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In my post about What Really Matters (on a boat), number 1 on the list is “Keep the water out.” That’s obviously pretty important as a serious failure to do so often results in the boat in question sinking. In addition to a bucket for bailing, most boats are fitted with one or more bilge pumps, either manually operated or run off the vessel’s batteries.

With the multiple sealed flotation chambers built into our boat, bilge pumps may not be quite as critical as for a monohull. Still, we do have shallow bilges that occasionally accumulate water (ask me why you should not leave the hatches open on an unattended boat during the rainy season). There is one Whale Gusher Urchin Bilge Pump installed in our cockpit which can switch it’s operation to pump from either of the two hulls via a Y-valve. It seems to do the job. That pump won’t however deal with any other areas of the boat, such as the forward compartment where the thru-hulls reside, and yes, we’ve had some water there before too!

West Marine piston pump.

I once saw an Edson Emergency Bilge Pump listed for sale on a cruising forum and visited the product website to read its specs. It looked pretty impressive: robust construction and it can pump 30 US gals/min. The price tag was equally impressive though: $998.00 US. OUCH! Now, if your boat was sinking, that $998.00 would be money well spent. But on our cat, which is much less likely to sink, that kind of expenditure just isn’t going to happen. I still would love to have a backup though.

Yes, we do have buckets for bailing, and we also picked up a nice piston pump. Both of those can evacuate a fair amount of water when a well-motivated user is operating them. Just recently though, I decided to get creative and construct a backup pump, similar to the sexy Edson one, using a spare Whale Gusher pump that we had on board. It didn’t take much: a couple pieces of wood, some hose and hose clamps and of course, the pump itself. No, it may not be quite as bullet-proof as the expensive Edson one, and it is only rated to move 13.1 US gals/min as opposed to the larger pump’s 30 US gals/min. But for our purposes, I think it’ll work great and, even if we had purchased all of the parts for our construction new, which we didn’t, we’d still have $900.00 left in our wallet!

Not super sexy but not a thousand bucks either!


  1. Good idea! I actually still have the giant Edson with a 3 foot steel handle. My old boat FREELANCE needed it for our offshore trip south from Massachusetts to Florida Keys. We had it screwed down in the cockpit and were pumping 10 min. every hour while underway.

    • Why Ken? Were you taking water over the stern?

      • No, through the hull at the stem, and a few other hull locations along with every opening port that had bad gaskets and a bunch at the mast boot. We had steady NW winds around 20 to 25 for three days to Norfolk. It was a roaring sail with plenty of water on the decks. The boat loved it and we loved it (well maybe my friend Phillip and I loved it more than Vicky). The ONLY and I mean ONLY dry place in the boat on that trip south was where Vicky had miraculously stored all the pictures, this was before digital of course. Good times! We had just bought the old girl in Maine (1935 Gielow 39′ OD), did a few quick fixes (it was the end of November already), bought the pump and a life raft, and went south. Then we fixed her up in the sun of the Keys.

  2. Be aware that some of the more expensive pumps are actually not great for long-term use on a sea-going boat due to the fact that their internal construction allows for galvanic corrosion problems if they are allowed to sit with salt water in them and not flushed with fresh water after each use. So, you may be far better off with the less expensive solution you’ve come up with. 😀

    • Really? Even on the Aluminum or Bronze versions, not that I’m ever going to buy one of those?

      • I would be wary of aluminum-bodied pumps. They’re likely to have mixed metals (steel screws, at the very least) and unlikely to have their own sacrificial anodes. Bronze is only specified where corrosion resistance is critical, and I’d hope that a manufacturer who specifies a bronze housing also specifies bronze internals- therefore, no corrosion issue.

        That pump looks familiar… not sure if you read Practical Boat Owner out of the UK but they did a very thorough test on a bunch of these manual pumps back in Feb ’00. The one you picked scored very well in their tests.

        I do not think there is much point in going for a huge manual pump. Something like yours can keep up with a burst 3/4″ seacock at 2′ below the waterline. If you need more pumping capacity than that, you probably have a significant hull breach, in which case a power pump is called for. A 3600 gph (actually works at about 2000 gal/h = 33 gal/min) electric bilge pump is about $200. But we have a gas-powered unit ( ) up north for fresh water service, and at $300-$400 for ~250 gal/min, it’d be nice to have on board if you can find space for it.

  3. KISS = Keep It Simple Sailor…….Nice job guys

  4. Aha! I have finally discovered an error before some of these sailbrains that follow you too.
    The pump is mounted on a piece of wood! Wood floats! You might want to remount it on something that will go down in the water! (does a silly victory dance)

    • Sorry Cameron, if there is so much water that the hand pump needs to be submerged, we are is serious trouble. 🙂

      There is an intake hose, which goes in the water, and an outtake hose, which is hopefully pointed overboard. You should not need to be in the water. The board is to stand/kneel on, to give you purchase on the pump.

      If I wanted to be fancier, I would have put some epoxy on the board to waterproof it. As it stands, if the board rots, I’ll simply replace it with another piece.

      Nice try though! 🙂

  5. When I was sailing my 505 dinghy we let the water out of the boat with a hole in the bottom (yes you read that correctly). Actually we only had the hole open when we were traveling at speed. The water would then be sucked out of the boat (Bernoulli’s Principle – see wikapedia). I suppose you could rig up the same thing with one end of a hose in the bilge and the other end submerged over the side. You would have to be traveling fast enough however (I don’t know what this would be in your case) otherwise the hose would act like a siphon and pump the ocean back into your bilge!!!

    • In our case, it would likely end up being the latter!

      I have seen/heard of people removing the drain plug on their dinghy while planing to get the water out. I’ll have to try it.

      • Mike,
        Great post… (good old McGyver spirit…). A while back after a not so succesfully let-us-beach-the -dingy-and-even-anchor-it-for-awhile-in-the-surf situation, i found the dingy dangerously full of water… I did remember the sucking out the water deal, but thought it wouldnt work. Anyway, i didnt have too many other options so i literaly pulled the plug and blasted (9.9hp four stroke yamaha… anyway forget the blasted) away… and it actualy worked… in a couple of minutes, got rid of most of the water…. Then when i had to stop to get the plug back, some water came back in, but hey.. who cares…
        Take care and fair winds
        Best rgds
        Pieter and Cristina
        SV Onda Boa-Brazil

    • I worked at a marina that had a 16′ boston whaler with a 70 johnson on it. We’d go ‘wave jumping’ and get filled with seawater. Pull the plug, gun the throttle and out goes the water!

  6. My lazy man’s answer to a piston pump – I’m not sure what it is called, but for$20 from Academy, I purchased a pump that is advertised to pump oil out of a deep fryer. Worked great. But of course I forgot to remove the batteries, so no more pump. I am waiting on a battery operated kerosene pump (tank to tank) for $14. Looks good in the catalog.

  7. Hi Mike:

    An interesting thread again. Here’s my two cents worth on cost saving measures. As I recall correctly you have a Honda EU 2000 generator on board. Why not simply add a 110V submersible utility pump to you ship’s inventory for that unexpected water intrusion that your bilge pumps cannot keep up with? Fire up the Honda Eu 2000 and run for example a Mastercraft 1/6HP 1330 US GPH (5034 litres per hour) sump pump right from it? The pump I use to remove the water from our pool cover in the spring each year cost me $56.00 CAD at Canadian Tire. Attach a short run of garden hose to it and it has a lift capacity 6 metres (20 feet) and will draw fluid level down to 1/2″ (1.2cm).

    This is all assuming the state of affairs at the time allows you the ability to fire up the generator or in other situations the onboard generator to run AC power. To heck with the costly $650 Rolls Royce version – I say necessity is the mother of invention at a fraction of the price!!

    Cheers, and thanks again for maintaining a very interesting blog. Wish were out there with you. Have just started looking in to acquiring a new catamaran for our future live-aboard needs. Have narrowed it down to a South African built yacht – the Maverick 40. Here is the web link –

    We toured the facility in Cape Town in late March 2012 and were most impressed. Will keep you posted.

    Alan and the rest of the gang from SV Mango Groove

    • Excellent suggestion regarding that pump, Alan. I will look into that. By the way, we miss Canadian Tire!

      I visited the Maverick website. Those cats are SEXY! I’d be seriously envious if you acquire one of those.

  8. I know I am a little late on commenting, but I just ran across this write-up and thought it was worth commenting. I’ll certainly give you points for creatively, but is this really the place you want to save money? When I go cruising, safety is very important. It’s one thing if something ever happens to me, but what about my crew?

    We all hope to never get into a flooding situation, but if we do, these duct tape and garden hose solutions just aren’t going to cut it. The weather is unlikely to be perfect and I doubt the boat will be sitting nice and still. If you are a passagemaker, there is also at least a 50% chance that it will be at night. In all seriousness, I bet that whale pump you used can’t even hit it’s rated capacity. Most pumps require a ridiculous number of strokes per minute to hit their rating. I know some of whale’s require 70 strokes (and I’ve still seen them come up short)! When you need a pump, you need a reliable pump that can move a lot of water, not a bucket that will exhaust you or accidentally douse your nav station with water. Pumping may last for hours, so you need something you can power with your whole body.

    I have two Edson 30 GPM pumps on my boat with long handles and wouldn’t consider anything else… nothing even comes close. These pumps move water like crazy: 1 gallon per stroke each! Yes, they are expensive, but I’m not sure what I would do with that extra money saved while I was sinking. Think self reliability! There may not always be someone else to help. Edson also makes the smaller 18 GPM pump, but I would suggest staying with the big one.

    On another note, electric pumping capacity is very important too. The right pumps can move a lot of water while you are stopping or slowing down a leak… just make sure to keep those batteries topped up.

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