Bilge pump

Declan McKinney writes:

When I bought Galway Girl, my insurer insisted on a survey. One of the key findings was the lack of a bilge bump (the other was the need to upgrade the gas installation, but that’s another day’s work).

Of course this was highly inconvenient but, when I thought about it, he was absolutely right. The Corribee is a small boat, so relative to a larger craft it fills up more quickly and it takes less water to sink it. As these boats are invariably sailed solo or short-handed, an efficient method of shifting unwanted brine is all the more important as it provides breathing space to diagnose and fix the leak.

I initially considered an electric pump. They can be had relatively cheaply these days, and have the advantage that they take care of the bailing while you concentrate 100% on the fix. In an unattended boat they will pump away happily, at least until they run the battery down, and can be wired to an alarm so you’ll know they’ve been busy and passers-by can intervene. Hooked up to a monitor, they can even send you a SMS text message.

For a single pump installation, however, it had to be a manual pump. I did not want to be reliant on the meagre electrical capacity of a Corribee with only a small outboard for charging, and I was concerned about losing electrics altogether if swamped. I would most likely supplement a manual device with an electrical backup pump as a future project, but for now I wanted the largest capacity mechanical pump I could find space for.

I settled on a Whale Gusher Titan for its decent 105 lpm capacity, serviceability, price and ease of mounting, and because of Whale Pumps’ strong reputation. Once out of the wrapper, it did spark some headscratching to find a mounting location that would offer an ergonomic pumping position with minimal intrusion into the cabin or storage spaces. In the end it fitted neatly beneath the cabin step, placing the handle at the forward end of the cockpit well. I bolted it through a quarter inch marine ply spacer plate for support. I also had to remove a strongpoint which I replaced with one either side of the new pump.


The pump installed behind the step


Fascia in the cockpit for the handle attachment

For now, I have left the exit hose coiled where it can be hauled on deck and vented overboard. In fact, I was out of time and hadn’t quite made up my mind where (or if) I should drill an exit hole in my hull. In order to prevent water siphoning back up the outlet hose when heeled, it is customary to introduce a vented loop into this pipe run. With the Corribee’s low freeboard it could be tricky to place the loop sufficiently high above the heeled  waterline. My current plan is to position the through-hull fitting at the forward port end of the lazarette locker, with a vented loop to starboard. Of course I’m open to suggestions and would be interested in hearing about any successful installations.

This winter, I also plan to install that secondary electric pump. I’m thinking of fitting a change-over valve into the primary outlet pipe, to which I’ll tee in the new pump’s outlet. Other options would be to install another through hull fitting just for the secondary pump, or to connect it so that it exhausts through the inlet of the manual pump but risk losing both pumps if the manual one blocks. I prefer the change-over valve option, but it does add another component that can fail and there is a slight risk of forgetting to switch it over in a panic situation.

Recently, I installed a handsfree kit in my car and can now pontificate to crazy lunatics who drive with a phone glued to their ear. Similarly, I can now advise that if you own a boat that doesn’t have a pump installed you should do something about it. The ‘frightened man with a bucket’ theory is mildly amusing the first time you hear it, but in reality you’re much better off with a few more options.


5 Responses to “Bilge pump”

  1. Steve Dallen Says:

    Quite an old post this but very appropriate for my re-fit of a 40 year old Mk1. At the moment I’ve got an electric pump in each keel but still undecided as to where the outlet should go. The lazarette sounds good (keeps pipework out of her way) but is a vented loop necessary? Wouldn’t non-return valves suffice?

    • Andrew Says:

      This comment is years later, but I am posting it to recommend using a loop with anti-syphon vent for electric pumps. Relying on a single non return would worry me. A small bit of debris can cause a leak and a sunken boat 😦

  2. Pete Says:

    The “frightened man with bucket” scenario does work, but it should be on top of at least one and ideally two real pumps. When I found myself on board a boat filling with water, we had the electric pump on, me pumping the hand pump (while steering) and two other people working the buckets.

    I’m amazed that there are boats out there without bilge pumps.

  3. downwinddec Says:

    Hi there Dave.
    Is that outlet right down at the waterline? Mine is. Did you have to do anything to prevent syphoning?
    Another problem I had was finding a location for the strumbox which was too big to fit in the little bilge between the keels. For now, I placed it under the steps but hope to re-locate it during the winter.

  4. Dave Baran Says:

    Hi Declan

    I have an electric pump on Misty, the discharge is connected to the old in-board exhaust outlet on the transom.

    Regards Dave

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