Unseen Hazards and Staying Afloat?

Posted on 10th November 2021

Safety is a key part of the YachtDataBank mission – and there appears to be much food for thought out there.

Most yacht owners are more than aware of the fragility of their existence on the water, and undertake regular maintenance of the key areas that keep the ‘Blue’ on the correct side of the hull (outside!). But there isn’t much you can do about a large piece of jetsam (log, container, fridge, car – as seen the Pacific gyre after the Japanese tsunami) punching a hole in your hull below the waterline…

What are the odds of it happening to you?

100,000:1? Probably more like 1,000,000:1.

But it does happen…

During the recent 50th Transpac Race, the 70’ racing yacht “OEX” sank following a collision with a submerged object that damaged the rudder post (which passed up through the hull into the boat), and the subsequent ingress of water could not be stopped or pumped out fast enough with onboard systems. In another incident, in the same race, the multihull MOD70 “Maserati” reported serious damage to one of its hulls when they collided with something large that projected about a metre out of the water.

Relatively fragile, the rudder is the one piece of critical equipment left exposed to the elements below the boat, waiting to be hit by something. Transom hung rudders can be rigged with fuses to allow them to kick up when impacted, limiting damage, and then lowered again. But with a rudder coming up through the hull, it takes the full impact and shares it with the surrounding structure, which may give way if it has already been weakened or is underweight from the outset.

In the VO65 yachts (and others) the rudder posts and steering gear are isolated within an aft compartment behind a watertight bulkhead with an access hatch. Meaning that if the rudder and surrounding structure is compromised, you may not be able to steer, but you are still afloat and dry inside. The same crash zone exists at the front of the boats.

So the question is: Should existing Offshore & Ocean Racing yachts retrofit a simple watertight aft bulkhead, and should designers and boatbuilders of new racing, and cruising, yachts be required to incorporate this feature?

It may sound like a lot of work – and in some boats it may not be practical – but it may be worth considering. Maybe we should all take a look down below…

John Quigley, Co-founder and CEO YachtDataBank

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