone and call the neighbour to come over. We can think of something to stick into the hole and secure the plug, apart from my finger. Lovely…I left my phone in the cottage; and I needed to be a contortionist in order to reach the bilge pump switch whilst holding my finger over the hole.

After what seemed an eternity, I remembered, that we had a curious ‘old school’ fitting that came with the boat, that frankly, I never knew exactly where it was supposed to go. Big and brassy with a narly black plug at the bottom. Kinda reminded me of a cork screw bottle opener type of ‘T ‘handle on the back of it, no fancy tab to ‘lock down’ like my slick ‘self bailing’ modern type. I found it onboard buried underneath some coiled lines at the transom, right next to the scuppers meant to drain water splashed up by the outboard motor.

I quickly grabbed it and jammed it into the hole and turned the ‘T’ handle, until it fit snuggly. Voila ! Worked like a charm and stopped the water entirely.

During the victory and ‘wobbly pop’ induced post mortem, it was clear the modern drain plug had somehow become separated with the interior locking tab normally secured to the exterior back washer, becoming unscrewed, and the internal connector had (finally) dropped out allowing water to rush in.

bailerOur local boat expert (Ted from Drydock Marina in Brechin) also mentioned that if I looked closely, my ‘old school’ drain plug came complete with a circular ‘ring’ around it’s collar so you can permanently CHAIN it to the transom of the boat, keeping it handy in case of any emergencies. (It has a chain affixed to it now…)

To make things worse when inspecting the boat further, I noticed that a manual bailer was missing and not onboard either. Thank goodness the kids made it back safely from their earlier fishing derby trip, last week.

Four good lessons to be learned here.

  1. Always inspect and ensure you have ALL safety equipment…like a bailing bucket onboard, no matter if you have an electric bilge pump or not.
  2. Always check your drain plug in the spring, and regularly throughout the entire boating season.
  3. ALWAYS have a SPARE drain plug ONBOARD (not in the boathouse or garage), and make sure that anyone that uses the boat knows how to quickly and safely install it, in an emergency, whether the boat is in the water or not.
  4. If in doubt….DON’T GO OUT!If you notice something which MAY be problematic or COULD affect the safe and comfortable operation of your boat (no matter it’s size), whether it be GPS, depth finder, drain plug, through hole connection, whatever… just don’t go out. Avoid temptation and do what’s right for everyone’s safety. (You and the other guy that tries to rescue you too.) As Aristotle said ‘Choices not chance, determines your destiny.

Tim Moore, Lagoon City, Ontario



 Our thanks to Tim for sharing his story.bilge-draining

Here is a picture of a water pouring out of a boat after being hauled out on the trailer, with the drain plug removed.

Water flows in just as fast when the boat is in the lake with no drain plug.

Tim’s lessons learned are good ones to learn from.

Learning from someone else’s experience is smart.

Look after your drain plug and it will keep you afloat.



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