Water In The Bilge? 8 Helpful Answers (For Beginners)

As a boat owner, you will need to know how to deal with water in the bilge.

Depending on the amount of water and the size of your boat, you may need to remove or “let the water be.”

The following are eight of the most common questions about the water in the bilge:

bilge water pumped out of the side of a ship in the water of the port

1. How Does The Water Get In The Bilge?

Water can enter a boat through various sources.

This water may include substances such as debris, detergents, seawater from leaks or rough seas, rainwater, and so forth.

Since the bilge is the lowest part of a boat, all unwanted water is collected when the boat is resting or in still waters.

2. Do Boats Take On Water While Sitting Still?

If water can find a way to get in, it will.  Rain is one obvious source.

The boat has a lower chance of taking in water if it is anchored/moored and in calm waters when sitting still.

High waves tend to crash against a boat’s hull and spill some water into the boat. This is when a boat is most likely to take on water even if it is sitting still.

The other main cause of taking water is a leak. This may be due to a leaking hose, some penetration like the propeller shaft, or a hole in the hull that was previously unnoticed.

Leaks generally take time to be noticed, and it may be hours or even days before you notice one on your boat.

This is the reason why you need to inspect the boat thoroughly before and after you take it out.

3. How Do You Find A Water Leak In Bilge?

One of the challenges of maintaining a boat is finding a leak in the bilge.

The best option for boats kept on a trailer is to wait for smooth conditions, often just before sunset.

Make sure the bilge is completely dry, and then carefully launch the boat. This ensures water does not splash over the transom into the bilge.

You can use a flashlight to illuminate the bilge and look for the source of water leaks.

It is easier to find leaks using a flashlight in the dim light of dusk. It may appear as a trickle of water or a flowing leak.

You can determine what needs to be repaired by following the leak back to the source.

A potential leak can come from anything that penetrates your boat’s hull. Common sources of water leaks include:

  • Outboard motor mounting bolts
  • Screwing holes for depth-finder transducers
  • Wash-down pump through-hulls
  • Drain plugs
  • Live well intakes or drains.

4. What to Do With Oily Bilge Water?

Please get rid of it!

Every boat has bilge water, but some have oily bilge water. As a boater, you should know how to dispose of it properly. You can use the services of a professional or go it the D-I-Y (Do-It-Yourself) way.

Avoid using the bilge pump to get rid of oily water.

It leaves behind a bad looking oil slick that is harmful to the environment and might be a criminal offense.

Instead, use absorbent bilge pads to line your hull. These are available at the majority of marine stores. The pads are designed to absorb the oil but not the water.

Bilge cleaners, detergents, or soaps do not mitigate the harmful effects of oil and gas in water, and some say it makes the pollution more harmful.

These products tend to spread hazardous waste out over a larger area, affecting more of the shoreline. You can use the bilge pump to get rid of the water after you have used the pads to get rid of all the oil.

5. Should There Be Any Water In The Bilge?

Yes! The question is how much water should be present in the bilge.

Anything that causes the bilge pump to operate frequently because of the automatic float switch should be investigated. If the bilge water keeps coming in, hunt it down and address it.

Often, air conditioning condensate is routed to the bilge. If this is the case, you will never have a perfectly dry bilge anytime the air is running.

If sinks or showers drain into the bilge, they should be rerouted to a gray water tank or overboard.

If you don’t do this, you will eventually have a smelly bilge that will lead to a smelly boat.

6. Is It Normal To Have Water In The Bottom of A Boat?

A boat has lots of nooks and crannies capable of holding water, and bigger boats have plenty of hull penetrations that can allow small leaks.

For example, spills, rain, and washing the boat can put water in the boat.

Most boats can look powder dry when they are on land, a lift, or a trailer.

Once you back down the ramp, the bilge pump may trigger for a few seconds. This is normal and should not be a cause for concern as long as the water does not keep entering the boat.

As long as the bilge pump is not running often, the amount of water in the bilge should be safe.

7. How Do Boats Get The Water Out Of The Bilge?

There are two main ways to get water out of the bilge.

You can choose to use buckets or have a bilge pump installed (if one isn’t installed). Both methods are effective, depending on the situation.

The good news is modern-day boats have automatic pumps with sensors. These switch on when they detect a certain level of water in the bilge.

Unfortunately, these pumps cannot detect debris, soap, oil, and other water contaminants, so these can also be pumped into the surrounding water.

Due to current maritime laws, it is wise to check the water condition in the bilge before you use a pump. If the water is contaminated, you may need to get rid of it manually.

The manual method is the most effective when it isn’t an emergency. In case there is oil and other substances such as soap, make use of absorbent pads. Once you are done, you can remove the water using a bucket or similar container.

You can check out Why Do Boats Spit Out Water? 6 Quick Answers (For Beginners) for more information on how boats get water out of the bilge.

8. Why Is It Important To Get Rid Of Water In The Bilge?

Water in the bilge is not recommended and should be kept to a minimum level.

There are three main reasons why you should always ensure your bilge is clean and dry:

Rust Creation

Rust prevails in areas with high humidity and standing water.

Since rust is caused by combining water and steel with oxygen, humidity plays a major role. Humidity from the bilge will attack the coatings and finishing on metal parts, including your engines.

Once rust starts to form, it will require extra maintenance to remove and prevent in the future.

Ruins Interiors

If mildew and mold weren’t already a problem in your storage compartments, humidity from the bilge could find a way into the interiors of your boat.

A humid and wet bilge means a humid cabin.

You may begin to notice mildew growing in the cabin’s upholstery and carpet as this humidity starts moving to the upper decks.

Apart from your lower bilge compartments where mold may not be such a problem, mold can start to form in other parts of your boat.

If you do not put a cap on the situation, you may be in for serious renovations that will cost you a lot of money.

Creates an Uncomfortable Boating Experience

People usually run their boat’s air conditioning systems to use the AC as a giant dehumidifier and not control the temperature.

Water in the bilge increases the overall humidity in a boat.

It also means the AC will not perform at peak since most systems usually empty the bilge’s condensate. Leaving water in the bilge increases the chances of a more humid boating experience.

Chances of enjoying a ride in such conditions are reduced.

Final Thoughts:

Water in the bilge should be avoided as much as possible.

The best way to go about this is by doing periodic checks. Modern-day boat manufactures are constantly looking for innovative ways to ensure minimal water stays in the bilge.

However, you will need to perform spot checks, depending on how frequently you take out your boat.

Keep in mind that a leak may not be the only cause of water getting in the bilge. Melting ice, wave sprays, rough seas, and rain are just a few of the reasons water gets into the bilge.

If you find water in the bilge, you should remove as much of it as possible.

If you do not know where to start, use the above information as a guide, or get professional assistance.





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