Your bilge pump might be the most overlooked device on a boat—that is, until you need it. With proper planning and routine maintenance, your bilge pump will work when needed, and you won’t be forced to man the bailing buckets to stay afloat.
Make sure your pump has enough capacity for the job. What size pump do you need? In my view, to move water out of the boat, you need at least a 2,000-gallon-per-hour pump; bigger boats and those going offshore should have more.
While that sounds like a lot, consider that a 1-inch hole (say, a broken-through hull) one foot below the waterline will flood at 12 gallons per minute—that’s 720 gallons per hour. Once installed, however, a 1,000-gph pump may lose 15 to 30 percent capacity depending on hose type, head and filters. Assuming a 25 percent loss, a 1,000-gph pump will only evacuate 750 gallons per hour at best. That leaves a small 30-gph margin of error.
Pumps themselves seldom fail, but putting an electric device in saltwater invites electrical issues. Check those connections as part of your routine maintenance and test the float-switch at the same time. I believe every pump should also have a manual switch just in case it’s needed.
While it costs a little extra, consider carrying a spare pump so you can replace a failed pump on the fly. If you store it with a battery clip pigtail and some hose, it can serve as an additional pump for yourself or others. Mine came in handy late one night when my dock neighbor’s boat was in danger of sinking because they had inadequate pumps. –Scott Morris