Sketchbook: Bilges

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Bilges can be mucky places, so make sure there’s enough slack in pipes and cables to get blocked pumps out.


A plastic crate with garden mesh at the bottom creates both a filter for fine particulates that can catch any soap and hair, and a coarse filter to keep out labels, paper or plastic.


Float switches can fail if they are covered in muck. Raising them up to be activated by another float switch located beneath is one solution.


Electronic sensors, kept well clear of the water, can trigger pumps, alarms and even send text messages if the pumps run too much.

A stick that pops up in the cockpit, connected to a float in the bilge, is a simple warning device.


A big emergency pump, clear of the muck, only cuts in if the normal pump can’t cope.


A drip tray or absorbent pads help keep oil out of the bilges.


Some old boats had brass chains rove through their limber holes (drains) so they could be jiggled to remove any buildup of muck. A refinement is to add a length of elastic bungee cord at one end to pull the chain back.


In some countries it‘s illegal to discharge mucky bilge water straight over the side, and large fines may be imposed if the authorities see telltale oil slicks near your boat. Special in-line filters can be plumbed in to remove any harmful substances. Or a diverter valve can be used to catch suspect bilge water in a jerry can.


Big storm anchors and keel spanners can get forgotten in the bilge. Do check occasionally to ensure that they’re dry and secure.


Tin cans often end up there too, and can lose their labels and rust. So protect them against chafe and seal several together in a plastic bag. Be sure, though, to wash and dry them first to remove any possible bug eggs lurking under the rims!
Dick Everitt has sailed thousands of miles in various parts of the world. He has been an illustrator, journalist and engineer for more than 40 years

April 2016


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