It is now mid boating season here in the north east, and a good time to look over your bilge pump. The bilge pump can be all that stands between your boat, a few good rain storms, and a rolled or sunk boat. A quick check can save you a lot of problems. Spend 5 minutes now and check these things:
- Use the dash switch in the manual position to make sure the pump operates. Listen to the pump. It should be a low, steady hum. An spitting, grinding, skipping, or screeching sounds are cause for alarm. If you hear something, find the problem, and/or replace the pump. Most bilge pumps do not last that long before they need to be replaced. They are just not that well build these days.
- Put the dash switch in the automatic position, and then reach into the bilge and activate the float manually. The pump should turn on immediately. While you are looking at the bilge, make sure there are no hoses, wires, or other debris that may obstruct the movement of the float. Something keeping your float from moving will either prevent your pump from evacuating the bilge water, or burn out your pump motor.
- Remove the pump from the base and make sure the impeller area is free of debris. Bilges are often full of sand, rocks, fish scales and broken bit of god knows what. These bits can jam the impeller or if they are smaller, break the blades of the impeller so it can no longer move the bilge water. If your bilge is full of gunk, you should take the time to clean it out before it ruins your pump.
- Check the electrical connections, both at the pump and at the switch. If there is corrosion, take the connection apart and clean it with a small piece of sand paper. Even a little corrosion will cause a significant drop in the voltage available to the pump. Low voltage will cause your pump motor to fail prematurely. If you have a multimeter ( as a boat owner you should), check the voltage at the battery and at the pump. If the difference is more that 2%, you have a problem somewhere and need to find it and correct it. It is a good idea to use a little dielectric grease or something similar when you reassemble the connection, to keep it clean in the future. If the metal of the connection is really badly corroded, replace it with a new connector.
As with most boating things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You may not give much thought to your bilge pump because it is hidden away, but when you need it, you need it working right!