It was about 11:30 on a rainy morning when a neighbor looked out her window by chance and saw that the home across the dock was sinking! It was leaning precariously toward its inboard neighbor. Obviously no one was home as standing up inside would have been difficult, if not impossible.
The harbormaster was notified, and a team of experienced men arrived approximately 5 minutes later. The owner of the boat had been away for 2-3 months. The water to the place was on, but the electricity had been shut off.
All the ground floor doors were locked, but a younger member of the team managed to get up and over part of the roof. He dropped down into a small private deck off an upper floor bedroom. A door to the bedroom was unlocked. He quickly entered and let the others in. Here is what they found:
A toilet had started running at some point. It had caused the holding tank to fill completely and the contents to then spill over the edge. The holding tank pump could not work because the electricity had been turned off. Fortunately for the owner, no damage was done to the contents of the boat itself, as all the water had immediately flowed into the bilge, below the first floor. A small pump was started immediately to begin to remove the water. Another larger pump was brought in later to speed up the removal, which lasted until around 10 o’clock that evening.
An observer to all this activity anxiously waited for some indication that the pump-out would reverse the lean of the sinking house, which was threatening to fall onto the residence next door. It took about 5 minutes before it was noticeable that it the lean had stopped. At that point there were only 3 inches of freeboard left before salt water would have spilled into the hull and totally sunk the houseboat.
Here is what to know: floating homes do sink. If you notice one that seems to be leaning unusually, please check to see if anyone is home. If they are, tell them what you noticed. It may be that particular home is always that way. If not, ask them to look in the bilge, or at the inside bottom surface of the home, for water. If no one is home, call the harbor master.
Additionally, if you are a floating home resident:
1.) Know where to shut off the water to your place from up on the dock before you take a trip of more than a day or two.
2.) Leave an extra key with the harbor office, or at least with a neighbor, who could keep your place from sinking.
3.) Don’t turn the electricity off when you leave home.
4.) A battery-powered water alarm (Goodman’s, West Marine, and Waterstreet Hardware have them) is useful to alert people to the problem. And folks: You most likely would not ignore a smoke alarm. Please do not ignore the sound of what might be a water alarm. Investigate it!
5.) If your floating home has leak issues, installing an automatic pump could save you from costly damage.