Companionway Integrity In A Storm

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It is amazing how many accounts of disaster at sea include a major ingress of water through the companionway. Here are a couple of good ideas to solve that potential problem.

Paul Kirby, whose survival of a vicious storm south of New Zealand we wrote about in this chapter, sent us some photographs of a very clever latch that he designed and built after finding out the hard way, during a knock down, about the importance of securing the companionway in heavy weather.

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Steve

This looks like a simple, reliable, and strong setup! In the process of researching different locking options for my own sailboat, I came across a similar system used by a Caliber yacht owner. It looks like they may have been able to assemble their system without much custom fabrication.

Link to the forum page where this idea is discussed; link to the McMaster-Carr catalog page listing corrosion-resistant retractable spring plungers (scroll down for the corrosion-resistant options).

Steve Collins

If the line to the latch breaks or comes off, could you be left trapped outside? The latch is spring-loaded, so is there an alternate way to release it? I cannot tell from the pictures.

Walter MacVane

Or a hole on the plugger end to poke a pen or key into and push the plunger out of engagement from the rail.

Andre

I don’t have a companion way…sort of. It is a stainless steel hatch on rollers installed at an angle, that can be completely hidden or closed and locked from the inside or outside. It is very easy to get inside the boat or outside. When the weather is nice, a simple canvas with a mosquito net does the job.

Tony

As a welder, I use this type of spring-loaded latch quite often on the oilfield related equipment we build and they seem to hold up very well to abuse.

There are already a few companies producing/selling this style of latch. One company is Buyers Products Company. We use the weld-on style; they are a good design and almost foolproof, the only problem I foresee is the body of the latch is made from mild steel, not stainless/aluminum which would be ideal.

Also I would suggest a change to the lanyard from cordage to stainless steel aircraft cable with a loop and a large split ring affixed to the loop. Less chance of breakage and easier to grasp hold of with cold and gloved hands.

Nick Hallam

For years and years, UK company Sea Sure have been selling a simple lever device, which provides an external handle (which accepts a padlock when you want to leave the boat), mounted on a short shaft which passes through the top washboard and drives an internal lever: this gives you a) an internal handle and b) a cam which locks into a slot made in the underside of the sliding hatch. It’s not perfect, as it’s quite small, but it’s easily reproducible at a larger scale by any stainless fabrication shop.

On my 30′ sloop, I have a stainless eye bolted through the inboard face of each washboard, near the top. I have a 6 foot length of 6 mm line with a small snap-shackle spliced into one end. As the weather worsens and I want to add washboards, I lead the line through the eyes from top to bottom, snapping onto the topmost eye to deadend the line (a bowline would do, but I had a spare snap and 10 minutes to spare for a bit of therapeutic splicing…). I have a clam cleat mounted on the inboard frame of the companionway, so I just cleat the line off tight. I can reach in from the cockpit, leaning over the washboards to uncleat the line. Pretty basic, but it works. The line is long enough to let me have all the washboards rove onto it but not in place, so if I get pooped with the boards out, at least they won’t swim away.

denis buggy ireland

We use many types of locks and compartments in our bus and coach company. To deal with situations in which the key can’t be found, we drill a SMALL HOLE in line with the bolt of the lock where a push of a screwdriver can open the lock. This is generally not visible as an opening device to the general public.

Jim M

I noticed a screw on the underside of the latch bracket. Is it a locking mechanism? A simple addition to make a lock, from the inside, would be a finger knob and a shoulder on the pin for it to fit into. Security from the inside.

Steve A

A very nice setup I’ve seen on an aluminum sailboat in Alaska eliminated washboards with a water tight dutch door. The upper half of the door cleared the cockpit seats & could be left open in nice weather. Diamond Sea Glaze in Langley, BC makes them. I have installed their windows in 5 different vessels from 22′ to 408′, top quality products.

Marc Dacey

The only difference between the Sea Glaze on Hawk and my design is that mine hinges out to lie against the lower portion, rather than to one side where it would require a latch or a bungee to keep it from slamming in a seaway.

My logic in wanting to make such a doorway was identical to most: traditional washboards are limited in effectiveness, ease of use and in terms of security. If I’m taking following seas on MY aft deck, it’s got to be tight as a drum and dogged home. Now I have to estimate if it’s cheaper to buy than make, as that gear looks better than my design!

Chris Phillips

In this article you mention that you use pins, inserted through holes drilled in the slider frame to secure the boards. Are these holes drilled completely through on both sides of the slider frame?

From what side are the pins normally inserted?
What is your strategy for removing the pins from the opposite side in an emergency?
When you are using the boards, without the pins in place, do you get any water entry through the holes from rain etc,?

Thanks,

Tim

John, I think this post about the companion way is very good and something overlooked by many as you say.

However, I notice you have not mentioned the integrity of windows on the site during a knockdown and the possibility of storm boards. I don not mean something to fix a broken window afterwards. Maybe this not a significant issue for many boats but ours for example is a pilot house / deck saloon design. Although it is very heavyweight at (16T on a 43ft LOA) I still worry that should we get knocked down with a smashed window, the volume of water that could enter would be colossal. Maybe the risk of this is so limited then it doesn’t warrant a discussion?

Marc Dacey

Tim, our boats seem similar (16T and 41′ 10″ LOA in steel), so I will give my impressions. Although we have fixed 1/2″ Lexan side windows on our pilothouse, I too, wish to have storm boards at the ready and will be welding in threaded rod to mount them, particularly the tempered glass forward facing windows. What I have yet to conclude is whether I can make them with “slots” to allow some visibility, or would this defeat the purpose? Would 1/4″ aluminum plate, perhaps in three pieces per fixed portlight, make sense? I know I have one thing most boats do not: scuppers integral to the pilothouse and the ability to rig gasketed doors leading aft and forward to the saloon. Should a wave actually break in, it should flow out again pretty quickly. One hopes!