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The bilge of a ship is an area below the waterline where both sides of the boat connect near the keel. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, this word dates all the way back to the early 1500s.
The bilge water is stored here, which accumulates in a variety of ways and consists of water that hasn't drained off the deck or through a thru hull, it'll end up in the bilge.
It's very common, just about every vessel will have bilge water. What exactly is in that water will depend on the ship, but it can contain any mixture of water, chemicals, detergents, solvents, oils, and even urine. Historically, people would use buckets to empty out the bilge water, but these days we're more fortunate to have access to electric bilge pumps that'll do the job for you.
In large commercial vessels, there may be a bilge alarm that will sound when too much water has accumulated. Disposal of bilge water will vary depending on local laws and regulations, along with what specifically it contains, depending on the functions of the particular vessel.
For small personal recreational vessels, you generally don't have to worry about overly contaminated bilge water that we described above. Even Kayaks can have bilge pumps to help keep them from becoming too filled with water and leading to an uncomfortable, and potentially dangerous ride.
Installing a Bilge Pump
Like a handful of other boat upgrades and maintenance opportunities, installing or replacing an electric bilge pump is certainly something that you can do yourself. You'll want to use the correct type of pump for starters, one that is designed for bilge water. These types of pumps are designed in a way that won't produce sparks, which can be very dangerous when you're dealing with potentially flammable materials.
You'll want to secure the pump in place, either using a mount or an epoxy, depending on the model and the specific place you're putting it. If you're replacing an existing pump, it's not a bad idea to look for something similar to go in it's place.
Once in place, the overall circuit of this unit is quite simple. The pump itself connects to a battery, and a foot switch to turn it on and off, and a three way switch, depending on the model, where you can override the "off" of the foot switch.
You'll want to place the discharge fitting above the water line, otherwise you can create a never-ending cycle of water pumping that will eventually kill your battery. Some people will install one smaller pump to deal with lesser amounts of bilge, and also have a much more powerful pump mounted a bit higher up for when things are getting serious. The levels of extra precaution you take should depend on your boat, the conditions, and what you're willing to invest.
Staying on Top of Things
It's always a good idea to practice proper boat maintenance techniques, and to replace failing parts as soon as possible. Due to the low costs of bilge pumps, and how important they can be, especially in an emergency, it's really not a bad idea to stay on top of this.
Chances are that you can install it yourself or with the help of a friend, and if you're going to go through that effort to save the installation costs, we definitely recommend opting for a higher-end model than some of the ultra-cheap ones that are out there. You don't want to have to keep replacing it all the time, it's the time of thing where it is very worthwhile to buy quality the first time.
Please take your time to browse the bilge pumps for sale on Boat Supply, and if you can't find what you're looking for, just let us know and we'll do our best to point you in the right direction.