A Draining Experience
We stop at the next booth, and Dan’s already shaking his head. “Look at this cockpit scupper,” he says with disgust. “It’s level with the sole inside and barely an inch above the waterline.” To get a cockpit that’s at least two feet deep (so the gunwale inwale is slightly above your knees), which will keep you from falling overboard without resorting to an ungainly high freeboard, soles are kept low and close to the waterline. Get a heavy rainstorm, back down on a fish or put too much weight aft, and instead of letting water out, that scupper will let it pour in.
“Low scuppers on a truly watertight cockpit aren’t so bad,” lectures Dan with a wagging finger, “but few boats have this.” He points out all the hatches, inspection ports, outboard cable openings, electrical outlets and more — they’re all leak, or down-flooding, points.
Since most cockpits aren’t really watertight, they should drain as rapidly as possible. This fact sets Dan off, as he recites section H-188.8.131.52 of the American Boat and Yacht Council’s formula for “self-bailing cockpits.” I don’t know which is scarier: that Dan has this section memorized or that his figures show that a 24-foot boat should have its sole 5¼ inches above the waterline. The boat we’re looking at doesn’t, and few do.
The reality is that water will eventually get into the bilge and need to be pumped out. but Dan tells me stories of how pump systems can actually let water back in. “builders don’t want the pump to work too hard lifting water out of the bilge or shower sump,” Dan says, “so discharge ports are often installed too low and can let water in. The only protection is to have a riser loop at least 1 foot 6 inches above the waterline.”
So, with flashlight in hand (yes, he carries a flashlight to a boat show), Dan climbs aboard the boat to check the pumps while I assure the salesman that we’re “just looking.”