Written by Jen Finn
Loose bolts sink ships
From U.S. Coast Guard reports
Five days into a November scallop trip, a 72-foot trawler and its seven-member crew were 150 miles southeast of Cape Cod.
While checking the main engine, the engineer noticed several loose bolts on the stuffing box housing. The entire housing unit was moving freely with the motion of the shaft.
The skipper called the owner and port engineer, who advised him to have the onboard engineer tighten the housing mechanism's bolts and keep the packing seals well greased.
The engineer checked his repair every three hours, and they resumed fishing. Two days later, the skipper heard a loud bang in the engine room. The mate found water streaming in through the stern tube, which he told the skipper would sink the trawler.
The skipper had the crew don survival suits and launch the life raft. He issued a mayday call, and then grabbed and activated the EPIRB. The crew entered the raft and moved away from the trawler, which was settling down by the stern. A nearby fishing boat heard the mayday call and headed to the scene.
Within about 10 minutes, the skipper saw the outline and lights of the other boat and fired off a flare. The other boat soon arrived and within minutes recovered the crew and headed for the trawler's homeport. All crew members returned safely.
The packing and housing unit likely broke loose, causing the flooding. Two months earlier, the trawler had been dry-docked for routine maintenance, including work on the propulsion shaft and stuffing box. Records indicate that the yard advised the owner that the work on the propulsion shaft and stuffing box required periodic checking, with "adjustments being made as necessary; especially when underway."
This case underscores the need to check equipment and systems after yard availabilities, completion of extensive maintenance and during prolonged trips. Check bilge alarms, the security and condition of all water pipes, and bilge pipes and valves; close valves when not in use. Ensure the sea suction valve to the bilge pump is closed off.
If at-sea adjustments are necessary, propulsion and steering gear should be prevented from moving before and during repairs. Lock in place nuts on propeller shaft flanges and shaft logs/stern tubes. Stern packing must be installed properly and inspected regularly for leaking or overheating.
Take care of your vessel and its equipment so it takes good care of you and your crew, and fish safe.
This article is based on U.S. Coast Guard reporting and is intended to bring safety issues to the attention of our readers. It is not intended to judge or reach conclusions regarding the ability or capacity of any person, living or dead, or any boat or piece of equipment.
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