An Electric Bilge Pump For The Ages

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In the last chapter in this Online Book, in reaction to a member’s tale of frustration, I recommended a bilge pump switch. But what about the bilge pump itself?

When we bought Morgan’s Cloud she had a Jabsco 36600 bilge pump that was installed when she was built 27 years ago. And we still have that pump!

Despite that impressive life, I can’t claim that the pump has been as reliable as the switch. To keep it running, we rebuild it with all new rubber parts every five years using Jabsco’s obscenely priced rebuild kits. We also keep a complete spare pump aboard. After all, this is a mission critical system and, anyway we use the same pump model for grey water, so the spare does double duty.

Pros and Cons

One of the reasons we like the Jabsco pump is that it’s mounted out of the bilge. The advantages being:

  • Easier access for service.
  • Not subjected to the constant wet of the bilges.
  • No need to mount an electrical device, with the attendant risk of stray current, in the bilges, particularly important in an aluminium boat.
  • Can run dry without damage.

However, there are also disadvantages to this type of pump:

  • It has a much lower flow rate than pumps that can be bought for far less money. Having said that, I don’t think any yacht bilge pump will have much of a chance against a hull breach of any significance, so I’m not sure that the fixation on flow rate so beloved of testers is really that important.
  • The Jabsco has proved to be remarkably tolerant of debris; for example, the grey water pump has handled all the hair that goes down the shower drain for 20 years without a hiccup. However, the bilge pump, even though we have a strum box (strainer) on the intake and keep our bilges scrupulously clean, has failed twice when we were cleaning the bilges because a small piece of debris jammed one of the valves open. And when this happens there is nothing for it but to disassemble the whole thing to clear it. The bright side is this is not a frequent occurrence and only seems to happen when the pump sucks air, not something that’s going to happen in a real emergency.

Ain’t Cheap

At this point, I’m sure your eyebrows are climbing at the amount of money we are throwing around here. Let’s just add this up:

Yikes! Yes, you got it, we have spent just shy of US$1500 to perform a function that can be handled for less than $100 with a cheep pump. Thinking and spending like this is how we have (touch wood) managed to compile a pretty unusual reliability record for a yacht. But only you can decide if this kind of approach is right for you.

Another option would be to pair a less expensive high capacity impeller pump with the same switch and alarm we use. Add in a spare pump, as I think any yacht venturing far from yacht gear stores should, and the whole works will come in at a still substantial, but more manageable, $560. Of course if you are not venturing far, even that is probably overkill.

Other Recommendations, or Not

By the way, we do not recommend Jabsco’s smaller pumps.

And if you are thinking about crash pumps, this is a good and simple solution that beats the heck out of cluttering your engine up by mounting a pump on it.

Comments

I’m pretty comfortable that with our bilge pump switch we have found the best possible solution. On the pump discussed in this post…not so much. So if you have found a pump that works, and works reliably for years, please leave a comment. And if there is a pump that has given you grief, go ahead, name and shame. First hand experience over a period of years with pumps in service only, please. 

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John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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