Prioritise Bilge Pumps

Following a spate of call-outs where River Canal Rescue has come across inadequate or incorrectly-positioned bilge pumps, the assistance firm is urging boaters to pay more attention to their devices, reminding that two are better than one to keep a vessel safe.

RCR says boats should have a maintenance and an emergency pump – the first to maintain a safe water ingress level and the second to prevent sinking in an emergency situation – yet confusion over their roles means often only one’s installed and in the wrong place.

Operations director, Jay Forman, explains: “A maintenance pump manages low levels of water ingress consistently, so a small automatic or manual pump is the best option from a cost and maintenance perspective, as it will need to be replaced in a few years. It should be positioned where water ingress is common, such as near the stern gland or directly under deck boards.

“In contrast, an emergency pump acts as an early-warning system, reducing the impact of a potentially disastrous event. It should be able to pump considerably more water than its maintenance counterpart, and as it plays an early-warning role and responds without prompting, must be automatic.  A large automatic pump is the best option; as it won’t operate for most of the time, it will remain in a good condition, ready for emergencies.

“Position this in an area most at risk of serious ingress and two to three inches higher than the maintenance pump (or where water would not be expected to reach). By making the outlet point as visible as possible, water pumped overboard from this point will catch the eye and alert you to a serious issue.”

RCR is concerned that as the installation of bilge pumps is not a mandatory legislative requirement, they’re not given the priority they deserve.

Jay continues: “We frequently find vessels with no pumps or only a maintenance pump installed. In the past ‘environmental risk’ and the fact it evacuates liquid that includes oils, fuels, and other chemicals, has been cited as the reason why.”

Yet, RCR counters this is no longer a valid argument. The firm recently developed Bilgeaway – a filter that uses a non-toxic solution to extract hydrocarbon contaminants (petrol, diesel, engine oil etc) from water and renders them non-reactive, leaving environmentally-friendly contents in a cartridge which can be disposed of and the housing re-used.

Jay concludes: “Ideally vessels should have both pumps. At a minimum there should be an emergency pump which doesn’t manage the maintenance side of things. If you use one pump for maintenance, do not expect it to perform an emergency role. It cannot give you an early-warning alert and that much-needed extra time in an emergency scenario.”

For boats without an additional second pump outlet, RCR has information on its Bilgeaway website explaining how to install two pumps into one outlet.  The diagrams are reproduced below and for more information visit

Visit River Canal Rescue at  email or call 01785 785680.