Will a Boat Sink Without the Drain Plug? What to Do If You Forgot?

It’s a question that many new boat owners have – Will a boat sink without the drain plug?

The answer is yes, a boat will sink without the drain plug in it.

In this post, we’ll discuss what to do if you forget to put the plug in your boat, and some of the causes for a boat to sink. We’ll also cover some tips on how to avoid this from happening in the first place!

What to Do if You Forgot to Put the Plug in Your Boat?

If you realize that you forgot to put the drain plug in your boat, the first thing you should do is head back to land or dry slip to get the boat out of the water.

Without your drain plug, your boat is sinking and the only thing keeping it afloat is the bilge pump and the forward movement. The bilge pump should work just enough to keep you a float, but I would not completely rely on it as they can fail too and boats don’t always have multiple ones unless it’s a large boat.

If you’re out on the open water and realize you forgot your drain plug, the best thing to do is call for help and turn on the bilge pump. If your boat has a VHF radio call for help, if not, use your phone to either get a local boat towing service or the coast guard if you’re out at sea. Avoid stopping, keep moving forward and try to get to land is your best option.

What Would Cause a Boat to Sink?

There are many reasons why a boat can sink, but some of the most common causes are:

  • A hole in the boat caused by a collision or hitting something in the water.
  • Leaks from valves or fittings not being properly closed or sealed in the engine compartment. Boat engines take in water to cool themselves, and if not properly sealed, they can leak into the engine bay.
  • Overloading the boat beyond its weight and carrying capacity.
  • Flooding due to heavy rains or waves smashing into the boat. Yes, it’s even possible for a boat to sink on land, we’ll explain that one later.
  • Lastly, leaving the drain plug out of the boat can cause it to sink, as it’s simply a hole in the boat.

Do You Leave the Drain Plug in on a Boat?

The answer to this question depends on the type of boat you have. Most smaller boats, such as Jon boats, canoes, and kayaks, don’t always have a drain plug. These boats are designed to be taken on and off the water quickly, so there is no need for a drain plug.

Almost all larger boats will come with a drain plug (or multiple).

The drain plug must be in the boat at all times when the boat is in the water. You never remove the drain plug when your boat is in the water, you only remove the drain plug when you’re completely out of the water.

Forgetting to put your drain plug in before putting your boat in the water will cause it to sink. It’s your responsibility to make sure your drain plugs are in before putting the boat in the water.

Does My Boat Need a Drain Plug?

All boats, except for the kayaks and smaller boats mentioned earlier, need a drain plug.

It’s an important part of the boat and helps to keep it from sinking.

You should also get new drain plugs at least every 10 years, or replace the o-rings if your drain plugs have that option. Drain plugs do wear out, and one with a bad seal can cause your boat to sink.

Do All Boats Come With Drain Plugs?

Almost all boats come with a drain plug, but there are a few exceptions. If you’re not sure if your boat comes with a drain plug, contact the manufacturer or dealer where you bought your boat.

There have been times that I’ve seen dealerships get busy and forget to put in the drain plug or give one to the customer after buying a new boat (it’s rare but can happen). So, always make sure to double, if not triple, check the drain plugs of your boat before putting it in the water.

When Should You Put In Your Drain Plug on Your Boat?

You need to put the drain plug in before you put the boat in the water.

I’m a bit paranoid and will check the drain plug before going to the boat launch and right before fully backing the boat into the water.

One sign you forget to put your drain plug in is that the bilge pump will start to kick on because your boat is filling with water. On many boats, the bilge pump output is on the driver’s side, so if you start to hear or see water pumping out when launching your boat, then something may not be right. Check the engine compartment to make sure you’re not taking on water before fully launching your boat.

You never remove the drain plug when your boat is in the water, you only remove it when you’re completely out of the water.

How Many Drain Plugs Do Boats Have?

Most boats have at least one one drain plug, but some larger boats may have two or more.

If you’re not confident how many drain plugs your boat has, check the owner’s manual or contact your local boat dealership.

With some jet boats, you must be sure to not confuse a drain plug with the flushing port, as they often look similar or threaded the same. This is more of a problem with jet skis in general, but many jet boats use jet ski engines and many jet ski parts.

Do Boats Have Bilge Pumps?

Most boats come with a bilge pumps, but there are some exceptions.

Smaller boats, like Jon boats, may not have a bilge pump. Jet skis also don’t always come with a bilge pump, either.

There are even a few boats that will have bailer tubes (self-bailers), either with the bilge pump or as a bilge pump replacement. The problem with bailer tubes is that they only work when the engine is either on or the boat is moving forward. Bailer tubes are not a replacement for a bilge pump, a bilge pump is always better to have.

Bilge pumps are designed to remove water from the bilge, which is the lowest part of the boat. The bilge is where all the water and gunk accumulate, so it’s important to have a way to remove that water.

Are Boat Bilge Pumps Automatic?

Most boat bilge pumps are automatic, meaning they will turn on when they sense enough water in the bilge (hull of the boat where the engine lives). This is a great feature as it means you don’t have to worry about manually turning on the bilge pump, especially when you’re not there.

However, there are some manual bilge pumps available and often comes with the automatic bilge pumps, especially on larger (18ft or greater) boats. It’s nice to have both options as most automatic bilge pumps work off a float which can get stuck or simply break over time, and if that happens you can still flip a switch and get the bilge pumping.

It also becomes a good habit to turn on the blower fan and bilge pump before docking as you do your docking procedures.

The boat bilge pump is tied directly to the battery, so if you turn off the boat’s battery switch, the bilge should still run.

So, it’s important you test your bilge pump often, turn it on manually to hear it run, and to keep the boat battery charged, especially when you keep it in the water. If you don’t have power at your slip or near your boat trailer, you can get solar battery chargers like this here (ad)¬†and will supply enough power to keep the boat’s battery charged.

Since some boats have the bilge tied directly to the battery, it’s important you don’t keep the bilge running all the time. Not only will this kill your boat battery but will wear out the bilge too.

Can a Boat Sink on Land?

I know it may sound odd, but it is possible for a boat to sink on land.

Drain plugs keep the water on the outside of the boat from going into the boat and sinking it. The opposite can happen on land, where you leave the drain plug in but don’t keep the boat covered, and it floods with rain water.

A boat is pretty much a big bucket, and it can collect rain water, especially if it rains hard enough, and even more true if you don’t keep a cover on your boat. The bilge pump will help remove this water, but a better idea is to leave the drain plug out when the boat is stored securely on land.

But you must remember to put in your drain plug before putting the boat in the water.

The only person responsible for your drain plug is yourself!