DO IT YOURSELF
FIRST A quick bilge-pump
The sound of an automatic bilge pump is
usually drowned out by the other sounds
of a boat underway, but knowing when it
runs can be essential to the safety of the
boat. It lets you catch a sudden leak long
before it’s under a foot or more of oily
water. Noting a decreasing time between
cycles is also an effective reminder of the
need for servicing a stuffing box.
It’s easy enough to add a warning light
that visually announces when your bilge
pump is running. Any 12-volt panel light
will work as long as it’s bright enough to
be seen in sunlight. Red is preferred.
Locate the warning light where it will
Keep track of your bilge pump
get the helmsman’s attention. On a powerboat, that usually means somewhere
on the instrument panel. The face of the
bridge deck is often the most visible location on a sailboat. Panel lights cost only
a few dollars, so a second one located in
the captain’s cabin is reassuring.
Wiring is straightforward as long as
the pump has a separate float switch.
Use a step-down crimp butt connector
to connect one side of the light into the
circuit between the switch and the
pump. Connect the other side
of the light to ground. When
the float switch closes, it will
energize both the pump and
tive, lift the float switch with a finger. If
the pump fails to turn on, it’s safe to
assume that the problem lies with the
float switch or its connections.
2. Shut off the power by disconnecting
the bilge-pump cable from the battery or
removing the inline fuse.
3. Remove any screws or small nuts and
bolts holding the switch in place and lift
the switch clear.
4. Trace the cables
back from the float
switch to where
they are spliced to
the cables going to
5. Cut the wires
just above the
existing connections and then
strip back the
ends of the cables,
or as may be otherwise appropriate depending on
the type of splice.
If the copper
green and cor-
roded, a sure indication that moisture
has gotten under the insulation, you may
have to trim back some more until you
get back to noncorroded conductors.
6. Connect the new switch wires. (See
step 7 on page 87 for instructions.) Most
likely they will be too long, so you may
want to trim them, allowing room for any
needed securing and/or routing, before
making the connections. They should
not be too tight so that the cables are
under tension, nor should they be too
loose so that they drape in the bilge or
may become entangled in moving parts.
Keep the connections above the highest
projected level of bilge water you’re likely
to have and away from splatter from the
7. Screw the float switch back in position
using new hardware. Any screws or nuts
and bolts should be marine-grade stainless steel. Nothing else is acceptable.
A float switch
the stern of
the boat. If the
surge of water
in the bilge as
the boat gets
up on plane
could permanently damage the float
NEXT Let’s count pump cycles, too
A warning light is only useful when there
is someone aboard to see it illuminate. If
your boat remains in the water when not
in use and you always find the bilge dry
when you return to it, is that because the
boat is watertight or because the auto-
matic pump has been doing its job?
When buckets gave way to hand
pumps, sailors counted strokes to moni-
tor the integrity of the hull and
deck. Automatic bilge pumps
have long since eroded this
vigilance. Leaks are rarely
catastrophic without warning.
They more often start small,
growing more serious over