Sunday, April 14, 2013

David! The Bilge Stinks!

David!  The bilge stinks!  It smells like sewage up here!

I know that when Pam uses my proper first name, I'm in trouble.  But at least she didn't use my middle name.   If she says "David Michael!" then I know I'm really in for it.

Drift Away has three bilges.  The middle bilge is the deepest, and that's the bilge pump that does all the work.  If that one stops working, the forward bilge pump takes over.  If that one can't handle it, we're sinking and should just get off the boat.

"I'll go in the engine room and turn on the bilge manually.  Listen to see if it works, OK?", I asked.


So I went to the engine room and hit the manual override.  I waited about 30 seconds and then went upstairs and asked if she heard anything.   Negatory.   Sigh.

So I pulled the carpets off the middle bilge and pulled off the cover.  WHAT IS THAT STENCH!   YUCK!

I grabbed a light and peered down into what we boaters affectionately refer to as primordial soup.  Most life forms on earth today were formed in primordial soup, the bilge water of someone's boat.  I dropped in my submersible pump (always have one of these on board) and pumped it out a port window.  I'm assuming all the fish and fowl in the Golden Isles moved on to South Carolina.

It didn't make it look any better.  But I could see the bilge pump and float switch.

Luckily, I have many spare parts on Drift Away, including a bilge pump.  For my non-boater friends, marine parts are much, much more complicated and more expensive than comparable parts you'd buy at the hardware store.  This is because they are made of special materials and carefully designed so that they will last days, if not weeks before needing replacement.  But if you're a serious boater, you must have spare parts.

I removed the old pump, carefully depositing it in a waste basket right from the bilge so the yucky stuff (that's the technical term for whatever that slime is) didn't try to crawl away.   I hooked up the replacement and tested it.  Nothing.  I got out my multimeter and checked, and I had power at the electrical connector strip.  That meant that if the strip has power, and the pump is OK, it's the float switch that's bad.

I did not have a spare switch.  So I hied myself off to West Marine for a new one, and then to the dog park to give the dogs some play time, and then back to the boat where I replaced the switch.   I hooked everything up and tested it dry, and it worked.

So I dropped everything in the soup and hooked the pump up to the discharge hose.  It all works fine now, and we should be worry free for days, if not weeks.

By the way, if you're outfitting your boat with tools, let me make a few suggestions.  These have saved me much time and aggravation, and this little project is a classic case of why it's good to have cool stuff like this.

Electrical connectors.  You can't have too many of these, of all sizes.  Buy an assortment so you can connect something to anything.

From top to bottom- metal cutters, ratcheting crimper, wire stripper.  Do NOT buy the usual piece of crap wire stripper.  Buy something that doesn't bend.

The ratcheting crimper is a must have for making tight electrical connections.  This one is from West Marine, and has five sets of jaws that will crimp almost anything on a boat except cat5.  I don't even know what two of them do, it's so cool.

Now if you'll excuse me, something small, black, and slimy just slithered past.  I need to find it before it mutates.


  1. I want to know why your manual switch didn't work ?
    It should go directly to the pump and bypass the float switch.

    Bill Kelleher

    1. Hi Bill,

      I guess I left out a big chunk of info.

      I installed Rule bilge pumps with built-in float switches. That was a huge mistakes. Those Rules are pieces of junk. NEVER buy a Rule with built-in switches. They fail with regularity.

      Rather than replace the whole pump (for the third time) when the switch failed, I simply installed a float switch on the manual circuit. So when the switch failed, it didn't work at all.