This Old Boat – Bilge Pump Switches

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    Boats bilges are in the bottom of the boat, under a deck generally and are utilised as a place for unwanted water to be stored until such a time as the bilges can be emptied. Space on a boat is restricted by the boats length and width (beam), and customers who buy a boat generally want the most that they can get out of the available space. Because of this most of the bottom of the boat is covered with decks, and the bilge space underneath cannot be seen without lifting decks.

    Just for the benefit of anyone who is new to boating, the bilge space should not be forgotten, it should be checked regularly. As mentioned before, to a lesser or greater extent the bilge will slowly, over time, fill with water. This may be as a result of rain leaking in, condensation, prop shaft seal leakage, external fittings leaking or even collision damage. We need a convenient way to empty the bilge space without it being inconvenient. This is why bilge pumps are fitted.

    Most of these pumps are of the submersible type and usually have the ability to remove large volumes of water. It is not unusual for bilge pumps to be able to move thousands of litres an hour. This ability is not accidental. In the event of equipment failure leading to water leaking into the boat, the large volume pump may buy you the time to safely dock or at least reach shallow water for repairs to be carried out. This type of emergency is very rare indeed, but the pumps capability is reassuring.

    Having a decent pump is one thing, but the pump has to be controlled. There are pumps that have integral switching, this is a bad idea. If a switch fails it should be accessible without the need to remove the pump. The main types of pump switches involve either a float arrangement or electronic control.

    My own preference is for the electronic type. Float switches can gum up and stick. They may be good in a clean bilge but in an older boat there may be traces of oil that attracts dirt, this can affect the moving parts. In an electronic switch there are no moving parts to jam. For me, the best arrangement is an electronic switch connected through a 3 way switching point. This would also work with a float switch. In the event of pump switch failure you can simply switch to manual operation. A good safety feature.

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