The 6 Best Bilge Pumps of 2024

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Bilge pumps are a necessity on a boat to remove excess water, but they can definitely be on the fickle side (five-gallon buckets are jokingly recommended instead), there are some better options out there.

The best bilge pumps have a varying degree of efficiency and performance along with differing features for vessels like bilge pumps for large boats, dinghies, kayaks, and center consoles.

best bilge pumps
Credit: Clay Mills

Despite being an overlooked part of a boat, bilge pumps are a crucial device that keeps your craft “high and dry.” This means that it’s important to have a high-quality model, regardless of whether your vessel is en route or stored on land (rainwater can turn a dormant boat into a molding bathtub). And, no matter what bilge pump brand you go with, it’s imperative that the device is properly installed and maintained.

Below, we’ve reviewed some of the best bilge pumps on the market. We weighed the pros, cons, and functionality of each option to create our list. Read on to learn about all of the must-know basics, along with some key tips regarding pump switches and the installation process.

Our Top Picks

  1. Best Overall Bilge Pump: Rule Mate Fully Automated Bilge Pump – $115.06 at Amazon
  2. Best for Fishing Boats: Rule LoPro Series Bilge Pump – $79.99 on Amazon
  3. Best Battery Operated Bilge Pump: Attwood WaterBuster Portable Pump – $47.95 at Amazon
  4. Best Kayak Bilge Pump: SeaSense Self Priming Hand Pump – From $24.63 at Amazon
  5. Best For Large Boats: Rule DB412 Dry Bilge Pump Panel – $235.88 at Amazon
  6. Best Deep Draft Float Switch: USS Bilge Pump Switch – $229.99 at Amazon

Reviews of The Best Bilge Pumps

1. Best Overall Bilge Pump: Rule Mate Fully Automated Bilge Pump

Rule Mate Fully Automated Bilge Pump
Credit: Amazon

If you’re just looking for a reasonably-priced bilge pump for general use — like in a sailboat or another bilge pump — this water-sensing pump is a solid choice. The pump has a built-in float switch that will automatically sense when the water needs to be removed. 

As long as these pumps are installed correctly and the bilge isn’t soaked in diesel, oil, or battery acid (this is more common than you think), Rule pumps are robust and manufactured for consistent reliability. The Rule pumps come in three different sizes: 500, 800, or 1100 GPH.

Tip: When deciding what size is best for your boat, remember that many outside factors can impact that advertised efficiency, so it’s best to overestimate (and even better, run more than one pump). For example, on a 30-foot sailboat, you’ll want to go with a pump that can handle at least 1,000 GPM. 

The Specs:

  • Type: Centrifugal 
  • Float Switch: Automatic (built-in)
  • Pump Rate: 18.33 GPM (for the 1100 model)
  • Dimensions: 6.75″L x 8.5″W x 3.5″H
  • Water Lift: Not specified
  • Features: Backflow prevention, debris sensor, built-in thermal cut-off 

The Pros:

  • Easy installation
  • Reasonably priced
  • Good-quality automatic pump

The Cons:

  • Can clog more easily than some
  • Basic design 

What Others Are Saying:

This bilge pump has a solid 4.5-star rating from more than 300 Amazon buyers.

Buy the Rule Mate Fully Automated Bilge Pump:

2. Best for Fishing Boats: Rule Mate Fully Automated Bilge Pump

Rule Mate Fully Automated Bilge Pump
Credit: Amazon

Although the pump rate is slightly lower than our top choice, Rule’s LoPro series bilge pump has a low-profile design that offers flexible mounting options that can be positioned in slanted spaces. It is particularly perfect for center consoles where space is limited, such as beneath tanks, bait wells, and other inaccessible locations. 

Like our top choice, the pump has an automatic float switch built in, but this pump’s design includes a unique, 180-degree swiveling discharge tube for easy positioning. It also has an internal (but removable) check valve to prevent water backflow, and an automatic shut-off center to prevent the pump from constantly running when there isn’t any water present. 

The Specs:

  • Type: Diaphragm
  • Float Switch: Automatic (built-in) (a manual option is also available)
  • Pump Rate: 15 GPM
  • Dimensions: 12″L x 9″W x 4″H
  • Water Lift: Not specified
  • Features: Low profile design, 180-degree swivel for discharge

The Pros:

  • Low profile design
  • Affordable price
  • Works great in limited vertical spaces

The Cons:

  • Not ideal for large vessels
  • Prone to clogging due to small base footprint

What Others Are Saying:

This affordable bilge pump has a 4.3-star Amazon rating from more than 400 shoppers.

Buy the Rule LoPro Series Bilge Pump:

3. Best Best Battery Operated Bilge Pump: Attwood WaterBuster Portable Pump, Submersible

Attwood WaterBuster Portable Pump, Submersible
Credit: Amazon

Technically, all bilge pumps are battery-operated since they run off 12-volt batteries. However, some bilge pumps, like this pick from Attwood, can run on D-cell batteries, making them a portable option. These types of pumps come in handy when pumping dinghies, kayaks, or inflatables, especially after heavy rain storms. They’re not permanently installed, so you can use them for multiple vessels (or loan to a friend in need). 

While there aren’t many on the market, this submersible battery-operated pump is a medium-duty pump that can lift water up to 40 inches. Because of this, it’s one of the best options out there — just make sure that you know how to open the battery compartment (it can be tricky) and that you take good care of it since it won’t last long term when frequently exposed to the elements. In other words, don’t leave it in sitting the dinghy!

Pro Tips: Remove the batteries after each use to prevent corrosion and ensure the longevity of the device. You may also want to consider getting rechargeable batteries. 

The Specs:

  • Type: Portable (battery-operated)
  • Float Switch: Not included
  • Pump Rate: Up to 3.33 GPM
  • Dimensions: 5.25″L x 5.25″W x 6.5″H
  • Water Lift: Up to 40 inches
  • Features: Low profile design, 180-degree swivel for discharge

The Pros:

  • Doesn’t require electricity
  • Can be used anywhere
  • Good for dinghies, kayaks, and inflatables

The Cons:

  • Shorter battery life 
  • Not meant for long-term use
  • Users say the battery compartment needs improvement

Buy the Attwood WaterBuster Portable Pump:

4. Best Kayak Bilge Pump: SeaSense Self Priming Hand Pump

SeaSense Self Priming Hand Pump
Credit: Amazon

Every boat should also carry the SeaSense self-priming hand pump to pump out dinghies, lazarette lockers, freezers, and just about any flooded chamber. These are not an alternative to having a traditional bilge pump, but rather a supplemental pump that’s extremely useful to have onboard. 

They’re especially great for kayaks and canoes, whether they were left upright in the rain, or if the canoe accidentally tips when you’re rowing, These manual pumps can come to the rescue. Plus, with no wires or batteries, you can leave them inside the kayak or canoe so you’ll always have it in time of need. Combine this pump with a giant sponge, and you’ll be back on your adventure in no time. 

The Specs:

  • Type: Portable (Manual)
  • Float Switch: N/A
  • Pump Rate: Varies
  • Dimensions: 3.5″L x 4.5″W x 20.75″H
  • Water Lift: Not specified
  • Features: Self-priming, removable hose

The Pros:

  • Low maintenance
  • Can be used anywhere
  • No wires or batteries

The Cons: 

  • Not for permanent use 
  • Requires manual effort

What Others Are Saying:

This bilge pump has a 4.5-star rating from over 1,000 Amazon reviewers. 

Buy the SeaSense Self Priming Hand Pump:

5. Best for Large Boats: Rule DB412 Dry Bilge Pump with Panel Switch

Rule DB412 Dry Bilge Pump with Panel Switch
Credit: Amazon

If you have a larger vessel like a trawler or sailboat with additional machinery space, you may want to consider the electric diaphragm pump like this Self Priming Dry Bilge Pump. It can be installed almost anywhere, which means it’s one of the more accessible options on our list. 

These self-priming pumps are significantly more costly than your average run-of-the-mill bilge pump, but they have a low-profile design, along with the distinct advantage of flexible mounting solutions, like under the galley sink. With a rotatable inlet and outlet hose manifold, this pump can run dry without damage and effectively remove most of any bilge’s water through its sealed vacuum chamber. It can also lift water up to 9.5 feet.

Pro Tip: Be sure to securely install a screen at the bottom of the hose where it rests in the bilge, such as the Whale Pump Plastic Bilge Strainer. If possible, you’ll also want to screw this screen on a small, synthetic block (so it won’t rot) to allow space between the floor so that debris can pass under it. 

Although we recommend this Rule electric diaphragm pump as the best in its price class, if you’re willing to spend twice as much, we also want to note that the Jacbsco Medium and Heavy Duty Diaphragm Pump will last a lifetime as parts are readily available. 

The Specs:

  • Type: Diaphragm 
  • Pump Rate: Up to 4GPM
  • Water Lift: 9.5 feet
  • Dimensions:‎13.8 x 7.2 x 5.8 inches
  • Features: Dry run, rotatable inlet

The Pros:

  • Low profile design
  • Can be installed anywhere
  • Minimal maintenance required

The Cons:

  • Requires a hose and screen (sold separately)
  • Expensive 

Buy the Rule DB412 Dry Bilge Pump:

6. Best Deep Draft Float Switch: USS Bilge Pump Switch

USS Bilge Pump Switch
Credit: Amazon

An external pump switch senses the water levels of the bilge and can then work in conjunction with a pump to automatically turn it on or off. (Note that on their own, they won’t actually pump any water.) If you have a very deep, narrow bilge, (like on a deep draft sailboat) where traditional floats are difficult to service, this cylindrical switch from Ultra Safety Systems is an excellent choice — you’ll just need to purchase the pump separately. 

This pump switch can be clamped to a rod or long pole and plunged down into inaccessible areas, plus a power indicator light on the top so you can easily see if it’s working in a deeper space. Although it is more expensive than some of the other options, it’s made with stainless steel, which may last longer than plastic picks. 

The Specs:

  • Type: Cylindrical
  • Float Switch: External 
  • Pump Rate: N/A
  • Dimensions: 6.25 x 2.5 x 6.25 inches
  • Water Lift: Rated up to 15 feet (but depends on the pump)
  • Features: Power indicator light, side clamp 

The Pros:

  • Flexible mounting options
  • 5-year warranty
  • Great for deeper bilges 
  • Extremely durable

The Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Not good for shallow bilges 
  • Pump not included 

Buy the USS Bilge Pump Switch:

Other Bilge Pumps (and Float Switches) We Considered 

Champion Gas-Powered Semi-Trash Water Transfer Pump 

Although it’s not a bilge pump, this is a great water removal system to have in an emergency situation – like when your boat is, in fact, sinking. For example, if a through-hole fitting fails or you need to rescue another sinking boat, these are a lifesaver. It can crank out an insane 158 gallons of water per minute and run for 7.5 hours. That said, it’s massive and isn’t something you’d use for day-to-day water removal. The Champion Gas-Powered Semi Trash Water Transfer Pump is available at Home Depot for $428.89.

Amazon Universal Pump

This lever-action, self-priming hand pump that pumps 22 GPM gets the job done. With its removable handle, it can be mounted in various locations like the cockpit, vertically or horizontally, and has a large 1 ½ inlet and outlet to evacuate serious volumes of water or other liquids (such as blackwater). No small sailboat is complete without a manual self-priming pump, but they’re just not designed for continual use. The Amazon Universal Pump from Jabsco is available at Amazon for $115.38.

Water Witch Bilge Pump Switch 217

As far as bilge pump switches go, Water Witch makes diminutive static switches with different amp ratings, delayed on/off cycles, and both 12 and 24 voltage options (depending on the model number). These submersible switches are a standout because they do not have moving parts, can tolerate dirtier bilges, and remains on for a short time after the water is gone to purge the hose. That said, they fly a little under the radar (pun intended), so online reviews are limited. However, they do include a 7 year limited warranty. The Water Witch Bilge Pump Switch 217 is available at Defender for $62.99.

Jabsco Medium and Heavy Duty Diaphragm Pump 

Among the diaphragm pumps, Jabsco’s 330 GPH Bilge Pump has a convenient design and above-the-bilge installation for easy service access. It combines both inlet and outlet ports, an in-line strainer, and vibration-dampening feet for smooth operation. They’re definitely an investment but are practically indestructible (when maintained properly). The Jabsco Medium and Heavy Duty Diaphram Pump is available from $389.98 at West Marine

Why You Can Trust Us

best bilge pumps
Credit: Clay Mills

I’m Clay Mills, a marine photographer, liveaboard boater, and shipwright based in Key West, Florida. For the past few years, I’ve also been a sailing instructor for SeaBase (the Boy Scouts of America), but I’ve spent my entire life and career around boats and have navigated many different waterways through the United States and the Caribbean. 

I first moved on a 40-foot wooden sailing sloop in 1972 with my father in Oxnard, California, before I landed a job at a busy boatyard in Anacortes, Wash. After serving in the military, I went to a boatbuilding school and then later built Gold Coast sailing catamarans in St. Croix, USVI. I headed back to California to manage a sailing fleet and then began taking boat deliveries along the Pacific Coast. In 2021, I arrived in Key West after rebuilding an Albin Ballad and sailing it down from Hilton Head, South Carolina.

You can read more about Clay Mills here.

Needless to say, I’ve installed my fair share of bilge pumps! When writing this article, I leveraged my personal experience and guidance from fellow boaters, along with research from trusted marine publications. When choosing the product selections, I focused on the durability of the product, how well it functioned overall, and what type of installation or vessel it was the best fit for. Just remember, no matter what bilge pump you select, it will require regular maintenance to prevent clogging or damage.

What to Know About Bilge Pumps

best bilge pumps
Credit: Amber Nolan
Things to Consider When Choosing a Bilge Pump

We can’t emphasize enough that proper installation and maintenance is absolutely crucial. That said, in addition to the size, design, and flow rate (measured in gallons per minute, or GPM), there are other things to keep in mind. 

Automatic or manual

We recommended a few bilge pump options that only operate manually, which are typically ideal for kayaks and small dinghies. 

However, a standard vessel’s main bilge pump can be configured to operate either manually (flip a switch, on/off) or automatically (activated by water level and electro-mechanical interaction). The manual setting is primarily used for verifying that the pump is working by allowing the operator to activate and inspect its function as fluid is being removed. 

The automatic setting allows the pump, via a mechanical float switch or water level sensors, to remove most of the fluid from the vessel before deactivating its circuit/turning off the pump when done.  

Tip: Poorly placed pump systems often “cycle” on and off as fluid backflows into the bilge. To prevent this, mount the external float switch or water sensors slightly higher than the pump base.  

Type of Float Switch

Float switches are devices that move up and down as the level of liquid changes and send a signal to the bilge pump to remove water when needed. These are imperative for bilge pumps to function, and come in two different types: internal and external. 

  • Internal Float Switches: These are either mechanical or electromagnetic and are a built-in part of the bilge pump, offering the added convenience of one-device installation. However, if the float switches fail, so does the entire pump. If this happens, it’s often due to the wiring caused by improper installation. 
  • External Float Switches: Separate devices that detect the level of water in the bilge and send a signal when to turn the pump on. Some of the most common types of external float switches include cylindrical, fulcrum arm style, disk style, and water-sensing float switches.
  • Cylindrical: These are self-contained tubes where a donut-shaped ring rises to electromagnetically activate the circuit. An example of this is the USS Bilge Pump that we recommended earlier, which is great for deep draft bilges.
  • Fulcrum Arm Style: Separate mechanical fulcrum arm float switches allow for more flexible pump placement in elevation and location, and can be both covered and uncovered. Covered ones are housed within a box (that resembles a butter tray) with slots to allow water in and out as a floating fulcrum arm turns the pump on/off (like this one from Rule). The cover adds protection from hoses, wires, and whatever else might impede their rise and fall. Uncovered fulcrum arm float switches perform the same task but are more susceptible to bilge debris and hose or cable restrictions. 
  • Disk Style: These are a unique design that contains two small disks that monitor levels. The Water Witch is perhaps the best example of this. 
  • Water Sensing Float Switches: Water sensing switches like the Whale Electric Field Sensor Switch can be mounted in more restrictive locations where access is limited, like deep and narrow sailboat bilges.

Bilge Pump Fuses

When purchasing a bilge pump, you’ll also want to make sure you buy an appropriate fuse. These are an integral part of bilge pump electrical systems that are placed within the power circuit to protect critical components from unattended current paths (a short circuit). They are designed to ‘burn out’ when heated beyond their rated resistance. Without a fuse in place, the circuit’s issue is soon transferred to the bilge pump where misaligned heat causes the motor to ‘burn out’. I’ve seen unfused bilge pumps with holes melted into their sides from adverse heat that would normally have just burnt out the fuse. 

Bilge pump fuses are rated in amps and should also be sized with the correct wiring gauge.I always wire at least one bilge pump, my primary one, directly to my best battery creating a non-destructive path to it; so no matter what happens to the rest of the vessel’s electric grid the pump remains functional. I’ve seen new bilge pump systems in sinking boats simply because switches, toggles, breakers, etc. were improperly set.

Bilge Pump Basics

What is a Bilge Pump and What Does It Do?

best bilge pumps
Credit: Clay Mills

A bilge pump is anything that removes water from the lower recesses (the bilge) of a boat. These pumps are also used to circulate water in a live bait tank, drain shower and sink sumps, relocate fluid from tank to tank, and even cycle fluids in a service loop like flushing an air conditioning unit or an engine coolant system. 

Bilge pumps operate by creating a pressure difference from one location to another in a sealed system. When a fluid is introduced within this system it flows along the pressure path, being channeled to wherever is desired.   

There a several types, including basic manual pumps which often use a lever handle to remove water, as well as electric-powered pumps, like a centrifugal pump and electric diaphragm pumps. 

Electric Diaphram pumps combine a low profile design and a built-in check valve for flexible mounting solutions like under the galley sink. These pumps can run dry without damage. Centrifugal bilge pumps must be submerged in water for function, so they need to be located at or very near the bottom of the bilge. 

Should I Leave A Bilge Pump On?

A bilge pump should normally be left in the auto setting so a float switch can activate it, remove the bilge water, and then deactivate when the water is removed. This will ultimately save wear on the motor and conserve power. 

When performing a service like changing out a pump or clearing the filter, be sure to turn off the switch to prevent shorts or unintentional activation. You should also do this when clearing out fuel leaks or other fluids from the bilge to prevent accidental discharge. 

Where is the Bilge Pump Located on a Boat?

The bilge pump is located within the lower recesses of the boat, often hidden away in an area that may be difficult to access. Pump location is dictated by boat design, and more than one pump is usually recommended for a backup.  

Bilge Pump Wiring, Installation, & Testing

How to Wire a Bilge Pump

  1. To wire a bilge pump, start by reading the instructions regarding fuse amperage and wire gauge. A fuse should be added to the positive wire and be accessible for inspection and replacement located well above the bilge water. All wiring connections should be sealed with no chance of dropping into the bilge water. 
  2. Sealed butt connectors are formed after proper wire crimps by heat-shrinking them around the wire. Use a heat gun set on low or a small butane lighter torch, and be careful not to overheat them and damage the wires’ protective core. 
  3.  Follow the same steps when connecting external float switch wires by sealing connections and keeping them out of the water. I like to use zip ties with screw eyes fastened where necessary with ½” stainless screws. 
  4. Pumps with built-in activation switches like Rule Industries Rule-Mate Automatic Series often have three wires:

a. Solid brown goes directly to the battery’s positive terminal with a fuse somewhere along the wire.

b. Brown with white is for manual activation to a positively wired toggle switch somewhere like the boat’s main control panel. 

 c. Black goes to your best battery ground (when in doubt go straight to the battery terminal).

Two-wire bilge pumps without built-in activation switches can use an external float arm or water-sensing switch for automatic activation, or be toggled with a manual switch. From the pump, the black wire still goes to your best (often most direct) ground.

The solid brown or red connects to a three-way toggle switch’s manual terminal and shares one of the float/sensing wires. 

The automatic switch terminal connects to the remaining float/sensing wire.

The last (middle) terminal of the three-way switch goes to the positive battery and should be fused with the required amperage required by the pump. Specific wiring diagrams should be consulted for each specific pump and float switch installation. 

How to Install a Bilge Pump 

best bilge pumps
Credit: Clay Mills

Before you begin:

Installing a bilge pump starts with accessing the needs of the vessel. At least two pumps are recommended, increasing to four (or more) for vessels over 50 feet. The volume of water removed by each pump is rated in gallons per hour (GPH), typically rated between 350 and 3700. 

Installation Steps:

  1. Pumps should be firmly mounted to the bottom of the bilge (where possible), but still have enough room for removal and a fair run of the hose as it snakes its way out. Pumps usually have clipped-on mounts at their base that are fasted to the bilge’s sole with stainless steel screws. Pre-align the pump position with the hose and base connected, tightening hose clamps so they can be later accessed, and then place everything in a serviceable location. Imagine the unit being permanently screwed down with the need to unclip it for service, then mark the location.  
  1. Be sure to securely install a screen at the bottom of the hose where it rests on a block to allow debris to pass.
  1. Next, remove the base mount and tie the pump or hose aside. Reposition, then mark to drill for screws. Pre-drill the screw’s shaft diameter, vacuum out the shavings, then add a bit of siliconized caulk to the underside/holes, align, and fasten. 

When accessibility is an issue, pumps can also be mounted to removable plates. Fasten the pump, float switch, and hose run to a section of non-reactive and rot-resistant material board then slip the assembly in or beneath the area. This often works beneath engine sumps, soles, and next to masts, tables, heads, and tanks. 

Once it’s installed, you’ll need to regularly clean your bilge to ensure the pump functions properly. 

How to Test a Bilge Pump

Testing a bilge pump’s function differs with the installation, float switch, and type. It’s good practice to first visually inspect the bilge to see what may be pumped overboard if the pump is activated. A bilge full of diesel from a fuel leak does not want the pump activated and may be intentionally disabled. Similarly, a bilge full of debris mixed with water should first be cleared before testing the pump. 

To test a bilge pump, you should:

  1. Lift the float switch arm and activate the pump. With a dry bilge, listen for a clean motor sound, and if a rapid clicking noise is heard this often indicates something lodged within its impellers, necessitating inspection and cleaning. 
  2. If all sounds good, the next step is filling the bilge with water with the pump deactivated, reactivating it, and following the pump hose path as it travels to a thru-hull. Check for internal leaks, then go topside and see how much water is being discharged. 
  3. If there’s no indication of an internal leak but the flow is little more than a trickle this could indicate a clogged or incorrectly sized hose, a clogged check valve, a ground fault, low voltage, and/or a damaged or incorrectly sized pump. 

To test a float switch:

For the water-sensing switch, place a wet rag over its two exposed disks and wait a few seconds while a low current flows between them to activate the primary solenoid switch and bilge pump.  

Switches like the Rule a Matic Plus float switch are housed in a protective square chamber, so you’ll need to depress a small exposed lever arm along one end of the housing, to lift the main float switch within. Rules Rule Mate Automatic Bilge Pump has a “touch hear” button that activates its function, but submerging the pump is recommended.

How Often Should You Replace a Bilge Pump?

best bilge pumps
Credit: Amber Nolan

Although bilge pumps don’t have a predetermined lifespan, it is a good practice to replace them (and their associated float switches) every three years under ideal circumstances. This means a properly installed pump that was regularly cleaned, not left running for long periods, provided with the proper electrical voltage, not overheated, and not freestanding in bilge water mixed with other chemicals like diesel, oil, and acids.

Pumps may last much longer when not being used or freestanding in water, so knowing each pump’s age and use history helps determine longevity. Bilge pumps also don’t like to run below their recommended voltage and draw more current attempting to compensate for the lack thereof.

Lastly, when replacing a bilge pump always change out its associated hose clamps, screws, and hoses if they become brittle or kinked. 

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Prices were accurate at the time of publication.

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