There were 51 sinks at NATS last year during fleet battles. If you look at the number of holes from the scores almost half (23) of the ships should not have sunk. This year there were 66 warship sinks and 41 of them did not take “Fatal” damage. Remember sometimes it is the quality of holes not the quantity that sinks a ship. This means that a lot of sinks are from failures of design (Tippy ship, bad water channeling) systems (Pump, drive, rudder), or captains error (Turn on your pump!). Personally, I sank 3 times in 2003 (once in a non scored battle) and did not take nearly enough damage to deserve sinking.
The design of your ship is very important in how it sinks. There are a lot of ships in the hobby that can take a ton of damage and stay afloat. To help yourself stay on top of water you should put your ship in the tub or a pool and fill it with water. Watch how it sinks. If it goes down by the bow or stern or rolls over you should add water channeling or weight to make it sink evenly. This allows you to take more damage. I rolled over and stayed afloat for almost a minuet before I sank on Monday NATS 2003. I remember Ty’s I-boat driving around with the bow out of the water before sinking. Both of these ships had reserve buoyancy to stay afloat but bad water channeling tipped them over and sank them early. My ship still has a problem with listing. Turns out I put in too much water channeling. Now when it starts to fill up the water goes to the bulges and rolls it to one side or the other. This winter I will be sanding out half of the balsa I put in down to a ¼” in the center of the ship, hopefully this helps. This year at NATS two captains had their pumps lift off the bottom of the ship because they were not tied down very well. In order to be effective the pump needs to stay upright and at the bottom of the ship. You also need to make sure you have a good deck seal so you do not take on extra water as you move around. Tim Beckett had to use Vaseline to seal part of his deck this year. Ron and I have installed a gasket in our decks to make a water tight seal. Larry used silicon to seal his deck Friday this year because he was taking on so much water when he turned. After resheeting your ship you should also check for leaks in the seams of the sheets. A small leak can be the equivalent of several bb holes.
My curse this year was battery power, I kept running out of it. I thought that my pump (15 amps) and drive (9.5 amps) may be taking too much power. I have been told that this is “normal” for my ship. These veterans also told that I may be under powered (20 amp hrs not 24) so I should not try and stay out in a battle too long. You should get the biggest batteries you can and know how long they will last. I lose track of time in a battle and think that I have only been fighting for a few minuets (Time flies when you’re having fun!) when I have really been out there for a long time. I may start a battle timer to let me know when I should think about leaving.
Once your ship is built you should drive around with your ship almost sinking and see if you can turn, stop, start without sinking. This will help you know how you can move when you are almost sunk. Larry was stopped and pumping last year and started to move forward and went straight to the bottom. At a local battle I remember the same thing happening to Ron. This year Mike Tanzillo was listing and almost sinking for several minuets, but finally went down when he backed up about 10’ and stopped quickly. Moving carefully can help you stay afloat. When you move forward the water rushes to the back of your ship and can drop the stern (Especially step deck ships) and sink you.
Sometimes it is better to stop and pump and take a few more holes then try to run. Brian Finster took 150-20-64 (Or so) at the Fray this year and stayed afloat. He took most of those holes because he was not moving, but if he moved he would have gone down. At NATS this year Ted drove the Axis nuts by almost sinking in the first sortie and then staying afloat in the second sortie for a long time while they shot him up. Ted just put himself close to shore and moved slightly to try and keep the guns off of him. If he would have run he would have sank quickly.
In a battle you need to check your pump after every sortie for pieces of balsa, bbs and gunk and get it out of your ship. Check the pump screen; use a double screen, a clogged pump will sink you fast. Most of the reasons I got from the battlers who sunk early were a clogged pump. I have seen battlers using fish filters around their pumps to keep the gunk away from the screen. In 2002 Mike Tanzillo had a small piece of plastic get stuck in his outlet and he sank. Mike Melton had something in his pump during campaign last year and sank next to shore. I was standing next to him afterwards and told him to turn off his pump and turn it back on. This cleared the outlet and a full stream was back. At the Fray this year I had something get in my pump outlet. I turned the pump off and on twice, it came out and I stayed afloat. If your pump outlet is clogged try this, it might help. At NATS I had something clog my pump, but it looked like the outlet was ok. The on/off did not work so I went forward, turned the pump off, stopped and turned it back on. This worked because the momentum of the water moved the stuff at the bottom of the pump as I stopped and cleared the pump inlet.
The other two responses that I heard a lot were burned out parts (pump motors, pump servos and pump switches) and unseen rams. Older motors die; they always die at NATS, during a battle and never at home in the tub. If your motor is making strange noises, or is drawing motor amps than normal it is time to replace it. One battler said “I Sank due to electrical short caused by a faulty micro switch that locked open and heated the wires to the point that current flow stopped. This caused ship to lock in a turn and the Stephens boys were nice enough to help prevent an electrical fire by venting the hull to allow extra water in to cool the wires thus preventing the fire.”
I had two rams holes in my ship Friday this year and did not seen either of them (I can’t find them on the video either). I had very light damage (3-1-14) but sank because of one large and one small ram hole. I’m not saying you should call every bump (Weenie Rams) but know what kind of ship hit you and were it hit you. If there is a ram bow under the water (Any WWI ship) or it has a pointed stern (Nagatos) you should check for a hole. One captain said “I was rammed; I called the ram, checked the ram but did not see the hole. I went back out and sank because of the ram. I looked at the hole afterwards and was not happy.” Always be carefully when trying to help a fleet member. John Bruder’s VV ran over Jacob’s VDT and sunk him. I was almost prop-washed under by Rick King as he tried to keep Josh Bruder away from me.
One of the biggest things you can do is make sure your drive/turning system is in good shape. A moving target is hard to hit (Only 15% of bbs penetrate a hull) but a stationary target is going to take a pounding. Several people lost part or all of there drive system and sat there waiting to be sunk. Tim Becket lost his drive motor and took a pounding on Friday (169-19-51). Because of the excellent damage control in his Bismarck he didn’t sink, disappointing many people at the shoreline.
Do not be afraid to ask a vet help you improve your ship. Vets do not be afraid to give advice (In a constructive way). Last year I asked several people to look at my ship early in the week. I did not get much advice because they did not want to be critical of my ship. But on Friday after NATS was over I had an hour long session looking at all the problems I had. If this would have happened Sunday I do not think I would have sunk all week. I told them to be critical, they were. I made a LONG list of things to fix and fixed them this winter. Now I have a ship that is much better and can take a lot more damage. I asked again this year and have more things to change this winter. Maybe next year I’ll make my goal of not sinking in the first sortie.