Although they are frequently overlooked, bilge pumps are one of the most vital items you can have if your boat begins taking on water. In emergencies, these pumps are often the last line of defense to keep your boat afloat until help arrives. Fortunately, they are typically affordable and easy to install, according to BoatUS. Here’s everything you need to know about these important devices.
What is a bilge pump?
Bilge pumps are designed to clear water from your boat’s bottom, or bilge. This water may simply be inconvenient, such as spray from a wave or liquid from a spilled drink. However, bilge pumps are also invaluable if your boat begins unexpectedly taking on water, as they can give you time to find the leak or call for help.
There are two main types of bilge pumps: centrifugal and diaphragm. Centrifugal bilge pumps are low maintenance and affordable, and they have the benefit of being able to handle some debris without malfunctioning. However, these pumps struggle to push water vertically, and they are not self-priming. Diaphragm pumps are self-priming, behaving similarly to a wet-vac. They are more capable of pushing water vertically, but cannot handle debris without clogging.
As they are such an important device, most boats will come with a bilge pump included. These pumps are often fairly small and basic, and many boat owners choose to upgrade to a larger, more effective bilge pump if they are planning to spend significant amounts of time on the water. With a price tag ranging from $50-$150, these are an affordable investment that can prevent a great deal of stress and costly damage down the line.
How to choose a bilge pump for your boat
According to Towers4Boats, there are three factors to consider when choosing the appropriate bilge pump for your needs: the type of boat you have, the boat’s size, and your power source. If your boat is open or particularly fast, you are more likely to take on larger amounts of water from waves and rain. Slower or closed boats will take on less water and do not necessarily require such a large bilge pump.
Similarly, larger boats require pumps with larger capacities. These boats are heavier, can take on more water from rain and waves, and can incur more damage from collisions than smaller, lighter boats.
Finally, you will need to consider whether you need an electric or manual bilge pump. While electric pumps can be pricier, they are also more efficient and have a higher pumping capacity than manual pumps. However, manual pumps can be used even when you have no battery power. For extra security, Towers4Boats recommends having one backup manual pump in addition to one or more electric pumps.
Maintaining your pump
Once you’ve chosen the best pump for your needs, maintenance should be fairly straightforward. BoatUS explains that if you’ve installed a centrifugal bilge pump, you’ll be most likely to encounter problems with corroded electrical connections or clogging. These problems can be easily solved by waterproofing all electrical connections and regularly clearing the pump’s strainer of debris.
For diaphragm bilge pumps, common issues include clogging and damaged check valves. Cleaning the pump chamber and monitoring the condition of the valves can help reduce the risk of pump failure. If necessary, it is possible to change damaged valves.
While bilge pumps may be easy to ignore, these devices can make a huge difference in the well-being of your boat and its passengers. By taking the time to learn about your bilge pump requirements and invest in the appropriate device, you’ll be saving yourself a great deal of stress and expense in the future.