One way to Set-up your Bilge Pumps
By Capt. Douglas Malat
Yes, now let's open up that floor board and take a look in the bilges to see how to upgrade New and Used Yacht Bilge Pump Installations!
There are a few things I do down there to set up for safety. It does give you piece of mind knowing you are in control of things below the waterline... I guess somewhat. I have read many articles/books about being offshore or just running Coastal in a boat only to read further on that the captain stepped below into the cabin to find water above the floorboards do to bilge pumps getting clogged or worse. A dire situation. I never want to get into that situation while being offshore or running in the bays. A number of years ago I tried to remedy that kind of situation. In those books and articles I read, the amount of water was 1 inch to 1 foot above the floorboards. This was due to the Bilge pump being jammed, burned out, or a fuse blown. The height of the water in the cabin is the amount of time gone by before someone went below or woke up in the cabin. At times it is easy to find a leak. Hitting an object under water brings you to the conclusion to look at your prop shafts and shaft logs where your propeller shafts exit the hull of the boat. Also your rudder post. If the hit was that servere you might also want to check forward for a crack or hole in the hull. But in this case you were alerted to danger from the sound of the bump/hit made. Something may have happened and you're on the hunt for the water possibly coming into the boat.
But let's take a more subtle route. Your sailing or motoring offshore with the great sunrise or sunset, seas with just a ripple, oh so nice. A through-hull fitting starts leaking, a hose clamp loosens off the engine, your stuffing box starts leaking, or your bow thruster assembly starts leaking. All these things are subtle at first, but can turn into dire situations as your boat bilge pump runs and runs without you knowing. The through-hull fitting really starts leaking now, or the hose pops off the engine. The stuffing box adjusting nut backs off and water starts gushing in. These are things you need to get control of before a disaster happens.
I have found a simple way (for me) that works and alerts me. Yes, you do have those high water bilge alarms, but I feel if too much water is in the bilge you cannot find the source of the leak because the water level is covering it. It is extremely hard to find a water leak underwater. This is my installation that brings me my piece of mind. While most of my trips involve ocean passages, some are coastal. Even in a good size bay to abandon ship because of a leak not found in time because of the water level allowed to rise is not only foolish but dangerous. I usually install a 2,000 gph (gallon per hour) bilge pump with an automatic switch and also a 3,000 gph larger marine bilge pump with the same. I install the 2,000 gph bilge pump with an automatic switch on the bilge floor with an inline alarm. I use the oil pressure buzzer, the one you usually hear when you turn on your ignition when you start your boat. This way anytime the bilge pump goes off, the buzzer sounds, letting me know the pump is in use. On a sailboat, you can hear the buzzer anytime even with the auxiliary engine on you can hear it faintly, when you get attuned to it. On a powerboat, you can install the buzzer by your helm or have a counter that you reset to 0. You can look at it from time to time to see a change or even equip it with a light and buzzer setup. This way if you don't hear the buzzer you see the light flash on and off. With this type of setup, if the buzzer keeps going off multiple times, or stays on for long periods I immediately investigate. It could be something silly like a bilge compartment that just unclogged (weep hole unclogging) letting extra water in from another compartment, or a sticky auto switch for the bilge pump. By having the buzzer it will alert you that the pump is continuously on, draining your batteries. If you didn't use this setup you wouldn't see anything because there's no water discharge on the outside of the boat (water was pumped out already), or hear it on the inside. It will burn out your batteries and burn out the pump. When Offshore or Coastal, I try not to leave anything to chance. So the buzzer is a good thing, keeping you in touch with what is going on below the floorboards. When you don't hear the buzzer, which goes off many times because of the motion, I become curious and look under the floorboards anyway.
I also mentioned a 3,000 gph Bilge pump as an additional setup and here is why... If there is a big leak and you can't find the source or can't get at it, the 3,000 gph Bilge pump will kick in at higher levels. I set up the 3,000 gph higher in the bilge compartment so when the 2,000 gph bilge pump is overwhelmed, jams or just stops working the 3,000 with take over. You can put a buzzer on this one as well, that's another back-up, it's up to you (remember, if you don't hear the buzzer for a time start checking anyway). With a total of 5,000 gph discharge working, (you can run your engine to keep your batteries charged up) it will give you the additional time, to find, come up with, or figure out an alternative to stopping the leak. You always want time on your side, and this gives it to you.
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