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.
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:
- Bilge pump switch $185
- Bilge overflow alarm $135
- Pump $433
- Spare pump $433
- Pump rebuild kit (two always in stock) $208
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.
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.
With respect to pumps, we’ve had good results with changing the mounting configuration; small centrifugal pump deep in the bilge, and a larger dewatering pump mounted above to mitigate constant/frequent immersion. That said, your comment about flow rate is spot on. I’ve had two sailboats that flooded; one due to a hull breech at the rudder tube and another due to slow in-leakage from a failed shaft bearing. In both cases the most effective pump had two hands and a 5 gallon bucket: this guy. Our bilge pump helped slow the water rise in the first case, but stopping the leak is the only effective solution. I’d rather have extra repair material than a larger pump.
Many use the over/under method as you describe and feel like it is a good solution to the compromises most boats find necessary in this area. I agree completely that stopping the leak is the first and only priority till it comes to abandoning ship.
Safe sailing (and may you never have need of the article), Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
John .. I agree with your thoughts on this completely and for all the same reasons. Of course I also have two of these pumps ( both thirty years of age ) rebuilt from spares kits that are still available. The spare pump and kit are tucked away in the locker and I sleep very soundly! It is probably a case of getting what you pay for ! Best regards … Bob B.
Way back when, I held with the theory that my boat should not leak any significant amount in normal use, moved on to thinking that I wanted to know for sure if it did start to leak, and finally to the realization that a smallish electric pump was not going to do much in the event of a major breach.
So far I have been right on counts one and two, and thankfully have never encountered number three.
In spite of being made of wood, our boat does not leak much, if at all, so we have two manual pumps but no electric bilge pump. My concern with an electric pump would be that if the boat did start to leak, it would keep the bilge more or less dry when I was not around and perhaps obscure the fact that I had a problem until the battery went dead. Once a week or so I give the manual pump a few strokes and hear the satisfying sound of sucking air that indicates all is as per normal down there in the dark. The few times that there has been pumpable water were due to a stern gland that needed attention, a hawse pipe that was not properly secured or something similar.
I realize that I’m out on the fringe (lunatic some might say) with my old fashioned ideas about boats and their equipment, but I am regularly surprised by the fact that many newish fiberglass boats seem to leak quite a bit and their owners feel obliged to check the bilges daily or more often when underway. My time will come I suppose, but after 15 years of fairly hard use, leaks are not a concern and I feel no urge to fit an electric bilge pump, expensive or otherwise.
I had one of these pumps. The motor on mine (a 2011 unit) was not thermally protected. After about 45 minutes of continuous use the motor overhead, then burned out, then stopped. The pump was under warranty so I got another one, which proceeded to burn up again, after about 45 minutes. Jabsco confirmed that the motor is not thermally protected. For intermittent use it works well. For a serious flooding situation, this pump did not meet my needs. What happened? The boat was at the dock, and developed a fresh water leak. Fortunately the boat had second 4000 gph conventional pump with an independent float switch that kicks in at a higher bilge water level.
That’s certainly worth knowing and a very sobering piece of information, thank you.
I have had 12 years of reliable service here from a Whale Gulper 220, mounted about 800mm above the bilge so well out of harms way.
I have 2 of the Whale Gulper 220 for shower and sump pumps. They work great.
Have the same 36600 Par. It has worked for 12+ years without fail except for a leaking diaphragm which was a quick fix. Carry the same spare and kits. It is also very tolerant of solvents (diesel or hydraulic fluid) in the bilge. We ditched the Par air switch from the beginning and use a Shur Bail float switch. Had only one fail in all the years. Its ten times better than the Rule girl switch with cheapie joe wires that give up with a sniff of salt.
BTW, the “emergency” article referred to by Dick Stevenson (above) is great.
I heartily second your endorsement.
Thank you for the review, it might be another option to consider whenever the time comes to replace our existing pump.
On our last boat, it came with a similar setup of a pump mounted remotely from the bilge which seemed great to me at the time. The pump was a smaller Jabsco impeller type. After launching for the first time, I filled the water tanks unaware that there was a leaking fitting. While up the rig attaching the triatic, I smelled something burning and rushed down to find the pump smoking and apparently stalled (the fuse did not blow despite being the recommended size). After tearing it down, I determined that their recommended mounting configuration was bad because there was a single seal keeping saltwater from trying to drip down into the motor by gravity. Thinking that I had the problem solved, I replaced it with a new one mounted upside down. Rowing out to our mooring a few months later, I smelled the same burning smell and suspect that the motor had been in this weird stalled condition again for a while again. Luckily, I learned this time and went to a totally different setup. After tearing the second pump down, I am pretty sure that the problem was that the pump was unable to start at a point in its rotation where the brushes made poor contact. I actually measured the current into the second pump in the stalled condition and it was significantly below the stall current and quite variable. Once I manually rotated the impeller a few degrees, it ran beautifully again. Needless to say, I won’t be using another one of their small impeller pumps until I know that this issue has been solved as I lost enough years off my life just smelling that smell. The idea of a non submersible pump is quite appealing to me though and a diaphragm pump seems like it might be great.
Hello John et al,
Greetings from Alaska. It is funny that you mention the Jabsco PAR 36xxxx series as I just had to rebuild mine that serves as the shower pan drain and bilge below that.
After rebuild it worked for a few days, then stopped pumping again and is now working again. Arghhhhh. There has to be something more reliable ou there. I am thinking of a sturdy macerator pump that could chew up hair and other bits of debris that fall down beneath the teak grate.
Any thoughts anyone? Price is less of a concern than reliability.
I am sure a macerator would work, but may be a bit of overkill. I pump my galley sink drain out (having grease etc fall & float/sit on cold salt water caused awful smells over time) and have used a Whale Gusher pump. My understanding is it was designed for fish circulation tanks and needed to deal with fish scales etc. In my sink it encounters all kinds of small stuff and has worked without problem for years.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
Thanks Dick. I will look into the Whale Gusher. You are right about overkill on the macerator pump but I just want the job done and fast. The PAR pumps are absurdly slow.
John and all,
It was mentioned that a fuse did not blow when a bilge pump motor stalled. It is my understanding that fuses are not meant for that kind of problem. Fuses are usually sized (and intended) to protect wiring and the kind of currents generated when wires short. A stalled motor is a different kind of problem and much harder to protect against as the heat can build up with smaller currents (not enough to blow the fuse) over time. I believe this to be a common mis-perception of the role of fuses. This clearly happened with the motors discussed, but also happens with things like fans. My habit is to mount a fuse close to the unit and size it as close as possible for the actual current draw (and not for the wiring which usually calls for much higher fuse sizes). Please, those with real electrical experience/knowledge, wade in here.
Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
Electric motor overheating can only be prevented by thermal switches bolted on the motor (or, if you don’t mind about weight and costs, by a large or very large oversising of the the motor…). Thermal switches are simple and cheap devices made of a blade of two different metals plus an electrical contact. Their main drawbacks are that, when they switch off, you will need to wait “some” time for the whole stuff to cool down , and, in marine atmosphere, the electric contact can get oxided and become a cause of failure whatever the temperature.
Those switches need to be mechanically protected and in close thermal contact with motor windings. It looks not very realistic to try to retrofit them if not already integrated by the manufacturer.
Hi John, I have had two of this pumps. They both failed often and were very expensive to repair. Also, they can not be used in arctic conditions as they are destroyed by temperatures below zero Celsius. I would prefer any pump before this. They simply were a nightmare to me.
Thanks for all the input on bilge pumps. It does seem that AAC users have had very mixed results with these pumps and Matthew’s point about the lack of thermal cut out, together with Erik’s experience with a smaller par pump is worrying. It does seem that the marine industry is just not producing a really good high capacity remote (from bilge) mounted bilge pump, although we do have some good recommendations of the Whale Gulper.
I’ve got to share this save. I have also suffered the obscene pricing on the Jabsco rebuild. We have a smaller model for the domestic as well. I was provisioning for a 2 week family trip on the 3rd of July. The diaphragm went on the on the fresh water pump. I’m picking the wife and kids up in two days with no water and here’s no getting parts on the 3rd or 4th of July. This is ugly, I’ll take a northeaster over no water on a family trip any day. I went to the grocery store looking for parts? I found a pair of dish washing gloves, nice ones, with cloth backing and tacky in the wrist part. I laminated that part of the glove to the diaphragm with a gasket making adhesive (the red stuff). I rebuilt the pump and let it cure till I picked everyone up. It was do or die time. It not only worked but ran for the entire 2 weeks at a land lovers pace. I now carry the rebuild kit and a spare pair of gloves too.
On Danza, our 60′ steel ketch, I use a Rule 3700 and 3 Rule 2000. The 3700 is mounted as deep as possible but as the boat is dry most of the time it is seldom in the water. The 2000’s are mounted higher and are situated to handle water when healed. In 14 years of sailing the 2000’s have never turned on due to water but have always come on during testing. Many boats do not have significant water in the bilge so I do not feel the remote pump is that much of an issue which sends the issue back to the switch. I have a manual bilge pump that draws from a sump so I can deep the bilge really dry if there is a small leak at some point. There is also a huge engine driven pump that has only seen service in test mode. So far this works for us.
Victor, As you have likely figured out, I suffered a senior moment and called my Whale pump Gusher rather than Gulper. It is the Gulper 220, an electric pump, that I use on my sink that tolerates food bits. I believe the Gusher is my foot operated pump. Sorry if this caused confusion.
Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
I checked with Whale and they replied that none of their pumps are thermally protected. They suggested running their pumps carefully so they don’t over heat. Thus the Gulper series has no thermal protection. Not a great solution for a bilge pump. The Shuroflo Pro Baitmaster 2 heavy duty is listed as having thermal protection.
Thanks for doing that very useful research. I looked at the Pro Baitmaster and there is no indication that it can be used as a bilge pump. But then again I can’t see anything to prevent that either. I guess one would just have to try it and see. I can say that we have generally had very good service from Shuroflo pumps.
I am using the Sureflo Baitmaster 2 as my first line bilge pump. It is remotely mounted, self priming, can run dry, and has thermal protection ( I tested it). I have a screen filter on the inlet side to prevent large debris from entering the pump. I don’t know if this is absolutely necessary, but makes me feel better.
I still have a Rule 4000 mounted higher in the bilge for higher volume pumping.
Sounds like a great system, thank you.
I recently refit a 30 year old heavily built aluminum workboat. Underneath the submersible Rule 2000 pump the 5086 plating was severely pitted. The rest of the bilge was fine, for what that is worth.
Last year I had a new Johnson Viking 16 diaphram pump quit pumping. Not wanting to stop and disassemble it I tried backflushing it with a garden hose in the discharge thru hull for a couple of seconds…..it has been working fine ever since. I love “miracle cures”. It seems that most recreational marine pumps are marginally engineered, I always try to upgrade to a real commercial product when possible.
Sounds like my concern about installing an electric bilge pump in the bilge of an aluminium boat is justified by your real world experience, thank very much for the confirmation.
I agree on your thoughts about recreational marine pumps. I think I may have found a partial solution. More in a future post.
In my experience the Whale Gulper series of pumps fail when the diaphragm tears since the motor is not sealed behind the diaphragm. I’ve suggested to Whale that they provide a seal. I don’t know whether they have changed their design. What’s interesting is the rest of the motor is sealed so any water that gets into the motor stays there.
We have several Whale gulpers as well and the Jabsco 34600’s. They’ve been with us a long time and need regular attention. We carry several rebuilt spares of each. Looking for replacements of the Jabsco 34600’s since they are discontinued.
Thanks for the information on the Gulper. It really does seem that recreational pump manufacturers just don’t think these things through. But then again, I think that we yachties bring a lot of this on ourselves because many of us tend to always go with the least expensive option.
Interesting discussion. I have a jabsco reciprocating pump. After running for several minutes it slows down. Motor feels cool. Maybe it needs a rebuild kit
Thinking of replacing it with a Johnson submersible bilge pump with removal cartridge any suggestions would be appreciated thanks
John, you posted this last July: “I think I may have found a partial solution. More in a future post.”
I’m pulling my engine in June, giving me the opportunity to “rebuild” my bilge pump-out situation. Any new information since then?
I was referring to this crash pump post.
Just wondering if there is any new/useful experience or opinions on bilge pumps lately. I use the 36600 Jabscos on all my boats for reliability, but they are not of course high flow volume. For my newest boat I am looking to augment the Jabscos with a couple of high flow centrifugal pumps to provide fast de-watering in emergency. Along the lines of the Rule 3700 or Johnson 4000, with the Ultra bilge pump switch and alarm. Any experience or thoughts or alternative suggestions much appreciated.
I had reason to use my Rule 3700 in earnest a couple of months ago and it pulled like a champ. The only change I would make is to get a better float switch or rather one that worked on a different principle than the customary switch, which can be defeated by debris. I see from the product description and the photo that the Ultra switch is likely a superior choice.
WRT electric diaphragm pumps, I see that the Johnson Viking Power 32 and Power 16 have thermal protection switches on their motors. I don’t have any personal experience with Johnson pumps, but they seem fairly well regarded. Certainly not a high volume trash pump, but it may make a good alternative to the Jabsco for general bilge drying. I much prefer that air cooled motors have over temperature protection. A fire on board while the boat is already sinking would make for an even worse day.
Another point: I’m always careful when considering long held opinions regarding the quality of equipment. All too often the opinions are formed based on equipment purchased long ago. A new example of the same said equipment may not be anywhere as reliable as the older. This “seems” to be true with newer Rule submersible bilge pumps. My personal experience is that these aren’t your fathers Rule bilge pumps. I know that many companies had some difficulties with quality when they moved production off-shore. Many times these companies would address the quality issues over time and return to high quality. I hope this is the case with Rule, and not another example of lower costs/quality while riding the laurels of a good name.
I too have heard good things about Johnson pumps, although I have no first hand experience.
And I agree completely about how important it is to not assume that a product that was well made will remain so, particularly in the age of outsourcing.
A recent well established and followed web site author brought out in a newsletter about what he thought about tasting bilge water to see if it was salt or fresh. His point was that it might contain some very nasty and dangerous diseases. Instead you should don your goggles and rubber gloves and put a sample in a test tube with some ammonium nitrate (I think). That should create a reaction to tell the type of water unless of course the chemical was not keep in a dark cabinet. I see well his point. But the first time i was talking to someone about my bilge water the first thing they ask was if fresh of salt. They told me to taste it. So much about what my mother taught me about putting things in my mouth. What do you think?
I have never really thought about it. And yes, I have tasted some pretty unsavoury looking water to check for salinity. That said, I guess the author in question has a point, although I wonder how many of us are going to carry the necessary testing kit for a situation that does not happen very often? Hum, I guess this is just not very high on my list of fears: https://www.morganscloud.com/2018/10/26/11-things-we-do-to-stay-rational-about-safety/
Anyone have experience with this setup…cut a T or Y into to engine raw water intake with a shutoff. In the event of needed additional pumpout capacity, swap the raw intake to this T intake and use the engine raw water intake as a bilge pump. You’d want to have some sort of strainer to prevent clogging. Also, at the end of the season one could use this alternate “raw water” intake to flush the motor with fresh water. Comments?
I have no experience with that set up, but even so, I really don’t like the idea. Way too many ways to wreck the engine at just a time we might need it desperately. More here: https://www.morganscloud.com/2014/08/22/our-new-crash-pump/
A couple of other thoughts, if anyone has tried it or has an opinion…. In the interest of simplicity and utilizing all the other water pumps we already have on board-
Would it make sense to tap a T into a macerator intake or a T into a deck wash pump to be used as a backup bilge pump for when those plastic non thermally protected things fail?
That’s an interesting idea. That said, as a general rule I prefer emergency equipment to be single use. See this post for my thinking on that: https://www.morganscloud.com/2014/08/22/our-new-crash-pump/
Wondering about the need to meet more stringent requirements for discharging pollution for bilge pumps (such as in Turkey).
Any thoughts on installing a low capacity bilge pump with a filter system (eg MyCelx) so that in general waste gets filtered before discharge to remove oils etc?
Then a high capacity emergency pump with a sensor mounted a bit higher so it only gets triggered in an emergency (when filtering won’t be on your mind).
I haven’t really given it much thought. Clearly something we are all going to have to deal with over time. I believe there is already a bilge pump switch that won’t turn on if there are pollutants in the bilge water. Maybe a good start, although I would be nervous about using one on an aluminium boat since I assume the detection involves passing a current. That said, maybe it’s OK, as long as the current is a circuit through the switch only. Would need to think about it.
I’d be very nervous about reducing the performance in an emergency with filters etc. Or even having the pump switch decide to let you sink rather than pump out some pollution in an emergency.
Our solution is to come about it from another direction. By not having any fossil fuels aboard we should (one we have fully cleaned out the historic waste) be confident that our bilges are not going to have oil etc pollutants in them (or at least very low quantities) 🙂
I was not suggesting that would be the only pump. I would always want a pump attached to a switch higher in the bilge. As to not having fossil fuels, the practicality of that solution is pretty limited for most cruising profiles: https://www.morganscloud.com/2013/04/23/electric-or-diesel-electric-drives-for-voyaging-boats/
Sorry, I should have assumed sanity about the 2nd bilge pump 🙂
Our view would be that there have been significant changes since 2013. Not least is that the Climate Emergency requires us to make changes even if they mean we can’t do things we have always done (or always wanted to do).
So for us, the approach is to say. We cannot continue to use fossil fuels, what is possible without them?
So from the start we know we won’t be able to visit very high & low latitudes (except perhaps to the edges in high summer). We won’t be able to motor at high speed for hours. We won’t have a freezer, we won’t use an electric autopilot. We will have solar panels that we store except in good conditions. We will generally be sailing not motoring so that will mean more variable schedules and restrict access to some areas (or slow them down a lot). On the other hand, we will have more freedom from refuelling and maintenance, plus our running costs will be much lower (no fuel or engine consumables).
Yup, it’s all about profile. That said, the base math has not changed significantly since Eric and I did the numbers in the post I linked to.
I agree that the profile of cruising with zero fossil fuels is going to be different. I also agree that it requires more thought (if I motor sail now to make this tide will I have enough power for the river entry).
However, I don’t think this is optional. The freedom to motor any time and for any distance is coming to an end.
Oh and the technology has changed massively in the last 7 years. We are having 300AH Lifepo4 batteries with a brushless motor. Will give us between 1.5 and 2 hours at full throttle. Ability to motor for 8 hours or more at low speed.
Starting with 860 Watts of solar.
Of course the proof is in the eating. So we will be launching this summer. Feel free to follow us at https://sustainablesailing.net
Yes, the lithium batteries change the weight equation in a good way. What has not changed measurably is the problem of how to recharge in a reasonable time without burning hydrocarbons. Sure solar panels are 2-3% more efficient but that does not change the recharge problem in a meaningful way from the numbers Eric and I calculated when I wrote the post. It’s still going to take you about 12 kw/hr to motor for an hour and so your solar panel would take allowing for shading etc some 15 hours to recharge, without taking into account house loads. Call it three days with house loads. If you can live with that ratio, great, but most people won’t.
Yes, we agree roughly with those numbers.
However, our point is that, regardless of the impact on cruising (in terms of what we might like to do), the reality is that we have got to stop burning fossil fuels and that change needs to be rapid.
So it becomes a choice between not being able to cruise at all (if we are unwilling to adapt how we do it) and cruising in a different way.
So you can say that if we drain our battery bank speeding up a passage then we won’t have it available again for a few days or you can sail them passage, taking longer, and not have drained the battery bank so it is still available (and all points available in between if you actively manage it).
I’d say that the last 30 years have been exceptional and very unusual (in a longer historical view) in the way cruising has had this speed and predictability due to the improved reliability and power of what had been a little auxiliary engine. So we are returning to earlier days of thinking of the engine as a little auxiliary to get us in and out of tight harbours rather than a way of keeping to tight schedules.
Works for me. I’m thinking about such things for my older age boat too. That said, what I would really like to see in sensible pricing of Carbon (Yeah tax) so we all get pushed into this AND innovation is properly rewarded, before it’s too late.
Anyway, good on you for leading the charge (ouch that was bad) while still being realistic about the real numbers you are going to live with.
Yeah a carbon tax is attractive except for the very rich and powerful companies and individuals who have demonstrated their dishonesty around these issues for decades.
Anyway puns are good ? As a Brit I love sarcasm and exaggeration too.
I don’t think we currently have any backup bilge pump system on Shakaree. Is it safe to say that most everyone or everyone installs their backup bilge pump system as an entirely independent system from the primary; separate power source, switch, pump, hosing and discharge line?