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5 May 2014. Bilge Pump OUCH.


Onboard Seaweed I have a monthly regime of maintenance checks that are done on the first of each month. Today I learned something, much to my chagrin.  Let me share with you what I do, and what I did not know, until I had an expensive lesson today.


Bilge Pumps aboard Seaweed


On the first of each month I test each bilge pump. Seaweed has an automatic 800gph SeaSense Pump along with two 2000gph Johnson Pumps. Incidentally, I'm a proponent of the SeaSense800 because it is heavy, (Calder in his Boatowners Mechanical and Electrical Manual tome advocates weight as one criteria in value) and mine works. Guaranteed for three years, and the one on Seaweed functions to perfection. Oh, and have I mentioned it is inexpensive?!  $40 (circa 2014) versus lots more for the similar Rule automatic bilge pump.

Rule's are fine pumps too though more expensive than the SeaSense. [For the uninitiated, Rule is a particularly well-regarded brand of bilge pumps.]


Side Note: Always (always!!!) have an automatic bilge pump on your boat. If your boat starts to fill with water a pump that will remove said water without your input is critical. I would not be without an automatic bilge pump -- or ones with float switches.

A float switch will turn on a pump when water reaches a certain level. I prefer the auto but some, such as the Johnson 2k pumps require float switches.  No real preference so I have both a Rule float switch and one by Attwood.  They work fine for me.

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Bilge Pump Maintenance aboard Seaweed


In any event, on the first of each month I turn the switch to "On" for each of my Johnson pumps and listen for the motor. Next, I flip the switches (each is on a separate unit) back to Automatic and go into the bilge and lift the float switch. Again I listen for the motor and voila: called it good.


Both of my Johnson's are high and dry and indeed the SeaSense800 does the "work" -- my rudder post weeps so there's a bit pumped out with some regularity. I did check once to verify that the pumps would come on properly -- i.e. before the sole in my cabin was flooded.

So in the meantime each month I check that the pump motors come on, and quite frankly felt a bit virtuous about the whole process.

Now the SeaSense (lowest point) does have one issue. Each month I remove hair from it -- mine's long and I swear to you the First Mate sheds her weight in fur (four pounds!) each week.


Unless  you are bald, your bilge pump maintenance needs to include clearing the screen at the bottom of your bilge pump(s) regularly. A clogged bilge pump does you no good whatsoever.


HOWEVER in an effort to spend more money on this blasted engine swap, the two exhaust pipes were tee-ed together temporarily. Water (each pipe is 3") came in and flooded the bilge. Although one of my Johnson's worked perfectly the other ran but did not pump water.


I had never checked to see that the pumps did
more than make noise. That was not a good plan.


Besides my SeaSense and Johnson bilge pumps, I also have an inexpensive 12-volt Orca by Whale (of Gusher fame) in my dinghy. I like it lots better than bucketing out the water from Algae when it rains. Some day I will tell you about bailing out a dinghy when I was younger... and why irritating a boat kid is not ever a good idea.

Please Note: The Orca is fine for pumping out the rain water however these pumps are not designed for use in salt water. It says so in the literature (fresh or grey water* only) but I missed that -- who reads the fine print until stuff goes belly up?!?

*Grey Water: the water from your sink or shower, basically soapy/grungy fresh water.

Anyway, be sure in your spare time be smarter than I was:
Verify that your bilge pumps will do more than make noise. Be Safe!

Have you ever had a pump fail like mine did?
Are there other maintenance tricks for bilge pumps or float switches?

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