Bilge Pump System Maintenance Tips

A leaking boat is no joke, and if yours has one, the only thing that’ll keep it afloat is the bilge pump system. Keeping the bilge pump system in working order could save your boat, and even your life.

Boat bilge pump maintenance tips

A well-maintained bilge pump will have a longer lifespan, which can save you on costly repairs and replacements over time. Follow these maintenance tips to ensure your boat has a long-lasting and efficient bilge pump system.

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What is the Bilge Pump System?

The bilge pump system on your boat removes nuisance water from within the hull, providing protection against flooding and sinking. The system consists of an electric pump in the bilge that feeds a discharge pipe leading to a point above the waterline. Bilge pumps usually have some form of screen on the pump’s inlet port or hose to prevent debris from getting sucked into the pump and clogging or damaging it.

Boat bilge pump system maintenance tips

Bilge pump systems also have a thru-hull fitting where the discharge pipe exits the boat. Many bilge pump systems also feature non-return or check valves that prevent water from draining back into the bilge.

Some bilge pump systems incorporate two separate pumps:

  • A low capacity pump for getting rid of nuisance water
  • A high capacity emergency pump to get rid of flooding water

Boats with more than one bilge compartment have a nuisance water bilge pump for each compartment, or a network of bilge pump intake hoses leading to each compartment. They may also have more than one emergency bilge pump, depending on how large the vessel is.

Bilge Pump System Maintenance Tips

Check the bilge pump actually pumps water out by turning the pump on and looking to see if water is flowing from the discharge outlet. If necessary, pour a few gallons of water into the bilge to give the pump something to pump out. Never assume a bilge pump is functioning properly just because you hear its motor running when you switch it on.

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  • If the pump’s inlet screen or screen box gets blocked by debris, it’ll prevent water from flowing through the pump. This causes the pump to overheat and fail. If the inlet screen is damaged, replace it immediately.
  • Inspect the discharge hose or pipe for kinks or splits that can prevent bilge water from being pumped out of the boat. Make sure all pipes and hoses are in good condition and aren’t crimped or crushed.
  • Ensure thru-hull fittings and valves work properly and are free of debris. If your bilge pump system has non-return or check valves built in, inspect them for clogs or corrosion. Inspect the thru-hull discharge point to make sure it isn’t blocked.
  • Test that the float switch is working properly and starts the pump when raised. If your bilge pump has a float switch housed in a screen box, clean the screen box to ensure water can reach the float and activate the switch.

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  • Make sure all connectors, connections and terminals are clean, free of corrosion and secure. Coat any exposed metal connectors with grease.
  • Check that the fuses protecting the bilge pumps have the correct ratings. If the fuse ratings are too high, they might fail if the pump becomes clogged with debris and the pump motor itself will burn out.

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  • Inspect the batteries and the electrical system, including the wiring between the batteries and the bilge pump, which are prone to corrosion. Replace them if water has penetrated their insulation.

Bilge pump system maintenance

  • Inspect the pump’s impeller for wear, broken blades or other damage. The impeller should spin freely and without any resistance when turned by hand. Replacing an impeller should be done once a year anyway, but change it out immediately if it’s damaged.  

Finally, inspect the bilge pump’s diaphragm and valves for any signs of damage, and check that the rubberized diaphragm is still flexible and free of rips or tears. Inspecting the valves and diaphragm should be done at least once every couple of years.

Don't Ignore Your Boat's Bilge Pump System

Keeping up with these bilge pump maintenance tips should help ensure your boat's bilge pump system works properly for years to come. It's one of those areas you should never overlook, for safety reasons above all else. Take good care of your bilge pump system, and it'll take good care of you.




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