Bilge Pump Maintenance
May 29, 2011 6:20 PM | Tagged as Bilge


A good friend of mine once told me about water in boats. He said that he didn't mind too much if his boat leaked a bit from the top down, but it was a different matter altogether if it leaked from the bottom up.

Few of us boaters do our bilge pumps the honor of regular service. These wonderful devices are designed to evacuate normal bilge water accumulation. When I say normal, I mean a small amount of water ingress, not something that looks like a dike let loose ! Someone once said the best bilge pump is a frightened man with a five gallon bucket. How many of us have been there'! You can put your hands down now.

This is the school of hard knocks. Well, enough of this, let's get down in the deep dark recesses and have a look at this wonderful device. I always look at the float switch to see that it's mounted on the centerline. Are the bilges clean and debris free, or is there years of old paint, hair, dirt and lost tools just hoping to penetrate the usually wide open picket fence normal bilge pump strainer basket. Are the wiring connections in good order or are they starting to be as green as St. Patrick's day. Lift those wet boys up and consider installing a proper terminal strip in lieu of those gummy black taped connections. This also helps when it comes to replacing this wondrous device.

Recently I attended a boat that took a deep drink of water and discovered that a plastic tie  wrap had wrapped itself around the impeller rotor which locked and caused quite a mess. You need to get on some grubbies and muck that stuff out occasionally. You'd be surprised how sweet your little boat can smell with a properly cleaned bilge area not to mention retrieving your long lost favorite tools that were mysteriously eaten! Snap the pump off its strainer and check to see if the rotor is clear. Hair will foul a rotor and eventually lock it up. Look at your hoses and clamps to see if replacement is in order. That old hose with the cuts and holes in it may be  pumping more water in through perforations than it is pumping overboard. It just sort of recycles the stuff you want to get rid of.

Here's a few rules and suggestions for caring for your bilge pump.

A. Bilge pumps shall be mounted in an accessible location to permit servicing and cleaning of the intake and/or screening.

B. The bilge pump inlet shall be located so that excess bilge water can be removed at normal boat trims.

C. Pump intakes shall be protected to prevent ingestion of debris that are likely to cause pump failure.

D. Intake tubing, if used, shall not collapse under maximum pump suction.

E. Pump discharge systems shall be as nonrestrictive as practicable.

NOTE: Pump discharge capacity as installed may be reduced by such factors as:

-length of discharge piping.
-number and radius of bends.
-roughness of the interior surfaces of piping and fittings, and
-reduction in cross-sectional area of discharge system components such as check valves and thru-hulls.

F. The discharge location shall be above the waterline.

EXCEPTION: The discharge may be located below the waterline if the discharge line is provided with a vented loop to prevent siphoning into the boat. A check valve shall not be used for this purpose. 

G. A check valve may be used, if necessary, to prevent an automatic bilge pump from cycling on-and-off due to backflow from the discharge line.

H. Hose connections shall be secured with a non-corrosive type of clamp.

I. Motors of non-submersible bilge pumps shall be located above the maximum anticipated bile water level.

J. Automatically controlled pumps shall be installed with an overriding manual switch which is readily accessible.

K. Manually controlled pumps shall be installed with a switch which is readily accessible.

A 1" hole 2' below the waterline will allow in approximately 3,500 gallons per hour(GPH) in, and the most moderate sized vessel's we look at do not have the pump capacity to void that much water. The bilge pump coupled with a visual or audible device can give you enough time to preform damage control before your good ship starts to experience negative buoyancy and starts down like a greased safe. Look at your vessel's plumbing system with a critical eye and if in doubt, replace the questionable component. You won't regret it.

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