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Guide to Bilge Pumps - What to Consider When Installing a Bilge Pump on Your Boat

Guide to Bilge Pumps - What to Consider When Installing a Bilge Pump on Your Boat

When water comes into the boat, you want to be able to send it back out - quickly. If it’s an open hull boat, you can possibly get away with a ‘bailer’ which is a fancy term for a bucket with a rope attached for ‘bailing’ the water. But if your boat’s hull is covered you need a bilge pump to discharge the water faster than it is coming in. 

What is a Bilge Pump?

bilge pump is used to remove bilge water which comes into the boat from rough seas, rain, hull leaks and spills.

Pumps come in different sizes and configurations depending on the type of boat. If there is more than one compartment on your boat, multiple pumps are required.    

How Do you Know if your Boat Requires a Bilge Pump?

Every state and territory of Australia has different marine safety requirements. The regulations for marine bilge pumps are no exception. Check out the local authority in your state or territory for more information about whether your boat is required to have a bilge pump and what size it is.

NSW – every boat with a covered bilge is required to have a bilge pump/s capable of draining each compartment. They can be manual or powered and must have a strainer fitted to prevent choking the pump section.

QLD  – Vessels sized between 5 and 8 metres require a bilge pump capable of pumping a minimum 45-litre capacity and over 8 metres the minimum is 70-litre capacity.      

VIC – An electric or manual bilge pumping system is required if a vessel has a covered bilge or closed underfloor compartments.

WA – A power or manual operated bilge pump capable of pumping 4 kilolitres per hour is required for all boats 7 metres and over.  

SA – If the vessel has more than one compartment, enough pumps are required to drain each chamber.

NT  – A pump is required for all vessels with covered bilges.

TAS – At least one solidly constructed metal or plastic bucket with two metres of rope attached must be carried or a bilge pump.  

What’s Involved in Bilge Pump Installation?

Unless you are a marine mechanic, marine technician or electrician yourself, it is always safest to pay one to install your bilge pump for you.  It IS possible to install it yourself, however it is extremely important that you follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions to the letter, test it thoroughly and ask a qualified professional to check the installation if you are unsure it has been done correctly.  

Remember: when the boat is left unattended you want to protect it with an automatic bilge pump. When the pump is connected correctly, as per the manufacturer’s instructions, it should turn on & off automatically when the boat is unattended.

What you need to install a Bilge Pump

Before you start installing your bilge pump, make sure you have all the parts needed including:

Bilge Pump/s – check on the size your boat needs.

Fuse Holder – correct size fuse to match the pump size.

Float Switch – a good quality three-way for automatic on and off.

Discharge hose

Through-hull fitting to attach the hose

Marine cable

12-volt battery

Cable ties

Heat shrink

Do you Need One Bilge Pump or Two?

If your hull has separate compartments where water can collect, you will need multiple pumps. Water needs to be removed from each compartment so a pump in each is required. But even if your hull is one compartment, you may still need two pumps.  

A pump that is large enough to deal with an emergency needs a large diameter discharge hose. The only problem with a large hose is that it’s not ideal at keeping the bilge dry. The water that remains in the hose can drain back into the bilge when the pump shuts off, and small volumes of water such as rain can’t be pumped out.

To keep your bilge dry (and free of dirty water), you need one small pump mounted at the lowest point of the hull, and a larger pump placed higher for emergencies. The large pump can be wired to a float switch. Being set higher up, the pump isn’t sitting in a small amount of water, so the life of your more expensive pump is extended.

How to Maintain Your Bilge Pump

Once you have finished installing, make sure you maintain your boat's bilge pump on a regular basis. Don’t let it be a case of out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Regularly checking your bilge pump is in good working order reduces the risk of problems when you need it most.  

A bilge pump needs protection from ingesting foreign material that can cause a blockage. A screen built into the body or a strainer keeps any rubbish and material out of the bilge pump. Clean the screen of any foreign matter. If your float switch is protected by a screen box, clean the box. Remove any bilge water as it may contain oil, fuel and chemicals. Check all hoses and connections. Test each of your bilge pumps, first in manual and then in automatic mode.

Choosing The Right Bilge Pump

A bilge pump is something you hope you never need. But in an emergency, it could be the most critical piece of safety equipment that saves your boat from capsizing and your boat’s occupants from drowning.

If you need any assistance with choosing the right bilge pump or installing one, don’t hesitate to contact the expert team at JAG Trading Online.