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DON'S LOG: stories, experience and advice

Inadequate Bilge Pumps In Modern Yachts

About twenty five years ago Peter Hayward, the inventor of the safety harness, who was considered by Llyods the top delivery skipper in the world, wrote a one page article in Yachting Monthly.

He stated that good delivery skippers seldom lost a wooden boat on delivery as if it was in poor condition the good delivery skipper would not deliver it. If the wooden boat hit something and began to leak, since all wooden boats tend to leak to some degree, they have pumps that are big and work.

However good skippers loose steel, aluminium and fiberglass boats on delivery as when they spring a leak the delivery skipper discovers the pumps either do not work or if they do work they are inadequate!!!!!

Fifty years in the insurance business I can testify that what Peter Hayward said 25 years ago is still true today. Not only are boats still lost because of inadequate bilge pumping system, but often when they have been saved by USCG or other organization arriving with emergency pumps and save the boat, there is still a big insurance claim for water damage!!!

The loss of a boat due to inadequate bilge pumps is perfectly illustrated by the following two stories, Outter Limits and Iolaire. As reported in Yachting World, Outter limits was a standard fiberglass boat Hanse 370e, 330 miles east of Bermuda, hit something, started leaking. They connected up their emergency electric pump which burnt out, They then tried pumping with the standard pumps installed by the builder. They felt they could not keep ahead of the ingress of water so the jumped off on a passing freighter. However WITH NO ONE PUMPING the electronic tracker kept transmitting for 48 hours.

In contrast in 1995, the 90 year old 46' yawl Iolaire, hove to in a gale 250 miles west of the Azores started leaking very badly. The leak was traced to what eventually was ascertained to be a broken stem bolt. The stem was the only area not worked on during Iolaire's 94/95 rebuild re fit.

It was discovered that if one of the crew pumped 10 minutes out of 30 on the 30gpm Edson single acting diaphragm pump, it would suck the bilge dry. Pumping 10 minites out of every 30, 20 minutes and hour, Iolaire's crew were pumping 600 gallons an hour for 48 hours until Iolaire reached Horta.

Iolaire has two edsons permanently mounted. Thus in an emergency we could pump 60 GPM !!! or 3,600 GPH!!!

Many years ago while doing a video with Sailing Quarterly we were lent a Stephens 47 a boat very similar to a Hylas. We were told there was a slight stern tube leak. The second day we woke up to discover about one inch of water over the floorboards!!!!

Using the standard 10 gpm pump it took us TWO HOURS to empty the bilge. We contacted Stephens yachts who sent out a mechanic who cured the stern tube leak.

Test your own boat. Pull a transducer or speed gauge. On a boat with a decent sized bilge, let the boat fill up to the floor boards, on very shoal bodied boats with no sump, fill the boat to 6" above the floor boards.

Then close the transducer or speed gauge and time how long it takes to pump the bilge dry with the standard manual pumps supplied by the builder.

Neither British Lloyds, nor Norwegian bureau Veritas, nor USCG , nor the boat building associations of the US , UK or EU,ISAF,RORC, CCA TRANS PAC, CRUISING CLUB OF AUSTRALIA, specify the size of manual bilge pumps that should be on boats of various sizes.

German Lloyds is the only one that specifies size. They specify 27gpm for a 40 ' boat.

A really good search on the internet reveals that only very few manual pumps pump 27gpm or close to that figure. One is the single acting Edson diaphragm 30gpm pump which made its rated capacity in the tests done in the Annapolis Safety at Sea Seminar this year.

The other large capacity pumps are double acting pumps, more on this later.

ISAF safety rules regarding bilge pumps <\br> 2.03 All equipment required by special regulations shall: a. function properly b. be regularly checked, cleaned and serviced(the bilge pump mounted in the cocpit under the helmsman, open and service it. This will be necessary to do when an intake flapper valve is held open by some crud that got thru the strum box making the pump inoperable. Do this operation and see how long it takes. ) d. be readily accessible see b e. be of a type and size and capacity suitable and adequate for the intended use and size of the boat

RORC rules require two buckets with lanyards. The really scared man knee deep in water with a bucket is not as efficient as a good high capacity single acting bilge pump. The late Des Sleightolme did some experiments on this subject. The result- a man with a bucket 57 liters/14 gpm !!! But how long can he keep it up???

In the light of the two tests described above, and my experience with the Stephens 47 how can two 10gpm pumps on a 50 ' boat be adequate in comparison to the size of the boat?

The ISAF rule will work if everyone uses common sense. But designers, builders, safety inspectors, owners, boat salesmen (or saleswomen),safety inspectors for CCA, RORC, ARC, Caribbean 1500 are not using common sense.

Obviously it is time to install a high capacity bilge pump as what the vast majority of builders provide are inadequate. Install a large capacity bilge pump either permanently or as an emergency pump mounted on a board.

If your boat is very shoal bodied, check the ability of your standard pump to pump the bilge under sail when the boat is heeled over. Do this test BEFORE you start on the emergency pump project.

Fill the bilge half full of water and go for a sail. You will discover that the standard mounted bilge pump will only pump water when the boat is level or almost level. When heeled over all bilge water will be in the lee bilge, impossible to pump out.

The solution is to put a three way valve on the pump intake, and three suction hoses, one to the center of the shallow bilge, then one to port, one to starboard. Then select via the three way valve which line should be used to pump the bilge.

Once you have sorted out your standard bilge pump so it will pump water even when heeled over, then attack the emergency bilge pump solution

As far as I can figure out Edson is the only large capacity SINGLE ACTING diaphragm pump on the market.

All the other large capacity diaphragm pumps are double acting pumps with small inlet and discharge valves and short handles, thus useless as emergency pumps. When looking at pumps, not only is the capacity gpm important, but also the strokes per minute spm to reach the rated capacity.

The jabsco pump is rated at 35gpm, but to achieve this requires 97spm!!!!!! How long can someone maintain 97spm????

Being double acting, the intake and discharge valves are small. They tend to clog small bitts that find their way thru the strum box, jam open and intake or discharge valve which requires opening the pump, clearing the valve, closing the pump and resume pumping.

The short handle, about 18" wears the pumper out in ten minutes. Regarding double acting diaphragm pumps with short handles the above was pointed out in tests Practical Sailor did in 1981. I confirm the above and I speak from experience!!!!(Peter I have good stories but no space)

Obviously, installing a longer handle will ease the pumping BUT is the rocker arm man enough to take the extra strain? If a valve clogs will the extra length handle blow a diaphragm? The double acting pumps all have rather thin diaphragms which are often difficult to replace.

The Edson is a SINGLE acting pump, has a very heavy diaphragm that is almost impossible to blow.

It is available with 1 ½" or 2" diameter intake and discharge pipe and most important, a single BIG intake and discharge valves. The late Rod (the great god rod as he was called)Stephens said" use the 2" intake hose and if so, there should NOT be a strum box on an Edson intake hose. On the intake hose, there should be just two 1/8" bronze or stainless bolts thru the intake hose forming an X. This will keep large things from going into the pump and causing problems with intake or discharge valves. All the small crud from the bilge just gets pumped thru." In 50 years Iolaire's Edson pumps have not had strum boxes!!!!!

When permanently mounting an Edson pump it is important that the intake be a hose so that if large block of wood or other thing, like a plastic bag, blocks the intake, the intake line can be lifted out of the bilge and cleared.

The emergency Edson 30 mounted on a board was invented by myself(Peter do you want a side bar on that story).Back in the 60's I described to Ed Keane, father of the Keane boys that now run Edson, what I had done with the three Edson pumps I had bought in the previous year. The next year in the Edson catalogue, was the Edson emergency pump mounted on a board!

However I always recommend in my lectures to buy the pump WITHOUT the varnished board. Mount it on an un painted piece of fir plywood, secure with COPPER tacks to the bottom of the board indoor /outdoor carpeting.

If this is done your feet will not slip on the bare wood, the board will not slide on the deck because of the carpeting.

Also the standard Edson pump handle is only 32inches long. To pump with a handle of this length requires bending over. This is an uncomfortable position if you have to pump for a long time. When I complained to Ed about the length of the handle, he said the length was fixed at32 inches as that was the longest length that would parcel post(at that time in the late 60's) would take as a standard!!!! I recommend that the pump handle be four feet long, which Edson can supply, so you can stand erect while pumping!!!!

If you are going to mount the Edson 30gpm as a permanent installation, on a fiberglass boat install a bronze one, heavy, expensive but will last forever and requires minimum maintenance. The aluminium model is lighter and cheaper than the bronze model but will require regular manintence. On an aluminium boat, install an aluminium pump, steel boat, the galvanized iron model, on a wood boat the bronze version.

If using an Edson mounted on a board buy the aluminium version as that one will be light and easy to move around.

Re read the first paragraph, do the tests described, figure how to pump the bilge under sail with the pump provided by the builder, if possible mount permanently a large capacity bilge pump. If not rig an emergency pump on a board, that you hope you will never have to use, then go sailing!!!!!

In the light of all this, obviously the vast majority of boats sailing today are not compliant with ISAF safety regulation regarding bilge pumps.

If the safety scrutineers for CCA, RORC ,ARC etc were doing their job, the vast majority of boats they inspect would have to up grade their pumping system. There would be a big shortage of manual high capacity pumps in marine hardware stores.

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