September 19, 2013
No matter how much we use our boats to fish and cruise there is one place where they spend lots of time: at the dock. A boat is four times more likely to sink at the dock than at sea. Protect your investment by making sure your bilge system is operating properly and your high-water alarm is fully functional, and loud.
Every boat is unique in design and you should know your vessel's idiosyncrasies. I have had a number of boats over the years and they all had some peculiarities related to water drainage off the deck, around in-deck hatches, and from the livewell—well you get the idea. One even had a slow leak that took months to find and fix. Oftentimes poor design or modifications over the life of a boat will alter drainage water flow in critical areas. Investigate your own boat and know its vulnerabilities.
For instance, my 25-foot center console had a large in-deck livewell with a drain plug in the bottom and a large overflow exiting via the transom. It took a near sinking for me to realize the potential disaster of leaving the drain plug out with the overflow open. I had another vessel that had a self-bailing deck as long as no one was on the boat or there wasn't too much equipment aboard, but once a little weight was added—no longer self-bailing. Lots of flats boats fall into this category. A large charterboat I owned had cockpit deck hatches that allowed water to drain directly to the bilge, not normally a problem but couple that with some heavy rain and a faulty bilge pump and you can see the issue.
Protect your boat and yourself from unpleasant surprises by caring for your bilge pumps, bilge switches and their related electrical gear in the proper manner. Added protection, normally mandated by your insurance policy, should be a bilge highwater alarm—which can be as simple as a float switch coupled to a loud horn.
Each time you head out to sea, or at least once a week when your boat is sitting at the dock, or pre- or post-storm, you will need to check certain things related to your bilge and high water alarm. Here is a list:
1. Make sure all needed drain plugs are properly secured in place.
2. Make sure all deck drains and scuppers are clear of debris.
3. Make sure all deck hatches are in place and properly secured.
4. Make sure your bilge water is clear of debris that could interfere with proper float switch operation.
5. Make sure your battery system is fully charged with no current leaks.
6. Make sure your bilge switch is properly positioned for automatic operation.
7. Check to see that all electrical connections to your bilge and high-water alarm are corrosion free and properly secured.
8. Carefully examine all the hose, hose clamps, and fittings connected to your bilge pump for leakage or corrosion.
9. Make sure your bilge pump is mounted securely.
10. Make sure your bilge drain hose is properly secured and supported. (They get very heavy when filled with water.)
11. Operate your bilge pump and check for proper operation using both the manual switch and float switch.
12. Check for proper operation of your high-water alarm system. The louder the better.
High Tech in Play
As I said before, a high water alarm can be as simple as a float switch and a horn or it can be much more sophisticated. A variety of monitoring systems from companies such as Boat Nanny, Marine Guard, GOST, and several others can be installed with high water sensing as well as a number of other sensing and security capabilities. These systems will notify you directly via text message or email should an alarm go off on your boat. For those of us who are away from our boat while it is docked, these automatic notification systems can be a very important added feature.- FS