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The Best Bilge Pump For Boat

bilge pumps - Best Bilge PumpAs a young angler I was fortunate to grow up under the careful tutelage of my good friend and mentor Ed Martin. He was a successful attorney and an extraordinary angler and we caught a lot of fish together. He was an accomplished seaman and many of his skills he learned from his time in the navy and commercial albacore fishing. I am blessed he took the time to pass them on to me.

Along with the technical details of boat handling, great insight into our local weather patterns and intense focus on the task at hand there were the lighter moments also. He always had a handy phrase or quip to illustrate a point or lighten the mood. One of my favorites, usually dispensed after some particularly chaotic moment during a hot bite or some arcane boat issue, was…

“When in danger, when in doubt Run in circles, scream and shout!”

There’s another classic gem I’ll get to in a bit. And it was particularly apropos in light of an unsettling situation three of us encountered on a recent offshore expedition. One of my friends recently bought a somewhat disheveled 32’ hull that needed a bunch of work. But the bones were sound and the motors nearly new so he took it on as a project. He stripped out almost everything right down to the bare fiberglass. Then he planned out the attack and set to work getting it all back together. And trust me this was one helluva project. He designed and built a new custom dash with all new electronics, winch, T-Top and much more. We built him a beautiful custom bait tank based on our PE-80-SDI with an extension designed to be a mount for two of the most outrageously comfortable boat seats I’ve ever settled down in.

bluefin fishingAlthough the boat was still a work in progress for his first trip over the 4th of July it was properly christened…the first fish on the boat was a 135# bluefin. What a great way to kick off the season. And then it was back to the slip for more of those endless details that seem to go on forever during a major remodel. But a couple weeks later (but before final completion) the siren’s call of giant bluefin proved irresistible and another trip was planned. We were gunning for big ones so the guys went out the evening before and tanked up on prime mackerel, we loaded on all the good gear and we were ready.

The next morning the lump was noticeable as we ran down towards the 312 to start the day. But on our downhill course, even at 30 knots, it wasn’t too bad. Once we got in the area and started tacking around the weather was totally fishable but very little was going on. Clouds of bait lit up the meter and enough birds were around to point the way if things got rolling but they didn’t…it was just one of those days. Since we were on a short timeframe as we had to be back to the dock by 4pm so unfortunately by noonish we started chugging back up the line.

The boat felt a little strange, kind of stern heavy.

It was my first time aboard so I didn’t know what to expect on that course and speed. But the owner did and it eventually bothered him enough to slow down and open the back hatch for a bilge check. I was looking forward when I heard him quietly say “I think we’ve got a little problem.” I turned around from the helm to look back and see what the issue was and holy heck folks this was more than a “little problem.”

The bilge water was up nearly to deck level in a stern compartment that could easily hold a couple hundred gallons!!!

My first question was “Is the bilge pump on?” and he said “Yes” but to the next one “Is it pumping?” the answer was somewhat disconcerting as it was a terse   “No!!!”

boating gear
These are the best… Perfect for that de-watering emergency, a trash can or a portable commode.

Then I asked “Where’s the bucket?” and the look on his face told me the answer even before I heard “We don’t have a bucket.” So I dove into the forward cabin looking for anything worthy to bail with and all I found was some Handi-Wipes in that bright yellow quart-sized container. I dumped the contents and trust me folks that little jug moved some serious volume of water in the next 15 minutes. My other buddy had to bail with a stainless steel coffee mug but fortunately between the two of us we were making progress and the water was slowly going down.

Once it was down about 8 inches or so the owner was able to reach in and pull the wire loom loose and we found part of the problem…a broken wire connection to the bilge pump. A fast emergency repair was done and with the pump now running we all felt a lot better as the water was dropping fast. Then we got the bait pump running again to save that all-important bait and suddenly just about everything was right with the world again. Water was still draining aft from multiple compartments but with the pump running the major crisis was past and we all definitely breathed the proverbial “sigh of relief!!!”

So much so that even though we had to get going towards home due to the restricted time frame we still made a detour past the East End of Catalina to slow troll some mackerels. We got some redemption with three good ones to 27# under the warm summer sun near the birthplace of fishing as we know it today.

boating tips - Best Bilge Pump

On the way home and during the past days since that trip I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on what brought about this mishap and how this voyage could have ended way worse than it did. As far as prevention, first and foremost always have fully functional bilge pumps with float switches and check for proper operation when you do your standard pre-departure bilge check. Then make sure there are secondary de-watering devices available as backups. When bailing with that small Handi-Wipe container I had to smile as I recalled another of Ed Martin’s favorite sayings…

       “The best bilge pump in the world is a scared sailor and a bucket.”

It is so true and I sure wish we had one. Just a standard good quality household 3-5 gallon bucket will work nicely to move some serious volume in a short time. And if you want to be state-of-the-art we’ve got the really nice ones with a heavy rope handle. A manual bilge pump is also handy to have around.

To make sure the water never gets to a dangerous level you should have a high water alarm. Mount it just above the level where a float switch would trigger the pump so if it doesn’t you’ve got a backup alarm. When that siren goes off you know it’s time for quick action. One of the best is made by my friends at Lewco Electric (949)548-8383. Dan will fix you up for under $250 and it is money well spent (and they are also the best to work on starter and alternator issues).

As to the actual causes of the mishap, there were more than a few. But that’s another interesting story I’ll save for next time so for now…

Good Luck and Good Fishing

Capt Mark Wisch 

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Well-known California captain, writer, speaker and tackle shop owner, Capt. Mark Wisch has been helping anglers catch fish along the West Coast for decades. As an author, Mark has written three books, including “Between Two and Twenty Fathoms,” “In The Gray” and “Lessons from a Lifetime on the Water.” He's currently working on his fourth book, “Way Out West, a Private Boaters Guide to Fishing Offshore Waters.” Mark owns and operates Pacific Edge Tackle (www.pacificedgetackle.com) and manufactures a complete line of live bait tanks. He also specializes in outfitting sport-fishing boats with electronics and fishing equipment. Mark graduated from Cal Poly, Pomona, with a degree in marketing and currently resides in Huntington Beach, California, with his wife Chris and their dog Emma.