Performing sailing pre-passage checks on a sailboat ensures a safe and successful voyage. Ensuring the automatic bilge pump works is one important aspect of these checks.
The automatic bilge pump removes any water that enters the boat, whether from rain, waves, or leaks. If the bilge pump is not working, the water could accumulate and cause the boat to become unstable, affecting the boat’s performance and putting everyone onboard at risk.
By checking the automatic bilge pump before setting sail, you can ensure that it is functioning properly and that any water that enters the boat will be promptly removed. This reduces the risk of damage to the boat and helps prevent potentially dangerous situations from developing.
On several occasions, our automatic bilge pump has been triggered while sailing.
Thankfully it makes quite a bit of noise (watch the video above to see a demonstration), so when we hear it running, it causes alarm bells. Of course, the situation would be far worse if we failed to do our sailing pre-passage checks and it wasn’t working!
The first time it went off, Simon and I panicked. We opened the floorboards and saw water rushing to the boat’s center, the lowest point.
The first thing we did was taste the water.
On this occasion, the water was fresh. As soon as we knew it was fresh, our alarm dropped drastically. There’s only so much fresh water on a boat, and the bilge could cope with pumping out. The issue was that our hot water tank split and all the water in the tank rushed out.
On another occasion, we did our sailing pre-passage checks before leaving port. The bilge was working. Not long after we left, the bilge went off while exiting from an anchorage in the Bahamas. Once again, we lifted the floorboards and saw water rushing in. We tasted it, and it was salt! My shoulders became tight, I started shallow breathing, and adrenaline pumped through my body.
There’s nothing worse than looking into your bilge and seeing water rushing in.
There were three of us on board. One went forward, and two went to either side of the engine bay, opening the compartment to see if we could find the source of the water. It took 10 seconds to determine it was coming from our engine. We instantly determined that we must have blown a pipe on the raw water circuit. The three of us couldn’t find the pipe but knew we had to shut off the engine immediately.
While I started getting the headsail out, Simon aimed for open water and to put the boat in a position to sail. He turned off the engine, and we watched the bilge to ensure water was dropping. It was a good minute or two before our eyes confirmed a drop in the water levels.
While Simon sailed the boat, our crew member and I looked for the issue.
After a few minutes, we discovered that it was a corner-bend pipe that blew right off the engine!
And one last story about doing the sailing pre-passage checks – especially checking the bilge is working! We had one of our air conditioner units removed for repair. The technician took it away, and we didn’t think much about it. Once again, we head out for a sail, and our bilge goes off. The engine was off, and water was rushing into the bottom of the boat. We tasted the water, and it was salt. We then asked ourselves, what’s the last thing we touched on the boat?
Or, what’s the last thing we were working on or fixing?
We looked at the empty area where our aircon unit used to be to discover that the water discharge hose wasn’t plugged. Water could run up the hose and into the boat whenever we healed far enough. We put a bung in the hose and our problem was solved!
I share these stories with you so that you can learn from our experiences.
Water coming into a boat is usually easily solved if you did your sailing pre-passage checks and the bilge is working. The key thing is to determine if it’s fresh or salty quickly. If it’s an engine issue, avoid obstacles and start sailing. If it’s not the engine, think about what you last worked on.
In our sailing pre-passage checks checklist, we have around 50 things we check – get an idea of our Sailing Pre-Passage Checklist here. It doesn’t take long and provides us with peace of mind. On several occasions, we caught things that could have been disastrous if we left the anchorage.
In addition to checking the bilge pump, other pre-passage checks should be performed to ensure the safety and functionality of the sailboat.
These checks may include inspecting the rigging, sails, and other equipment for signs of wear or damage, checking the engine and fuel levels, and verifying that all safety equipment is onboard and in good working condition. By performing these checks before setting sail, sailors can increase their chances of a safe and successful voyage.
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Other Articles and Videos of Interest?
- Sailing Pre-Passage Checklist
- A Boat Checklist: The Key to Successful Cruising
- Long Sailing Passage Preparation Checklist
- How to Create Sailing Checklists to Avoid Boating Failures
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