Bilge Pump Reliability

By: Grid Michal

QuestionAfter owning my boat for eight years, I’m starting to get uneasy about the reliability of my automatic bilge pump and would like to change it myself, as it looks like something that’s easy enough to do: be a hero and save some money. Would you recommend the compact computer style or float switch type?

AnswerWatch where you step! All kinds of worms are streaming out of that can. A few things I’d consider: Accessibility. Boat use. Boat non-use. Or storage.

Boat use. Obviously, fishing or offshore running call for more diligence about the bilge’s contents than creek cruising. If your deck drains or livewell drains dump into the bilge, you’ll be operating your pump more frequently. My thought would be, if you have trash going into the bilge, use the internal float type, such as the Attwood Sahara, as it stands a lesser chance of the float hanging and running your battery down. The computer pump, with its constant cycling, could pull the trash closer each cycle, and ultimately jam the impeller.

Boat non-use. If your boat is in dry storage or on a trailer, you probably don’t need to read this Q&A. If it’s moored at your pier, but you’re in Seattle or you haven’t learned how to properly secure a boat so it doesn’t slip under the pier, I’d go with the computerized pump. Too many things happen too fast in disastrous combinations to be comfortable with an external float that may be floating by itself, mounting screws rusted in half.

Accessibility. I was asked to replace a pump in a popular 25-foot cuddy-cabin. I wasn’t aware that a manufacturer would have the audacity to mount a pump dead-center in the bilge, then install the engine directly over it so the lower part of the oil pan rested on top of the pump. Short of removing the engine, there was no access to the pump or any other place in the bilge to install even the tiniest pump. Even outboard-powered boats are subject to the manufacturers’ whims. Some have been set up for computer pumps, some with internal or external float switches. So, if you can see the pump but can’t reach it, ask your tech what he’d do. I’ll bet it’s not the first of those he’s dealt with.


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