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Bilge Pumps

May 25, 2015

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We all have at least one bilge pump. And like seacocks and fire extinguishers, we assume they work. Considering the consequences if any of the above do not function as we expect when we need them, perhaps we should give them a bit more attention than we do. You might be surprised what you discover.

Not only should we all ensure that our multiple (we had four aboard when three teenage sons were part of our crew) fire extinguishers are full, but replacing missing or broken pins is a good idea as well. In 15 years, with three boys, no one ever accidently set off a fire extinguisher. In the past month, each of us has filled the boat (or in my case, just the hanging locker) with white chemicals on two separate occasions. Check and replace those pins!

Dave's fire extinguisher fun was caused by an errant elbow. He was pushing up on the lid of his tool locker and apparently used the fire extinguisher, sans pin, as leverage. Oops. A week later, while wiping the last few drops of freshwater out of the bilge, he rested his elbow on the raw water strainer fitting and suddenly there was salt water to add to the fresh. No problem, just close the seacock, right? Which explains why I have added inspecting seacocks to today's list. Here's an idea: close a seacock, and then disconnect the hose to it. Wait several minutes. Does it leak? If not, good for you, now repeat with the others. If so, it's time to investigate why. (Turtle grass in the strainer has us convinced that it also explains the few drops of water that leak through our closed seacock, but we will be trying the experiment with the other two, as well.)

While we had the boat disassembled on the hard, Dave replaced the diaphragm on our manual bilge pump, rebuilt our electric bilge pump, and replaced the hose to include a vented loop above the exit in the transom to discourage seas from flooding the boat. (How ironic it would be to sink because of water coming IN the hole through which it is pumped OUT.) With all the changes he had made to our bilge pump situation, we knew we were going to have to flood the bilge to test everything. But before we got to that part of the list, Dave found Hal Roth's After 50,000 Miles in the marina book exchange. Hal's advice turned out to be pertinent and a game changer.

Once we launched, confirmed that we had no leaks, moved the boat to the bulkhead, and tied her with our customary six lines, it was time to run the hose in the bilge. Against every belief we hold dear (Water on the outside!), we pumped freshwater into our bilge. The manual pump worked. The electric pump worked. But this did not satisfy Hal Roth's criteria: run a hose into your bilge for FIFTEEN minutes and see what happens. You might be surprised. No Hal, really, if the pump works, the pump works, right? Wrong. Anything could happen. Fuses could pop, wiring could melt, or, as in our case, the pump may get tired and show its true colors. The water shot out the transom, we cheered his ability to fix junk and then, within minutes, our cheers turned to groans as the water became a dribble like a disconnected garden hose. Dang. Would we have let enough water run into the bilge long enough for this change to have occurred without having read Hal Roth? We like to think so. But the truth is, after purchasing and installing a brand new pump (almost twice as powerful as our 15-year-old one he had just rebuilt), we let the hose run. And run, and run. We are now confident that our new bilge pump will run for 15 minutes or more without suffering any ill effects. As for everything else on the boat, watch where you put your elbows.

MONDAY we'll share another of Dave's build-it-with-what-we-have-aboard projects.

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