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Manual bilge pumps are engineered to remove water that gets into the bilge section of small vessels.

The bilge pump accumulates excess water and sends it back into the waters as quickly as your arm works.

While all vessels should have a pump, manual devices are less expensive and may not necessarily require the power of larger vessels, hence the reference to smaller boats.

Dewatering — and being prepared for the possibility — is an important safety measure on the water.

And as important as that may appear, you’d be astonished how little people know about bilge pumps, and worse, how few do anything to prepare for dewatering.

If you were to contact your local marine insurance company about the matter, you’d discover annually hundreds of boats sink and more than a few did so because no one took the need for a bilge pump seriously.

All vessels need some sort of pumping system. We say there’s nothing wrong with having two.

And a manual bilge pump would be essential to have on deck. Especially if your allegedly better, more powerful pump finds a reason to let you down when you need it most.

So what’s the best manual bilge pump for your boating needs?

Educating yourself

Water is persistent and unpredictable. No real amount of preparation or experience can totally prevent a hull penetration.

Rain water, a rogue wave, a leak, even a small puddle that seems harmless, can be a threat as any body of water can create a situation in which instability can grow.

The last thing we want for any boater is to find themselves on the wrong side of an unstable boat.

Waters flow across the path of least resistance.

Gravity takes it to low ground. That’s why the bilge is located in the hull, in the lowest portion of the interior.

Monitoring fluid levels should be part of boat care. Inspect underneath the floor hatches and in machinery space sumps.

It won’t be unusual to find water from time to time.

The possibility that water never gets inside the hull would be unrealistic.

Should you ever find water where you haven’t in the past, consider the possibility you need to investigate further.

Use the bilge pump to clean it up and then try to determine the source. This is not a one time operation.

Keep your eye on the situation and look to stem the flow because even the most powerful hull — like a dam — can be damaged.

Once it is, a teeny crack can lead to huge problems.

Educate yourself.

Know where your bilge receives water.

Check to see if the bilges are connected by limber holes.

Some vessels — such as trawler chain lockers and air conditioning compressor condensate pads — drain into the bulge.

If the boat is engineered responsibly, bilges are essentially dump sites. This is where any leaked liquids (oil, black or fresh water, diesel, and so on) should end up.

How the pump functions

Manual bilge pumps come equipped with hoses.

The hoses have a significant diameter for holding greater volume than typical hoses.

Usually operated by handle or lever, the hose sucks in water from the bilge and flushes the water overboard.

Excess water can happen regardless of whether you’re out on the sea in your yacht, or sitting in a kayak or rowboat on a fishing pond.

No vessel is immune to taking on water. We’d suggest the larger your vessel the more pumps you should have.

Very large boats may have multiple hull compartments and the last thing you want is an emergency that has to wait until you get to the pump.

The responsible sea person knows their bilge pump must always be readily available.

Caring for the bilge water pump

You want a high capacity manual pump, with a membrane made out of rubber.

Its resilience and elasticity is a big plus.

Unfortunately, petroleum products are rubber’s enemy.

Rubber membranes will gradually deteriorate if you pump fossil products.

Maintenance of your bilge pump will be critical. Among any issue that could pop up, clogging is the most common.

You’ll find most issues involve clearing debris, and inspecting valves and diaphragms for deterioration and damage.

Outside of clogging, there might be torn or damaged valves.

Disassembling your pump isn’t hard, but take note that some construction can be complex.

Do the proper research, including reviewing the manual. Common mistakes like putting valves in wrong will create problems!

Cleaning will be relatively easy.

Fill the pump with fresh soapy water and cycle it through the dump and drum skin. This should be done twice a year, even if your manual only says once.

General care can mean simply waterproofing connectors or clearing the strainer.

If a pump should die on you (and regular checking will ensure it doesn’t when you least expect it), pumps can be inexpensive.

You could probably replace it brand new for less than the cost of repair.

Again, check with your marine insurance handler and ask how many claims insinuated the boat sank because the pump didn’t work.

You cannot depend on bilge pumps to manage leaks. They remove water, but they do not fix the problem.

If you keep finding water in unexpected places, have the matter professionally investigated and corrected.

How to choose a manual bilge pump

Boat size is always the first consideration for choosing a bilge pump.

Believe it or not, smaller vessels need a powerful bilge pump as bilge compartments on these boats tend to fill up faster.

As stated earlier, if there are several compartments, you should have one for each bilge section.

Look at manual pumps carefully as they require physical strength to operate efficiently.

Higher end (more expensive!) models are designed for easier use.

Look at the gallons per stroke.

A solid manual pump can remove 30 gallons a minute.

Expect to work as hard (if not harder) than the pump itself as they are only as effective as you are utilizing them.

You want to consider the ergonomics of a pump. The pump’s location is going to be as important as its effectiveness.

You don’t want to find yourself in some cramped position or on all fours struggling to work the pump.

Another important component is going to be wire size. This is gauged by pump capacity and amp draw. Longer runs will require larger sizes.

Best Manual Bilge Pump

If you’re new to this, your best bet is to talk to a tech and experienced boaters. No one wants you find out how too much water in the bilge can sink your boat.

Let’s take a look at a few products so you get some ideas for finding a good manual bilge pump.

Remember, it’s important to always consult an industry professional before using any new product with your boat.

Five Oceans Manual Diaphragm Hand Bilge Pump FO-1516

Designed for mounting on the deck or bulkhead, this is an excellent option for small to medium sized vessels.

It has an easy level that allows for fast pumping with a flow of 3.4 gpm @ 30 strokes per minute.

The hose connection is one inch and the pump material was engineered from glass-filled polypropylene.

The easily accessible diaphragm is made of stainless steel and EDPM. It’s lightweight and sturdy.

View at Amazon for more information on how this product might work for your needs.

Better Boat Bilge Pump Manual Water Pump for Boats | Hand Pumps Siphon Boat

The Better Boat manual pump comes with a 39” hose, ensuring greater access to the bottom of the boat and getting the last of excess water.

The pump has a 1.25” diameter hose and a one inch nozzle.

A solid feature is a no clog filter and watertight gasket.

This ensures maximized suction and discharge. Leaves, seaweed, and other debris won’t get into the transfer.

The pump is easily stored and is perfect for dinghies, kayaks, and canoes.

View at Amazon to learn more about how this product might work for you.

Whale Gusher Urchin Manual Bilge Pump – up to 14.5 GPM Flow Rate – for Boats up to 40 Feet

The Whale Gusher Urchin pump has a compact design that allows it to be set in convenient spaces.

That’s thanks to a clamp ring which allows quick head rotation to simplify installation.

It has a rugged, molded base engineered from polypropylene, as well as a molded grip handle.

The max flow is 14.5 gpm at 70 strokes per minute. This can be installed on deck or bulkhead. Make sure you know which device you purchase.

View at Amazon for more information on how this product might work for you.

Final thoughts

A good manual bilge pump will keep you out to sea safely.

It removes excess water from bilge compartments and lets you know if there’s a problem that needs investigating.

Pumps can catch the small problems before they get big.

They can prevent damage to your boat and save lives.

No seafarer should depend solely on the pump to manage safety. It’s a tool that helps maximize safety but doesn’t negate owner responsibility.

Even with the information provided here, a boater has to understand their boat, its specifications, and the best ways to protect the boat and its riders, especially with a manual bilge pump.

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