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VOL. 8 NO. 9
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Don’t taste the water

Bilge water can contain potential diseases

Don't taste the water

I did it for decades, and I see others doing it regularly: tasting bilge water to see if it’s fresh or salt.

If you’re boating on the ocean, freshwater in the bilge is usually coming from the water tank and can’t sink the boat; however, salt water is coming from the ocean and can sink the boat. A taste can quickly answer the question, but you should think twice before dipping a finger in the bilge and putting it to your lips.

The bilge collects all manner of pollutants and contaminants. Tanks inside the bilge contain fuel and waste fluids. When the boat moves, vibrates, heats or cools, these fluids leak from hoses and fittings, eventually finding their way to the bilge. Normal boat maintenance can also contaminate the bilge water as well as cleaning chemicals, debris and hair.

At some point, you will want to know whether the bilge water is fresh or salt. While inspecting boats, I’m asked this question about once a week. The implication is that I should taste it; after all, I am the surveyor. My immediate response is, “I ain’t tastin’ it, and you shouldn’t either.”

Regardless of how many times or how long you have done it, stop tasting the bilge water now. I am sure I have tasted the bilge water for as long and as many times as most of you, but I stopped cold turkey.

Without the taste test, what do we do? Do what professionals do: Put a few crystals of silver nitrate in the unknown water. White deposits in the bottom mean salt water; a light suspended cloud indicates freshwater.
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