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Choosing the Right Bilge Pump for Boats

Whether you own a Personal Water Craft, a Sailboat, a pleasure boat – small or large, or a commercial craft, the subject of choosing a bilge pump is an important one. Many feel that next to the condition of your hull, the condition (and capacity) of your bilge pump should be of primary concern.  After all, a sinking boat isn’t going to be much fun or very productive (depending on whether you own a pleasure boat or commercial craft) for anyone.

It isn’t just about your boat, but about safety. Just as there is required, and needed safety equipment, there should also be a consideration for the correct bilge pump to assure that the vessel is going to stay afloat each time you take it out on the water.

What is a bilge pump’s function?  
A bilge pump is designed to exhaust standing water in the vessel’s bilge.

When is the bilge pump not a solution?

Bilge pumps are not designed to be used for rapidly accumulating water on-board due to rough weather, hull damage and/or other unsafe navigational conditions.  Do not expect them to be the hero of these events.

What is a bilge system?
Depending on the type of boat and size of boat you may need not only more GPH (gallons per hour) capacity but also more than one bilge pump.  In fact, many experts recommend two on every vessel over the size of a dinghy.  That second pump (or more) consideration comes from the fact that bilge pumps can fail, rather than the electrical system of the pump.

What is the rating of a bilge pump and what can that mean to my boat?
Remember that many of the ratings (i.e. GPH) are given for high output when operated with an open discharge.  Discharge piping that is added can alter that rating.  That means that you should always look to a bilge or multiple pumps that are going to work for the worst-case scenario.  If you feel you need a 500 GPH pump, it wouldn’t hurt to consider a 750 to be on the safe side.

Where should I locate my pump(s)?
Your primary bilge pump should be installed at the lowest point when the vessel is afloat.  A second is usually recommended a little bit further up the hull.  Remember, bilge pumps must always be installed lower than the source of water.

Why is cleaning the bilge system important?
Debris from the bilge that can be found in the pump, float switch (if you have one) and switch and can literally render your system inoperable.  It is as important to make sure your bilge system is working as checking your safety equipment prior to taking up the anchor.  Remember, that if your bilge has oil or oily water and you pump it on the water you could face stiff fines.

When should I use a manual pump?

A manual pump is never a good substitute for your primary bilge system. They are essential to have on hand for emergencies, however.

Whether you own a Personal Water Craft, a Sailboat, a pleasure boat – small or large, or a commercial craft, the subject of choosing a bilge pump is an important one. Many feel that next to the condition of your hull, the condition (and capacity) of your bilge pump should be of primary concern.  After all, a sinking boat isn’t going to be much fun or very productive (depending on whether you own a pleasure boat or commercial craft) for anyone.

It isn’t just about your boat, but about safety. Just as there is required, and needed safety equipment, there should also be a consideration for the correct bilge pump to assure that the vessel is going to stay afloat each time you take it out on the water.

Glossary of Helpful Terms

Automatic Bilge Pump:  Includes a float switch as part of the design, making it automatic.

Bilge Pump Switches:  Panel mounted rocker switches for use with low amp pumps

Check Valve: A mechanical device (valve) that only allows the liquid to flow through it in one direction

Float Switch:  Converts any bilge pump to a fully automatic operation

GPH: Gallons Per Hour that a pump will pump from the bilge

Heavy Duty Pump:  Designed for Commercial Vessels as a rule

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