A clean bilge has many advantages including keeping the pumps clean and making any new leaks obvious.
When is the last time you stuck your head in the bilge? Not a tempting concept, but keeping a clean bilge makes the whole boat smell better and makes any new leaks obvious. Dirty water and oil can mask a problem that would be glaring without the muck. Preventing corrosion of equipment that lies in the bilge is also a motivator to keep it clean. Start with Starbrite Heavy Duty Bilge Cleaner available at Crowley's for $11.95 plus tax. Starbrite is biodegradable and makes the whole boat smell great.
So that water can travel to the lowest part of the boat, limber holes are cut into the stringers, the structural ribs. The water passes through these holes to the lowest bilge points, which is usually where the bilge pump is located. This allows the water to be pumped out either automatically or manually.
You should keep these holes clear of residue to prevent blocking the water flow. A great trick is to run a continuous chain through every limber hole which allows you to pull it back and forth to dislodge any foreign matter.
Water is one thing in the bilge, but oil is another issue entirely. Later model boats have drip pans installed under the engines to prevent oil from dripping directly into the bilge. Whatever your case, it is a good idea to put absorbent pads under the engines. They not only absorb the oil that could drip but provide a quick way to find leaks. Each time you do an engine check, which should be each time prior to starting, check the pad to see if any new oil spots have appeared. If so, try to track down the source immediately.
You should inspect the bilge and its surroundings with a flashlight at least once a month. Look for:
- The float switch on your electric bilge pump - lift it to make sure it turns on the pump automatically.
- Excessive water – find the source.
- Through-hull fittings – check for leaks.
- Double hose clamps on all fittings below the waterline – for double protection.
- Seacock handles - ensure they operate freely.
- Excessive corrosion and rust – find the source.
- Unusual growth or mildew – find the source.
- Excessive wear or corrosion on pipes, hoses and clamps.
- Clogged limber holes – clean with chain or a stick.