The Salty Dog’s Guide to the Best Boat Bilge Pump

    Flooded Boat
    Not every component of water recreation is intellectually stimulating. As the Salty Dog has learned over the years, however, the least exciting jobs and components of a water-based adventure tend to be the most important. That’s why knowing about the best boat bilge pump for your craft could be knowledge that saves your life.

    Most people don’t take bilge pumps seriously unless they’ve had a boat flooded or sunk already. That’s a mistake. Sinking at the dock is one thing, but sinking 20 miles offshore is bad news. All it takes is one faulty exhaust hose to fill a hull full of water. The size of your bilge pump needs to work with the size of your boat. Any boat that is over 16 feet in length will want to invest into two pumps instead of just one.

    How Many Compartments Are There?

    #1. In general, if you have a compartment on your boat that doesn’t allow water to flow freely, then it needs to have one of the best boat bilge pumps that are available right now. This means you’ll need to look at every compartment on your boat to determine if bulkheads are in place. If they are, then you’ll need a pump for each compartment if you’re following best practices. 

    Outboards Have Special Needs

    #2. The weight of the engine on an outboard motor [or a stern drive, for that matter] affects the flow of water in the boat. Instead of the lowest point being in the center of the boat, the lowest point is actually in the aft section. If you have a self-bailing cockpit, it won’t take much water in the bilge to sink the boat. Make sure the pump isn’t installed where you can’t reach it in case you may need to fix it. 

    Capacity Matters

    #3. Only small boats can get away with an 800 pump. The idea that any pump is going to actually expel the amount of water in gallons per hour that it claims to be able to do is an unreasonably expectation. Any boat over 16 feet should have a 1500 pump at minimum. You can use this guide to help you choose how big your pump should be. Most bilge pumping requires vertical motion, so a 1500 pump would get rid of 750 gallons per hour. Then you’ll need to purchase two of them in most cases to truly be safe. 

    Redundancy Is Important

    #4. Installing the best boat bilge pump correctly is just as important as having the right pump on hand. If your primary pump is installed at the low point of the bilge, then consider installing the pump about 10 inches higher above the first pump level so that you’ll have a backup system that can kick-in when there is a need for it. This will also help to keep some of the debris that forms over time in the bilge from fouling up your redundant systems. 

    Open or Closed Switch?

    #5. Although closed float switches help to protect them from debris, it makes it impossible to test the switch. It’s also pretty common for sludge to foul up the switch and clog up the entire process. It becomes a lot like the hair that gets bunched up in a bathtub drain. It’ll still work, but not as well, and that could put your boat into trouble. 

    The best boat bilge pump will give you enough power to free your bilge of the extra water that could flood or sink your boat faster than you might realize. Don’t ignore this. A flooded bilge only needs to happen once to put your life at risk.

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