Bilge Pumps 101


Having a means to empty water out of your kayak quickly and easily must surely be one of the most important safety items of your kayaking kit. Yet the installation of a bilge pump that will perform this task can be daunting and technically difficult…and so many of us never get around to installing one, relying instead on the trusty hand pump, which we all most probably know will be next to useless if we really get into serious trouble!

However, fear not, as we now have a straightforward ‘How To’ guide put together by Charlie Walker – thanks Charlie!

There are a number of choices to be made once the decision has been made to install a bilge pump – foot pump -v- automatic electric bilge pump -v- electric bilge pump with a switch – this article is primarily concerned with the switched electric bilge pump system.

See Charlie’s guide to the installation of his electric bilge pump here

There are quite a few fiddly and technical steps required for this installation.  Another option is to purchase a ready-made kit that has been pre-wired and simply needs to be mounted in your kayak.  East Coast Kayaking sell a kit that uses the same pump as used in Charlie’s system, and seems to be a good option for those looking to avoid the DIY wiring.  I have put together a side-by-side costing of Charlie’s system compared to the cost of buying a kit here . You obviously pay a premium for the convenience of having someone else do all the fiddly wiring for you, but also the peace of mind of knowing that (in theory at least!) it has been put together by experts who will have done plenty of assemblies already and will have developed a good assembly process that gives perfect wiring and waterproofing.

East Coast Kayaking have also offered a 10% discount on some of the key components if anyone wants to club together and order 5 units at the same time. For more details of the offer click here or see the Facebook post.

I think there is also  3rd option, to purchase the components individually yourself but then have them assembled (by this I mean wiring and connections) locally – that is the option I am going to try out, so watch this space for an update!

Last but not least – Charlie’s system uses a switch – operated by sliding a toggle on his deck – to operate the bilge pump ie he is in control of when the pump operates.  There is an obvious advantage in having a bilge pump system that is fully automatic and simply switches itself on – and pumps the water out – whenever there is enough water present inside your boat. The idea of capsizing and coming out of your boat, and then seeing the water automatically start spurting back out as the auto-pump kicks in without you needing to do anything is certainly attractive! As there are always two sides to every coin I will give the argument against having an automatic pump – loss of control over when the pump comes on and the increased risk of having the batteries drain by the continuous pumping of water whenever it builds up. This runs the risk of the batteries failing at the critical time when you really need it, perhaps after a couple of days paddling without a re-charge and with the auto-pump having come on several times over the course of the trip.

Luckily we also have a guide to the installation of such an auto-pump system – thanks to  Steve King – I believe this system is also used by Ian Pope and Bernard Goeble so there are plenty of people to speak to for feedback if you are undecided.

Click here to see Steve King’s installation notes.

Other Resources:

Article from Gnarly Dog website: click here

Another bilge pump installation article here