Sea Worthy: That sinking feeling …

Bilge pumps — the chances are strong that your particular boat is equipped with at least one of those. Most are common electric centrifugal pumps and are operated from your boat’s battery systems.

Generally, it is activated by the water level rising to a pre-determined point or by engaging a switch on the dashboard.

Too often when inspecting a vessel for condition or accident we find the bilge pumps inoperable, wired incorrectly or in general poor condition. Keep in mind that when the pump motor runs you don’t necessarily know it is actually pumping water. The tiny metal impeller shafts are prone to breaking from corrosion. In other cases, tie straps, fishing line and other debris, may easily foul the pump. Some builders, Sea Ray for example, are notorious for putting check valves in the hoses. These valves will occasionally stick or become fouled.

During an inspection, I look for general condition of the pump, hose, clamps and wiring connections. I try to determine that the discharge hose forms a loop above the hull fitting or is at least 12 inches above the water line to avoid a siphon effect. I check to make sure that the automatic function operates with battery switch off, and that the unit is properly fuse protected.

It is an important safety precaution to regularly inspect your own bilge pumps. Many boat owners don’t think to replace or service them until they have a failure.

Even the most expensive pumps are under warranty for only 5 years. Most have only 1 year. I would suggest new pumps and floats every 2 years, 3 years at the most.

Check the hose at these intervals for brittleness and the clamps for corrosion. Clean the bilges of debris and clear any check valves fitted.

The bilge pump auto circuit and the stereo memory are the only two conductors on board that are allowed by ABYC to be energized with battery switch off. Make sure the correct size fuse is installed at the source of power.

For example, Rule 1500 gph., 12 volt, 9 amp. Rule 2000 gph., 12 volt, 15 amp, and so on. The pump manufacturers Web sites will all have installation instructions and fuse requirements.

Electronic automatic switches such as Water Witch and Johnson have become much more reliable in recent years and are worthy of consideration when the original equipment is due for replacement.

Don’t let gas prices keep you high and dry. There is plenty of inshore and near shore fun to be had. Dust off those old water skis, picnic baskets and light tackle and go boating.


Capt. John Campbell is an accredited marine surveyor, who is associated with the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors, the American Boat and Yacht Council, and the Collier County Marine Trades Association. His expertise includes boat and yacht surveys, damage claims work and marine-related consultation. In this introductory article, Campbell makes his suggestions on how best to secure boats when severe storms threaten. He can be contacted at or 389-9769.

© 2008 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.