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Old 01-15-2020, 10:50 AM   #1
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Bilge Pump Evaluation

I am evaluating my Bilge Pump set-up and would appreciate some feedback.

Knot Fast (2001, Great Harbour GH37) has thru hulls in the engine room and cockpit lazarette, and these spaces have bilge pumps. Bilges forward of the ER have no pumps; one space as two transducer through hulls in good condition, the other bilges have no thru hulls. All bilge pumps on Knot Fast are 19 years old, tested and work normally.

Engine Room (2 shafts & 4 strainer thru hulls)
A. Low Water: Rule 25D, 500gph (310gph@5’ head), self-priming, 12v, 2.5A fuse rating (3A fuse in place)
i. Ultra Safety Senior Bilge Switch. 12V, new condition.
ii. Pump works fine, base clips broken off and no longer retain the pump to base, but gravity and the short stiff discharge hose do. Model 275 Replacement Strainer Bases are available (~$10)
B. High Water: Jabsco 30250, 3550gph (2800gph@5’ head), self-priming, 12v, 20A, 25A fuse rating (25A fuse in place)
i. Ultra Safety Senior Bilge Switch. 12V, good condition.
ii. Pump works fine, base clips are loose and no longer retain the pump to base, but gravity and the short stiff discharge hose do. Model 279 Replacement Strainer Bases are available (~$10)
Lazarette (2 rudder shaft thru hulls)
Pump Unknown! All labeling has faded. Estimate: Jabsco / Rule 10, 2000gph (1600gph@5’head), 12v, 9A, 15A fuse rating (15A fuse in place)
i. Ultra Safety Junior Bilge Switch. 12V, fair condition
ii. Pump works fine; disconcerting not knowing what pump it is (picture).
Q1: What is the service life of a bilge pump and float? Should pumps be replaced proactively every 20 years? My test runs are only for ~2 minutes – I don’t want to put more water in these spaces to run a longer test. On the other hand, I do not know if my high water engine room pump will fail after 5 minutes of run time.

Q2: What alarms are most helpful? I have none. The Ultra Safety Senior switches have alarm activation wires not in use. Better to have an alarm on the Low Water switch or the High Water switch? Better to have the alarm device independent from the switch?

Q3: What is the view on electronic bilge pump switches?
A “Manual On” seems desirable, to remove small amounts of water that do not trip the float switches. I’d rather not wire in a switch and introduce another potential point of failure. Ultra Safety switches are hard to manually trigger. With an electronic switch, I suspect I could lick my fingers touch the sensor to trigger a short term manual on run.

There is more than one way to manage this set-up. I’ll appreciate our community’s feedback!
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Old 01-15-2020, 12:06 PM   #2
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I am replacing the bilge pumps on my boat. I have some Johnson pumps on order now.

As to alarms, I like the Borel alarms. You can easily monitor high water, exhaust temp and water in fuel. I have 2 high water, 2 water in fuel and 3 exhaust temp alarms on my boat. Very easy install and no power usage unless there is an alarm.
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Old 01-15-2020, 06:06 PM   #3
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I wouldn't trust 20 year old anything on a boat. It's not like you are talking about thousands of bucks to replace your pumps and switches. I would want switches offering both manual and automatic modes and a light indicting the pump is running mounted at the helm. I'd probably do another float switch mounted 2-3 inches above the main pump wired to an audible alarm. Don't wire all of the pumps to a single battery bank for obvious reasons. If the boat ever sees open water I would have an unmounted emergency pump with enough hose to reach the gunnel from all bilges and long enough wires with alligator clips to reach any of the batteries. Bilge pumps are cheap insurance.
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Old 01-15-2020, 06:39 PM   #4
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I would consider a manual run as a safety feature. What would you do in case of the emergency of water ingress and you discover that the auto switch does not work anymore? Believe me it is a relief to run and switch all pumps on when you realize you are taking water on.
Only thing I do not like is these auto-off-on switches that are in my sense too much error prone.

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Old 01-15-2020, 07:48 PM   #5
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I have bilge pumps on Sandpiper that are 20+ years old. They work fine and I see no reason to replace them.

I have 3 automatic bilge pumps; 2 X 3700 GPH and 1 X 2000 GPH centrifugal. Plus a 480 GPH diaphragm pump to vacuume the bilge dry.

The 2 X 3700 GPH pumps are forward and only gets used while testing since they are located at a higher level than the 2000. The 2000 GPH does 90% of the work and the diaphragm 10%.

The only pump that can be manually turned on is the diaphgram pump.

I have indicator lights for each pump at the helm that light up when pumps are activated.

For emergencies, I carry a 4000 GPH 120 VAC trash pump with hose.
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Old 01-15-2020, 08:33 PM   #6
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Short story: Seaweed has three bilge pumps. An 800gph SeaSense which is my primary. Then I have two 2000gph Johnson bilge pumps. Religiously on the first of each month I turn them on (manual, versus the automatic setting) and all run.

What I did not check for was that they actually PUMPED WATER. I was surprised to learn that my highest pump did vibrate, sound like it was working, yet no water moved. I have since learned that Johnson pumps (the orange ones) are warrantied for 5 years. Mine were older so both were replaced. Cheap insurance.

The SeaSense does not have a high lift -- make sure whatever pump you have lifts enough. ALSO, as long as I'm passing out free advice, be sure that any back flow after pump shutdown does not cause the pump to restart. That'll kill batteries quickly.

On the 1st of the month I lift each float switch, making sure each pump activates. I also clean out any hair that may be around. My hair is long and it gets everywhere. Ditto the Skipper's fur.

So now, since the Johnson fiasco, as each season turns I flood the bilges, shutting off my lower two pumps until I've got "enough" to activate the highest pump. Then I make sure the others turn on and actually vacate the water. Aboard Seaweed I have just one bilge.

I'd like to tell you that I was Soooo Smart to install that third high water pump in the exact spot to activate before my forward cabin hatch floated. Alas, that was just luck. Sometimes I'm just fortunate and by lucky happenstance, the float switch is in the perfect spot for activation before my rug gets damp.

My "oh I check the pumps each month and they all turn on" didn't mean anything when the high pump failed. I believe testing (lifting the float switch) ought to be a monthly maintenance procedure. When the season changes, flood the bilges and really test the pumps.

That's my procedure.

GH41 is right about not having high draw on a single battery -- spread out the loads.

As to your third question, why not install a smaller automatic pump to activate before the Big Guns so to speak? I don't require a lot of lift so the SeaSense800 works for me, and is an inexpensive option. Costs about $35 and lasts about three years -- the length of warranty.

Do make sure your pump is certified for salt water. Fresh water pumps are a different breed so if you're in brackish or salt water, you MUST buy salt water certified pumps. I tried using a fresh water pump in my dinghy so I would hot have to bail after rainstorms however the fresh water pump rusted out. For the record, there was no salty water in the dink -- only rainwater.

Good luck, etc.
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Old 01-15-2020, 08:59 PM   #7
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If you get a REAL leak.... like a 2" through hull busting 2 feet below the water line....NONE of the pumps mentioned above will keep you afloat. You need a SERIOUS engine mounted trash pump, or separate motor driven trash pump. Think construction pit.

All the pumps we have on board do is get the slow leaks out when we're not there.

So here's my philosophy. Find the leak and fix it..... Know where all shutoffs are, makes sure they work. Have bungs.

Two decent bilge pumps in the lowest part of the bilge for when I'm not there. Float switches. Right above that at least two float switches that power an alarm. I used a $10 car horn from NAPA. I could hear it on the foredeck in the wind motoring along.

That's about it.
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