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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Lambert

Maintaining Bilge Health

A simple guideline to maintaining your bilge's health.


The Mobile Mariner | Jensen Beach | Florida | Bilge Health

It's no secret that maintaining your bilge health is critical to your boat's life. Although it sits at the bottom of your boat, often out of sight, out of mind, your bilge is not something you can forget about. Designed to collect excess water, your bilge keeps the water below deck and helps boaters maneuver around safely. Routine cleaning not only helps reduce bacterial growth but it monitors any oil that may have spilled inside (which can result in major fines if it discharges into the waterway).


So, how do we keep our bilge healthy?


Tip #1 - Clean Your Bilge


One of the first things you can do to maintain your bilge's health is to physically clean your bilge. First, turn your bilge pump off. Your bilge pump does not need to be on when you're cleaning the inside, especially if you don't want the pump to fry. Dispose of any debris inside your bilge (leaves, grass, fishing line, etc.) and use a wet/dryvac to extract excess water. Next, add a small amount of bilge cleaner to a cloth or soft-bristled brush and start scrubbing. Give it a quick rinse (not too much water) and wipe it dry. Bilge cleaner should never be discharged overboard.


Tip #2 - Maintain or Replace Your Bilge Pump


A healthy bilge pump is also critical to maintaining your bilge health. Your bilge pump is responsible for pumping water out of your bilge, but it sucks in some pretty nasty water most of the time. Removing the pump and cleaning it offshore with a vinegar/water solution can help remove any build-up. It also neutralizes odors. Cleaning your bilge pump is not the best of jobs, but preventative maintenance can save you in the long run.


Cleaning your bilge pump may not always be an option. Bilge pumps have a life span of 3-4 years, and even the most maintained bilge pump can die on you. Replacing your bilge pump may be the best solution to maintaining your bilge health.


There are four main types of bilge pumps which include centrifugal, electric diaphragm, reciprocating, and manual.


Centrifugal Pump


Your centrifugal pumps can take on large volumes of water and are generally less expensive than the other types. Maintenance is pretty simple, but it must be submerged and it does not remove all the water from the bilge.


Electric Diaphragm Pump


Your electric diaphragm pumps are self-priming, which means they use a diaphragm to draw in the water and expel it. Because they can work when pumping water uphill, they can disperse all the bilge water. They can be mounted away from the bilge and have a longer life span than the other pumps. There are two types of electric diaphragm pumps: single and double. Your single has only one diaphragm that draws water in and then pumps it out while your double has two connected diaphragms. This allows one diaphragm to draw water in while the other one expels the water out.


Reciprocating Pump


Your reciprocating bilge pumps are self-priming as well, but they use a piston to create the reciprocating motion that creates the pressure inside the cylinder to remove the water. Although they can handle pumping water uphill, they cannot handle debris. Because they need a filter to thwart any waste, they are not as effective in pumping all of the water out of the bilge and are suited for smaller boats.


Manual Pump


A manual bilge pump is a water pump that should be used for non-motorized boats only. It is inexpensive and does not require electricity to run it. Their max output is about 20 gallons of water per minute, but it requires physical pumping by you or a helping hand.


"The best bilge pump of all is a bucket in the hands of a frightened man" – Butch Dalrymple Smith

Tip #3 - Maintain Your Engine


The Mobile Mariner | Jensen Beach | Florida | Bilge Health | Engine Health

Maintaining a healthy engine not only keeps your bilge healthy but also helps improve fuel efficiency. It can also prevent fuel leaks. When you regularly maintain your engine, your hoses and lines should be inspected as well as all your clamps and filters. Your engine should be serviced offshore using both a closed system and plenty of oil sorbs to catch any mess.




The Mobile Mariner | Jensen Beach | Florida | Bilge Health | Oil Sorbs

Tip #4 - Place Oil Sorbs in Your Bilge


Oil and boating go hand in hand, but oil in your bilge does not. Maintaining your bilge health means you can place oil sorbs can be placed inside your bilge. This practice is used because the sorbs can leach onto the oil and leave the water behind, giving you a safer discharge. The pads are made with polypropylene, which not only makes it a stronger material but it is an economical choice as well.



Tip #5 - Bilge Filters


Another item to help maintain your bilge health is a bilge filter. Bilge Filters are used to remove petroleum-based products (oil, gas, etc.) from the water inside your bilge. They come in different sizes as well as different types. Because the water can pass through, there is no increase in pressure on your bilge pump.



A Clean Bilge is a Happy Bilge


Maintaining your bilge health is not only critical to your boat's health, but it's a lot easier than you think. When you maintain your bilge's health, you not only increase your boat's longevity but can also spot any problems should they arise. It also helps prevent any debris from causing float switch failure and also gives you a chance to inspect your thru hulls.


Finally, do not hesitate to replace your bilge pump when the time comes. It is vital to your boat's health and can prevent unnecessary damage. If you don't have the nerve to stick your hand in the bilge, calling a professional like The Mobile Mariner would be your best bet to get the job done.







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