Bilge pointers

• Don’t ever taste bilge water to identify salt vs. fresh — presume it is toxic. There are better ways to determine the source.

• Strive for a dry bilge and use bilge cleaner on a regular basis. With a clean and dry bilge, it will be easier to notice if you acquire unwanted liquids.

• Keep a portable wet vacuum aboard to clean off bilge shoes (hose end pickups) and to mop up sludge and small amounts of bilge water that your pumps can’t suck out. A good wet vacuum can also be used to remove fouled water,  which you can then dispense into a five-gallon container for conscientious disposal in port. Don’t discharge oily bilge water overboard.

• Understand “normal” sources for bilge water: air conditioning condensate, shaft packing glands, etc. By becoming familiar with what to expect, you can more quickly respond if you suddenly sprout a leak and need to discharge.

• A bilge stick (water level measurement rod) will give you a visual reference to determine if you are taking on more water than usual.  

• Tie an absorbent boom to a lie in your bilge and let it soak up petroleum products (then dispose of the boom properly).

• With a long-reach grab tool (or a wire coat hanger) you can retrieve objects stuck deep in the recesses of your bilges.

• Regularly clear limber holes (channels that allow bilge water to flow between compartments). Some trawlers are fitted with limber chains that will “saw” through limber holes to dislodge clogging debris.

• Mount/locate your bilge pump handle near the pump for quick and immediate operation.

• Don’t forget to have a dewatering plan for your tender.

• Exercise your bilge pump discharge through hull valve handles. They can “freeze” and become stuck if they are always left open and never cycled.

• Improvise — you may be able to use your inflatable dinghy foot pump to double as a bilge pump in a pinch.

• Check your entire bilge pump system regularly, from intake to output: pickup shoe, hoses, pump, handle, check valve and discharge through-hull so you know it is ready when called to action.

By Ocean Navigator