Basic Cruising: The bilge system

Never let the bilge be “out of sight, out of mind.” A regular visual inspection of the bilge should become a habit. You will quickly learn what is normal water in the bilge – rainwater coming down the mast, ice box drainage, and the drip from the stuffing box – and recognize water that indicates a problem. Check the bilge regularly.

1. Locate bilge pump handles for manually-operated systems and switches for electric pumps.
2. Check the bilge pump switch at the electrical control panel and the bilge arm. Automatic bilge pumps are generally not wired through the battery switch so they are active even when the boat is unattended.
3. Check all bilge pump intake screens to be sure they are free of debris.
4. Inspect each through-hull fitting for a working valve.
5. Look for wooden plugs at each through-hull fitting.
6. Pump the bilge before departure.

– For saltwater sailors, taste the water in the bilge if you aren’t sure whether it is coming from a leak in the fresh water tank.
– If an electric bilge pump is set on automatic, it can run your battery down pumping water from an undetected leak. An automatic pump might have a counter, similar to an hour meter.
– A water alarm may also be installed in the bilge.

Note: It’s illegal to pump oil or fuel overboard.

For the best cruising instruction like this, purchase Basic Cruising on the US Sailing Store. US Sailing’s network of accredited schools offer seven levels to help you sharpen your skills and gain confidence.