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Keep Your Bilge Beautiful


Tips for keeping your bilge in top form and your boat’s plumbing merrily gurgling along.

Extra Bilge Plugs

Photo: Billy Black

My number-one rule of boating is to “keep the water outside the boat.” Nothing does this better than remembering to install the bilge plug. Right now, go and buy six of these. Find some annoyingly bright nail polish color and paint each one. Place four of them in strategic places on the boat that you rummage through every time you launch. Their presence will trigger the memory that it needs to be installed (not to mention, when you lose one, you’ll have spares). One belongs in the hole installed, and the sixth belongs in your tow vehicle’s cup holder to once again remind you to keep the water outside the boat!

— John Adey

Wipe Your Bilge Dry

Photo: Thinkstock

My father’s 1986 Sea Ray engine compartment looks like new. After every trip he (or the grandkids) towel-dries out the bilge area under the engine. This keeps the humidity low in the engine compartment, minimizing the all-too-common rust formation on engine components. It also makes it easy to spot a leak early (oil or otherwise) and forces you to pay attention to areas that you might ignore for long periods of time.

— John Adey

Dependable Seacocks

Replace pipe-gate wheels with ball-type seacocks with handles. Handles show clearly if the pipe is open or closed and will alert you to a blockage if it can’t be opened or closed.

— BoatUS Editors

Bilge-Pump Maintenance And Testing

Undesired water could come from a leaking stuffing box, rain, seawater, a failing freshwater line, or a number of other possibilities. Bilge pumps don’t care where the water came from; its job is to pump it overboard. To work efficiently, it’s imperative to keep them clear of debris. If a bilge isn’t cleaned periodically, debris could clog up the bilge floats, sensors, or bilge-pump housing, thereby not letting a bilge pump work to its full capacity or, worse, failing completely.

Every month or so, wash down your bilge with fresh water, clean out any debris and if possible take the bilge pump motor from its housing, clean its impeller, and wipe the sensor clean to help ensure proper operation. In addition, run a manual test every month or so from the dash controls, lifting the control float arm or covering the test circles on the high-water sensor to make sure everything is in proper working order.

— Jim Favors

The Other Flush

If you have a toilet aboard and it uses raw saltwater to flush, decomposing critters can soon make your stored boat smell like low tide. The solution is to freshwater-flush the toilet supply line. On most manual heads, if you open the flush valve, you can push water from a garden hose via the supply thru-hull straight into the toilet bowl. Take care to not overfill and then pump the fresh water from the bowl. This gives the discharge side a freshwater rinse as well. This flush does add to the contents in your holding tank, but including it as part of your pull-out procedure can make all the difference in how your boat smells the next time you launch.

— Don Casey

Repairing/Replacing Bilge Pumps And Automatic Float Switches

I once had a customer who never noticed that the bunk bracket nuts had loosened and the distance between the fender and the boat bottom became smaller and smaller until finally the boat squashed the fenders onto the tire and shredded the tire on a long trip, far away from home. A boat on a trailer is subjected to forces different from those in the water. Just like protecting the boat while it’s in a slip with fenders and proper dockline lengths, you need to protect it on the trailer. Check the fit after each trip. Did the bunks move? Is something rubbing against the boat? Is a roller worn or marking the boat? Keep a mental note of the placement of the boat and the tolerances and, if they change, check everything out immediately.

— John Tiger

Clogged Sea Strainer

If you find yourself in a position where your engine is discharging little or no overboard water, first turn your engine off, then go to your sea strainer and close the thru-hull lever. Take the cap off the sea strainer and pull out its basket for inspection. Clean the basket of debris. Before you reassemble, however, open the thru-hull momentarily. While open you should see a steady stream of water flowing in. Close the sea strainer lever.

If, on the other hand, there was little to no water flow when the seacock lever was opened, there may be an obstruction between the sea strainer and thru-hull fitting. You may have a plastic bag, or similar article, sucked up against the bottom of the boat, which would require diving to remove. Another scenario is the water line from the thru-hull lever to the sea strainer may be clogged with sea grass. In this case, put the seacock in the closed position and loosen the hose clamps so that you can take the hose off to inspect for a clogged water line. Clean as needed and momentarily open the seacock — you should have good water flow. Close the seacock, reassemble back to original state, open seacock, and start your engine for a final overboard water discharge test.

— Jim Favors

Prevent Foul Odors

Keeping the choker valve and toilet hoses clean on boats with a head can reduce foul odors. Place one-half cup of baking soda into the empty toilet bowl. Next, pour in one cup of white vinegar and let the contents rest in the bowl overnight. Flush in the morning. The next evening, or before you’ll be away from the boat for an extended period, repeat the same process, but instead of letting the contents sit in the bowl, dry flush (no additional water) into the toilet lines. Let rest overnight and flush in the morning. Repeat the process a few more times for the initial cleansing, then repeat periodically as needed.

— Tom Neale

BoatUS Editors

Contributor, BoatUS Magazine