Battle of the Bilge Battle of the Bilge
Rubbish talk amoung sailors was referred to as bilge. Legend has it that some unknown sailor was sent to inspect the deepest, darkest, part of the ship where water and residue collect. After a brief time in this black hole, the sailor was convinced that this area was also rubbish. From that day on, the area where water collects in a boat has been referred to as the bilge.
The most important reasons to keep your bilge clean are:
- to prevent growth of bacteria
- eliminate foul odors
- prevent rust and corrosion of equipment that lies in the bilge
You can get bilge cleaner in most marine hardware stores, however, it can be expensive. Liquid Tide is less expensive and does as good a job. Containing no phosphorus, being biodegradable, cutting grease and dirt and having a clean smell make it a good choice. However, if you are going to be using a large amount of cleanser, or if you will be discharging the cleanser into the water, choose an alternative from this list of Natural Cleaning Product Alternatives.
Some boats take in more water than others. It is normal for some water to be in the bilge since it can leak in at the stuffing box(es) and rudder post(s). However, if you find an unusual amount of water make sure that you don't have a leaking through-hull fitting or pipe. If your boat usually has some water in the bilge just add the liquid Tide to the bilge and let the rocking of the boat do the cleaning for you.
Most grease and dirt can be removed with Tide and perhaps a little elbow grease. However, steam cleaning can be an alternative. Steam cleaning is a harsh method that can cause paint to peel, especially on a wooden boat. As they say on the stunt shows, don't try this at home. Seek out a professional and check their references.
Limber holes are found in the ribs or partitions in the bilge which allow water to pass through them and flow to the lowest bilge points 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. Most boats will have a light chain running through the limber holes which allows you to pull it back and forth to dislodge any foreign matter.
Most newer model boats have drip pans installed under the engines to prevent oil from dripping directly into the bilge. Whether you have drip pans or not it is a good idea to put absorbant 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.
What to look for:
You should inspect the bilge and its surroundings with a flashlight at least once a month. Look for the following:
- Lift up the float switch on your electric bilge pump to make sure it turns on the pump automatically.
- If you find unusual amounts of water, be sure to track down the source.
- Check all through-hull openings and fittings.
- Make sure that all fittings below the waterline have double hose clamps.
- Check the seacocks to make sure that you can turn them off. You could sink your boat if a hose comes loose from a seacock and you can't stop the flow of water because the valve is corroded.
- Look for corrosion and rust.
- Check for unusual growth or mildew.
- Check all pipes, hoses and clamps.
- Check limber holes.
Remember that it is illegal to pump oily discharge overboard. If you find oil in your bilge water turn off the bilge pump and find an alternative way of disposing of the oily water. Don't think just because there is only a little bit of oil it is okay. The test for illegal pollution is simply a "visible sheen" on the water.