Down and Dirty: Secrets to a Healthier, Happier Bilge
by Ric Burnley
Captain Fin Gaddy was on a short test ride after repowering his 50-foot Qualifier when a bilge pump light came on. “I didn’t think anything of it,” he recalls, “I just figured it was a stuck float switch or debris left from the workers.” When the second bilge light came on though, it got his full and undivided attention. “I knew something was wrong so I went down into the bilge to check it out.” He found water pumping out of the engine and filling up the compartment. “The water was already over the shaft and sloshing around.” Gaddy slowed the boat to retard the flow of water and limped back to the dock. “You’ve got to know your boat,” he says, “to know when something isn’t right.”
While the bilge system on a boat rarely sees the light of day, a well-designed and properly outfitted bilge is critical to a safe operation. “If anything bad is going to happen,” Gaddy laughs, “chances are it will happen in the bilge.” Mechanical issues, leaks and even major breaches can occur below deck; an effective bilge system will make it easier to detect and correct any problems.
Start with a Good Design
While Gaddy’s emergency was the result of an improperly installed hose, his salvation was due to a properly built boat. Captain Paul Mann built Qualifier with multiple pumping systems and a design that allows water to flow correctly. “Everything starts and ends in the bilge,” Mann explains, “so it has to work right to keep the rest of the boat afloat.” Mann likes a faired and finished bilge that is painted and sealed. “That way all you need is a roll of paper towels and some spray cleaner for small messes,” he explains. Finding and correcting little leaks and drips can prevent larger problems down the road. Gaddy periodically inspects his bilge for oil, water and other fluids that may indicate a bigger problem. “I run my hands along the stringers and keep an eye out for bolts or parts that end up in the bilge,” he continues. He’s even diagnosed a potential mechanical issue when he found parts lying in the bilge. “Nothing like having work done on the engine and later finding a bolt on the floor,” he says.
To keep this from happening, Mann designs his bilge systems to isolate issues more quickly. “I like to plug the limber holes running fore and aft so that an oil leak in the engine compartment doesn’t run all the way back,” he says. This also allows the owner to isolate leaks faster. If all the water is in the front compartment, then you can find the leak quicker. In the event of an emergency, the holes through the stringers can quickly be opened to allow water to flow.
Think Through Potential Problems
Gaddy suggests that boat owners sit in their bilges and imagine what would happen if there was a major breach or leak. “How would the water drain,” he asks,…(To continue reading this article click here) You can also subscribe to InTheBite The Magazine to get more industry leading editorial.