Passage Making Cruisers: Adopt These In-Port Bilge Pump Checks!

By Rich

There are two fascinating difference between our prior boat, the Sabre 42 (and most similar coastal cruisers) and our current Hylas 54 from the standpoint of automatic bilge pumps. The first big difference: on our Sabre, a variety of sources would cause the (single) automatic bilge pump to run regularly quite apart from any leaks that would be alarming to the crew or a threat to the vessel. For example, rainwater would run down the center of the mast into the bilge which could cause the bilge pump to run periodically during rainy periods. Also, the Sabre’s air conditioning and refrigeration drained condensate directly to the bilge (neither of which were particularly desirable) which would trigger automated draining of the bilge by the pump. Whatever the cause, while aboard we regularly would hear the bilge pump run and therefore had an awareness that that the bilge pump worked.

The Hylas is a totally different experience. Air conditioning and refrigeration condensate are channeled to dedicated sump boxes with pumps and so are diverted from the bilge. The mast has a dam the diverts any rainwater from the bilge as well. All of these features are highly desirable for keeping the bilge clean and dry. However, a side effect of this configuration is that onboard the Hylas, the bilge pump simply will not run in the absence of an ingress of water from some other source – a source which would be unexpected and very potentially a concern to the crew! Ironically, from a safety-at-sea standpoint this can be considered a bad thing in one context: if Hylas owners don’t regularly test their automated bilge pumps, they may have no way of knowing whether they will work in an emergency or not. As such, we believe regular testing of the bilge pumps aboard these larger passage making sailing vessels is vital for safety at sea. Our Hylas 54 was built with a very robust bilge pump system. There is one automated pump for low-level water (“pump #1”) and a second higher-capacity automated pump for higher level water (“Pump #2”) and finally there is a float switch for an alarm that should sound both at the nav station and in the cockpit for watch-standers if the water level rises above the level of pumps #1 and #2. In addition, on the cockpit switch panel there are warning lights to indicate whether pump #1 and / or pump #2 are currently operating so watch standers have an early warning of water ingress.

Because the Hylas bilge remains so dry, we recommend that all of these pumps and warning indicators be tested regularly. We have a large maintenance spreadsheet for Rover, and here is a screenshot of our checklist items, which we would urge any passage makers with similar vessels to adopt on a regular cadence. The formulas in these spreadsheet cells automatically calculate the number of days between the current date and the last inspected date. Note that when the interval is exceeded, we have conditional formatting in the spreadsheet cells to visually alert the user for the need for an updated inspection.


3 thoughts on “Passage Making Cruisers: Adopt These In-Port Bilge Pump Checks!

  1. I believe on our 54 (2009) the air conditioners do drain into the bilge. Interesting post. Something to think about

    1. We are like the Sabre. Anchor locker, AC, Mast, Shaft Seals all drain to our bilge. And, as you know, it is a deep bilge. I hand pump down fairly but when the AC is running in port we will also cycle the pumps. I do have a PM to fill the bilge well with water from the dock hose every 4 months just so we can verify that the switch and the pumps are working. Seeing is believing

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