How important is a bilge pump? (Answered) well... kinda

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Jan 18, 2009
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I've seen the question asked on here several times in the past, and I usually respond by saying something like "They're not important.......Until you need one :wink: ", and that's mostly the truth. Yes, there is the convenience of being able to flip a switch (or have it turn on automatically via a float switch) when a passing shower rolls through, or dealing with a slow leak that you haven't fixed, but typically when I respond to the question, I'm really talking about the importance of having one when the boat is no longer safe to operate due to the amount of water on board. Now, of course the type of boat you have, weather you'll boat in, type of body of water, distance you boat from shore etc....... all are factors that would narrow down the answer somewhat, not so much as "Do I need one?", but "How likely am I to be in a situation that I'll need one?"

So......I'll share my own personal experience from last weekend with my boat and let you be the judge. Admittedly, the only thought I've ever had of needing a bilge pump for the Brine Craft would be primarly for 1 of 2 reasons. Number 1 would be that I accidentally backed the boat in and left the drain plug out. Number 2 would be that I was fishing in a tournament and would be fishing in the rain for extended periods.

Again, consider that I usually only fish small lakes with my boats. These days, most are 500 acres or less and are electric only or 10hp or less resticted lakes, so I don't have to contend with some of the bigger boat concerns and their wakes throwing waves at me. Most incedents I've known of on these lakes are from people boating in wind advisories with small tins that have too much weight in them. In my old boat (a 13ft V-hull), I know I had too much weight in it, but was never in a situation that made me feel unsafe. I had a bilge installed, and the only time I used it in 3 years was when I left the tarp off overnight during a rainstorm in the driveway. I've fished from it in the rain on numerous times, and I could always just use my coffee cup to bail out the boat and it never had more than a couple inches standing in it at one time. Thus, when I was bulding the Brine Craft, although I knew I wanted to put a bilge in, I really couldn't imagine ever needing it. The driving factor for me was that if there was water in the boat, and since I had decked most of the boat, I might not know it until it was too late. In my old boat, there were no decks, so your eyes were always in view of the bottom of the hull. An overlooked attribute that I never considered important in my new rig.

Well, last weekend, I had my first close call (close meaning, close to sinking close call), and I don't mind taking my dose of the humility pill if it's helpful medecine for anyone reading this post. Like many disasters I've read about in the past, my close call wasn't due to a singular event, but rather a series of events coupled in conjunction with a few poor decisions by yours truely that I will hopefully learn from. Although I never felt like I was in danger of drowning or being hurt, I could not have been more paranoid about losing the boat and it's contents that day.

Without further adieu, and for you sickos who are still reading this novel :LOL2: ...... Here's my story:

Next weekend, I'll be fishing my first tournament in several years with a new club. I've been pretty amped up about getting back into the tourney stuff, and this group and the close proximity of the lakes they'll be fishing made it that more appealing. So, not having fished many of the tourney lakes... I wanted to go out and prefish the opening day lake and also take my first shot at fishing the A-rig. I had asked a few people if they wanted to go and each one had a reason not to, and I was perfectly content fishing alone. I wasn't going to try and get there at the crack of dawn, as I'm getting too lazy and warm blooded in my old age (of 39 :mrgreen: ) to make it any less pleasant than it needed to be. It was supposed to get up into the 60's later in the day and the sunrise temps were in the 40's. So I decide to head out about 9:30am and I notice that the wind is already whizzing around pretty good. This particular lake and one other I fish are notorious for being tough to deal with on windy days, but I'm too pumped to be concerned about wind at this time (note the first poor decision). I later found out that the wind speeds that day were a steady at 15-20mph all day with gusts in the 30's. This was the tail end of the front that had pushed through the south east producing all kinds of nasty weather (including tornados). The skies were blue and the sun was out, so I thought nothing of the wind other than it would probably be a good day to throw the swimbait if the A-rig didn't produce. About 45 minutes later, I arrive at the lake, and the wind (as I expected) is much worse than it was at the house. Still though.... I'm not worried. I've fished similar stuff in a smaller boat with more weight, so I'm not thinking about any safety concerns. I launch the boat, tie off to the dock, park the car, get rigged up and take off. Seeing the direction of the wind, I decided to just let it push me down lake thinking that the wind is probably pushing the bait the same way my boat is headed. At this point, the lake is producing 1-2ft swells as the gusts kick in. I cast the A-rig around for about 30 minutes without a bite, try dragging a jig around on some deep structure and shallow cover, but I can't locate any fish. I've been simply tapping the trolling motor for boat alignment and letting the wind do it's thing in moving the boat around. I've noticed when the boat get's positioned wrong, a wave will slap the boat and of course some water hits the deck, but because I'm so locked into learning this new "majic bait" and trying to locate some fish, I haven't been monitoring exactly how much water has been coming on board. If I wanted to, I could get on the back deck and peer down against the transom as I have a narrow opening that will allow it, but with the wave action as it is, I don't wan't to do much walking around. Shortly there after, I've reached the end of the lake and am approaching a pocket with a defined point on the entrance and tell myself... If I don't get bit here, it's going to be a short day. I've fished alot of water in 30-45minutes, and the wind is making it a real pain in the butt to deal with, and I'm not going to try to run my batteries dead in this wind traveling against it. Sure enough, my first cast on the point puts my first A-rig fish in the boat. After releasing the fish, I reposition the boat (which means going back upwind to where I was) and take a few more waves into the bow. Second cast, second fish. "****, this lure is the real deal!" is what I'm thinking. In the next 5-10 minutes, I've put 7 fish in the boat each time repositioning the boat back into the wind and taking on the waves. I'm so lost in the moment of catching fish, I've completely forgotten about water being in the boat and on my next cast, I backlash and..... POP...... goes the A-rig to the land of no return. :evil: . I only had one rig, but I knew that if the fish were hitting it, they should hit the swimbait. I retie with a swimbait, all the while getting blown all around and again taking on some water. Make my first cast with the swimbait and WHAMMO..... a 5# LM comes to the boat. I'm catching fish on every 3 casts now and it doesn't seem to matter which direction I'm throwing it. Each time a fish bites, I'm juggling the boat, the net, the camera... and by fish number 15 or so, I'm exhausted. I tell myself... "You've had a great couple hours of fishing, and it's time to get out of this wind" and start making some home made A-rigs the rest of the day. So, I secure my rods, flip my hat on backwards, and start making the run back to the ramp. The most direct path to get to the ramp is straight into the wind/waves. I've got all 3 motors on full speed, and I'm guessing I'm blistering along at about 4mph. I soon realize however that by doing so, now each wave is dumping water into the boat. I turn back towards the transom and see about an inch or 2 of water on my lower deck and think.... Oh crap, that means there's probably at least 3-4 inches of water in the boat. I jump back to the middle of the boat, open the hatch to my bilge switch, turn it on, hear it kick on, and jump back up on the front deck. In the 15 seconds it took to do this, the boat has been blown sideways and has taken a few more rollers into the boat. I straighten out the boat, point it towards the ramp and start feeling very thankful that I had just had those switches installed for the pumps. Otherwise, I would have been fumbling with alligator clips at the transom and would have surely either fallen overboard, or sunk before the bilge ever got on. A minute or two rolls by and as I think through my good fortune of having the electrical done, I start looking over at the bank (which happens to be nothing but big rock) and realize that I can't be moving more than 2mph. I look back at the transom again and now see about 4 inches of water on the floor. That means about 6" IN THE BOAT :!: :!: :!: Again, I jump down from the front deck, peer over the side of the boat, and see that the bilge outlet is about 1inch above the waterline and NOTHING IS COMING OUT :!: :!: :!: . I look at the switches again, and realize that I've never turned on the bilge, and instead have turned on the livewell fill pump #-o #-o #-o . Wind's are now steady at 30mph. At this point, I'm now thinking.... I may sink this **** boat. I have zero chance in making it to the dock 100 yards into the wind. I can't beach the boat on the vertical, rock-filled bank the waves are crashing against, my only choice is to turn the boat around, put the wind at my back, and pray I make it to that clay bank about 75-100 yards away. [-o< [-o< [-o< The bilge is now barely keeping up with the amount of new water flowing into the boat. The next several minutes, my whole build went through my head. How in the world, did I put myself into this position? How will I be able to get this thing out of 16 feet of water on a lake that doesn't allow gas engines? "Please God, let me get to that bank, and I'll display my humility and ignorance for the entire TinBoat Nation to see and learn from". With the boat going under about 50 feet from the bank, I make my 250# leap of faith into the 3ft deep and sandy bottomed lakebed, rear trolling motors still going and proceed to baptize myself numerous trying to frantically drag the boat to shore. I'm convinced, had I not jumped out of the boat, it woudn't have made it. I nestle the bow into a small cut and wade out to the transom where I can lift up on the rear just enough to let the bilge do it's thing for a few minutes and ride the waves out until the boat starts to float freely again. Thoroughly exhausted (99% mentaly) I get up on the bank and begin to survey for any lucky audience members who got to watch the headliner event. Fortunately, I see none, but vow that the story not go untold in hopes that it prevents someone from experiencing the same. After getting all of the water out. The boat floats plenty good enough to head back to the ramp despite the unwaivering ruthlessness of the winds. I've never been so happy to leave biting fish in my life.

So, to not end the story without pointing out my learned lessons would be as useless as a boat underwater, and here they are....

1. Even small bodies of electric-only waters can sink 16ft boats
2. Know your switches and make sure they work before you need to use them
3. Respect the wind
4. Stolen from Covey.... "Don't get stuck in the thick of thin things" good the fishing was and what baits to tie on when that should not have been my main concern.
5. If you can't see the bottom of your hull, install a float switch.

close runner ups (and on a sarcastic note)....

6. Invest in a tripod with a camcorder to share any similarly faced future events with AFV.
7. Realize that the A-rig is more than just a lure. When using, it's a powerful drug that doesn't let your mind function normally.
8. Regardless of weather, it's a good idea to have a spare set of clothes in the car.
9. Wind-blown pockets will likely hold fish.

There you have it. Even with all of my stupidity, the bilge saved my boat and has earned a new found respect in my life. It's also now allowed me the opportunity to respond to any future questions about "Is a bilge neccessary?" with this:

We can all get caught up in the moment at times. Thanks for sharing your story. As a new tin owner you pointed out a few things that I hadn't thought of. I do have a bilge pump with aligator clips.
I wanted to go fishing so bad Saturday but I talked myself out of it just because of the wind. Now hearing your story makes me glad I did. Gotta have respect for the water its a powerful thing...
Glad everything worked out and you made it out safely. You may also be lucky that no one else could go with you that day the extra weight may have been to much.
Brine, I'm glad you came out safe and with a boat. I really debated installing a bilge pump on my boat. Now I'm glad I did. Just hope I never need to use it. It's kind of like having a fire extinguisher in the boat. You don't need it till you need it.
I've got 4 bilge pumps on board my jetboat, with the combined ability to pump over 30 gallons per minute.

In the engine compartment, on the starboard side, I have an 1100 GPH pump, controlled entirely by an electronic float switch (I really don't trust the conventional toggle floats, they can get hung up and fail to turn on, or fail to turn off and kill the battery)

Also on the starboard side of the engine well, I have an 800 GPH bilge pump, controlled by a switch at the console.

Then, on the port side of the engine well, I have a siphon-fed bilge pump that's hooked to the jet pump, as long as the jet pump is running, this pump is constantly drawing. Not sure what the GPH rating is for this pump, but I'm guessing probably around 250-300.

And finally, on the main deck, I have a fully automatic 500 GPH pump.

Around here, we have a lot of common boaters with no common courtesy. We have a lot of 'paper captains', too (these are the guys that get a captain's license because they know someone who will sign off for their time at sea...but they really don't know WTH they're doing). Both of these groups of people (the common boaters and the paper captains) tend to operate their boats without regard for the safety of others, they don't care who they swamp or sink. Besides, it's too hard for them to pay attention when they're running 60 MPH in their 30 footer with triple engines, and that bottle of beer they're swilling back is blocking their view. I've been swamped twice by the same para-sailing boat, in both of my boats, with the second incident taking out my Tigershark engine in my jetboat.

Having been through that, I vowed that it won't happen again, and that's why I went overkill with 4 pumps.
=D> Very good post Brine. Way to suck it up....nothing wrong with a little humility....this could very well save someone else in the same situation. I have a portable bilge pump that will go in my boat in case of total battery failure....something is better than nothing....even a 5 gal bucket. I have been in a bucket brigade 50 miles offshore once before. Not fun.
Glad everything ended well.
I still don't have one but maybe I should.
I keep getting by with pulling a drain plug and motoring it out or manually bailing.
Did you mention how you did in the tournament?
Zum said:
Glad everything ended well.
I still don't have one but maybe I should.
I keep getting by with pulling a drain plug and motoring it out or manually bailing.
Did you mention how you did in the tournament?

2nd place and I had big fish. Lost by a pound due to my inept culling abilities.