In Cruising Compass last week, our survey was on high-capacity bilge pumps aboard our cruising boats. You will find the results of the survey below. Our regular commentator Dick Stevenson, who has vast experience and has written widely on safety at sea issues, offered these thoughts on flood control, sources of leaks and bilge pumps.
I would never discourage any skipper from adding a high-capacity pump to deal with a flooding situation, but, over the years, I have run into a number of cruisers who have spent a good deal of money and time on their bilge pump systems. Upon inquiry, I usually find that they have neglected numerous what I consider “first step” changes that prepare their boat for a flooding situation. The easiest of these is a simple high-water alarm, a device that should be standard on all boats. Too many find their first indication of a flooding situation are wet feet when going below, as the engine was running, they could not hear the bilge pump and there was no alarm indicating activation on the bilge pump or a high water alarm.
Further, my thoughts on how to respond do not include a manual bilge pump: much against the comments that float around the literature. The first job is to find the leak and that gets harder as the water rises. For most of us, cutting the crew looking for the leak by 50% by assigning to a manual bilge pump is not wise as no manual bilge pump will keep up with a leak: or at least not for long (they are tiring). Finding and stopping the leak takes precedence.
Good bilge pumps working automatically will give extra time to find the leak.