Although there are an infinite number of hints and tips for things you should do in the practice of good seamanship, there are only four absolute commandments. They are at the core and heart of boating, without which all else means nothing. The most important of these four is to stay afloat. What are the other three? We'll tell you in upcoming issues.
A vessel may be defined as an object that keeps water either in or out; it is the latter sort that concerns us. Keeping the water out is not only the first and most important commandment of seamanship, it is also the only one that is necessary. All the others are mere niceties. Going on the water without drowning is sure proof of successful seamanship-drowning is equally sure proof that seamanship failed. Whatever else may befall your vessel, if you can keep water out of it, you won't drown.
The first thing to do every time you board a vessel is to look in the bilge to see if it's holding any water. Don't assume a dry bilge. Look and see for yourself. Even the best intentions and care can't ensure a dry bilge. Imagine your vessel half full of water. Then imagine how you'll get it out. The quicker, the better, because more water may be coming in.
Pumps can remove water from vessels. Big diaphragm manual pumps and big lift pumps can move water fairly quickly. Small pumps move water slowly. Have big pumps, not small ones. There are pumps that run on gasoline and pumps that run on electricity, as well as those that run on elbow grease. If the gas or electrically powered models are big pumps, they'll likely move water faster than a seaman-operated pump. But the seaman-operated pump will nearly always start and, within reason, run as long as needed. Portable pumps are more versatile and repairable than fixed pumps. Buckets even more so. If there's enough water inside the vessel to endanger it, most of it will probably be accessible to bailing with a bucket.
If the water gains on bailing or pumping, the only way to keep from sinking may be to find a way to support the vessel other than by its own buoyancy. Try to borrow buoyancy from other vessels that may have a reserve of it. This is a rather tricky business, fraught with potential danger to rescuer and rescued. Many strong lines and fenders would be the chief ingredients for success.
Think of supporting your vessel with a shoal bottom under its keel. Compared to sinking, running it ashore is the lesser evil. If you think you can get to shore before you sink, then you may choose what part of the shore you'll use for support. Look primarily for shelter from waves and secondarily for evenness and softness of bottom.
Even though your vessel has been designed and built specifically to keep water out, there are many ways for it to get in-some obvious, some insidious.